It seems that there is no sport or hobby that doesn’t eventually succumb to the siren song of professional play. Even video games now have their own professional leagues and pasty 20-something stars making six-figure annual incomes.
Paintball is no different. Well, you probably aren’t going to see the six-figure paycheck. That being said, there are top teams and top players out there who are making enough money from paintball to keep playing paintball for a living. So what sets these people apart? Do you love paintball enough to want nothing else in your life? Well, maybe going pro is in your future.
What Does it Mean to Be a Paintball Pro?
Let’s start off by defining what it means to be a pro. You may think it has to do with talent and skill, but that’s just half the story. Being a professional player doesn’t mean you’re one of the best – it means you get paid to be a paintball player. Of course, the reasons that people are paid to play paintball is that they are very good at it. Good enough so that people want to watch them do it and are willing to pay for the privilege.
Where Does the Money Come From?
How lucrative it is to be a pro in a given hobby or sport depends on how deep the sponsorship pool is. Companies like Nike or Adidas can afford to spend millions on soccer players, because it helps them sell shoes to people who will never be as athletic as Ronaldo but can at least wear the same style footwear.
There was a time in the early 2000s when paintball actually had quite a strong presence on TV, which meant that sponsorships came more easily. Companies like Red Bull appeal broadly to fans of all sorts of action sports, such as skateboarding and motocross. Paintball-specific companies also play an important role, because they want rank and file players to see the best players in the world using their gear.
The high-end tournaments also have cash prizes to award to winning teams, but in the greater scheme of things this is not where the bulk of pro player money comes from. How much money do players actually make? I’ve found it hard to get solid numbers, but apparently the top players make somewhere between $40,000 to $65,000. Pretty modest, I know, but bear in mind that they get to play paintball full time!
The Name of the Game
Teams work toward being recognized as elite. If they do well enough in local tournaments, and perhaps win a ticket to the upper echelons, a sponsor may spot the team and decide to make them an offer.
There are regional tournaments to work through, and winning a regional event may lead to a ticket for something national and televised. Right now in 2019 things aren’t quite as hot on this front as they were in the 2000s, but I believe the advent of social media and YouTube may turn things around again and make the professional paintball career track a more viable one again.
Portrait of a Pro
OK, so you think the business of professional paintball appeals to you, but what personal attributes do you need to make it as a pro? Well, first of all you need to have a consuming obsession with paintball. Becoming a paintball pro isn’t a means to an end, it IS the end. If you don’t live, breathe, eat, and sleep paintball, then aiming to be a pro is not for you. Only that level of obsessive dedication will get you through the grind of making it. Being talented isn’t enough.
Finally, top players are fast, agile, and have the reaction time of a velociraptor. At the top, the aggression and teamwork seem almost superhuman, but you can easily see pros in action for yourself by just heading to YouTube. Which means, of course, that pro paintball is really a young person’s game. After you hit 30 and those physical attributes start to wane, keeping up with the kids becomes much harder. In the end though, if paintball is your life then what does it matter? Go for it and prove everyone else wrong. That’s the true heart of a pro.