Any discussion of tournament paintball will end up with the question of how it all began. In my interview with Jim Lively I explored the early days of competition. But how did the pro teams come about? Who were the first pro teams and how did their style of play differ from the pro teams of today? Well, I was fortunate enough to interview Andy Greenwell the captain of arguably the first pro team. Andy doesn’t play competitive paintball anymore. But he is still a mine of information about the early years of competition paintball in America. Today Andy is involved with the development of paintball guns. The Blade a blowback design was nearing production when I met him at the 1994 Masters in Nashville.
Mike: Andy, could you give a bit of background on how you became involved with paintball.
Andy: Well actually, I ran into a guy that I used to compete against (I used to coach swimming). I’d been teaching school for a number of years and he came over and said, “do I want a job?” I said, “well, I got a job”. So he said, “do you really want to make some money?” So I looked at it and took the job. The same guy 2 or 3 years later says, “Hey you want to play paintball”, “What’s that?” I said? So essentially that’s how I got into it. He kept bringing me into new things all along. I’ve been a hunter and a fisherman ever since I can remember. So essentially that’s how I got involved in it. And from that, I just played all the time, I was hooked. I quit hunting, I quit fishing, I quit all of those things and paintball became my number one thing. So essentially from that point on, I had to have a team. My first attempt at a team blew up. Then I decided to change my tactics completely. I started working on a team from a different direction, just gaining one guy at a time. That’s how I started building a team and in 1986 we started playing tournaments.
Mike: And the name of that team?
Andy: NAVARONE. We were the first to recruit sponsors, JT, Line SI, Tiger Stripe, although they don’t wear the tiger stripes much anymore. And line SI is completely gone, they’re bankrupt, so they’re not even around. We started with Nel- spot guns and then Line SI came around, they weren’t called Line SI then, they were called Skirmish. They had a new gun that went on a pump grip and it had a long barrel on it. I can’t remember what they called it. Anyway, it eventually turned into the Bushmaster. We started playing with the Bushmaster, essentially they came to me and said “Hey look, if you can make our guns shoot as good as your guns, then We’ll sponsor you”. We were already being sponsored by JT at that time. OK, fine I said, so we just took all of the guts out of our Nel spots and put them in the Bushmaster and away we went. And that’s essentially how we started with the Bushmaster. We played with those guns for pretty much all of 1987 and almost all of the way through 1990. Actually, we won the Masters in 1990 with pump guns. Won the series with pump guns, everybody else was using semis. So that was the first year of semis. And at that point, sixteen of us all left the team to do other things. Navarone still plays but they not really the same team.
Mike: So back in those early tournaments, what was it like playing with pumps. What sort of paint usage was there, how long were the games and what sort of fields did you play on?
Andy: Well the fields were a lot bigger than today’s. And there were 15 man teams, there was really no such thing as a 5 man team. 10 man teams didn’t appear until 1990, essentially. The 15 man team was the only format all the way from 1982 to probably 1990, 1990 was the first year for 10 man. And the fields were large, some of them 150 yards wide by 300 yards long. Our team started shooting a lot of paint and that was like 4 cases, a case of paint a game for 15 guys with pumps. Now that was a lot of paint back then. But you’ve got to understand too, that the game wasn’t near as quick, we had an hour. Then they dropped it to 45 mins. In 1989 we were playing 40 minute games. So they’d cut it down 20 minutes during that period of time.
In 1986 you had to go to a field trial in your area and win that field trial. Then you automatically got moved up to a region. You had to win that region to go to the nationals. Well 1986 was the last year that they did that. It was extremely tough to get there. Only 11 teams were at the nationals and we were there. We’d only been together since October. Yet we’d managed to get all the way through to the nationals. They had 10 divisions, the national champion got an automatic buy into the tournament from last year. So essentially it was 11 teams. We won three games and lost one. We took ninth. The competition was so stiff that just losing a few points would drop you maybe three places. So under those circumstances I would say that the tournaments were a lot tougher. If you just lost a few points, you dropped a few places.
Mike: What was your style of play back then?
Andy: We played essentially a power game, kinda like what they’re doing today, we used what we called orchestrated fire power. If you played against us, you essentially got shot by someone that you didn’t see. And that’s pretty much the way it went. A lot of guys called us the Green Bay Packers (An American Football Team – Mike) of Paintball. They knew we were coming, but just didn’t know how to stop it. And it was relentless.
Mike: So I guess you evolved what is the basis of the modern style of paintball. The power game using zones of fire.
Andy: But it over all the whole field. We played with a lazy W offence, meaning that there were two areas of the field that were essentially kill zones. We would hit people on the flanks and hit them in the middle so that they would naturally gravitate to the W. When they gravitated to that W part, they were essentially just shot from both sides and the front, they had nowhere to go but back. And when they went back, we owned their territory. It was a very simple offence, even the Ref’s couldn’t figure out exactly how it was working, but essentially it was pure power. That offence still works with today with semis. For example, on the flanks you use a point and a guard and they sit right on the wire. And you’ve got a squad leader just inside, but behind those guys and a wingman that’s even in closer. And behind him you have a rover. You have 5 guys on a 15 man team. On a 10 man team you only have 3, a point, a guard and basically a squad man rover, or a squad man wingman rover, whatever you want to call him. There’s 3 and then 3 and then 4 in the middle. You’ve got 2 that can play really hard in the middle and you can switch those 2 from side to side. So essentially you can still play a Lazy W and with semis, one guy can do the damage that 3 guys could do before. So essentially you’ve got more fire power with 10 guys than you ever had with 15. Semi’s are more or less a spray pray type of thing versus what we had in the olden days, which was aim, take your shot and hit the guy in the goggles. You don’t necessarily have that now. Now you’re shooting 16 times to hit the guy in the goggles when he’s a lot closer. However, I do think the game is eventually going to get back to some form of a mid-way point between these two types of play.
Mike: I’ve noticed, that the pro’s seem to be sitting a lot further back than the amateurs.
A member of the Australian pro team “Hardline” in action
Andy: Well their guns are a lot more effective. And they’re a little more confident in their fire-power. When you get in tight on a pro, he’s more …, I like to get tight on pro’s cause they get a little ansy. And that’s essentially what our offence was all about anyway. If you get close to somebody and you’ve got the fire power of what they’ve got today. Well, you don’t want to sit around very close to that guy, he’ll blow the whole bush down in nothing flat.
Mike: Now something I’ve seen happen in quite a few games, mainly the pro games, is teams managing to get crawlers over open ground in what appears to a spectator, in full view. And they do it very successfully.
Andy: They’re not in clear view. First of all, you’re distracted by people shooting at you. I was telling you about the rover/wingman. Those guys would lay power down. And then, no-one’s paying attention to what’s crawling up on them very close. That’s the whole technique the pro’s use period. Get tight and take as many guys out as you possibly can, so that the rest of the guys behind you can come through. Usually, when there’s a weakness, it’s very instantaneous. With the fire power that’s going on right now it’s just Ôphoomph’ If there’s just one little hole they make it big real fast and it’s quick. In the olden days you couldn’t do that, you could, but you needed a lot of guys to do that cause you just didn’t have the fire power It’s not a lot of fun when you’re the hole, so to speak, they’re coming in on. But there are problems too. For example, it’s hard to tell who’s being shot when, and when they’re out. Pro’s are hesitant about that, because if you can run in and take 4 guys out, then you’ll only get hit by yourself, you’re ok. Let’s say you get hit, but you just continue firing until you do hit some people, chances are you’re not going to get caught. So there’s a real grey area there and it’s really nobody’s fault. It’s just that there’s a tremendous amount of paint being put in the air all at the one time. So even if no one tries to cheat, it’s just a matter of everything happening so fast that judges can’t get on it so quick. It’d be a different story if it was real war, the guy’d be taken out and that’d be the end of it. You wouldn’t have the opportunity to shoot back. In this game you’re not dead, it’s just a game so you have the opportunity to continue to fire and when that happens…… That’s why you’ll see the pro’s sit back a little bit, shoot the guy and not necessarily go in REAL fast. They will exploit that area with fire power. They won’t exploit it with body power.
Mike: It can get very confusing, particularly if someone does a run on somebody and both are hit. Who hit who first?
Andy: Right. So they both go out. Essentially trading man for man is no good. ok. So that’s why the pro’s try to stay out of that. If you get a judge involved in your game you’re in trouble. That’s been the fact forever. You know, judges are there to make sure that players get out safely, that kind of thing, make sure that they’re not hit on some inconspicuous area that they didn’t feel. Get them out of the game and enforce the rules. As a team captain, if you get that judge involved in your game that’s a disadvantage, very few times does a call ever go your way. ok? If it’s close, Murphy says your guy’s gone. You’ve got to keep the judges out of it as much as possible. So what you do is, you’re a very cautious, aggressive player, if that makes sense. Kind of tough to play that way, but the pro’s do it.
Mike: I guess with teamwork it’s not that hard is it.
Andy: We haven’t played for quite some time. When we have gotten together to play, these guys come right back into it, like they just played last week. It doesn’t take them long to get right back into the groove. The fire power doesn’t scare them at all. They know that that guy’s going to be right there, behind them, backing them up. They know those things. So it’s a lot easier to play team ball when you know that guy’s going to be behind you. That’s why I think it’s really kind of funny to hear teams taking players that are clear across the country. With the pro’s, you don’t see that happen a lot. You will see that happen occasionally. But on the most part, 10 players play with 10 players and they’re from the same area, because they play together all the time.
Mike: What about age? Obviously people in your team would be a lot older than some of the pro teams now because you’ve been playing for so long? Does it make a difference? Do you think that paintball is one of those few sports where youth is not such a distinct advantage like football or baseball?
Andy: I think youth is actually a disadvantage in some respects. Only because the guy is just too ansy.
Mike: You’re talking about patience and discipline aren’t you?
Andy: Exactly, I will give you an example. Navarone had 35 guys on the team, of the top 20 the average age was 30 or 32 ok. The average age of the second team was 24. The old guys used to beat the young guys all the time. It wasn’t even close. The only time the Apocalypse (that’s the second team) team beat the Armageddon team (that’s the first team) was because they were pooped out, or just didn’t care about playing that day. But all they had to do was come back and start taunting the guys, ‘We beat ya’ and the next game wouldn’t even be close. You’ve gotta understand that Aftershock, the All Americans, these teams are not young teams. The Iron Men, I’ve played against the Iron Men and Aftershock, not Aftershock as they are now. Aftershock used to be the Lord’s of Discipline. We used to play against those guys all the time, They’re still the same guys, well not all of them, only 5. But again, it’s not necessarily age that counts, it’s your tenacity and I don’t think that comes for a while.
Mike: Do you think there is as much specialisation amongst team members in a 10 man team?
Andy: Yeh. I think there is some. You still have to have your point men. So you still have to have those guys that are going to like to crawl. I’ll give you a good example. Our guys, we had points, guards, squad leaders, rovers and wingmen. And they all had a little different personality. You had to kind of put them in the right spot. Point men are always into the biggest mess of fire fight there is and they always come out clean, that’s a point man. The guard is somebody who throws so much paint that nobody want’s to shoot at him, ok. Now this is for pump guns, but it’s the same for semis. The squad leader’s got the brains, he knows when he can move his squad in, move them out and when he can do it. He always knows what’s going on, pretty much. Wing men just kind of stay in there and take the pot shots. And the rover is just basically there for communication. You can see that there is a definite difference in what these guys are supposed to be doing. It’s the same thing with the 10 man. Our guys that played point with our 15 man team automatically went in point on the 10 man team with no trouble, no trouble at all. We virtually played the same, firepower’s different, that’s all. I haven’t really noticed a big change. Matter of fact, I think it’s a lot easier to just go play walk on pickup games. With the semi’s it’s easier to have a good day than it was in the old pump days. You can go out and just hose people with these semis, all they want to do is throw paint, but they don’t really know where the paint’s going, they’re just throwing it out there.
Mike: We’ve all been guilty of that.
Andy: Of course, there’s no question, but on the other hand, I like playing walk on games when there’s a lot of semi’s on the field now. Because I know that they’re relying on their gun. And if all we do is just move in just a little bit we’ve nailed off 4, 5 or 6 of them. When you shoot with a semi, you can get semi tunnel vision. You’re concentrating on the target, if no one’s watching your flanks, you’re cooked. And that’s why I love playing against semi players, cause they’re watching that one target and if they’re pointing on my point man our guards and everyone else is going to be laying stuff on them. So that’s why I like playing now, not tournaments, you know. I just like to go out and play, we play big games and that kind of stuff. But I have no inclination to play tournaments again.
Mike: Is it hard for a player to get it together and become a top team player today?
Andy: First of all, the old teams , Iron men, Aftershock, those teams have been together for a long time. They might change a few members here, a few members there, but essentially, they’ve been around for a long time. But the new guy coming up, he hasn’t that ability or that background. So he’s basically going out there, trying to figure out if he wants to be on a team. So he goes out there and tries a tournament and has a bad experience. So rather than blame it on how he played, he blames it on how the team played so he goes and finds another team. Well pretty soon you have no team loyalty, none. So you’ve got guys that are going out and playing with this team on one weekend and that team on the next. You don’t get any continuity. How can you get a team that is going to be tough if they don’t play together. It doesn’t happen.
We’ve all been in a position where we can look back and see what we’ve done in the past. Because of all the political nonsense which big teams to go through, I would never want to start another team. But I think for a guy who knew how to do it, I think you could really develop a good group of young guys. Guys in their late 20’s, that’s the kind of guy I would be looking for. Somebody who is late twenties, early thirties who has probably not played on any teams, but really was aggressive. You’d want to but make them understand real quick that you’re trying to build a team. You’d start with one, then eventually two and then three and then four, until you’d finally have ten. But don’t get five and then go ask another team to join you. That would be the wrong thing to do. Now would be the prime time to come up with a real good team. I think you’d be a contender real quick. A guy with some smarts could just go out and get 10 good guys and just make sure that they played together all the time. You could get a bunch of semi players now on a brand new team that could do well. I mean there’s no new tricks, ok. It’s all the same. It’s just making these guys disciplined enough to win and getting their attitude right. It’s just like any other sport. But what I see todays players doing, is too much team hopping. They play here and then they play there and then they play over here again. I have a good friend who does exactly this, he is not a team player. That’s the kind of guy you need to get rid of.
Mike: What you’re effectively forming, is a family type of relationship between the players isn’t it?
Andy: You have to have that. You have to have guys who actually want to be with each other. It’s extremely important. See this is what took so long. I’d put a guy in a point position and he might a pretty good point, but I couldn’t find a guard for him. You gotta find somebody who’s going to be compatible with him personality wise. So that was extremely tough for us at Navarone. Once we had that, we were right. I had that team for 4 years and essentially very few guys went in or left during that time.
Mike: Thanks Andy and I wish you luck with the Blade.
Whether you agree or disagree with Andy’s more formal team structure and tactics is not really relevant. I do think that the most important point that he makes about a team being I guess an extended family is still very much applicable today. After all, it helped them win four World Championship titles.