I will be the first to admit that I’m not the greatest paintball player. I’m slow and unfit, and even with glasses I’m unlikely to hit a moving target on the first try. Still, I have spent quite some time scouring the internet for tips on how to be a better player.
Surprisingly, there isn’t as much dissent among those who deem themselves the elite of the hobby. Usually two pros will give you conflicting advice, but it seems the fundamentals of good paintball are more or less the same regardless of whom you ask. So here are some (mostly) uncontroversial pieces of advice that I have been given.
Am I any better? Yes!
Am I actually good now? Let’s change the subject, shall we?
Quality Over Quantity
Modern paintball markers can really sling a lot paint around, but that doesn’t mean “spray and pray” is a winning strategy. Standard markers can fire several rounds a second, if you can pull the trigger quickly enough. In a pinch that could save your butt, but in general you should try to make accurate, measured shots. Full-auto (if available) is for suppression, not marksmanship. So what I am saying is that you should learn to acquire your target, squeeze off one or two rounds, and then get back into cover. Accuracy is far more important than firing rate!
Of course, you need to have the ability to actually hit things in order to execute the “quality over quantity” philosophy, which means practicing to hit targets. Start with stationary targets at different distances. Try to pop out of cover, hit the target, and then get back in cover. Practicing to hit a moving target is harder to arrange, but perhaps you and a friend can take turns being the bullseye.
One of the most important things for any player in a paintball match is to be aware of what’s going on around them. This is especially important given that paintball masks can obscure peripheral vision. Keep your head on a swivel, keep your ears open, and try to get a feel for how the battle is going. It’s easy to become too focused on an objective or on hunting other players; this makes it easy for them to get the drop on you.
Ammo and Gas Management
You have two resources that allow you to mark enemy players, so you should learn to manage them well. Typically a 16-ounce tank will provide about 800 shots. So try to keep rough track of how many rounds are going in to your hopper from a fresh tank, so that you don’t end up running out in the middle of a match. Remember that every dry fire also counts, so keep those to a minimum.
There’s No “I” in TEAM
Paintball is a team sport. That means two groups of people are competing against each other. Every person should have a role and there should be no glory hounds. If you try to be that glory hound you’ll end up costing the team the match.
A big part of teamwork is making sure everyone knows the plan. Before that, you have to actually come up with a plan! As a team, decide how you’ll approach the match, use the terrain, and generally conduct yourselves. They say that no plan survives contact with the enemy, but any plan is better than just winging it.
While your main objective is to mark enemy players, your OTHER main objective is to avoid getting marked yourself. One of the best ways to do this is by getting something between yourself and the paintballs flying your way. When you aren’t moving, you should be in cover. That’s a simple rule that will go a long way to helping you win and prevent those unsightly bruises.
Flank, Flank, Flank
Since everyone is making sure they’re in cover unless they absolutely have to leave it, that can lead to a situation where everyone is entrenched. One of the oldest military moves to combat this is known as “flanking”. While some members of your team remain in cover and keep taking potshots at the other team, you sneak around to the side and try to shoot at the enemy team from the side or behind, neutralizing their cover advantage.
Double Check Hits
Winning a paintball match is hard enough without making an avoidable mistake. When you feel a hit, don’t just assume you’ve got a big paint splat somewhere. Every now and then a paintball will actually bounce off you without leaving a mark. The rules usually say that if you aren’t marked with paint, then there was no hit. Use that to your advantage. In fact, make sure you know the rules well enough so that you can score points on technicalities. Don’t feel bad, your opponents will do the same thing. After all, this is a game; not real combat.
Live to Fight Another Day
In general, the idea is to play aggressively. Advance and take out the enemy players. However, it’s possible to run into a situation that’s too hot. If you can’t win the skirmish, beat a tactical retreat. Regroup and then try again. There’s no point in getting taken out when there was no chance of success.
Teamwork isn’t really possible if the team members have no way of letting each other know what needs to happen. If you’ve ever watched military or police squads work in a combat zone, you’ve probably seen troops use hand signals to silently communicate with each other. You can look these up online easily enough and then learn them for squad use during a match. If you’re flush with cash, I guess you could also use those throat mics that have become rather popular in Airsoft, but in the confines of a paintball arena it’s not all that useful, as long as you have line of sight with your teammates.
While it’s important to stay in cover, it’s also important to advance on the enemy. Which means you can’t spend all your time turtling behind cover. Moving from cover to cover is an essential skill in paintball and it isn’t something that you should do alone if possible. The most effective strategy is to work in pairs. One person moves to new cover, while the other watches their back and shoots at anyone trying to take advantage of a player being out in the open.
When you move from cover to cover, the most important thing is to do it quickly and move in such a way that it makes you hard to hit should anyone take a potshot at you. Often this means that running in a straight line may not be the safest choice. When shooting a moving target, the shooter predicts where the target will be so that the round and target will meet. With relatively slow paintballs this is pretty hard actually, and you can make it harder by messing with the shooter’s prediction of where you’re going. Vary speed, keep low, and change direction unexpectedly if needed. Don’t make it easy for them.
This may seem obvious, but one of the best things you can do in order to be a better paintball player is improve your fitness. Paintball is a physically demanding game and if you’re out of breath the whole time you won’t be much use to your teammates.
This is something that I have been working on for quite some time, doing cardio during the week so that I’m not such a useless slob on the weekends. It’s good for you anyway and will make your play experience more enjoyable. Of course, if you play and train for paintball a lot, the fitness issue will take care of itself. Just watch those post-match burgers and beers!
Don’t Be a D-bag
This is a good tip in general, but no one is going to like it if you’re unsportsmanlike. So be a conscientious player. Don’t smack talk and especially don’t take out your frustration on teammates you think aren’t as good as they should be. There are constructive ways to deal with performance and being a jerk is not one of them. In the end, a team of people who don’t like each other probably isn’t going to win any matches.
The last tip is meant to put all of the other tips into perspective. The most important thing in paintball is not winning, but enjoying yourself. It’s a form of recreation, not a life-and-death activity. If you’re a professional player making a living from the game, then that may be a different situation. For the rest of us, if the game isn’t fun anymore, then you should take a hard look at how you approach and play the game.
It’s better to be the worst players ever while having a blast than to be an elite team of miserable people. Food for thought, I think.