A Brief History of Paintball

A Brief History of Paintball

Posted by John Amodea on 1st Sep 2020

A Brief History of Paintball

Learn Where Paintball Came From!

Charles Gaines, a New Hampshire writer and outdoorsman and Hayes Noel, a New York stock trader began a discussion in 1979 that would eventually lead to the first game of paintball, then called “survival” in June of 1981. The debate went like this: Would an outdoorsman familiar with the woods, hunting and guns have a better chance at survival than a New York stock trader that had to manage risk every day in his profession as well as in the city he lived in? Gaines told Hayes, “If I got you in that situation, you’d have no chance.” Noel disagreed. They debated for more than a year when a third friend Bob Gurnsey, joined the debate that lasted another year. Gurnsey was an adrenaline junkie who raced cars and was a competitive downhill skier, adding another interesting voice to the mix.

“The debate” was discussed so frequently that many friends of the three were now involved. George Butler, a mutual friend and a party to the debate saw a paint marking pistol in a farm catalogue and before long Gaines ordered two of the Nelspot 007 pistols. They tested the pistols, shot each other a point-blank range, had a duel and decided it was time to put the debate to the test. They created rules for an every-man-for-himself game, ordered ten more guns, paintballs, hand compasses and had a friend find land, mark it off and create maps of property. Invitations to play the “survival game” were sent out and nine more accepted.

On June 27, 1981 the first game was played on a parcel of land in Henniker, New Hampshire. Twelve men walked into the woods each carrying a Nelspot marker, paintballs, a compass, shop goggles and a map. There were four flag stations, each with 12 flags and the goal was to capture one flag from each station and get out to the safe zone without being hit. The winner, Ritchie White, a New Hampshire forester, walked away the winner without ever firing his gun.

Within a few months the three originators of the game, Gaines, Gurnsey and Noel formed the National Survival Game (NSG), the world’s first paintball company. NSG opened the first playing field early in 1982 and by 1983 they franchised more than 180 other fields around the U.S. In 1984 the game spread to England and Australia and by mid-1985 was being played throughout Europe and into parts of South and Central America. Also by the mid-80s, NSG had their own gun, the Splatmaster, their own paintball brand and carried and sold everything needed to play or open a paintball field. 

The National Survival Game got its first competition when Jeff Perlmutter and David Freeman formed Pursuit Marketing Inc, better known as PMI. PMI quickly had their own paintball gun line with markers like the PGP pistol, the PMI 1 and others. A few years in, PMI made a deal with RP Scherer, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, for their own brand of paintballs. At the same time Brass Eagle was making waves with their gun line that included the Cobra, Ninja, Barracuda and many others. 

Later in the 1980s Tippmann Pneumatics entered the market with their SMG-60 clip-fed fully automatic paintball gun, the first of its kind. To this point in history all paintball guns were pump-guns that used C02 cartridges. In 1985 Lou “Gramps” Grubb and Mike “Grizzly” Grubb invented “constant air” bulk air systems that would effectively replace 12-gram C02s. By the end of the decade of the 80s there were nearly a dozen companies making semiautomatic paintball guns and the game changed forever as these semis replaced the hugely popular Phantom, Bushmaster and other pump paintball guns. 

While paintball gun technologies were advancing, other areas of the game were as well. In 1987 both JT Racing and Scott Goggles released paintball goggle systems made specifically for paintball. And the game was becoming competitive. By 1987 the NSG had ben running paintball tournaments for three years. Jim Lively and Sam Caldwell created the Lively series of tournaments by this time and scenario paintball as we now know it was started by Wayne Dollack in 1985. The game was growing by leaps and bounds year after year.

Also in the latter half of the 1980s National Paintball Supply was formed by Rick Fairbanks and Doug Brown. Gino Postorivo began South Jersey Paintball in 1989 and would eventually take over the National Paintball brand, taking it to heights only rivaled by PMI. And by the end of the 1980s the National Survival Game, saddled with lawsuits, was on its last legs. The wholesale game was now a two-horse race between PMI and National Paintball Supply.

Throughout the 1990s companies like Airgun Designs (Automag), Worr Game Products (Autococker), Unique Sporting, Tippmann, Smart Parts, Pro Team Products, PMI, National Paintball, JT Racing, Scott Goggles, DYE Paintball, LAPCO and many others, big and small, created a cottage industry that would grow into a billion dollar a year business. Also in the 90s the National Professional Paintball League formed, bringing competitive paintball to the next level. Wayne Dollack’s scenario series was booming and new scenario game promoters like Viper, MXS and BlackCat would follow—all growing the player base, the game and adding variety to an already amazing game. 

Late in the 1990s Smart Parts and WDP introduced electro-pneumatic paintball guns to the game. The smart Parts Shocker and WDP Angel would become the guns of choice for a generation of competitive paintball players and teams worldwide. Paintball on ESPN and many other networks would help the game go from an underground relatively unknown sport to a mainstream game played by millions of people worldwide. 

By the mid-2000s Planet Eclipse became a major player in the game as they introduced their Ego electronic paintball gun. Richmond Italia’s Procaps became a major player in the manufacturing and distribution of paintballs in the 2000s and paintball gear was now available in almost all big box chain stores like Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sports Authority. Pro/Am tournament leagues like the PSP (Paintball sports Promotions), NPPL and Millennium Series (Europe) were routinely drawing hundreds of teams to their four to five events each year.

The economic crash of the mid-2000s almost fatally wounded the game of paintball, with many major companies being bought-out by venture capitalist companies at bargain prices.  The game struggled for almost a decade. The competitive spirit of both the players and the industry fueled the game through the hardest of economic times. Companies like Valken Paintball, Planet Eclipse, DYE Paintball and GI Sportz have continued to develop new products, new technologies and simply better equipment.

Creative field owners around the world have come up with new ways to play the game, better scenario games and tournaments and better marketing, giving players a better game-day experience than they’ve had in quite some time. Magfed paintball games, zombie games and new tournament leagues like the National Xball League have helped the game of paintball inch back to better days.

Here we are at the start of the third decade of the new millennium and paintball is vibrant, strong and as fun to play as ever. Get out and enjoy!