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Each weekend it amazes me to see the variety of people drawn to our sport. In my 8 year tenure as field manager for NJ Paintball Club I've had the opportunity to observe thousands of players and dozens of teams- from novices in jeans and tee-shirts to high-tech tourney players shooting nitro- and I've found that some concepts of strategy remain constant no matter what level of player you are. On occasion I'm still surprised how even "experienced" players ignore these common sense basics of good tactics:
1) CARE FOR AND FEED YOUR PAINTGUN. Keep your paintgun clean, especially your barrel. Paintball goo destroys accuracy. Have enough CO2. You can't shoot without air! If you can't shoot, what chance do you have of eliminating your opponent? Have enough paint! If you can shoot 400 balls with your tank, carry 400 balls. Use fresh, quality paint! Paintballs are not the place to cut corners. Old paint or "brand X" paint will not shoot straight- and might not shoot at all!
2) HAVE A PLAN. Sometimes a win can happen by pure dumb luck, but more often you need a plan. The simpler the better. Teams I see use a "three squad" plan, dividing into three groups and designating an avenue of advance for each. There are only three avenues open- down the right border, down the left border, or down the middle. Leaving a squad "on defense" is not an option.
3) DISPERSE YOUR TEAM. Avoid "newbie clumping". This is the human equivalent of the "herd instinct" you see African plains grazers display on nature documentaries. Lions circle a herd of gazelle. The gazelle clump together for protection. The lions pick off the weakest. In paintball you shouldn't think with "prey" mentality. Think with "predator" mentality. Watch any third rate war movie and you'll find a stereotypical sergeant screaming for his men to "SPREAD OUT!" The theory is easy to comprehend- if you are all clumped together you make one large target. If you are spread out you make many little targets- much harder to keep track of and eliminate. To properly disperse you must form a skirmish line stretching from border to border. Your line might zig or zag a little as opportunity for cover and advancement vary- but overall you must strive to maintain a line. This line is important is because it will protect your most vulnerable areas- the flanks.
4) PROTECT YOUR FLANKS. 90% of the games I've refereed or played are won along a border. If you let your opponents push one of your border squads back too far your center squad will be "flanked", exposed to the paintguns of your opponents. It's like an "end run" in football. To avoid being flanked you must keep track of everything happening on the field.
5) AVOID TUNNEL VISION. If you pay too much attention to the opponent in front of you, you'll never see the opponent sneaking up on the side of you! Use your eyes and ears! Watch everything around you. If you realize you are being flanked, it's time to pull back.
6) LEARN HOW TO RETREAT. I see players insist on stubbornly holding ground against hopeless odds, preferring to go down in a blaze of glory rather than withdraw. Games are lost by players like that. Even a team on the losing end can pull a stalemate if they learn "elastic defense"- pulling back in a series of controlled retreats. This tactic will eat up game time as your opponents are forced to repeatedly locate your position and attempt to flank you.
7) DEPLOY RAPIDLY. In order to be able to retreat you must have land at your back to retreat into. A winning team runs into the field, gobbling up as much real estate as they can while it's free. A losing team leisurely walks towards their opponents when the game begins. These players are going to have to purchase territory at a very expensive price in men, CO2, and paintballs. It's common sense to get there first with the most players and let your opponents try to evict you.
8) USE COVER. We've all seen players who walk right out in the open, as if this were the gunfight at the O.K. Corral instead of a paintball game. They make great targets. I've often wondered about these people- are they afraid to get their cammies dirty? Or are they just too macho to get down and hide behind something? "Cover" is any obstacle that protects you adequately from the impact of paintballs. "Adequate" means that it protects 100% of your body. You are as vulnerable during a game as you allow yourself to be. If you are hiding behind a skinny tree with your head sticking out one side and your butt sticking out the other you are more likely to be eliminated than if you are hiding behind a rock the size of a '49 Mercury!
9) COMMUNICATE. The thing that sets man apart from other creatures is his vastly superior ability to communicate. Watch any winning team and you will notice how much they yell, shout, and scream! If you know where an opponent is hiding, tell your teammates! Once everyone knows where he is, they can help to eliminate him.
10) CONCENTRATE YOUR FIREPOWER. If you take one shot at your opponent, what are your chances are of hitting him? What if you took 10 shots? 20 shots? The likelihood of his elimination increase exponentially with the number of paintballs you fire. Now imagine that it's not just you shooting at that opponent, but your entire squad! What are his odds of staying in the game now? This is the technique of concentrated firepower! Develop it.
11) DON'T FORGET MIND GAMES. I have found that truly experienced players are seldom intimidated by the appearances of their opponents- but novice and intermediate players are suckers for a mind game. I've seen gung-ho teams suddenly quaking in their boots because their opponents arrived wearing matching cammies, sporting a team armpatch, or lugging around high-tech paintball gear. Players who allow themselves to be intimidated have forfeited the game before it begins. They have convinced themselves that they are outgunned and outclassed. They have already prepared an excuse for losing. Wrong attitude! Never permit yourself to be intimidated by mere appearance or reputation. I've seen too many automag wielding, so-called "experienced players" taken out by old-timers with pump paintguns to believe that equipment or appearance has very much to do with winning.
Paintball is still, above all, a game of strategy and tactics. Learn the basics and you will have a firm foundation on which to build your playing skills.
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