I started playing paintball at its peak in the early 2000’s and have since watch as many fields have closed down, large event participation slowly dwindle and, most importantly, how the sport itself has adapted to the changes.
But the question still remains, is paintball Dying?
The overall popularity in paintball has declined since 2000, but it is certainly not dead or dying. Since about 2015 paintball has maintained a steady and consistent plateau in participation and overall internet activity. Some fields and events are even seeing an upward trend in participation and seeing many signs of growth.
Paintball manufactures are still innovating and coming out with new gear and tournaments are still being held world wide. If paintball were truly dying off, you wouldn’t be seeing many companies making new product or major tournaments regularly being held.
The fact of the matter is, almost all outdoor hobbies and extreme sports have seen some decline in participation over the years but are still not considered to be dying. You can see these trends by using googles online tools as shown below.
There are several factors that paintball participants look at that make them feel like paintball is dying, but they are primarily looking at the difference between now and about 20 years ago.
Lets go over several different influences that have altered overall paintball participation both on the field and online since the early 2000’s when compared with today.
Reasons Why Overall Paintball Attendance has Declined Since the 2000’s
Anyone who has played paintball for as long as I have will have noticed all the changes over time that have slowly whittled away at the overall player numbers. But this is to be expected for a rapidly changing world with new technology and major economic shifts.
Here are a few of the biggest factors that have stunted the growth of paintball in recent years when compared to 20 years ago.
There is no way to get around it, technology itself has evolved at a rapid pace in the past few decades, and along with it our attention has shifted from being outside to looking down at our phone for hours.
In todays world, there are so many different distractions and things notifying us that we have a new message. We have changed as a society that will walk down to our friends house to see if they are home to hanging out with them in a video game.
Not only that, there is so many different forms of entertainment at our fingertips that some people may see it as an inconvenience to go out and play paintball. More and more people find more enjoyment and overall satisfaction by scrolling through their social media accounts than they would being outside.
To many, paintball is considered to be a luxury hobby as it requires the user to spend money for gear, field admission, and paintballs. This can get expensive really fast.
Paintball attendance was already starting to dwindle since the peak in the early 2000’s, but when the US experienced its recession between December 2007 to June 2009, it just added another cause that kept paintball on the downward trend.
The overall growth and success of paintball relies heavily on participants having disposable income that they can freely spend at their local fields. Without this financial flexibility, it makes it harder to play as frequently as one would like.
The final major issue that plagues paintball is Politics, both from the Government and from within the community.
There has been a major push on gun reform and every form of gun from airgun to real firearms have been seeing more negative attention. This has even made it hard for some fields to open their doors to the public due to scrutiny from local residents that live near to these places.
But some of the most damaging bit of politics that have plagued the paintball community is from within its own borders. Some companies have filed lawsuits against each other for claims of patent infringement, causing some smaller companies to fold or be bought out by larger companies.
Not only that, some of the inner politics within the tournament scene has cause some venues to close for good.
Online Paintball Communities are Changing
In addition to to the evolution of how people interact with technology, the way we interact with paintball communities has changed as well.
Around the late 2000’s, paintball forums were the way for players all over the world to communicate, plan events, and trade paintball gear. Now with all of the social media options available at our fingertips, it has become easier for players to use mobile friendly networks like Facebook and Twitter instead of browsing through clunky forums on their phones.
The migration of players from forums to social media sites has also reduced the overall available content that can easily be searched for online. This has made it harder to find expert reviews and information of gear and technology easily on the web and forces people to continuously ask the same questions over and over on social media.
Anything that is posted on social media is not easily accessible for online search engines to find and will eventually be lost over time. This alone prevents the storage of collective knowledge for the paintball community and requires experts to be active on these social media accounts at all times.
Fields are Changing Their Focus
In recent years, paintball fields have started to focus on their primary bread and butter for field revenue, rental players. There are some fields that only cater to rental players and some have actually removed their speedball courses to dissuade more aggressive players that may scare away a fields primary customers.
In order to stay profitable, paintball fields have to cater to their primary clientele. There are some fields that just focus on tournament players and provide them with a field to practice for tournaments on, but the majority of fields focus on parties, rentals, and the casual recballer looking to play some laid back paintball.
Lots of fields, have also adopted lower velocities, BPS caps, and minimum engagement distances to give players who may be a little nervous some confidence that they won’t get hurt.
Paintball is Continuing to Evolve and Adapt
Since the beginning of paintball, players and companies have continued to innovate and change how paintball is played, for better or worse. Paintball has seen many different trends come and go which has created different sub categories in paintball like speedball, woodsball, magfed, and pump.
Below, I will cover some of the more recent developments in paintball that have drastically reshaped how paintball is played and what products are being created.
Paintball Gun Arms Race (Early 2000’s)
In the heyday of paintball, the biggest thing was how many shots per second you could make your paintball gun shoot. This itself pushed many companies to create the best and fastest paintball guns they could develop, and some players even found ways to reliably shoot their paintball guns in excess of 30 bps.
This on its own helped advance paintball technology by leaps and bounds beyond what it was years prior and gave us the foundation to many of the paintball guns that are being used today.
However, this race to having the best and fastest paintball guns caused many problems like overshooting and shooting hot, thus coining the term “pain-ball” and driving away potential players.
Focus on Better Entry Level Gear (Mid to Late 2000’s)
Due to the leap in paintball technology in the early 2000’s, many paintball companies learned many different ways to make a paintball gun, and found ways to make them both better and more affordable.
This focus on making better quality entry level and mid range paintball equipment bridged the gap between your average player and tournament player so that more players were able to acquire tournament ready paintball gear and play at a higher level for less money.
This ended up having a trickledown effect, causing the basic beginner level gear to become better made and more affordable so that more players could easily enter the sport with quality gear without having to pay so much money.
Introduction of Low Impact Paintball (~2010)
Even with the shift in attention of paintball tech going to beginners and intermediate players, there was still some room left to break into a newer market, kids and familys.
Paintball companies started to roll out a new sized of paintball, 50 cal. They were boasting that this is the new direction paintball will be going as it is cheaper to make and hurts less than the traditional 68 cal paintball.
It was initially met with a lot of criticism and negativity by the community as a whole, but for good reason. Everyone already had 68 cal setups and if the industry as a whole changed to 50 cal, they would have to buy completely different setups and making millions of dollars worth of gear useless.
However, the 50 cal paintball continued on with it’s intended goal and allowed younger players and family’s to play paintball with little to no pain involved. Some paintball fields only use 50 cal paintballs and it allows them to focus on how fun the sport is instead of how much it hurts.
Resurgence of Pump and Mechanical Paintball Guns (Early to Mid 2010’s)
I believe the combination of the US recession in 2008 and 2009 and the cost of shooting cases of paintballs every day drove paintball back to its technological roots, bringing back pump and mechanical paintball popularity.
The resurgence of pump and mechanical paintball guns reduced the overall firepower of the player, but forced them to become more skilled and tactical in how they played the field. It was no longer about how much paint you shot, but how well you can place your shots.
This also brought about low cap paintball and further forced players to be more conservative with their shots.
Playing in this manner had the added benefit of making it easier to mix experienced players with slower shooting gear with rental players and allowed for a more enjoyable game for everyone.
The Rise of Magfed Paintball (Mid 2010’s)
With the popularity of airsoft and players getting use to playing low capacity paintball, this allowed for magfed paintball to get a strong following.
Magfed paintball guns have been around for several years already, but weren’t fully refined just yet. They had their own issues and were expensive but allowed players to use a more compact setup on the field.
Todays magfed paintball guns are much more refined then their older predecessors and conversion kits. Some magfed paintball guns like the Planet Eclipse EMF100 is paving the way to better magfed technology and is making shooting First Strike Rounds even easier.
First Strike Rounds (FSR) also came about during the early 2010’s and have gained in popularity more recently they shoot further and more accurately than a regular paintball. The reason for their increase in popularity was improvements in magfed paintball guns reliability and ability to feed FSRs without jams.
The Future of Paintball
For me, the future of paintball is still full of opportunity and growth, but it is up to the paintball companies, paintball fields, and most importantly the players themselves to guide and grow the sport as a whole.
Everyone does have to do their part to ensure the longevity of paintball, allowing new players and companies to participate in the sport.
Why Some Fields are Succeeding While Others are Closing
I have traveled to dozens of paintball fields in several different states, and I can quickly point out a field that will see long term success or will struggle.
One of the key factors is undoubtedly location. There has to be a constant flow of players wanting to come to the field and play. If the field is way out of the way and has very few people nearby to participate, it will hurt the fields bottom line.
The other key factor is customer service. If the field staff aren’t actively guiding and maintaining a constant flow of fun for the participants, return customers will dwindle. If word gets out that a field doesn’t take care of their players, or is unsafe in any way it could further drive away traffic.
Fields that I see with 50 to 100+ players per day typically have quality staff that is constantly engaging with the players and finding fun ways to let them play paintball.
What You can do to Grow The Sport
Everyone who regularly plays paintball can add to or hurt the overall reputation of paintball. You can still play hard with players at your level, but allow everyone both on the field and off the field to enjoy the sport for what it is.
The biggest thing that will help the sport is literally what we should be doing anyways, and that is play by the rules. The biggest complaint I hear from both first time players and paintball veterans is how some player is constantly cheating or breaking the rules set in place to give new players more confidence like a 10 foot no shooting rule.
This usually has the effect of turning both beginners and experienced players off to either the field or even the sport as a whole.
If you really want to make paintball more fun for others and make a beginners day, try loosing every now and then! It’s not all about winning and nothing gets new players more excited than “taking out the good player.”
Also, chat it up with the new players while off the field. Give them tips and tactics to improve their game so that they can have a better experience on the field!
Finally, try introducing someone to the sport! I’m sure most of you experienced players have more than one setup, just let them borrow your gear for a few outings and let them see if they like the sport or not. Who knows, maybe in the future they will be in the same position and bring in someone new themselves!