When tournament paintball was an established reality during the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was no modern internet. Players were forced to experiment through their own play to see what worked and didn’t work. There were articles published in paintball specific magazines and a smattering of books, but the advice and entertainment process was largely through the physical experience of the event. There were certainly embellished stories of grandeur, much like any other sport. We always view our accomplishments with rose tinted goggle lenses when it comes to paintball and it’s human nature to selectively or unintentionally gloss over details, exaggerate statistics, and potentially over-represent our exploits on the field. Still, the community was small enough where common, shared experiences could be tangibly imagined because of the commonality of the experience.
Fast forward to modern day paintball: mounted camera technology has evolved to a point where even first time players are capturing and publishing high quality videos on hosting webpages like YouTube, Google Video, and Vimeo. Anyone can put up an advice video, a blog, or a webpage. The deluge of opinions spills over into every facet of paintball: it drives the perception of companies and fields, it sets de-facto market prices on equipment, and it influences the popularity of tournaments.
One of the most unique trends connected to the surge of social media popularity is the rise of internet superstars. Once relegated to the confines of webpages like MySpace or traditional webpages, there are now individuals who are able to entirely subsist upon their YouTube videos. It’s an amazing concept, to be sure, but the market is as competitive as the internet’s attention span is short. Just as the amount of videos of people recording themselves playing video games are high, so too are airsoft and paintball players trying to cash in on the prospect of internet fame.
The criteria for what makes an exciting video (by internet standards) is fairly simple. The video needs to be high quality. The intensity/size of the game or the prevalence of action should be a priority. Above all, there needs to be a lot of footage of the person eliminating players, and herein lies the problem. The popularity is based off of how badass the videographer portrays himself to be. No one wants to see video footage of someone getting shot or crawling through the woods for five minutes, unless something spectacular occurs at the end of that time. What people do like to see is the instant gratification of people getting shot.
As if the barrel cam gig wasn’t hard enough, even traditional paintball videography is difficult. There is a finite amount of perspectives to use and there are only so many times someone wants to watch a third person perspective. The DerDer videos were a great example of footage that was simultaneously great but then potentially contributory to its own demise. The One4One videos primarily showcasing the Millenium series were also extremely inventive in terms of the use of editing and music, but they’ve fallen by the wayside. By inference, if traditional videography is potentially repetitive than barrel cam footage is even more restrictive. Paintball has never been exciting for outsiders to watch, and the obsession over making a “spectator friendly” version of the sport has never left the public discourse of the community. Undeniably, the entertainment aspect of any paintball video is that the paintball playing audience still maintains a tangible connection to the spatio-temporality of the experience: simply put, we were there, we’ve seen the stuff, and it reminds us of the game.
Having recognized the difficult reality of the barrel camera challenge, it’s easy to see why the helmet camera crazy has instant appeal. There is nothing wrong with having a video camera and sharing video with people. Everyone has those great moments in paintball that may or may not be as epic as we remember them to be, and video is a great way to share that. People who are consciously crafting products for internet distribution with the sole intent of furthering their image, gaining views, and making money are an entirely different group. Unfortunately, more often than not, you’ll see these people posting videos of themselves shooting up rentals and little kids. Is a “20 person kill streak” that epic when it’s against a bunch of kids? Enjoyable footage SHOULD emphasize the difficulty of the exploit. Spoiler alert, you awkwardly attempting to run and gun with your gun on PSP mode shooting at 12 year olds with rental Tippmanns isn’t really badass as much as it is pathetic.
Despite the fact that shooting tons of kids, taking video where most of it just shows your loader obscuring the entire frame, and people acting foolishg/overdramatic for the sake of theatrics, these videos somehow seem to gain a popular foothold. Unfortunately, we’re at the point where video game themed theatrics somehow carry over into paintball. It’s inevitable that walk on games are going to be filled with rentals and kids. There is never going to be a way around that. That having been said, people straight up go for these kinds of situations for their videos and then proudly publish their content to the internet, as if to say with open arms: Here I am world, I’m a huge jerk. Comment on my amazing exploits!
What is unique here is the multiplier effect the internet has on our perceptions of ourselves. It’s not unusual for small, recball fields to have “local legends”, complete with nicknames ripped out of crappy 80s movies. Honestly, that’s cheesy but OK with me. But people feel the intoxicating sensation of mass, internet approval. It’s the same thing that drives many people to an unhealthy obsession with social media. How many likes, faves, or thumbs up can I get on a post I made? How can I craft the image of my life that I want others to see by selectively posting text and photos? The people that only post tons of photos of themselves partying at random locations are PROBABLY not terribly happy very often. It’s the sad reality that the more we focus on sharing our lives with other people, the more potentially isolated we become. The worst circular aspect of the social media web of deception is that it uses social engineering to alter how people live their “real”, off-the-computer lives.
Once we acknowledge the presence of this internet based monster, is it really a surprise that people get drawn to this behavior? Rental bashing was bad enough without the encouragement of a view counter. But surely if 1,000 people viewed a video of Mr. Mediocre doing a run through on recball randos, it must be legit?
Here’s my take on it though. If you think you’re awesome for posting this garbage, you aren’t. Grow up. You suck and the only people that like your videos are equally bad players. We all know you pick on rentals because you have zero opportunity to shoot anyone with any modicum of skill. If your cowardice and mediocrity gain you a few more likes on YouTube, great for you. A+ on video making, F- on life. Members of the community really need to step up and shame these people so they’re embarrassed, not encouraged, to do stupid stuff to beginner players.