rogue on May 23rd, 2011

I hate to lose.  I hate it more than I hate needles, burnt food, and annoying people.  If there is a competition, of any kind, I want to win it.  I’m always going to do my best to stack the odds in my favor so that I win.  Decisively.  I study the rules and tactics of the game to ensure that I conquer my opponents.  I watch youtube videos, read blogs, google for every term used in the sport.  I obsess until I know I’m ready.  Then I win.

This is especially true in paintball.  It’s the best sport for both aggressive and mental competitors.  You don’t have to be the biggest or fastest person on the field.  You just have to be a decent athlete with enough guts to keep your head up while you’re being shot at.  It’s also a great game for a strategist.  One person will rarely beat two in a match up, if the two work together.  Even the best individual players are hopeless against a competent squad.

That last sentence is why I wrote this article.  It was 1999.  I had been playing paintball for about 3 years and the game was still shifting from the old school pump guns to semi-automatic nirvana (yes I’ve been playing a while).  We had formed a team and we were really trying to improve.  In order to get better, I decided we needed to get a little more competition.  There were a few large games being played on the west coast but nothing big seemed to be happening in the south east.  My team was tired of practicing with each other.  The local paintball fields really didn’t offer much in the way of competition and we were tired of noob-whacking.

I started looking for local teams to challenge and found a team that had some street cred for being pretty awesome.  They even had a team website (that was a big deal in 1999).  I sent an email and offered to meet them at a field neither of us had ever played before.  The stage was set for me to learn the power of leadership, and of good tactics.  We spent hours and planned everything we were going to do from the moment we went to sleep the night before through until we went to sleep the next night, as champions.  We practiced 10 times and did team strategy briefings once or twice a week.  We even meet the night before and watched hardcore war movies to pump ourselves up.  We were so confident in our own personal paintball abilities that we expected to rock the enemy team’s world.  We were unstoppable.  We were Spartans!

It was a perfect day.   Cool and overcast.  We arrived at the field about 45 minutes before the match and started getting our equipment ready.  We walked the different fields, discussed the best defensive positions and offensive angles.  Our confidence was easily in the arrogance category.   The competing team pulled in about 15 minutes early.  Their gear already seemed ready, since they got out of their cars and the guns were already loaded and hot (CO2 was on the gun and live).  Bad mojo on their part.  I remember thinking they didn’t seem very athletic.  They had a couple of nice guns.  So did we.  They didn’t seem very organized.  This was going to be a cake walk.  We could go ahead and call the national paintball league and ask for the title.  I was now sure that we were the best team in the south east, and probably the world.

It was also at this moment that I counted them.  We were a team of 10.  They were only a team of 5.  I had confirmed with them before the match and told them our team stats.  I even told them the guns we would be using in case they were still using pump guns.  I wanted it to be a fair fight.  Well sorta fair at least.  I offered to let 5 of our players sit out and play in the next round.  They said they would like to do the first match as 5 on 10 and see what happened.  “Arrogant pricks,” I thought, “I bet they ask for 3 of our players for round two.”

We flipped a coin and chose the side of the field we would be playing on.  I asked for 10 minutes to discuss our strategy and they walked to their side of the field.  I chose a plan directly from the “Erwin Rommel and General Robert E Lee Military Strategy Book”.  The double pincer maneuver with a trailing support element.  It worked against the Yankees and the Brits.  I was going to show the other team how brilliant I was in strategy.  I split my 10 man team into three fire teams of three, four, and three.  A team of three would move up the left and the other team of three would move up the right.  The larger support group would remain a little behind the two flanks in the center.  Either we would draw them up the center and slaughter them from both sides, or meet them on either the left or right side and offer a quick and decisive flank maneuver and send them back to the field house in proverbial body bags of shame.

The air horn sounded the beginning of the match.  We started sprinting instantly.  When we walked the field earlier, we decided about 1/3 of the way down the field was the best initial staging point for our double pincer.  From the first seconds of the battle we split into our three teams, according to plan.  My fire team was the left flank.  We moved so fast that we arrived at the rocky staging point in what felt like seconds.  We set up in a small World War One style entrenchment between several large rocks.  We picked our heads up and started looking down the field for the enemy.

Almost immediately, we started taking fire from our extreme right.  They were pretty far away and the paint flying at us was really inaccurate.  “Dang!  That enemy team was fast!”, I thought.  They had managed to cross 2/3rds of the field faster than my team could cross 1/3rd.  And we had sprinted.  Yikes!  We returned fire and I decided to fall back a bit and see if I could coax them in.  As soon as we fell back we saw our middle squad.  I began directing the center team to fire to their right.  I would then move up to get them in a cross fire.  Any second now  I was expecting my right most fire team to make contact.  They would put pressure on the enemy and  I would take my team on a flank and we would devastate them.

I was getting irritated because my repeated commands to the team in the middle seemed to be falling on deaf ears.  They were just looking at me and not firing at the enemy to our right.  After about two hours (realistically it was only about two minutes), we started taking fire directly from ahead.  My fire team was now in a cross fire.  One of my fire team members quickly took a round in the mask.  No worries.  He was our weakest player anyway.  My surviving friend and I returned fire on both the forward group and the group on our right.  I kept thinking, “Where in the world did my right fire team go!  What happened?”  I saw a couple of people in my center team start engaging the people in front of us.  “I am the leader of this team,” I thought, “I have to find my right flank squad and get them in this fight!”  I told my friend that I was going to fall back and try to hook around and find the right team.  He agreed to accompany me.  As soon as we started falling back I twisted my ankle on a rock.  I remember falling and wincing.  I was wearing cleats and they lessened the damage.  My friend stayed and offered cover fire while I crawled back into the trench.  We were stuck and my strategy was melting.  I heard each member of my center team get marked.  I saw my friend take a round.  I stood up on one leg and attempted a patented Rambo-mass-slaughter-move.  I failed with a couple of rounds breaking on my chest and then limped off the field.

On the way back to the field house, I was trying to determine what had gone so tragically wrong.  I incorrectly believed the problem wasn’t with me or the strategy.  My strategy was perfect.  As I got back to the field house, I remember yelling at one of the members of the right fire team.  “What happened to you!”, I screamed.  He said, “I don’t know.  We got to the rocks at the center of the field really quick.  Then we saw they were already on our extreme left in the rocks.  We couldn’t see them really well so we decided to start shooting at them so you would know where they were.”  It hit me in a flood of purifying humility.  We had been shooting at each other.  The reason my center team didn’t fire was because they could see that we were both on the same team.  They thought the right team was shooting at the actual enemy that they couldn’t see.  They were doing what I told them, laying back to see if the enemy would move into the middle of the field.

Our team failed on that match in at least a dozen critical areas.  First, the strategy was awful.  Only a handful of armies have ever successfully performed the double pincer with a trailing support element.  They were all extremely trained, with a huge number of competent officers, and they were already battle hardened with years of collective combat experience.  They all also had some form of artillery.

We also failed because the communication on the field was all but nonexistent.    The combined firepower was wasted since we split up.  We didn’t move at the same speed so different parts of the team arrived at different times.  I could name several more examples, but the point of this article is to help you avoid a similar defeat.

Here are some tips you can use to rock the other team’s world and send them back to the field house in proverbial body bags of shame:

Practice with your team on both personal and team techniques

We were great at practicing individual skills.  We had set up an obstacle course and we all mastered running and shooting.  I think if the enemy team would’ve agreed to a set of 5 one-on-one matches, we would’ve whipped them.  We never practiced team movement or anything to assist us in our collective firepower advantage.  As a team, practice formations, communication, sticking together, and collective fire power.  It is also good to practice individual skills and offer constructive critiques to each other.

Stick together

I’ve watched this over and over again.  The team that splits up loses.  Every time.  By “split up” I mean the team that loses communication.  I might even go as far as saying the team that gets out of visual range of each other.  Paintball is a sport where the weapons aren’t accurate.  If you stay together you can use your combined firepower to seize momentum and push the other team into making mistakes.

Even when both teams stick together, I am looking for ways to get a smaller group or sometimes even a single person to split off from the rest.  That way we can kill the smaller group and stack the odds in our favor.  I flank to try to weaken their combined firepower by exploiting the weaker side.  It also improves our cross fire opportunities.  You can only shift and exploit weakness if you are in communication with every member of your team and if you can see what they are doing and with whom they are actively engaged.  Stick together and you will win far more matches than you lose.

Be realistic about your team’s abilities

This is both on a personal level and a team level.  Stack the odds by positioning yourself in places you know your team can win.  For example, I’ve learned that it is normally easier for new players to defend rather than attack.  If I am leading new players and I can find a defendable position, I will hold it and let the more experienced players come to me.   I’ve had teammates that were fantastic at holding bunkers against groups much larger.  They would consistently get 3 and 4 kills in an engagement from a single spot.  I would use it to my advantage.

If you have a team full of fast and athletic people that hate to sit still then work with that.  Keep them together and try to swing the momentum so your opponent is constantly falling back while you flank and out-maneuver.  This is a lot harder to do and normally requires people that have been playing together for a while.

If you have a player that insists on putting on a ghillie suit and wandering off by himself then I believe you need to plan each match with one less team member.  He won’t help you unless he is one of the people that can consistently pull off a ghost maneuver.  I would set the odds to less than 1 in 10,000 that he is that person.  I will clarify the ghost maneuver in a future article.

Know your own skin

As their leader, you have weaknesses.  You also have strengths.  Accept both and lead from your strengths.  If you’ve never led before and you find yourself in this position, don’t act like you know everything.  Your team already knows you don’t.  Just do your best and work and learn together.  It will make you all better in the end.  Young leaders think they need to show confidence and that by admitting they don’t know something they will either lose the leadership position or they will hurt morale.  The exact opposite is true.  Honesty is far more important to your teammates than blind confidence.  They will know the difference really quick.

In my story above, I was so sure of my own superiority that I was arrogant.  I also wasn’t realistic about my team’s abilities.  We were all too stupid to realize that we were shooting at each other.  The entire fiasco would have been avoided if we would have followed this next rule.

Communication by yelling (and by radios)

New players always clam up when the paint starts flying.  Experienced players start yelling out enemy positions and barking orders.  When you come under fire, and your team has intelligently stuck together, you can work together to kill the enemy player that is causing your biggest issues.  Tell everyone where he is.  “I’ve got one about 45 yards to my right behind the pallet!”.  Then as the leader you need to decide who should engage the jerk behind the pallet.  If you can find opportunities to put two or three people on the jerk behind the pallet, without exposing your people or your flanks, then kill him quickly so you can get a consistent numbers advantage going.  The important thing here is to talk to each other. I suspect this is a controversial topic, but in my opinion, paintball isn’t a sneaking game once the paint starts flying.  Let the homos in the ghillie suits lay in the dirt and keep quiet while you slaughter their teammates and accomplish the mission.

I have also noticed that when I yell out the position of an enemy player they seem to get a little more defensive.  I’ve even been able to scare them into moving from great positions just by yelling things like “kill the one behind the blue pallet next!”  It’s fun and a little addictive to trick your enemy.  If you’re going to yell fake commands (which I highly recommend) make sure your teammates know what to expect.  For fun we use call signs like Rogue, Eagle, Knighthawk, etc.  I will occasionally call out fake commands to nonexistent teammates using mock call signs.  “Tiger, take Jade Dragon to the right and kill the faggot in the black sweat shirt!”.  It’s fun to see enemy players shift their fire into the woods hoping to stop the flank of phantom team members.  Everyone recognizes the voice of a good leader.  You can occasionally issue orders to your enemy as well.  Just food for thought.

When I lead a team now, I insist that every critical member on the team has a radio.  I prefer everyone has one, when possible.  The last game I led was a small scenario with about 80 players.  I had 40 team members under my command.  All of the squad leaders had ear buds with mics or they had masks that had them embedded.  Most of the other team members also had radios with ear buds.  Regular handheld radios are useless in combat.  You can’t hear them talking over the click and clack of the markers firing and they can’t hear you through your mask as you distortedly yell into the radio like an employee of a drive thru burger joint.  Ear buds make it possible to hear over the noise, and the mics being inside your masks make it possible to talk clearly to your team.  I have strict rules on who is allowed to talk on the radio and I have very, very strict rules against the voice activated (VOX) setting.  It never works right.  It just makes you hear one person breathing into the radio through the entire match.  Super frustrating.

During the match, only squad leaders are allowed to talk.  They tell me everything they can about the enemy force.  If they are KIA, then their second will notify me of that and take over the leadership and communication for his squad.  Depending on the rules of the game, my KIA leader might call himself hit over the radio so the 2nd will know to step up and I will know I need to react.  I also prefer they call out when a member of their squad is killed.

My team practices communication as a part of every drill we run.  We do this because we know this is normally more important than firing our gun.

It is probably important to say that during the scenario we didn’t “stick together”, in the sense of staying in visual range.  But if a squad lost communication, the standing order was for them to come back to HQ so we could get the radios working again or switch them out.  I guess it’s also fun to note that my team beat the other team by more than double in the points standing.  I think communication was the #1 reason we won by such a large margin.

Terminology

I don’t want to give you all of the trade secrets, but I will share that you need to develop your team’s terminology.  For example, on one of the fields we played at a bunch, there was a distinct “up hill” and “down hill”.  We decided to call “up hill” north.  The field also had 8 strategic points named Blue HQ, Red HQ, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot.  Our team memorized the map and then we could call out over the radio cardinal directions for attack on a point.  For example, “attack Echo from the south” would mean go down hill from Echo and attack it from below.  That group terminology helped us quickly communicate in the heat of battle.  It also let us call out enemy positions in a way that everyone would instantly understand.

The role of the leader

As the leader, you also need to do some prep work.  You need to know the field you are going to be playing on like the back of your hand.  You need to learn the rules of the game and be the team lawyer if something isn’t being handled fairly.  You need to host pre-event meetings with your team and schedule practices to prepare them for that event.  You need to study military squad tactics and adapt them to your team.

I will cover how to practice, squad tactics, and other topics in more detail in future articles.

Good hunting.

Aim

rogue on May 15th, 2011

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten the upper hand in a one-on-one situation, with a less experienced paintball player, because the other player simply didn’t aim his marker.

I remember a scenario game a couple years ago. We were assaulting a fairly well defended wooden fort reasonably close to the enemies HQ. I was in the heat of the fight, peering over a pallet at the fortification, only about 30 yards away. I realized that I was in a pretty good position to make another offensive move. Most of my teammates had followed me, and we had created a half-moon shaped ring around the strategic point. We were really hammering the wood. The sound of 40 players laying down suppression fire is musical bliss when it’s your team playing in the band. God, I love this sport.

The enemy players inside the fort have their heads down since my team is providing such great cover fire. I decide to make a run for a bunker about 15 yards away from the fort. That would put me in front of my team and in a good position to clear out one of the fort’s bunkers. When I am ready to make any aggressive move, I typically choose the “don’t think, just do it” motto.  Not always the best choice, especially because in this particular 36 hour scenario game, I was the General on my team. In my defense, I was calculating the risk/reward and I knew we had to make it into their fort before the enemy respawn or I would have to forgo this mission. I knew we had to move fast and I wanted to lead by example.

I remember that I was wearing football cleats and had a pretty light gear load. I made my frantic dash for the bunker with my gun tucked in my “ready” position. Just as I am about to slide into the relative safety of the bunker, one of the enemy defenders decides he wants to play paintball instead of just being a target. He peaks his head up over the top of the fortification wall.

The two of us have that moment, almost like a sappy romantic comedy, where our eyes meet and there is instant chemistry. The only difference is that our “chemistry” is adrenaline, and our reaction is to shoot each other instead of kissing. From a paintball standpoint, we both react very differently. He swings his gun up over the fort wall in a gang style spray-and-pray methodology. I pull the tank into my shoulder and aim down my sight rail. He fires a couple rounds high and to my left. I fire three rounds directly into his mouth and neck. He raises his gun and starts to walk off the field. I proceed to help my teammates clear the fort and go on to win the scenario. The difference was simple. I aimed.

Because of the point value assigned to me during that scenario game, he could have put almost 2% of his team’s points on the board in that one moment. Shame on me for being so far forward during the assault. Shame on him for not aiming. I know this is a far stretch, but it is possible that his team could have rallied around him, putting me in the morgue. They could have used that as a turning point and possibly won the entire scenario. If he had just managed to land one paintball on my person, he could have won the game.

But he didn’t aim! He didn’t aim because he didn’t practice in a way that required him to aim. He didn’t aim because he wasn’t disciplined enough to react by aiming and then shooting. His reaction was more of a flailing panic. Don’t be this player. Read the rest of this article and then “Practice Practice Practice!” The Navy seals supposedly use 50,000 rounds of ammunition per team member per year. They are such great warriors because they eat, breathe, and sleep proper technique.

Here are some practical tips and drills that will help you develop your personal paintball skills and techniques.

Aiming Techniques

Paintball markers are so inaccurate, most players just spray-and-pray. Some aim with what I call “tracer fire.” They shoot a round and then try to watch it land. Then they adjust their shot. Or they use machine-gun-tracer-fire where they start shooting and then adjust the stream of paintballs. I’ve had teammates use those strategies and have success. I really don’t like any of these methods but at the very least they are aiming in some capacity.  I prefer you follow my guidelines below.

Your Gear

No matter what you do, crappy paintballs and a a crappy marker are going to perform like crap. There is no way around it. I recommend finding out your barrel size and then trying to find some paint that flies reasonably straight. You will know it fits in your barrel if you drop a paintball into your barrel and it goes in but gets stuck. It shouldn’t be hard to put in. It also should just fall straight through. If you are looking to upgrade a stock gun then start with the barrel and then the bolt. I have found a paint brand that works really well with my gear. It costs about 15% more than the other brands but I shoot about 30% less since I am more accurate. Experiment and find one that works for you. If you are required to use Field paint for an event, request that they carry your brand. I’ve had several fields get a couple of cases of my brand since they knew they would have a customer for it.

Paintball Sight

I prefer you pick a “sight” of some kind. It doesn’t need to be a Dot site or a scope. Paintball markers aren’t that accurate. Just use a rail or a screw or something you can line up with a target.

Practice Aiming

It was Mel Gibson’s character in the movie “The Patriot” that said the phrase “Aim small, miss small.” In order to practice aiming, you need a small target. I like to use 20oz or 16oz soft drink bottles.

coke-1

I collect 10 and set them up at varying distances. I will then give myself a limited number of paintballs and practice shooting at them from the 3 major shooting stances (standing, kneeling and prone). Distances should be something like 20′, 40′, 60′, 80′ and 100′. If you are hitting a 16oz soda bottle at 100′, then you will be able to hit a 180 lb man wearing full gear.

One thing you will notice the next time you play, after you do this drill a couple of times, is that you will start to see small targets about the same size on enemy players. I’ve gotten a lot of kills because someone left a boot barely sticking out from the edge of a tree or bunker. Aiming helps me connect on the first one or two shots before the player can realize his error and adjust.

Aiming Under Pressure

I know a few ways to help a player practice aiming under pressure. A great one is to shoot after you are fatigued. You can do the above aiming drill after you’ve run a 100 yard sprint. Your results will be much worse but you will teach your body to aim as a muscle memory. The goal is to be both fast and accurate, in an automatic sense. When you’ve just run a sprint, it’s harder to slow down and aim. Especially if you’re winded. I like to do this as a two person competition. Two people run the drill at the same time. The first one to hit 3 targets at 3 different distances, after running 100 yards, wins. The competition puts extra pressure on you which helps create muscle memory. You are only as good in real combat as your worst practice run. Make sure your runs are consistent so you can make the other guy walk off the field with the giant paint splotch on his mask.

Another way is to treat the targets like clay pigeons. You turn around. Put your gun in your “ready” position. Take a deep breath. Then spin around, aim, and shoot. I also like to do this from kneeling to standing and vice versa. Spinning seems to mess with you enough to create confusion in your muscles. Forcing yourself to aim creates the muscle memory you want.

Moving and Shooting

It is very common to see guys run across the field, from tree to tree or bunker to bunker and they are just spraying their paint wildly toward the enemy. This isn’t really useful against good players. Sure the noobs will lie down and let you make the move. Experienced players will pop up and take aim. If you’ve ever seen video footage of the military, they are not haphazardly firing as they scramble. They control their movement and they focus on putting rounds on the target. Set up a course where you can walk and shoot. This will greatly improve your skill with your marker and give you an edge over the other guy in the trenches.

Pop Up Shooting

It is also of tremendous benefit for you to practice behind bunkers and trees. Set up targets and then pop out, aim, fire a few rounds, and then take cover. This is how you typically play, so you should practice it. It is also a good opportunity to develop good habits behind the bunker. Don’t put yourself in a position where you can’t return fire. Stay in a ready position behind the obstacle.

Conclusion

I don’t think aiming is enough to make a bad player into a good one. But I do think it’s enough to take a bad player and give them some kills for the day. I would call that moving from bad to okay. It’s a good start.