A night at Calgary’s only indoor paintball field, Rampage City Paintball
The comically small door cut into the grey tin wall of the warehouse doesn’t do justice to the sheer size of the facility once you get inside. You can tilt your head back to trace the line of rivets up the steel beams supporting the ceiling some 60 feet up in the distance. But, between the players gathered around folding tables, the merchandise stacked high behind the counter and the ratty old bleachers lined up against the wall, the place almost seems small.
It’s usually not so tight, but today is Thursday and on a typical Thursday at Rampage the competitive teams are out in force practicing for the big games of the season. They need to train just like any other athlete and Rampage is their running track, their gym, their sparring ring, packed under one roof and boasting a significant sense of community.
Photo by Jodi Brak
As you approach the counter the air buzzes with talk of new equipment, about a changeup in the roster of a pro team, about what kind of drills their team ran over the weekend and what plays they’re working on for the upcoming tournament. It’s hard to hear the clerk over the hiss and snap of the compressor filling air tanks by the dozen and the telltale machine gun pop-pop-pop of someone firing off their marker — what outsiders mistakenly refer to as a gun.
That is not a problem though. The staff knows what you want and you know how much it costs. After you’re paid up, you drag your gear through a mass of players getting dressed for a night of paintball.
Paintball is a flashy sport and like warriors of old donning war paint before a fight, these players flock to battle in a dizzying array of colours and patterns. Even the inflatable rubber bunkers that players use for cover on the field come in oversaturated hues of red and blue.
Unpacking your own equipment is like a well-practiced ritual and all around you the same process is happening almost in unison. First comes the elbow and kneepads, a terribly oversized jersey and pants, cleats with short spikes to grip the fake grass, a belt to carry extra paintballs and a protective facemask. Everything is baggy and layered with pads so that paintballs will bounce off without breaking, allowing you to stay in the game.
Photo by Jodi BrakAfter assembling your marker and loading up on paint, you’re finally ready to play. You grab a seat on one of the rickety blue hockey benches to watch through the netting separating you from the field, form teams and wait for your turn to play.
The few moments before a game of paintball brings a silent tension, just waiting for its moment to explode. The players on the field crouch down like predators on the hunt. The spectators watching through the netting make hushed predictions of the action to come and the booming voice of the referee in his prison striped jersey sets everything off as he shouts, “Three, two, one, GO GO GO!”
What comes next is a frenzy of action that, while chaotic on the surface, is an exercise in precision and speed that depends on each player to be successful.
On the ref’s signal, at least six-out-of-ten markers on the field will be shooting 15 balls per second, cutting off lanes of the field in a desperate attempt to find a target and make sure their teammates make it to cover safely. You can actually see these laser straight beams of multicoloured balls flying through the air and ending in a thin white mist of paint on whatever bunker, or player, is unfortunate enough to get in the way.
The frontline players on each team sprint into these streams of paintballs to build momentum for headfirst dives into the power positions on the field. Amidst this chaos the only sound rising above the constant staccato crack of shots being fired is the roar of players shouting.
“D-One, put shots on your mirror!”
“Snake 50! Snake 50! Somebody put shots on snake 50!”
Photo by Jodi Brak
To an outsider they are shouting nonsense, but anyone in the paintball scene is familiar with this lingo: shorthand that you can shout in a firefight to pass on important information in a few words.
There is hardly a moment where either team stops shooting, shouting, or advancing up the field with a frantic precision. A game of paintball lasts a grand total of about 90 seconds, maybe three minutes if it’s a slow game. But every moment is a frenzy of action and reaction with no room for mistakes.
Truth be told, however, even the most experienced players make mistakes.
Put yourself in my shoes: you’ve been playing paintball for close to 10 years and in those years you never played the snake: a long series of low to the ground bunkers named for their resemblance of, well, a snake. They are designed for the smallest, fastest players to be able to dive in headfirst and crawl up the field.
At six feet and less athletic than you might want to be, you’ve always played stand up bunkers. You spend your games gun-fighting on your own two feet. But in the heat of the moment, with three opponents shooting paint at your bunker and running up the field at a steady pace, any idea can seem like a good one.
And that’s about when you run for the snake. You’re roughly in the middle of the field and have a straight sprint to your right followed by a dive onto your stomach. Simple enough. So you dig your heels in, wait for a break in the fire coming at your bunker and sprint.
Photo by Jodi Brak
You feel your cleats slip a little before gaining traction on the fake grass, slick with paint from hundreds of thousands of broken paintballs; you hear the rattle of balls shifting around in your loader as you run, and the telltale whoosh of shots being fired right on your heels signals that this might be a good time for that head first dive you had planned.
Then comes an audible laugh from some friends sitting in the bleachers on the other side of the paint-caked netting as you slide too wide, too fast, knees first and straight into the dirt. You end up so exposed and disoriented that by the time you collect your thoughts you have a mouthful of paint. Literally.
In a way it was a great experience because it was a learning experience and that’s a big reason why a lot of these players can be seen at Rampage two-to-three times a week. Skill comes only with practice and it’s hard to practice paintball anywhere but a paintball field — especially during a long Canadian winter.
To most other people in Calgary, this place is just an establishment. It’s a place for a birthday party, for a company outing. It is a novelty. A place they’ve been to once and tell stories about for years to come.
But for the players that drag their gear across town three nights a week to practice for nationals, or for the five guys sitting together in matching jerseys with a little bit of each other’s blood and sweat literally soaked into the fabric, this place is so much more than a novelty. Every person here has a passion for a sport that few other people even know exists on an organized level. They spend hundreds of hours and thousands of their own dollars on equipment, field fees, transportation and paint because this whole experience: the brotherhood, the pain of getting shot, the rush of winning a close game, it all means something to them.
Something they can’t possibly find anywhere else.