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Complete Paintball History: Origin, Facts & Data

The history of paintball, its invention, and its development is more fascinating than you’d think!

Here’s a timeline of the history of paintball.

1960s: Paintball origin and the first paintball marker

NEL-SPOT 007 Paintball is a relatively new sport, going back to the 1980s, but the first paintball was invented in the 1960s by Nelson Paint and called Nelspot 007. The only purpose of this paint gun was for loggers and cattle farmers to mark trees and cattle more efficiently. 

Fun fact: Since the Nelspot 007 was for marking trees and cattle, the company called it a marker, which is why we still refer to a paintball gun as a paintball marker today.

Back then, they used oil paint in their pellets, and cattlemen and loggers would mark their targets from a distance by shooting a single paintball.

1970s: Hayes Noel and Charles Gain invent a new game

Hayes noel and Charles GainsIn the 1970s, Hayes Noel and his best friend Charles Gains started discussing a new game where city dwellers could try to survive in the woods. Noel was a Wall Street stock trader, and Gains was an outdoorsman and writer. 

For years they would exchange new ideas about this make-believe game and debate who would win between a street-smart city person and an outdoorsman trying to survive in the woods.

One day, Charles Gain visited his hometown in New Hampshire and came across the Nelspot 007 in a farmer’s catalog. He was immediately impressed by the technology, which gave him an idea of how he could use it in their combat-simulator and survival game.

Eventually, Gain and Noel decided to make their simulation game a reality. They invited their friend Bob Gurnsey to test the paintball marker’s safety and refine the game’s rules.

1981: The first paintball game

Paintball historyThe first official paintball game was played on 7th June 1981 in New Hampshire by a group of 12 people.

The twelve participants of the first paintball game were:

  1. Hayes Noel (Wall Street stock trader)
  2. Charles Gains (outdoorsman and writer)
  3. Bob Gurnsey (paintball rules maker)
  4. Jerome Gray (filmmaker)
  5. Ritchie White (forester)
  6. Ronnie Simpkins (farmer)
  7. Bob Carlson (surgeon)
  8. Ken Barrett (investor)
  9. Joe Drinon (stockbroker)
  10. Carl Sandquist (contractor)
  11. Lionel Atwill (writer)
  12. Bob Jones (writer)

Interesting facts about the first game:

World first paintball game

  • The total area of the field was 125 acres in a felled forest.
  • The field was 1-2 Km away from Charles Gain’s home.
  • The field had four flag stations, each with a different colored flag.
  • The objective of the game was to collect the flag from every station.
  • The first game had twelve participants.
  • Each player paid $175 to cover the costs of equipment and food.
  • Each player wore eye protection and carried a Nelspot pistol, paintballs, and a field map.
  • The players’ strategies and playing styles varied greatly from defensive to aggressive.
  • Ken Barrett was the first paintball player to be eliminated by an opponent.
  • Jerome Gray was the first paintball player in history to eliminate an opponent.
  • The winner of the first paintball game was Ritchie White. He played a stealth strategy and moved silently from one station to another.

1982: The birth of the paintball industry

The game’s founders called it National Survival Game, and it wasn’t until years later that it became known as paintball

In October 1981, Bob Gurnsey published an article about their newly invented game, outlining how it could become a profitable business. He started selling a paintball package which included a paintball marker, paintballs, protective goggles, and a rule book for $150.

In March 1982, Bob started the first commercial paintball field in New Hampshire, National Survival Game, and sold Nelspot markers. He licensed the NSG franchise to others interested in opening paintball fields.

Jeff Perlmutter and David Freeman started the company Pursuit Marketing Incorporated (PMI). They contracted with Benjamin Sheridan to design and manufacture new paintball markers for their brand. PMI’s first paintball pistol was the PG pistol made of a brass body. The company also started manufacturing paintballs and distributed them to retailers and field owners.

As the game’s popularity grew, several fields opened across the United States. 

1983: The first paintball championship

Unknown rebels the team of Ontario CanadaNSG organized the first-ever paintball championship in 1983, and the tournament reward was $3000 for the winning team from Ontario, Canada.

During these early paintball games, some players started modifying their markers, adding pump handles, barrel extensions, and bigger magazines, giving them an advantage. 

As other players began voicing concern about the amateur modifications’ safety, the manufacturers innovated and improved their products, offering these modifications according to the market’s demand.

1984: New paintball markers

pursuit Gun pump (PGP) 1984 was an excellent year for paintball development:

  • PMI modified their gun and launched a new gun model, Pursuit Gun Pump (PGP), the first paintball gun with a pump handle.
  • NSG launched a splat master model designed for sports from scratch without modifying an existing gun.
  • Another invention was water-based paintballs which were much easier to clean and less likely to stain clothes than oil paint.
  • The name of the game Natural Survival Game changed to paintball.

1985-1986: Industry growth

By 1985, paintball interest grew all across the globe as media spread awareness of the game. During these years, new equipment started developing: 

  • Paintball harnesses were invented.
  • New face shields and goggles were launched.
  • More paintball venues and fields were built.
  • The first paintball magazine was published.

1987-1988: The start of the golden age of paintball development

Tippmann SMG-60 paintball gunThe industry grew by the day, and city dwellers became interested in the sport.

Dennis Tippmann Sr was in the business of making half-scale machine guns but had to close up shop as stricter firearm laws put him out of business. Dennis Tippmann changed his interest and focus toward paintball markers. With his experience and capital, he founded Tippmann Pneumatics to manufacture fully automatic paintball guns. Their first product was the Tippmann SMG-60, a .62-caliber paintball gun.

To make his model legal for paintball tournaments, Tippmann had to convert the full-auto SMG-60 model to a new semi-auto .68-caliber version. The company also introduced the first CO2 tank for paintball guns, a modified co2-tank from the Soda Company. 

These new developments and rapid growth in interest attracted new investors to the industry.

1987-1998: More companies were founded

  • Worr game products (WGP) started manufacturing paintball markers in their garage. They invented the first-ever WGP sniper pump paintball gun and the first paintball hopper with a capacity of 45 paintballs.
  • With the WGP sniper paintball gun, players could easily modify it since the individual parts were removable and changeable.
  • JT USA, a manufacturer of motorcycle products, entered the paintball industry and introduced a paintball mask based on motocross goggles. It was more comfortable and offered better protection and peripheral vision. It was a breakthrough in the industry, and soon paintball masks became mandatory for players.
  • JT earned millions in revenue from selling paintball masks because they were the first to market without competitors.
  • JT started producing more protective gear, such as gloves, chest armor, paintball pants, and jerseys.
  • In 1987, the first barrel sock was introduced and became a standard safety feature within a few months.
  • Pro Star Labs introduced grenades and squeegees to clean the barrel.
  • LAPCO (Los Angeles Paintball Company) invented the first bottom-line air source adapter. Players could hold the tank against the shoulder, making it easier to stabilize, aim and shoot the gun while wearing a paintball mask.
  • The design of paintball guns changed to have the gas source at the bottom.
  • CCI released the first phantom pump gun.
  • Paintball became legal in New Jersey after successful lobbying by Raymond Gong and Jessica Sparks. 
  • .68-caliber paintballs and 300 fps became the standard.

Check out our new article about the danger of paintball.

1989-1991: Speedball, Gravity Hoppers, and World Cup

In Sat Cong Village, the largest paintball park in Southern California, a new paintball field named “Speedball Arena” opened. The goal was to test new action-packed game types.

The first gravity hopper was invented in 1989 and allowed players to load larger ammunition pods.

Jim Lively arranged the first paintball world cup, which became the most anticipated paintball tournament in the world.

1990-1991: Spread of Paintball In Europe

Tippmann launched and mass-produced a .68-caliber paintball gun with a gravity hopper, quickly becoming the most popular paintball gun in the world.

Tom Kaye introduced the .68-caliber Auto-Mag, famous for its durability, appearance, and functions. The company later introduced an air-compressed paintball tank (NO2 tank) made from a fiberglass-wrapped pressure vessel. The new tank had better efficiency than CO2 tanks. Still, the product failed to become commercially adopted due to safety concerns.

Bud Orr introduced an auto-cocker kit that converts the WPG sniper II to a self-cocking semi-auto. WPG changed the sniper II to semi-auto by default and reached the market faster.

1992-1995: Semi-Autos became popular, and ESPN broadcasted the Paintball World Cup

Many things happened in these years:

  • In 1992, PMI introduced the PMI-III semi-auto paintball gun. It was durable, mid-range priced, but very heavy. It still became a popular favorite. 
  • Benjamin Sheridan released a paintball marker, the VM-68.
  • Viewloader introduced the VL-2000.
  • Arthur Chang entered the industry to create the most affordable paintball guns. He founded the company Kingman International which released a pump marker called Hammer. They also introduced a lightweight and inexpensive semi-auto called Spyder, made from aluminum. Suddenly most players could afford a semi-auto.
  • Dave Youngblood Enterprises (DYE) started making paintball parts and custom auto-cockers but later changed focus to high-quality paintball products.
  • Paintball started getting popular on the web, and websites and discussion boards caused more interest.
  • In 1995, ESPN broadcasted the paintball world cup on television. It was the first time a major TV channel broadcasted the sport.

1999-2000 Unregulated Paintball becomes part of ASTM

ASTM (American Society for Testing &Materials)American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) initiated actions to make paintball safer by establishing industry standards on fire rate, velocity, paintball goggles, and more.

Manufacturers could then sell equipment with an ASTM-approved tag. 

In this period, the sporting goods manufacturer SGMA officially recognized paintball as an actual sport, and paintball equipment became affordable.

2001-2002: Barrel Plug Ban and World Cup Cheating

Barrel plugIn 2001, NPL issued a notice to ban barrel plugs because it was difficult to see whether or not they were in use. Soon after, barrel covers were invented that were visible and durable, becoming the industry standard within a few months.

In the 2002 world cup, a person not participating in the match helped a team by hiding outside the field and eliminating opponents. The referees investigated the area and caught the cheater. It was the biggest cheating scandal in the history of the sport.

2000: New Licensing Laws for Paintball Companies

  • In 2000, the government enacted laws for paintball companies to follow strict safety rules when manufacturing new paintball products.
  • Violators of the new laws risked being fined or losing their license, and some companies went out of business. You can read more here.

2010-2011: Changes in the industry

  • In 2010, Kee Action Sports acquired several paintball manufacturers such as WPG, JT, Viewload, and more. They became a new giant in the industry.
  • DLX Technology was one of the competitors of Kee Action Sports during this time
  • Gino Postorive returned to the paintball manufacturing industry when he founded the brand Valken.

2013-2014: New 0.50-Caliber Paintballs

0.50-caliber paintballs were lower impact and encouraged more people to play paintball with their friends and families.

Many paintball fields offered you to rent equipment and gave discounts to students and large groups. Paintball venues arranged camping areas, bonfires, and resorts to provide their customers with a getaway experience or corporate team-building trip.

2015 until today

Paintball has grown into a sport with various types and scenarios. Professional players can make a full-time income from tournaments and sponsorships.

Manufacturers occasionally release new paintball equipment, and electric paintball guns and full-head coverage paintball helmets are becoming more popular.

The future of paintball

I think paintball will continue to grow in popularity as people want to experience a real-time simulated military experience. It is an excellent team-building activity and offers an alternative way of training law enforcement, military, and police. Every newbie should try paintballing to test their survival skills, but remember to take proper safety measures before playing.


Paintball History