How to Play Paintball – Beginner to Intermediate

  • Updated February 14th, 2023

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Safety First

Paintball is a sport that’s as dangerous as you want it to be. However, there are a few necessities you’ll need to stay safe. Since paintballs can sting a little (though take it from our experience, it’s no big deal) and leave small bruises, we recommend covering up. You don’t need to wear any makeshift armor; we’ve found that jumpsuits work great! Of course, some competitors do prefer to wear protective vests, and that’s fine. If you’re a guy, cups are also a good idea. However, you will need a mask, especially one that covers your eyes. And since you’ll most likely be playing during the day, it may be helpful to get one that provides UV protection.

Guy Showing How to Play Paintball
Guy Showing How to Play Paintball

A Few Basics of the Gun

As for the gun, we live by the adage “you get what you pay for.” A poor performing gun isn’t a safety issue so much as a nuisance. We’ve had many a cheap gun clog itself after only a few shots. And even with a brand new CO2 cartridge, they hardly ever seem to deliver quite the same punch that we get hit with in retaliation. So skimp out on the rest if you want (except the mask), but definitely, consider the gun an investment. Also, be sure to practice with it. Paintball guns aren’t particularly difficult to shoot, but you’ll still want to build a solid reputation once the game starts.

Playing Paintball in the Great Outdoors

Let’s consider the playing field now that you know how to protect yourself. Paintball is exciting, but we find it to be even more so when switching up the environments. We love hosting competitions in the great outdoors. It’s more challenging, more sporadic, and more fun! Both you and your enemies are at the mercy of the elements as well as each other. However, if you’re going to play outside, please be respectful of the environment. There are plenty of biodegradable paintballs that are just as and affordable as their conventional counterparts. Even better, you won’t have to feel guilty about failing to clean up after yourself later.

Paintball Arenas

Sometimes, though, we also enjoy arenas. These tend to offer a little more structure if it’s wanted. Typically, teams start off at their “bases.” The field in between resembles something out of a science fiction movie. You’ll find all sorts of props specifically designed to provide cover and look cool. Some take the combat experience even further by providing makeshift rooms, buildings, and even bunkers. Many vendors also build their arenas outside, offering a taste of both worlds.

Strategies for Beginners

  • As far as projectiles go, paintballs lose their velocity pretty quickly. The actual rate at which this happens varies among different guns. So, until you’ve had some time to get used to yours, it’s a good idea to aim a little higher than your target. Also, practice holding it. Some feel more comfortable holding the gun with arms outstretched, but this won’t always be possible. Playing fields get cramped, so ensure that you can adapt accordingly.
  • You’ll rarely be able to maintain communication with your teammates. Yes, you could technically try using your phone to text, but this could spell disaster for your $400+ device if it gets shot. Try to plan ahead as much as you can before proceeding, but keep the plan flexible. After all, paintball is unpredictable. It’s usually helpful to anticipate certain behaviors, whether audible or not, that will only make sense to your team (for example, two shots straight into the air means take the base).
  • Always try to keep low and, if possible, stay on the move. Plan your moves ahead and scout the area before proceeding.
  • Try not to shoot unless you’re confident about hitting the target. The worst thing you can do while playing is running out of ammo. Yes, it may be easy to see how much ammo you have remaining, but when the adrenaline starts pumping and your focus shifts to the game, they can disappear pretty quickly.
  • Try to avoid crowding. It’s great if two or three teammates stick together (depending upon actual team sizes), but you don’t want to get everyone hunkered down in a single shed, pit or bunker. It’s tempting and a common mistake among rookies. Ultimately, though, this makes your team a much easier collective target.

Common Paintball Competitions

Although paintball is versatile, a few common game formats have emerged over the years. Here are some of the most popular:


A deathmatch is probably the game that comes to mind when most of us think about paintball. Two teams go head to head until all players on one side have been marked (shot with a paintball). Obviously, the team left standing takes the prize.

Capture the Flag

This one is a group in teams or as individuals. The goal is to capture the flag before your opponents. Some take it a step further and require you to return the flag to your base before claiming victory.

Free for All

Every man for himself! There are no teams; there are just players. Your goal is to survive the painted onslaught and be the last player unscathed.

Rules of the Game

You probably noticed a lack of “rules” in this guide. The reason why is because you and your buddies will determine any rules. Paintball is a sport to be enjoyed. Therefore, it’s flexible enough to fit whatever crazy ideas you and your teammates concoct. Of course, you will find a few standard rules at most arenas if you choose that route. However, most of them typically just apply to safety, with regulations such as:

  • Wear your helmet at all times.
  • Time limits are strict.
  • Raise your hand after getting hit to let others know you’re out.
  • Unless you agree about it in advance, be honest about getting hit.
  • Usually, you only have to hit if the paintball bursts after hitting you. If it bounces away, you’re good.

Beyond that, you won’t always find strict measures to keep score or prevent cheating. That’s because even semi-professional arenas are smart enough to leave those details to the players. And that goes for paintball in general. Follow the format of a previous game, or just do what’s the most fun for you and your friends. Make the game whatever you want it to be, and enjoy the heck out of it!