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Tournament Paintball Tactics
written by Marc Gottfried

Increase your effectiveness out on the field using these sound tournament paintball tactics.
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Is "backyard" paintball just not cutting it for you anymore? You'd like to take it to the next level, would you? Well, it's time to gather your teammates and enter a local tournament! Paintball fields offer a variety of events ranging in both size and skill level. You should be able to find an event to suit your taste at any time of year. Like any sport, there are basic tactics you can learn to increase your effectiveness out in the field. The following is a basic framework you can use to practice for tournaments or even for regular recreational play.

Practice Playing Positions

Just like most sports, paintball uses positions for each player on the field. Some are self-explanatory such as "front" and "back." Others might require some help from more experienced players such as "tape" and "snake." While there aren't always lines on the field, paintball uses a loose reference to yard lines as found on a football field. A paintball field is not 100 yards long, but the obstacles are laid out in rows that are referred to as "the twenty" or "the fifty" and so on.

When "sweetspotting," it's important to plan ahead and be organized.

A front player heads towards the fifty as soon as the game starts. These players are usually smaller, carry less equipment, and have to survive in tight quarters. They are the playmakers and are responsible for making eliminations, grabbing the flag and knowing when to advance onto the opposition's side of the field. Back players stay back at "the ten" and provide support for the front players. They shoot lots of paint to cover the guys up front, call out opponents' positions and basically try to keep the front players in the game.

The "tape" is a slang term for the boundary and competitors playing the tape position work on the left and right sides of the field. It is common for the tape players to shoot across the field (left shoots right and vice versa) because it provides better angles at opponents rather than firing straight ahead. The "snake" is a specific type of obstacle found on nearly every field. It's long and thin and requires crawling to get from one end to the other. It takes a certain kind of player to be successful in this position as it is very difficult to play. It can also be the most damaging position on the field. Usually this position is a specialty of one or more players on a team and they play it exclusively.


The term "sweetspotting" refers to when one or more players fire at advancing, opposing players at the start of the game. They either stay put for a few seconds or slowly advance to their first positions as they fire, making a premeditated attempt to eliminate players on the other team who are trying to make their first positions.

To effectively sweetspot during a game, it is important to have several things laid out in your head and organized with your teammates. First of all, who are you going to shoot at? It is helpful to watch how other games play out on the field before you actually play. What set of first positions are causing the most damage? What path are the players on the other team taking to get to those positions? Do those paths have any available firing lanes from the back starting station on the other side of the field? What is the first position you're going to try to make it to at the beginning of the game?

You need to decide how many of you can safely sweetspot and then make it to your positions. Don't forget the other team is doing the same thing! Losing a player is just as bad as not eliminating one of theirs, so don't overdo it and get yourself marked.

Go, go, go! The game starts and you send paint down your firing lane as you take a few steps toward your first position. All you've got is five seconds or less so don't shoot any longer than that. You shouldn't have too far to go, so break into a run as soon as you are finished shooting and keep your path as perpendicular to their firing lanes as possible. It is much harder to hit a target moving cross-field than towards you (which is why sweetspotting works so well). "Go big" and run behind the "shadow" of the obstacle you're trying to get to. Since paintballs do not fly as flat as bullets do, players shooting at you from far away have to arc the balls slightly, and this will work to your advantage when coming up to a bunker that is taller than you. Move up to it so you're protected by its height and start calling out your opponents' positions to your teammates.

Naming obstacles on the field will help target the opposing team's position more effectively.

Walk the Field

One of the single most important things you should do before a tournament is walk the fields. This step should include your entire team, and be done the day before if possible. If this is something you already do, then maybe you should take a second look at the things you usually observe and think to yourself if there is anything else you can take away from the experience that will help you win games.

I would highly suggest naming all of the obstacles and positions on the field. This may sound a little ridiculous, but it is very helpful. If my player, Dave, is supposed to go to a round air obstacle on the left thirty off the break, then that is "Dave's bunker." When your back players are calling out the opposing team's positions and you hear "Dave's bunker!" you should know that the round air bunker on the opposing team's left thirty is "hot," or has an opponent in it. This tactic only works on mirrored fields (fields which are a mirror image on both sides), but any modern tournament should always have fields that are set up like this.

There are several other things you should not overlook when walking the fields. Deciding where your players should sweetspot is important and something that the whole team can do together. Eliminating one of their players right at the beginning can weaken the other team more than enough to lose them the game. Don't forget to do the same footwork on both sides even if the field claims to be a "measured mirror." Just a foot difference on one side can close a crucial firing lane and be the secret to winning on that side of the field! That type of information is yours for the taking if you spend the time and walk the fields as effectively as possible.

Filling Lost Positions

To fill or not to fill, that is the question! What I'm talking about is the paradoxical decision you'll need to make in a tournament when one of your teammates becomes eliminated from a position more advanced than yours. This is yet another time when quick thinking and knowledge of the game will guide your movements or lack thereof.

Your buddy made it to the fifty and he's really in the thick of it. You're not too far behind and doing your best to keep him in the game. Crack! Right in the lens. He's gone. What is the right move for you? Whether or not you should fill his position depends on several things. The bad news is that if you are going to fill, then it should happen immediately since the other team now thinks they've opened up that position. You'll have a better chance of them not sweetspotting your running lane and might even come up with a quick elimination if one of them isn't paying attention when you get there.

But should you do it? Well, was your buddy doing any good up there? Has the flag been pulled? If he was just up there getting pummeled and didn't have a decent lane to work with, then is it worth another possible elimination for you to further his effort? If no real progress was happening by that player being there, whether due to tough field setup or opponents having superior positions on him, then no — stay where you're at or move laterally. A lateral move can be just as if not more effective in some cases. A move 10 feet to the right might pinch the guy across the field just enough to make him let up on your teammates so that they can also improve their positions.

However, if the tournament you're playing is center flag and it has not been pulled then it certainly is worth your time to try for those points. In most tournament formats, the flag pull is worth 20 points! If your player was up there cranking out paint with the flag having already been pulled but he was taking a player or two out on the other team, his position might not have been all that bad. Everyone gets hit; it doesn't mean that he wasn't making a difference.

This is a good thing to pay attention to in practice since there isn't much of a drill you can run to simulate it. Every time one of your guys gets eliminated in front of you, make your decision, even if you don't move an inch. Paying attention during the course of the game to the effectiveness of your nearest and more advanced teammate can prove extremely valuable. As soon as his hand goes up signaling elimination, snap into action and take control.

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