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Brief History of Paintball

from Weekly
January 2002: Volume 2

These are the facts as I know them. I might be slightly off on a couple of points, so don't use this part for bar bets. However, most of the information is taken from an APG interview with Bob Gurnsey and a book called THE ORIGINAL SURVIVAL GAME MANUAL by Lionel Atwill.

Now, I'm sure that folks shot each other with, what are now known as, paintmarkers. They just didn't turn it into a successful commercial enterprise and bring paintball to the world.

June 1981 in Henniker, New Hampshire

It was either in the spring of 1976 or 1977, Hayes Noel and Charles Gaines were drinking gin and talking, when they thought it would be fun to start some type of stalking game, as a challenge to their friends. They were wondering if being able to survive in the woods is a product of environment or deeply buried instinct. George Butler saw a Nelspot in a farm catalogue. Bob Guernsey and Hayes Noel wrote up the rules for that first game.

In alphabetical order: Lionel Atwill, Ken Barrett, Bob Carlson, Joe Drindon, Charles Gaines, Jerome Gary, Bob Gurnsey, Bob Jones, Hayes Noel, Carl Sandquist, Ronnie Simkins and Ritchie White. (I think that Gaines' son, Shelby played too, I know he was present.)


  1. Mr. Gurnsey founded National Survival Games: the first commercial paintball enterprise.
  2. National Survival Game made the first paintmarker SPECIFICALLY designed for the game, the Splatmaster.
  3. Mr. Atwill wrote THE OFFICIAL SURVIVAL GAME MANUAL : the first paintball publication.
  4. Ken Barrett has the dubious honour of being the first player to be eliminated. (He's also the first person who surrendered in paintball history -- that's how he was eliminated.)
  5. Ritchie White was the first player to win a game of paintball. (He didn't fire a shot, and no one ever saw him.)

Yes, that's right, ONE person won the game. You see, the game in its inception (and indeed in its commercial infancy) was an every-player-for- themselves game. The team format didn't come for another couple of years.


  1. Players did not form teams, it was an individual effort. (Remember the "survival: instinct or environmentally influenced" debate above?)
  2. The field was divided into four zones or Quadrants.

       * Each Quadrant had its own colour.
       * In each Quadrant was a flag station with flags of the Quadrant colour, one for each player participating. If there were ten players, there were ten flags at each flag station. There were A LOT of flags.
       * There were also two Home Bases where you were to go, once you collected your flags, or got eliminated.

  1. Each player was given a map and compass. The locations of the flags and the Home Bases were annotated on them.
  2. Players were allowed to carry as much paint and as many 12 grams as they wanted, but could only carry ONE paintmarker. Which at the time, was the Nelspot 007.
  3. To win, you had to collect as many flags (or all four) and make it back to the Home Base of your choice.
  4. Point scores were awarded, to determine a winner:

      * Fifty points for each flag you had;
      * Twenty-five points each time you eliminated an opponent; but
      * If you managed to get yourself eliminated, your score totaled ZERO.

  1. If you were the FIRST player to reach a home base with ALL FOUR FLAGS, you were awarded 500 points and declared the hands-down winner. Even if someone else came in after you with four flags, the rules only allowed them a total aggregate score of 450 points. It was permissible to have a tie for second and third, but not for first.
  2. There was only ONE WAY to have a tie for first. If no one got back with all four flags by the end of the game, the winner was declared by the highest aggregate point total. In this case, you could have a tie for first.

Well, there's not enough room for all of them, but to give you an idea how much paintball has changed.

  1. If you eliminated a player, you could take his paint and CO2. (You had to reimburse them after the game was over.)
  2. An eliminated player was obligated to inform the judge at a home base as to the identity of the player that eliminated him.
  3. You could wear what you wanted, but only one layer. You could not add or take away any clothing until after your score was totaled.
  4. Removing your goggles was an immediate disqualification. (I personally like this one.)
  5. You could eliminate an opponent by breaking a paintball on them by hand or squirting them with a punctured paintball.
  6. Modifications to the Nel-Spot was limited to $2.00. The restrictions described things that we NOW call constant air, barrel extensions and quick changes. This was BEFORE these things were INVENTED! You were not allowed to extend the magazine capacity or put a shoulder stock on it.
  7. What we call a paintcheck, was then called a "truce". If you thought you marked an opponent, you yelled "TRUCE!". You and your opponent met and you visually inspected his person for a mark. If he was marked, he was out. If he was not, you went your separate ways and were expected to leave sight of one another.

I think it's mainly because the team version of paintball is more commercially viable. Many people don't know how to use a map or compass. Other than that I don't know why it has fallen out of favor. It sure wouldn't do well on TV. However, now that Stock Class has come back, the game is beginning to be played the way it used to be played. To this end, I would like to see another change. Let's bring back the "Original Survival Game", as I call it. It would be a true test of who was the best. I can see it now, on the tournament advertisement, right below Stock Class: "Original Survival Game".

Mr. Guernsey, recognized as the father of paintball, did not put a patent on the idea. His lawyers went berserk! It was Mr. Guernsey's philosophy that it was better to have a small piece of a BIG pie and most of a SMALL pie. No patent of the game was ever made by any of the original group of players. Bob Guernsey only gets money from his business, the National Survival Game, I m not even sure if he does NSG field franchises, any more.

All-in-all, it was a game of skill, stalking and marksmanship. It was also a game of fair play and honour. Bob and the boys probably never thought the game would advance to the level some players play at. Who could?