I should probably take this moment to talk about what “Scenario” Paintball actually is. You see there are two broad categories of paintball players. The first are the kind that focus on something called “Speedball.” If you see paintball on ESPN, that’s what you were watching. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, well, it looks like this:
Basically here the objective is to capture a flag, or get everybody on the other side out. This is the most “Sport” version of paintball you can play. The games are kind of quick (usually over in 15 minutes) and you can play a lot of them. People tend to wear brightly colored uniforms and the action is fast and furious. Before coming to Decay of Nations this was the type of paintball that me and the rest of the Suicide Squad had played. Coincidentally, when you play a lot of this type of game you tend to be pretty good in a straight up fight.
However, Decay of Nations is not this type of game. A scenario game looks a lot different. A scenario game looks a little like a warzone, and everybody comes dressed to match. At the Vendor Village there weren’t a lot of brightly colored jerseys, instead there was a lot of camo. Coincidentally, the object of a scenario game is a lot different. At Decay of Nations the main field is covered with multiple objectives. There are a dozen or so flags scattered in an area that must be 5 square miles or so. Taking a flag allows your team access to a respawn point. Basically this means that as you take territory, you can reset at the nearest entry point if/when you get shot.
This means that losing a flag has some serious consequences because as you lose them (and the territory they represent) you have to walk even further into your own territory to respawn. So getting hit might entail a 15 minute walk in 100+ degree heat. At Decay of Nations this had the side effect of making it so that it was very hard to assault positions the enemy may have had. Your group may have a 10 minute walk to an enemy position, you may get shot at any point, and if your group failed to take the flag it was another 10 minutes to go back and give it another go.
Making matters worse, Decay of Nations had posted on the website that there was a 15 minute wait for respawns that were supposed to happen in a wave. So basically, if you’re hit you go back to your flag and every 15 minutes those players were supposed to be entered back into the game. However, this was not the case in the field and players could respawn immediately upon tagging up with their flag. In effect, this increased the numbers of the defending party. This quickly made assaulting an enemy position just not worth it, unless you managed to find enough players on your side to simply overwhelm them with numbers.
All in all, unlike speedball, you really care about getting tagged out. You move slower, you spend a lot of time in brush just trying to look around and get a read on your surroundings. This was probably the only time I have ever thought to myself, “I really wish I had some binoculars.” It also forces you to really consider your position. In speedball if you can get the drop on 3 people, you take those shots and have no regrets. In scenario you start thinking insane thoughts like, “Are there more of them that I cannot see? If I shoot will I reveal my position or the position of my squad?” For a speedball player, these are strange thoughts indeed.
Eventually you start to reconsider what game it is you are playing. Scenario paintball seems to be less and less about winning, and more about the act of playing. Especially at Decay of Nations, I realized that while the game is paintball, the play is 21st century LARP. We dress up in camo, use weapons that are facsimiles of the real thing so nobody gets killed and play as part of a made up faction/kingdom that has zero relevance. From a certain point of view it’s just SCA: Modern Warfare. That realization brings with it the realization that this isn’t a game you can win. Your team can win at speedball, and the actions you take affect how well your team does. In something like Decay of Nations with a thousand people on a side your actions don’t really add up to anything. Instead it seems to be more about the moment to moment of the game itself. For a speedball player that’s a very strange thing to wrap my head around.
Into the Breach
Once we found ourselves inside the game itself, we realized exactly how different it was. Paintball is, for all intents and purposes a game of imperfect information. When you’re actually playing it is for the most part impossible to know what is going on at all times. This is due, mostly, to the need for cover. For example, chess is a game of perfect information. In it you can see all the pieces and know what to expect. Even in speedball there is always the possibility for a player to get low and change their position. Or people might move when you are being suppressed. This is why if you watch the video above the players are yelling at each other constantly. They’re doing that so that they can share what information that they have with everybody else on their team. Between all of the players they may be able to form a more complete picture of the field and what their opponent is doing. But for the most part that picture is incomplete. Generally speaking, when you are playing paintball, if you know where every one of your opponents are, you have probably won.
When you take that basic principle and you add the trappings of a scenario game on top of it, most pretense of understanding just goes right out of the window. It’s hard to know where people are when you’re playing on a field and everybody is wearing a brightly colored jersey. If you go out into the woods and remove such trivial things as knowing the number of opponents, knowing where they might be hiding, and knowing if they know where you are, then all you can really do is hope for the best. I’ve played paintball for a long time and I have never felt so lost as I was in the first hour out in the field on patrol with my team. Once we actually engaged in a firefight we found that our particular skills were valuable, but we never quite got comfortable with the other aspects of scenario play.
Another difference that you may not appreciate when you are engaged in a scenario game is how long you’re actually out on the field. Speedball games can be over in less than 10 minutes, while regular walk on games are timed and usually finish up in 15. At Decay of Nations we found ourselves on the field for hours at a stretch. While we didn’t sprint and dive as much as we normally would in speedball, it was an endurance test. All of the sudden the extra weight that you may have as part of your equipment became something you wanted nothing to do with. For my part, decked in combat boots and carrying one of these as my marker, I slowly found that trying to run from place to place was exhausting. Hell, even moving through underbrush was tiring. It wasn’t just about getting to where the fight was, but being able to do anything when you got there.
Lost in the Woods
Deep inside the field were a collection of water stations – small mesh buildings where 5 gallon jugs of water were located, and were officially neutral areas. It was inside one of these that I found myself, surrounded by other members of Team Red. It was still early in the day, so everybody, while hot and tired, was still in high spirits.
It was there I met a couple and started chatting to them. He was a tall guy who like the rest of us was busy drenching his shirt. Like me it was his first time at the Decay of Nations. His girlfriend though, it turned out that this was the first time she had ever played paintball period.
I of course, asked the obvious question. “How long before you decide to break up with him?”
She laughed and smiled. We talked a bit about whether or not getting hit by a paintball hurts. I explained that it more or less feels like getting snapped by a thick rubber band – which is to say slightly painful, but nothing that’s going to make you cry.
Relieved, she pulled off her army jacket revealing that underneath she was wearing what amounted to a flak jacket. “Oh, then I guess I don’t need this anymore,” she said.
“You’ve been wearing double layers this entire time?” I asked.
“Well, yeah, I didn’t want it to hurt.”
“If you keep running around in all that you’re more likely to pass out,” I said.
Ghost offered, helpfully if a little sadistically, to shoot her so she wouldn’t worry about it, and the offer was, politely if a little sarcastically, declined.
Well hydrated, we went back into the woods and resumed our hunt for the insidious Team Blue. As we would find out, they were a lot closer than we had anticipated.
Something that I hadn’t considered before when it comes to games like this, is knowing when to retreat. Now I know that you can fight to the last, and sometimes that’s a great idea. Other times, say when you’re finding yourself on the wrong side of an all out assault, getting out of the area that your opponents are attacking like Huns is the only thing you want to be doing. For a speedball player, moving back while keeping up pressure is a deeply contradictory feeling. Most of the time you want to be going forwards. Retreat is something that, if you’re doing well, you’re making other people do.
Within 50 yards from our bunker, our little oasis of calm, was the spear point of a massive UNA assault. In moments the Suicide Squad found ourselves under heavy fire as we tried to scan the trees and figure out, not where the fire was coming from, but where it wasn’t.
But like I’ve said before, as seasoned speedball players, we’re reasonably decent in a fight, whether we know what’s going on or not. I assume that we were the first resistance that Blue encountered because their attack paused. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t stop them, not by a long shot. Instead we made them stop to think about how to waste us, and that was just long enough to start peeling off a retreat.
If you’re curious, a retreat works like an assault but in the other direction. The person on the front will throw a bunch of suppression fire towards the people that are trying to paint him with 3 coats like a house. Their partners will also shoot and the person in front will retreat in this way behind their friends and then take cover. This leaves a new person at the front (“on point” as the cool kids say) who then repeats the process. It’s slow, it uses a lot of paint, and it borders on scary. Eventually when you feel you’ve gotten far enough away, you break and run.
So we retreated back to our water tent, and found the rest of our Ekron (team Red) people still mostly there.
“There’s a lot of them coming this way,” I told everybody.
“A lot a lot,” I replied, and already everybody was loading hoppers and checking their air. “It’s a big assault.” A flash of worry came across the new girl’s face. She’d decided in our absence that a dual layer was excessive, and the fact that a massive blue wave was incoming was making her second guess her decision.
“You’ll be fine,” her, I assume now ex-boyfriend said to her, and we were out the door.
High above, the sun continued to try killing everybody with heat and raw hate. The trees provided neither shade, nor as it turned out, adequate cover. We charged. With a cry we charged. When as a group we counterattacked the Suicide Squad was at the front. But it turned out that there were a lot more of them than we had anticipated. Our previous encounter had been with their scouts, not their main force. We met their main force and unlike last time there was no neat and tactical retreat.
In moments we found ourselves fired upon from almost every conceivable angle. Our flanks were, well, flanked, and then proceeded to get shredded like carnitas. Shortly thereafter the middle was hit, and the entire attack turned into panic and confusion.
It was a rout, followed by a massacre. In minutes almost everybody in that tent was out or scattered. The Suicide Squad was broken. When I took stock of my situation, I was clear on a few things. First, I had somehow managed to hide myself in a bush like Altair. Second, I was completely out of water, and the sun had just passed noon. Finally, I was alone and far behind enemy lines, with almost no way of getting back.
***Join us next week for the thrilling conclusion of NitWitty’s Inside Man : Decay of Nations