Paintball is a relatively new sport. The origins of paintball began in the 1960s when Charles Nelson of the Nelson Paint Company invented the paintball marker, which would later become the paintball gun. The marker was not originally invented for use in paintball but rather as a much more accurate and easier way to mark trees and livestock from longer distances by park rangers and cattle farmers. He patented spray paint devices for agricultural use and invented the balls for marking, which were gelatin paintballs injected with oil paint.
In 1972, the Nelson Paint Company tried to sell their marker, the Crosman 707, but it was a commercial failure. In a second attempt to market his marker, Nelson found success with Daisy, a renowned BB gun manufacturer. They turned his gun into the iconic Splotch Maker, or as it’s better known, the Nel-Spot 007 marker.
Inspired by this marker, 1981 saw the first official game of paintball. Friends Bob Gurnsey, Hayes Noel and Charles Gaines debated who was best at survival – city or country folk. They saw Nelson’s marker advertised in a catalogue, igniting their idea to settle their argument in a survival game using these markers. Bob Gurnsey wrote the rules, and nine other players were invited to the first paintball playing field in New Hampshire, USA, on June 7, 1981, to play the first paintball game.
The first game was a capture-the-flag format, with six woodsmen and six city men battling to collect all flags without being eliminated to be crowned the winner. Each player was given Nel-Spot 007 markers, eye protection, and a 100-acre wood playing field map. Forester Ritchie White won the first paintball game without him even firing a shot.
One player, Bob Jones, published an article discussing the game he had played in Sports Illustrated and interest in the game grew and grew. As they began to earn more media attention, Gurnsey, Noel, and Gaines saw a business opportunity and began selling starter kits for their game with a marker, paintballs, goggles and a rulebook. They trademarked their game as the National Survival Game and contracted the Nelson Paint Company to provide their guns and equipment.
As the National Survival Game grew in popularity, in 1982, Bob Gurnsey opened the world’s first commercial paintball field in New Hampshire. National Survival Game Inc. franchised their business and opened fields throughout the USA. Continuing with the success of their franchise, in 1983, Gurnsey hosted the first major paintball tournament, the National Survival Game National Championship. This championship was won by a Canadian team, The Unknown Rebels, who took home the $3,000 prize.
The following years saw paintball take off around the world. In 1984, the National Survival Game started to be called paintball and saw the release of new paintball products, such as the first mass-produced paintball gun and water-based paintball. 1985 saw the first outdoor paintball field in England as paintball spread worldwide and fields began to get smaller for faster-paced, action-packed games. In the late 1980s, the International Paintball Players Association was founded as a non-profit association to ensure the growth and safety of paintball, in which the 300 feet per second speed limit on paintball markers was established. By 1989, it is estimated that 75,000 people played paintball on weekends in the US.
Throughout the 1990s, the sport's popularity blossomed as it truly cemented itself as a beloved game worldwide. Paintball technology was developed to create state-of-the-art equipment, from high-quality Tippmann and Spyder guns to the creation of biodegradable, water-soluble, non-toxic paintballs. Specialised shops selling paintball equipment sprung up, as did playing fields and specialised paintball manufacturers. In 1995, paintball had its TV debut as ESPN screened the World Championship Games.
Today, paintball is a multimillion-pound industry with a range of guns and gear available from masks to markers, outdoor and indoor game zones from forests to WWII scenario games, and various game formats from capture the flag to elimination. Whether as a competitive sport or for team building, birthday, or stag do, whether teams of 6 to 100, enjoy a game of paintball today and be a part of its famous and rich history.