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Paintball: The Formats

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Just as there are huge differences between recreational, scenario and tournament paintball, there are many different game formats used in tournaments. Today when looking at paintball magazines, web sites and videos, one thing that makes tourney play stand out from the other styles is the field - bright colored jerseys on grass with big balloon bunkers, but not only is this a very new look for the top level pro and amateur tournaments, it's not the only way tournaments are played today.

The game of paintball started in the woods, and that's where tournaments were played too - until Dennis Bukowski said it didn't have to be that way. Bukowski, partnered with Giovanni D'Egidio, owned Sat Cong Village (now known more politically correctly as SC Village.) a massive paintball field in Southern California. Because it was massive, and built up (fields ranged from military camps with aircraft to deep jungle and door to door) and because its location close to CFW Enterprises meant it was the location for many Action Pursuit Games magazine photo shoots, SC Village was the world's best known paintball field in the 80s and 90s. People traveled across the country and from other continents just to play there (for us, it was a 6 hour drive, and worth every minute.) One of the parks most popular fields was "Beruit." Completely bereft of trees or natural cover, this field was a village of small, roofless plywood buildings for door to door and down the street paintball combat. Beruit proved to be extremely popular because of its fast paced action.

Bukowski took that fast paced action one step further, tweaking it into what has become the grandfather of modern concept field tournament paintball. While that name today is often used by paintballers to describe any concept field, Speedball was originally trademarked and applied to the SC Village Speedball Arena. Instead of creeping slowly through the woods, Speedball players played on a very open dirt field, which had trenches, palm trees, and even a moat in the middle of the field. In the center of the field was a big red button wired to a buzzer - the goal. Teams started on the back walls of the field with their paintguns against the wall, and tried to be the first to hit that buzzer, while a commentator in an overlooking booth called the action and razzed the players in front of a cheering audience.

Quickly, paintball fields around the world started building concept paintball fields - bunkers instead of bushes, with overturned wooden cable spools, and plywood replacing rocks and trees. But when it came to tournaments, these remained the exception rather than the norm. Fields with one concept field would host tournaments where the arena might get used as one of the fields, or not at all.

It wasn't until the 1996 Paintball World Cup that Brass Eagle unveiled an Ultraball field (also commonly referred to by the trademarked name "Hyperball") at the NPPL World Cup in Orlando that big US tournaments started the move from the woods to the concept field. The following year at the same tournament saw the US debut of Sup'Air Ball, the inflatable bunkers from Morocco.

While they got a lot of press, they still didn't take over tournament paintball. Large events like the NPPL series, Great Western Series and International Amateur Open started mixing their events with some concept fields, and some if not most woods fields. It wasn't until the year 2000 that the Paintball World Cup was laid out with only concept fields, and it wasn't until the following year that an entire NPPL/PSP season was finally played with no woods. The big push came from teams who saw that in addition to being more visible to be photographed thus increasing their chances of sponsorship, concept fields were far more evenly balanced than those dependent

on mother nature for their layout. Games came down to skill more than who got "the good side" of the field at the coin toss.

Regardless of the style of field, it is the type of game that truly defines a tournament. In the early 80s, it wasn't uncommon to see tournaments played with 12, 15 or even 20 players per team on the field at once.

By the time the NPPL was formed in the early 90s, 10-man paintball had become the dominant format for professional level paintball competition. In a traditional 10-man game each team starts from an opposite end of the field at their flag station. Hanging in their flag station is their flag. Once the game starts, their goal is to reach the opposite side of the field, retrieve the opposing teams' flag, and bring it back to their own flag station to hang. Inevitably, eliminating opposing players from the game by shooting them would be a part of the process. Eliminated players exit the field without talking, and must wait in a dead-box for the game to finish. Often, but not always, field layouts place a dead-box right behind each flag station. The game ends when a flag is hung or the clock runs out.

While a flag hang wins the game, it's possible to win 10-man without a hang - based on points. Traditional scoring awards 50 points to the team that hangs the flag, 20 points to the first team to pull a flag from their opposing team's flag station, 2 points for every opposing player eliminated, and 1 point for every player still live at the end of the game. A perfect game, in which a team lost no players, eliminated all of their competitors, and both pulled and hung the flag earned 100 points - a "max."

If the game clock (usually a stopwatch in a referee's hand) ran out before a flag hang occurred, it all came down to the points to determine the winner, those eliminations and live players really mattered. Many new players were often confused, thinking that 100 points were divided between the two teams playing. This was not the case, as to two scores would not always total 100, especially if no flag hang occurred.

Early in the 1990s, penalties were issued in the form of negative points, but these quickly evolved into the one-for-one penalty system.

In the one-for-one system penalties for rules infractions are immediate on the field, and affect the game, rather than only making a difference later at the scoreboard. Not only is the team that breaks the rules punished, but the team they broke them against benefits, because the penalty is an attempt to balance out the affect gained by cheating. If a player continues to play after they have been hit by a paintball that broke open on them, that is a one-for-one infraction. The player is removed from the game, because they were eliminated, and one more player

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