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How not to suck.

Taking the mistakes out of your game.

© Ravi Chopra, Mark Worrell, 2000

I’ve been playing paintball for a long time - going on 12 years now. In my time I’ve become an OK paintball player. While I’m miles away from being a top-level Pro-player, I’ve been around long enough and played enough tournament games to know a bit about playing the game. My buddy Mark Worrell, though he hasn’t played as many years is one of the best players I’ve had the pleasure to have on my team. When I first met him, he was essentially a rec player with a lot of enthusiasm. In the intervening years he has developed into an explosive, flexible play-maker with Detroit Fusion and has played an integral part in helping them win the Pittsburgh and Chicago Open NPPL events in addition to the World Cup twice at the Amateur A level. Next year he’ll be starting for them as a Pro.

Over the years, I’ve seen countless tips and tactics articles written to help you be a better player. They’ve included tips on virtually every aspect of playing the game. I’ve never felt comfortable writing such an article before because I really don’t think you can tell a player how to play better. Bunkering, crawling, playing back - all are skills that individuals have to develop on their own. Watch some of the best front players in the world and the only consistent thing you’ll see is that they all make a big impact on the outcome of the game. Beyond that, their styles of play and big moves are all different. The lesson here is that what works for one guy won’t necessarily be the right thing for the next. To develop into an excellent player, you have to find your own talents and develop them to allow you to have impact on the field. This comes from practice and tournament play - preferably against teams that are better than you. This also requires a fair amount of natural talent.

Most players never get to the point where they can really start thinking about how to develop their own style and big-game moves to differentiate them from the pack. The reason is because of basic, newbie mistakes. Before you can develop a top-level game, you must eliminate the errors from your play. Mark and I are constantly amazed by how many players continue to make the same, silly mistakes game after game and year after year, ensuring that they’ll continue to be victimized by those who recognize them and can take advantage of them.

Our goal with this article is not to tell you how to be a better player. Our goal is to tell you how to be less bad. The goals of these tips are not to tell you how to eliminate more of your opponents, but rather how to avoid putting yourself in a position where others can easily eliminate you with little risk to themselves. We wanted to cover both individual and team play. Though these will seem to be targeted at tournament players, rec-ballers will find similar advantage from culling these mistakes from their game.

Before the Game: give yourself every opportunity before they blow the starting horn.

Many people think that the game starts when the ref yells "Go! Go! Go!" They’re wrong. The game starts long before then, back at home when you’re getting your gear ready to play and goes all the way up to the end of the game.

Have a reliable paintgun: I’ve said this in other articles, but it bears repeating. Having a reliable paintgun is possibly the single most important thing to be sure of before a game. I don’t care how fast you can shoot it, how short or light the trigger is, or how much you’ve spent on the latest gizmo. If it breaks down during the game you’re screwed. The way to ensure this is to never ever test out new parts, upgrades, or unproven paintguns during a tournament. Save that for practice and rec-ball.

For God-sakes, don’t forget anything: Having managed a team this is a pet-peeve of mine. If I had a dollar for every time someone showed up without his ’gun, jersey, cleats, goggles, pack (did this one myself), etc. I’d be a rich man. Make sure you have a clean set of clothes and gear packed and ready to go the night before leaving.

Load up well before each game: I like to assemble my paintgun, fill my pods, fill my tank, and chrono first thing when I get to the field. I load and clean up immediately after each game as well. This way I’m always ready to walk on the field and play. There is no feeling more sickening than hearing them call your team to the field, realize that your tank is empty, and look up to see an 8-mile long air line. Fill early and fill often.

Chrono low: If you don’t have an extremely consistent paintgun, go on shooting low. Hot-gun penalties are getting steeper and steeper these days. There is no advantage from snugging right up against the field-limit if there is a chance you’ll come off hot. Penalties have kept more good teams out of tournament finals than anything. Don’t be one of those teams. Play smart and go on low until you know what your safe range is.

Shoot the best paint you can afford: This does not necessarily mean shooting the most expensive paint. Wait for other teams to get their paint and go ask around. People are always happy to bitch about how their paint is crap or praise how straight it’s shooting. If you can’t do that, at least crack one case and take a look at how round and dimple-free the paint is. If you can grab a few paintballs, drop them through your barrels and see how well it fits and how consistent the size appears to be from ball-to-ball. If the best paint is more expensive, cough up the few extra bucks. The improved accuracy, consistency, and reduced barrel breaks are worth every penny. There is nothing as frustrating as having your paint hook all over the place and knowing you could have had something better.

Have a captain and stick by him: It’s hard to swallow your pride and follow someone else’s direction, but if you want to win, you have to. You need one person to make final decisions and to discuss controversies with the refs. Without a single voice and a single vision, your team will eventually run into problems and likely will fall apart.

Walk the field: Field walking is an incredibly important, but often poorly understood part of the game. Everyone does it differently, but unless you’re winning tournaments consistently, there are a few things you should be mindful of doing every time.

  • Plan out the basics: Each player should have a primary and secondary spot from each end of the field so they always know where they’re going off the break. If you’re a front guy, know your running lane so you can get there as fast as you can without getting lost or tripping.
  • Learn your sweet-spotting and blind-shooting lanes: Early eliminations are huge and can win the game in the opening seconds. If the field is small enough to shoot end-to-end, your back/cover players should plan on trying to sweet-spot your opponents moving to their point bunkers. Mid and front players often have screened shots where you can’t see an opponent but can lob your paint in on him. Learn those blind shots in advance by lining up the shot with a tree or other object that you can see behind your target.
  • Plan a couple big moves: You should have one or two big moves (usually planned bunkerings) to give you the chance to break open or finish the game in the closing minutes. They should be risky, but have a big payoff. Remember, you’ll be running these in the closing minute or two. Keep it simple so your don’t screw it up.
  • Don’t over-think it: Some teams spend hours on each field planning out every move of the game. More often than not it all falls apart once the game starts. Unless your name is Bob Long or Bill Gardner, chances are you’re wasting time if you’re spending more than 20-30 minutes on each field.

Watch other teams play: Walking the field is important, but unless you’re really good at it, it won’t tell you everything about how the field plays. Watching other teams who play your field before you will fill in the details, reveal mistakes before you make them, and may provide you with a key move that you didn’t think of when walking the field.

Hit the field with a winning attitude: You don’t have to be the late-'90's Aftershock to walk on the field with confidence and a winning attitude. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked out on the field against a newer team and have them say something like "don’t beat up on us too bad." These teams are beaten before they ever fire a shot. Upsets happen, but only if you believe you can pull it off. I’m not saying you should go out talking shit to a team that has maxed their last 10 games in 30 seconds or less, but you must go out believing that if you play your best game you have a shot.

Playing the Game: Individual skills.

Pete Robinson often talks about how the best teams are simply made up of a group of players with the best individual skills. To a certain extent, I agree. But even if you don’t have the best shot or the most stylish moves in the game, simply eliminating your mistakes can make your team a force to be reckoned with and will ensure that you will more often end up on the better end of an upset when it occurs.

Don’t fan the trigger: We’re begging you. This is a pet peeve of ours. I don’t know who invented this silliness, but whoever it was should be dragged out behind a shed and beaten with a shovel. The only thing fanning a trigger ever achieves is to make you look like a total retard and as often as not results in you chopping paint. Consider: when you fan the trigger, you have to take the hand that is holding the grip and best controlling the stability and aim of the paintgun completely off the ’gun. The result: you can no longer effectively aim or move your paintgun until you stop and hold your paintgun like a normal human being again. If you really need to shoot that fast, practice and learn to shoot that fast while holding your paintgun properly. No really good player fans the trigger. Neither should you. It’s bad technique that gains you nothing.

Don’t get hung up on shooting fast: The only times putting as much paint in the air as possible is really beneficial is off the break and when trying to cut down a runner. The rest of the time, all you do is waste paint and air and tell everyone on the field where you are and where you’re shooting. Be judicious about when you do and don’t shoot. If three paintballs will do the job as well as ten, shoot three.

Keep your paintgun in front of your face: You’re not Clint Eastwood. Shooting a paintball gun from the hip is stupid and pointless. If you have your paintgun to your face, you make yourself a smaller target (by overlapping your ’gun and mask) and ensure you’re always sighting properly when you take a shot.

Use a stock and keep it against your shoulder: This whole business of either not using a stock or perching your tank up on top of your shoulder is an absolute mystery to both of us. Having a stock (or bottom-line tank that can be used as such) enables you to stabilize the paintgun much better and improves your accuracy markedly. Try it. We guarantee the results. People who perch their tanks up on top of their shoulders are nearly as bad. You can’t stabilize the ’gun as well and you can’t keep it in front of your face. As a result, you look dumb, you worsen your aim, and you make yourself a much bigger target. If your tank or stock is too long for you to comfortably shoulder it, spend the extra $25-$50 to buy a longer drop forward. You will shoot more accurately and you will be shot less often.

Always keep your ’gun up: It’s hard to do, but you should always endeavor to keep your paintgun up and in your face. If you do, you’ll always be prepared to fire off a few shots if an opponent pokes something out. Lower your ’gun and you waste a precious second or two bringing it up and taking aim. At the highest levels of the sport, paintball is played by seconds and inches. Having your ’gun up and ready can give you that crucial edge in tight games.

Don’t play over the top of your bunker: This is probably the most common newbie mistake. I know it’s tempting to go over the top of your bunker. You have a great, unimpeded view of the entire field. The problem is that the entire field gets a great look at you. When you go over the top you expose yourself to your opponents in a full 180 degree arc. Against a good team nine times out of ten you’ll get popped from a direction you don’t expect. Play smart. Play the sides of your bunker to minimize your exposure to the other team.

Don’t shoot your opponents bunker: You don’t get eliminations by putting paint on a bunker. I’m always running into people who love wasting paint against the front of my cover. These people are taking themselves out of the game. All shooting a bunker does is make noise and tell the guy behind it that you’re out on him. Be smart. Stop shooting for a while and give the guy a chance to come out so you can shoot him. Consider shooting around the edge of his bunker where he keeps coming out. If you time him right he might just lean out into it.

Learn to push your opponents in: If someone is out and holding on you, you have to be able to take control and push him back into his bunker, at least for a few seconds. There are many reliable ways to do this. One way is to shoot the back of your bunker before leaning out so paint is coming out your barrel as you clear the edge of your bunker. Another way is to start shooting wide of your opponent and slowly work your way around while shooting. Experiment with different techniques until you find the one that works best for you and perfect it. Being able to push your opponents in and take control of the field is crucial when your team is trying to make risky moves up-field or trying to bunker key players.

Learn to snap-shoot: The ability to pop out, fire two accurate shots, and duck back into your cover before your opponent can react is the skill that separates the best players in the world from the merely mediocre. For the record, I am absolutely awful at this. Mark is very good. The best pros are so quick and accurate that they’re frightening to face. This can only be developed through practice.

If you aren’t doing anything where you are, move: Many players get very hung up on one safe spot on the field and spend the whole game looking around for something to do. If this is you, you might as well be sitting in the dead-box. Get in the game and help your team out. If you’ve been sitting in your bunker with no good shots or pressure for 30 to 60 seconds, move to a spot where you can have some impact on the game.

Don’t get tunnel-vision: Another newbie mistake is to get so focused on one part of the field that you forget about the rest of the game. Do not sit and stare at one bunker for minutes at a time. You must have full-field awareness. If you watch the best players in the world you’ll see that they’re in constant motion moving back and forth behind their bunkers, looking both ways every few seconds to make sure that they’re not missing easy eliminations or people moving up on them. Back guys are constantly looking around the field to keep track of their own players as well as opponents so they’re ready to provide support if someone makes a move.

Don’t slow down going into point bunkers: Front guys especially have to get to their bunkers as fast as possible. This means go in sprinting and slide. If you go in slow against a good team, they will beat you to the front bunkers and rip your head off coming in. Wear elbow and knee pads so you can dive in from a full sprint without worrying about injury. It is important to also pick the best screened running lane. Try to find the fastest path that puts as many obstacles between you and your opponents sweet-spotters.

Don’t get caught by a dead-man’s walk: It’s embarrassing and completely avoidable. If you see someone walking with his armband still on and his ’gun down, shoot him. Eliminated players should have their ’guns up and have no reason to bitch about being shot if they don’t.

Don’t get shot: I know this sounds trite and condescending but if you take it to heart it can improve your game tremendously. When I say "don’t get shot," I mean don’t take unnecessary risks. Unless you’re sacrificing yourself to grab the flag or bunker someone, the best way to help your team is to be in and contributing at the end of the game. Stay well tucked into your cover. If someone is out on you and has you dead to rights, don’t try to come out on him. Don’t lean way out of your bunker to get a shot. Don’t stay out those few extra seconds when paint is zinging by your ear. If you’re not a world-class player, you’re always better off if you play it safe and stay in the game.

Playing the Game: Team skills.

Know the rules: Every tournament seems to run with a completely different set of rules. Find out what the equipment and on-field rules will be before playing your first game to avoid making mistakes and to give your arguments strength if you run into on-field controversy.

Back players, follow your point players in: Being a back guy does not mean staying within 10 feet of the back tape. The back player’s job is to support his front player by passing him information and giving him cover. That means that if your point guy moves up, you have to move up as well to continue providing him good protection.

Take advantage of openings: It’s sad to see a player make a really nice move to bunker an opponent and open up one side of the field, only to see the rest of his team sit and allow the other team to fill the gap. When your team gets a break, move quickly to take advantage. Move up open tape-lines. Take new bunkers when you push opponents back. When you hesitate, you give the other team the time to react and adjust. Moving quickly to take advantage of a good situation keeps your opponent on his heels and finish games quickly.

Communicate!: Communication is extremely important. Every team should have some way to pass crucial information back and forth across the field so everyone on the team is on the same page. At the very least, information about elimination counts for both teams, flag status, and opponent positions should all be quick and easy to pass back and forth between players. You don’t need the most complex system in the world. In fact, keeping it simple will help ensure people remember it and won’t make mistakes in the heat of a game. Even more important, once you have a system of communication, USE IT! The best games are always the ones where everyone is shouting, passing info back and forth, and keeping their teammates on their toes. When you see an opponent, make sure all your teammates know where he is too. When you see someone get eliminated and head for the dead-box, make sure all your teammates know that and confirm the kill-count. Knowledge is power, so share the wealth.

Play the points: Pride doesn’t win tournaments so leave it at home. If you have enough points to win the tournament and all you have to do is get the grab and keep your opponents from hanging, then do just that. The only thing people will remember at the end of the day is who won the tournament. Don’t risk blowing it just because you want to finish with a max you don’t even need.

If you win, win with style: Dignity and grace are both commodities in short supply in our sport. When you win a game or tournament, do your best to be a gentleman about it. Paintball is getting more public and media attention these days than ever before, and not all of it is good. We need more professionalism in paintball at all levels.

All material at this site is © Ravi Chopra, 2001