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Decades after the first shot was fired, paintball is still popular

Vic MacFarlane has been running SNL Paintball for 25 years.
Vic MacFarlane has been running SNL Paintball for 25 years.

NORTH RIVER, N.S. – Vic MacFarlane has been in the paintball business since 1992, and has seen the sport take off and evolve, while other pastimes have waned in popularity.

Other than a few slow years during recent economic crunches, new fields and plenty of bookings show paintball is still a popular pursuit.

“The biggest changes have been economic changes,” said MacFarlane, who owns SNL Paintball in North River.

“Paintball numbers have dropped off, but also a lot more fields have opened lately. Although money is a little harder to come by lately, we still have plenty of groups booking our course.”

Other courses have also seen a drop in attendance, but a shift from the competitive speedball format to a more recreational style of play has begun to bring more people in.

“People like the recreational games more,” said Gary MacKenzie of Camp Debert Army Paintball.

“Players today want to be able to just get a group of people together, go out and have a good time. Anyone can do it, and that is the draw.”

While the average paintball player is usually younger, MacKenzie says there are always players of varying ages visiting his course.

“We get a lot of hockey teams and bachelor party bookings,” he said.

“We get work groups out here for team building and stress relief days and we also do birthday parties so our players range from little kids to seniors. Size doesn’t matter, and people you expect to do poorly will often surprise you.”

The game has remained relatively the same since its inception in the 1980s, consisting of a few different game styles such as capture the flag and speedball.

Where the changes come is with the technology.

“The biggest changes are in the guns,” said MacFarlane.

They are always creating new guns and changing how they work. Now they have mag-fed guns, which have a banana clip like a real gun but full of paintballs. It makes it more realistic; they can swap clips on the go.”

Most guns have also switched to a newer firing system, using compressed air over C02. This allows courses to charge less for tank refills, meaning rates for players are kept in check.

While safety is the number one concern in the sport, there isn’t a whole lot of regulation in paintball.

“It’s a self-regulated industry, really,” said MacFarlane.

“There aren’t many standard rules for paintball fields, and they tend to change between provinces. There was a game in Quebec where players could drink outside the course, and continue playing. We don’t allow that here.”

MacFarlane started SNL Paintball in the early 1990s, and since then, has built up a course in North River, which includes a hillside trench, the remnants of a homemade castle, and a village of small shacks he calls “Darvictown.”

He’s preparing for the course’s 25th anniversary on July 30, and will be having a celebration with games running all day, an extra free hour for bookings, and also cake.

“The whole point is just to celebrate the fact I survived the last 25 years, and have fun,” said MacFarlane.

“That has always been my philosophy, is to provide fun, hassle-free paintball.”

Most recreational paintball games use a capture the flag format, in which players break up into teams, and try to reach the flag without getting hit to bring it back to their base.

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