The cornerstone of successful paintball is three little skills : the ability to get good angles on your opponents, being able to communicate with your own team, and having teamwork between yourself and your teammates. When you're looking at a tournament team, some of these guys seem like they share a brain. But most of us don't play tournaments.
When I play, I'm lucky to even know a few of the people I'm playing with. Walk-on paintball games (sometimes called open play) is unique, in that on the same field you can get everyone from die-hards like me to people who got conned into playing for the first time. So getting people to work together is similar to herding cats. It can be done, if you attack it right.
What we'll do here is work from the three very basic skills of the game, Angles, Communication and Teamwork. These three things are the basic building blocks of everything else in paintball, and as such work in the woods, urban fields, indoors, airball, whatever. And even if you have no idea who your teammates are at the beginning of the day, you can do these three things. How? I'm so glad you asked.
I'll start with basic communication. Just yacking it up on the field is a good skill. Something that bothers me when I play walk-on is the deafening silence from my teammates. Nobody talks. And that bothers me. I don't expect a constant flow of chatter, but once in a while hearing "There's a guy behind that barrel there." is not a bad thing! And yet, nobody talks at all. I have two theories as to why people won't talk on a paintball field.
The first thought is that people who play paintball in the woods assume that they're all some kind of super-secret "Rainbow Six" squad, and that if they utter any words, they'll give up their precious cover or something. In some cases in the woods, I can see this. I mean I've had times when I realized that if I had a gastro-intestinal expulsion the other team would be all over me. But most of the time, even in the woods, it's not a bad idea to tell your friends where you are and what you're doing.
Theory number two is that people who don't know each other are less likely to talk on the field. It's like being in an elevator. Don't look at anyone else, don't speak to anyone else, don't do anything weird, face forward and wait for something to happen. This is paintball, folks. I wanna hear some chatter!
So I'm going to start with you. Yeah, you. When you're playing next time, I want you to be more conscious of talking to your teammates. Nobody else will do it, so you may as well try it. What I like to do in the opening games is be the quarterback. For the sake of argument, let's say we're playing on a "speedball" court with some spools, barrels, and other barriers that make rec-ball so much fun. We'll say that you can see your opponents from your start area, and you can see what they're doing.
Before the game, I'll tell my teammates that I'll be the QB. "I'll call out whose going where right off the bat." I tell them. Everyone else has his own plan, mine is to tell my guys what the other team is up to. As soon as the whistle is blown, I'll start the chatter right away. "Two left, two right, three middle, and two back". Right off the bat, I've just told my teammates where the other team went. I'll then trot leisurely to my position in the back row.
In some cases, this is enough to prod your teammates into talking more on the field. Once they see it's "ok" to talk on the field, they'll start for themselves. Sometimes not. So I keep it up. "TWO behind the red spool! ONE on the right, near the barrel pyramid! We've still got three in the back right corner!" I've had games where I won't shut up the whole time. It serves a few purposes. Not only does it tell your teammates where the bad guys are, but it also lets the bad guys know that you know exactly where they are, and you're not afraid to tell the world. Not to mention that, you can coach from the back, and let your guys know what's up.
On a smaller scale, you can do this in thick woods games too. If I happen to be with a few people, I'll throw some hand signals. Basic things. Two fingers in the air, and point at a bunker. "Two bad guys, over there." Point to the myself, and swing my hand wide. "I'm going to flank wide." Forefinger touching thumb, then closed fist to thumb's up. "Ok, I'm cool with that." Simple stuff. I don't expect my teammates to be well acquainted with the US Military book of hand signals, so simple and universal things are good.
If you're close enough to actually talk in a normal tone of voice in the woods, do it. "There's a guy in there, and I'm going to flank around him." There. You've now got a plan, and a buddy to help you out. It's really not that hard, in all reality. You just need to make a conscious decision to actually do it. This is why I can't force my teammates to talk it up. As frustrating as it is, they have to decide for themselves to stop pretending to be "Rainbow Six" and get into the game with me.
This is how we get into the teamwork aspect of the game. Even if my guys aren't communicating with me, they can still get into some teamwork. Some. It's helpful if they'll actually talk to me, but not mandatory. I mean, I can do some killer moves without their help, if I need to. But on and off the field, it's helpful if you can work at least with the illusion of a team mentality.
If you've got a buddy you can go with, it makes life a lot easier. A lot of the people I know off the 'net are people I play with on occasion, and I trust each one of them on the field. I'm going to pick on the Chicago guys, Az, Skreemer, Nero and Pacman for a while. I kinda know their real names too, but when I talk with them socially I more often call them by their nicknames than by their real names anyhow.
When we play together, we talk before the game about a plan. On the field, we just work it on the fly. For example, at a big game last year we stuck together, we were all in our Skyball jerseys so we could see each other easier. I was crawling just under a berm with another guy behind me. I popped up and shot at a player. Out of what seemed like nowhere, Skreemer runs in and fills the spot I shot out. The guy I was crawling with said there was someone in the spot. I said "That's my bud Skreemer! Let's move up!" We ended up making a wide flank and swinging the boundary to win the game.
I had no idea he was going to do that, he just did it. He had no idea I was behind him, but was happy to see me and a few other people fill in the dead spots to swarm the boundary line on his left. And I'll admit that when I saw it was Skreemer, I knew I had to get over there to help him out. I would have done it for anyone else too, but hey, that's my bud down there!
You need to bring this kind of mentality with you when you play in the open group in order to be successful. I won't try to tell you to trust your team with your safety. I can't tell you how many times I've been burned when someone says "I'll cover you." and all they do is watch, saying "Man, that had to hurt." But you can use these kinds of people to your advantage.
If I'm looking at my team, and I see Mr. "I'm too selfish to give you cover fire" shooting to my left, odds are he's shooting at someone there. That's fine. I'll look on the right, and see if I can make a move to eliminate the guy he's shooting at. In this case, my teammate is offering suppression fire, and doesn't realize it. That's fine. Hit is hit, out is out in my book.
I do want to mention something else here as well. When I'm playing, I like to wear "vanity" jerseys with my nickname on the back. It's not just feeding what little ego I've got left, it does serve a purpose. I would much rather have someone yell "HEY TYGER!" than "Hey you!". I've heard people try to get other's attention with "Hey redhead" or "Yo blue gun" or the like, and it doesn't work. Remember my story from earlier? Our Skyball jerseys all have our nicknames on the back in large, easy to read letters. It's not shameless self-promotion, it's a way to let others know who we are if they need our attention.
Which brings me to another point. If you are with a friend, work with him. A friend of mine has been going out to play with me the last few times I've played. Jerry is still a newer player, but he's got the right attitude and one hell of a game for a rookie. The last time we played, we worked together most of the day. He'd move up and I'd cover him from the back. I'd be in the front and he'd feed me information for what's going on up field.
What was really interesting was near the end of the day we were put on opposite teams, and we played each other. The game went badly for his team, and he was the last one in the game. I stopped mid-way up the field, and shot to hold him in position and deny him a segment of the field to run for. He tried to snapshoot at me, but couldn't. Eventually, one of my teammates ran up and bunkered him after he nearly lost his goggles banging the visor on the hyperball tube.
The interesting part came later that day. As we drove home, we analyzed that game from segment to segment, and he wanted to figure out what he could have done differently. Why did I stop and not rush him? What could he have done to get out of that spot? Was there anything his team could have done to prevent getting hammered like they did? It's an aspect of teamwork that not a lot of people subscribe to, but it's just as important as working together on the field.
For the most part, however, your team loyalty can change as the day moves on. So you need to learn to trust your teammates at least a little bit. If you put yourself out there, and give your team a little bit of trust to help you out, you may be surprised. Unless, naturally, they leave you out to get shot, in which case to heck with them and go solo.
The final part of this is the angles. Getting angles on your opponents is important, if you want to shoot them. So working with your team is a good thing. I'm going to talk specifically about two-player tactics, because it's the easiest to do. I find that the more people involved with a plan, the more likely it will fall apart when you try it. Besides, for a lot of these things you can grab someone and say "Hey, let's try this."
Earlier I talked about myself and Jerry, and how we move up the field. What we do is a two player stalk, in which one player takes the lead, the other is in the back covering him. The lead spot can really bite, because more than likely you'll be the guy springing the ambush in the woods. You need to really trust your other players, to get you out if you can duck the first salvo of paint. You also need to be alert enough to duck, if it all goes bad.
As the back player, you want to stay back at least 30 feet, with 50 feet being a good distance. The reason is that you don't want to clump together, making one bigger target for the bad guys. Plus, if you are further out, you can see who smoked your friend and shoot them. When I'm moving up with Jerry, whoever is the guy in back will actually hunker down, and use concealment to stay somewhat hidden. Meanwhile the guy in front makes the moves. If the front guy signals to come forward, the other one will. It's that whole teamwork thing. The front guy is trusting the back guy to cover his back, and to watch for bad guys.
Another basic move for two players requires an extraordinary amount of trust. I call it the "wedge". One player shoots, the other one moves by flanking out wide to one side. The second player gets into his position, and shoots at the bad guy. The first player then gets up, and flanks out wide to the other side. The idea is to create a 'wedge', with your angles being so wide that the bad guy player can't possibly hide from you both.
This requires a lot more trust and teamwork. Not to mention some skill on the part of both players. I know a lot of guys who just can't handle the concept. In those cases, you can plant one guy behind a position to shoot while the other moves up and bunkers the bad guy. Which, come to think of it, isn't so bad an idea sometimes.
What you want to do with all this information is combine it. The three skills of paintball, Communications, Angles, and Teamwork, work best when you blend them together. Jerry tells me "I'm gonna move up on that guy." I tell him to go for it, and lay down cover fire to mask his opening move. While he's flanking, I tell him the bad guy isn't moving, and is looking at me. Jerry comes up on the guy's side and smokes him in the head. We've just done all three parts of the equation and got a good result. One bad guy gone.
I will admit that it's not always an easy task to get your teammates to go along with a hare-brained scheme like working together or being a team. That's when you need to use one last skill: subterfuge. "Ok." I tell them. "Can you shoot that guy over there? My gun can't reach him from here, so I'm going over there." And they always seem to be OK with that, for some reason. I don't quite understand it, but if it works, I'll take teamwork any way I can get it