At one time, paintball was the fastest-growing sport in the world.
The thrill, the adrenaline rush, the chance to pepper your mates with paint. There really was nothing else like it.
But things change, and the question remains – is paintball dying?
Yes and no, is the ambiguously complex answer.
Read on to find out more.
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- Is Paintball Dead? Too Long, Didn’t Read
- The History of Paintball
- Current Paintball Popularity
- Why is Paintball Declining?
- The Future of Paintball – How to Turn Things Around
Is Paintball Dead? Too Long, Didn’t Read
For anyone in too much of a rush to read this brief article, here’s an even briefer summary:
Paintball isn’t dead, but it’s not hitting the heady heights of popularity it once was, and is certainly on the decline.
How has this happened? What does the future hold? And, most importantly, what can be done about it?
Let’s take a look in more detail.
The History of Paintball
I first became involved with this incredible sport back in the late 1980s and early 90s, which is regarded as the heyday of paintball.
It was everywhere – fields were springing up all over the place, pro teams were getting established, and it was the go-to event of choice for bachelor parties the world over.
Strippers at night, paintball during the day. Standard.
Joking aside, where did this exhilarating pastime come from?
We’ve put together a full article on the complete history of paintball, so click that link for more information.
Current Paintball Popularity
Paintball has been on a slow slide in popularity since the early 2000s, but it remains a billion-dollar industry, and dedicated players are still keeping the sport afloat around the world.
It’s estimated that around 10 million people in the US alone enjoy paintball in some capacity throughout the year. Of these, maybe 3.5 million are active players, regularly taking part in matches, tournaments, and casual play.
Paintball forums, websites, and online content is still very popular on the internet – you’re reading one right now.
The problem lies with bringing new blood to the sport, and while paintball is far from dead, it will be unless we can address some or all of the issues that affect it.
Why is Paintball Declining?
The reason for the slow, but steady decline of paintball can be attributed to a number of factors, several of which are listed below.
It’s no secret that paintball isn’t the cheapest pastime, and when you include all the guns, gear, and paint – things can add up fast.
Even if you’re using one of the best “cheap” paintball markers available.
And particularly in recent years – times are hard. People don’t have much money to burn, and our disposable incomes have all but dwindled to nothing.
Paintball certainly isn’t recession-proof – and all but the 1% seem to come out clean after each hit.
As a result, sadly, the more expensive hobbies begin to take a back seat in our priorities – of which, paintball can certainly be counted as one.
Worldwide pandemics and mismanaged lockdowns aren’t exactly music to the ears of paintball organizers. And even the best paintball masks on the market aren’t suitable for medical protection.
But it’s not just about COVID-19. Other global and political events can trigger a boom or bust depending on the who, what, why, and where.
Generally speaking, such events have contributed to a significant decrease in revenue from almost every sport, so paintball is in good company.
Unfortunately, politics has an impact in almost everything we do, and while responsible gun ownership and reform is an important discussion, some have taken it too far, and paintball is in the firing line.
As a result, paintball field growth has been negatively impacted in some areas, as people continue to politicize everything. Like the wearing of the Shemagh – as another good example.
Extremism from both camps is hurting everyone else, and many see gun ownership as a black and white issue – when nothing is ever black and white.
There’s a stigma with the use of any kind of gun, and certain platforms refuse to promote paintball and airsoft content – which in turn, has a negative impact on traffic, and then overall popularity and potential growth.
More political shenanigans are also at fault for in-fighting between paintball brands, which has shot the sport in the foot, and contributed to its decline – most noticeably with tournament play.
Why can’t we all just get along?
As much as we enjoy mashing the controller here at Riflepal, we can’t deny that video games have a lot to answer for when it comes to keeping us away from the great outdoors. I’m looking at you, Fortnite.
That, and the internet, which is a necessary evil, at times.
It’s the rise of the machines, man. It doesn’t have to be a cybernetic organism over a robotic exoskeleton, computers will kill us, one way or another.
In order to play paintball, you need access to a suitable location. And unfortunately, for one reason or another, this has become harder to do.
For many people, it’s going to take a trip to reach their nearest paintball field, where once it seemed they were all over the place.
The Rise of Airsoft
A common misconception is that paintball is the daddy of airsoft.
It’s actually the other way around.
Airsoft first came on the scene in the 1970s, but, as mentioned above, commercially available paintball didn’t start making an appearance until the mid-80s.
But has the rise in airsoft’s popularity affected paintball numbers?
Quite possibly. It’s the less painful and overall cheaper of the two – both huge draws for younger kids. For the former, this article on paintball vs airsoft pain will tell you more.
That, and the incredibly realistic replica firearm selection is astounding.
Just take a look at this article on the best airsoft rifles on the market as an example. Paintball can’t compete with that level of realism.
For a more direct and in-depth comparison of the two, check out this article for the ultimate guide to airsoft vs paintball. And go here for an exploration of paintball vs laser tag.
(Disclaimer: we love them all!)
The Future of Paintball – How to Turn Things Around
Thankfully, although the outlook looks bleak at first – it’s not all doom and gloom.
Some paintball organizers have even reported an increase in attendance and popularity, and it’s almost certain that paintball will weather the storm.
The best paintball brands in the world are still pumping out top-quality products – which they simply would not do if there wasn’t a healthy following to keep happy.
Hard-core, dedicated players (like myself and fellow Riflepal colleagues) will always push to keep the sport alive – but we’re not going to be around forever.
The trick is getting the kids hooked – like we were back when paintball first began.
Websites like Riflepal can help, but any form of promotion is going to be a good thing.
Manufacturing quality, affordable gear is another solution – and keeping costs down at local fields will also bring players to the sport.
Remember, you don’t have to buy the best paintball gun available when you’re just starting out. Hiring is the best way to go, and when last checked, prices seem to be quite reasonable.
(Although if you do want the best paintball gun out there, I suggest following that link for some great examples.)
“Paintball pain” has long been a reason why some people are reluctant to get involved, and while it’s nowhere near as bad as you think, you still need to wear the right gear.
But the introduction and continuing promotion of low-impact fields can certainly help change hearts and minds – particularly when it comes to family involvement.
Continue to share articles like this one, like and subscribe to paintball content, and promote videos and the sport in general whenever possible.
You’ll soon see that everything ebbs and flows, with ups and downs, highs and lows. Paintball is no exception, it will bounce back, and it’s here to stay.
We’ll see you on the field.
Where is paintball most popular?
It’s difficult to say, but I would estimate that paintball is most popular in the US, Brazil, and in Eastern Europe. It also still has a decent following in the UK, and Australia.
Is paintball a sport?
Yes, it most certainly is – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Will it be in the Olympics? Unlikely in the current climate, but if skateboarding and sport climbing can make it in, surely there’s a place for paintball?
Take a look at this article that explains exactly why paintball is considered a sport.
Do paintball fields make money?
Yes, they can and do. Considering the paintball industry is still worth around $1.3 Bn at the time of writing, and new products are coming out all the time, there’s still money to be made.
And providing a field has a good location, with easy access, well-trained, encouraging staff, and top-of-the-line gear, then there’s no reason they can’t have a slice of that pie.
What is the age limit for paintball?
There is no age limit – if you’re reasonably fit and healthy, you can play the game at 95+
However, there are restrictions on how young you can be. This article on how old you have to be to play paintball will help.
It’s regarded as one of the most exhilarating sports ever invented, but is paintball dying?
Not if we have anything to do with it.
Get out there, get involved, visit your local field, and spread the word whenever and wherever you can. Paintball isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Drop us your thoughts in the comments, below, and let’s keep a good thing going.