There’s no telling what kind of prior knowledge you have of paintball, so instead of trying to guess (or trying to influence the way you decide to play) we’re going to simply describe the most popular forms of play.
Party/Corporate Outing/Private Group
Many commercial fields host a variety of special events. A lot of people experience paintball for their first time when they get invited (or are forced) to attend one of these functions.
They’re actually a pretty good way to get introduced to the game; chances are that for most everyone else attending it will be a new experience too. (Though you can’t discount the occasional ‘ringer’ – those are the folks you want to talk to.)
More often than not, everyone will be using field rental equipment. No single player will have a technological edge.
Fields also usually assign more and more experienced staff to these kinds of games, so there are plenty of opportunities to gain information, some tips and some guidance. (Don’t hesitate to ask – even if the answers are meaningless at the time.)
It also helps that the primary focus is not paintball, but whatever happens to be the occasion for the outing.
You’ll be divided into roughly equal teams (since it’s a special group, you’ll have a fair amount of input on team make-up) and you’ll probably be offered the opportunity to switch things up later on.
You’ll also probably be offered a variety of games to play: capture the flag, elimination, defender, rescue/capture etc. Game styles and individual rules will vary from field to field (the rules will be explained to you before play) but there’s no sense in not trying several of them out. This will be your first time, so try the smorgasboard approach.
You (or you and some friends) go to a paintball field. There aren’t enough of you to form a private group (usually 20 or more) so you’ll be lumped in with all of the other walk-ons (casual players).
The size of this group will vary tremendously from field to field and weekend to weekend, so it is really a good idea to call ahead and find out what the planned for day is going to be like in terms of attendance. Playing with and against a small group is fun, but playing with larger groups is more fun. (You want to have enough players to make games interesting.)
The make-up of walk-on groups will also vary. Chances are you’ll run into everything from other newbies like yourself to very experienced players.
The walk-on players will be divided into teams (how many depends on the facility and the number of players), a game type will be selected and off you’ll go.
You may have to ask the staff for some tips and information (though you should get a rules briefing and an explanation of the type of game being played – but you probably won’t get as much hand-holding as a private group would); after playing a game or two you’ll also have a pretty good idea of who the experienced players are. They can serve as another source of information.
Walk-on play is usually less-supervised than other forms of play; most of the players have some experience, know the drill and go about getting their play in with little interference from the staff. If you feel that you (and your friends) are out-classed, if the teams aren’t fair or that you aren’t getting everything you want to out of the experience – talk to the staff. (Every field wants more players. They’re usually motivated to make sure you are having a good time.)
Not that common but you may run into one. Clinics are usually training sessions for mid-level players who are trying to improve their game. Some fields have beginners days and a variety of organizations host summer camps that feature or include paintball. In general this type of introductory play is very closely supervised and well laid out. The operators will provide you with all of the necessary information.
It’s probably not a good idea to introduce yourself to paintball by playing in a tournament your first time out. Then again, it has happened so…
Tournaments are usually attended by the more devoted, experienced and skilled player (and ones who are very aggressive). The equipment being used is far beyond the rental gear supplied by most fields.
You’ll be expected to know the rules, how to organize your team and take care of your own needs for fills, paint and everything else. All games will be played using the same competition format.
Most national tournaments and the larger regional events will also have trade shows, which will give you a chance to check out gear and talk to a lot of experienced individuals.
These types of games usually last between 12 and 24 hours of (almost) continuous play and, while the average player experience level is usually pretty high, they are a little more accessible than tournaments.
Players are usually assigned to two large teams (sometimes three or four); the games themselves are usually attended by several hundred to many hundreds of players. Unlike rec play or tournaments, there is only one ‘game’ taking place, although there are special objectives, role playing and the use of “unconventional” weapon systems, such as rocket launchers, tanks and comm-systems.
A unique aspect of scenarios is that the manage to incorporate and satisfy players of every level and intensity: the casual player can participate right alongside the intense, rabidly engaged player.
You don’t have to play for the entire game; in fact, there are usually activities surrounding the game and off the field – camping, get-togethers, trade shows, costume contests, and off-field role playing activities.
Many scenario games will also have a trade show.
You’ll be assigned to a team, more often than not be given a ‘role’ to play. The more experienced players who will be running the show (the “Generals” and their staffs) will organize the team and assign “missions” (capture a particular location, recover a prop, defend a location) for which your team will earn points.
Unlike most other forms of play, once you get eliminated, you’ll have an opportunity to go back into the game after a set period of time (resurrection) – or may even be able to call a “medic” while on the field. The medic is a special role player who can ‘bring you back to health’ while in game.
More often than not, backyard ball is the least organized, least supervised version of the game. The level of knowledge and experience that your fellow players have will vary tremendously, as will the enforcement of safety regulations, the equipment and supplies available and the number of players participating.
If you have some good, well-experienced and trusted friends who invite you out for this version of the game, it might not be a bad way to get introduced. On the other hand, you and everyone else involved may very well be making it up as you go along, there’s just no way of telling what this encounter with paintball will be like, so we suggest avoiding backyard play until you have a few “regular” games under your belt.