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History of Paintball: Origins and Evolution

In 1981, a group of friends developed an outdoor survivalist game where the hunter becomes the hunted. It began simply as a wager among the wall street “city boys” and outdoor huntsmen. The question – whom fostered the best survival skills.

With safety in mind, they needed a weapon that could tag the individual without harm, and through researching available equipment in a farming catalog, they came upon paint spray guns used to mark animals for breeding purposes.

The actual first paintball game was officially held June 2, 1981, with a few friends competing against each other among 100 acres  of woodland. One of the players, Bob Jones, a Sports Illustrated writer, published an article highlighting that game that spurred national interest.

The first games were crude, compared to today’s standards, with limited ammunition and firearms. Players would even resort to throwing paintballs at each other. As equipment evolved, the intensity and competitiveness of the sport grew.

History of Paintball

Paintball is a relatively new sport that has come into popularity since its inception nearly 30 years ago. The core idea behind the paintball game was to recreate the excitement of outdoor hunting and survival of the fittest.

Friends, Bob Gurnsey, Bob Jones and Charles Gaines, were simply eager to recreate the feeling and adrenaline rush of being an outdoor survivalist. Simply said, these friends invented a method of stalking and hunting human prey.

After Bob Jones spotlighted this concept of paintball in Sports Illustrated, interest steadily increased and eventually Gurnsey founded the new sport called the National Survival Game, and then contracted with Nelson Paint Company to become the exclusive distributor of its guns and paintball equipment.

Rival competitor manufacturers quickly evolved and paintball rapidly grew in the 1990s, promoting the development of technology of better paintball pellets. Paintball technology gradually developed as manufacturers added a front pump for easy cocking, then replaced the 12-gram cartridges for tanks that would accommodate additional air, commonly called “constant air.”

Paintball became so popular that Nelson Paint Company later split into two companies: Nelson Paint Company, which focused on the products of traditional painting, and Nelson Technologies, Inc. – better known as Nelson Paintballs – which they still manufacture today.

Competitive tournaments have been going on almost since the beginning of the sport. The first major paintball tournament was held in 1983, with the team based in Canada. Paintballs have developed over time as well. When the game began in the 1980s, paintballs were oil-based. Today, paintballs are filled with a gelatin coating of vegetable oil and the dye. A number of variations have been developed, including glow in the dark, scented, and cold-weather varieties.

The first games of paintball were very different from today’s modern hunt. Nelson were the only guns available, and they used CO2 cartridges lasting a maximum of 12 rounds, and had to be cocked after each shot, which is tiring and places players at a disadvantage while waiting to constantly reload their gun.

The Inception of the Paint Ball

Nelson Paint Company, founded in 1940 by Charles and Evan Nelson patented a number of spray paint devices, originally designed for agricultural use.

Charles Nelson invented balls, encapsulated by a gelatin coating that could be injected with paint. These paint balls could be fired from a specific gun, distributed by Nelson, and the capsules invented were strong enough not break up until impact.

Both National Forest Park Rangers and cattle farmers were utilizing this spray paint equipment. Nelson Paint Company provided the paint capsules in 1960 under a contract with the U.S. Forest Service. They were created as a way to precisely mark forestry trees in long distances.

At that time, there were no specific paintball guns developed, until 1972, when Daisy, the largest producer of air guns, sealed an agreement with Nelson Paint Company to produce “The Splotchmarker.” When mass production began, the Splotchmarker was renamed the 007 Nel-Spot.

Initially, paint gels were fired from 0.22 pellet guns. Crossman manufactured the guns but Nelson Paint Company marketed them, until the paint gels became popular, industry demands began pouring in, and the Nel-Spot 707 was introduced.

Playing the Game

Originally developed as an outdoor sport, today, paintball is played in outdoor and indoor fields. The game can be played with any number of people, but paintball is generally a friendly competition, typically played with 2 teams of about 5-12 people.

Everyone is equipped with a protective mask to protect eyes, face and ears. Players use markers and shoot balls, made with a gelatin coating, which break on impact, leaving a stain. This painting is completely biodegradable, non-toxic and usually washable, thus with protective gear, there is really no need to worry about danger.

There are different types of games- many of which can be invented on the fly:

  • Central Flag: attempt to capture the flag before the other team
  • Two banners: you must capture the opposing team’s flag
  • Speedball: practiced with center flag or two flags in a field
  • Hyperball: practiced with center flag or two flags with lots of obstacles, this is usually done in tournaments
  • Super Air Ball: practiced with many obstacles inflatable center flag or two flags; this is usually the standard for competition.
  • Elimination: eliminate your opponent and last man standing wins

Paintball continues to draw in fans and casual players and the Sporting Goods Association estimates that approximately 10 million Americans play paintball annually. In short, it’s a fun competitive sport that mainly focuses on teamwork and the spirit of adventure.

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