Warming weather brings out paintball guns

By JeffGraveline

As players take opposite ends of the field, a referee stands between them. When he whistles, the paint will begin to fly. Protected by just the clothes on their backs and masks covering their faces, players vie to be the last man standing—a paint-free beacon of victory. A paintball match is about to begin.

Since its invention in 1982, paintball has been considered a fringe sport. Originally called “Splat Ball,” men and women would take to the fields and forests of their communities to shoot each other with paint in a game of make-believe war.

Since its humble beginnings, paintball has grown into a multi-million dollar business with retailers and venues selling their wares and providing a structured environment for friends to safely shoot each other.

“Back then [in the ’80s], it was really just kind of getting going,” said Virgil Frey, owner and operator of Blast Camp in Hobart, Ind. “I really envy the old, the original owners [and players] for having the foresight to keep it going when the sport itself was just getting going.”

In Chicagoland, there are several major paintball fields and facilities: outdoor fields such as Blast Camp and Badlandz in Crete, Ill., and indoor fields like Chicagoland Paintball in Glenwood, Ill.

At Badlandz — a more than 400-acre facility that uses buses to transport players to and from different locations on the property — the staff and ownership try to keep the heart of the original “Splat Ball” in the newest generation of paintball players and the facility.

“We are a very traditional paintball facility,” said Renick Miller, a spokesman for Badlandz. “By that, I mean we have lots of hills, lots of trees and things like that. We’re by far the biggest facility in Chicago and probably the Midwest. We run as many people as anyone does … land-wise we’re easily the biggest in the Midwest.”

One of the advantages of outdoor fields, aside from the larger size of such facilities, is their ability to host large-scale tournaments and themed game days.

Both Badlandz and Blast Camp are heavily invested in putting on the best tournaments and theme-related games in

the Midwest.

“We host the second biggest tournament on the planet, and that’s the PSP Chicago Open,” Miller said. “We’ll have more than 3,000 people here per day during that tournament.”

While the large-scale tournaments are possible on the mammoth-sized facilities of Badlandz, the 21-acre Blast Camp has put its own stamp on its facility by using a historic Nike Missle Base.

The base is registered with the United States Department of the Interior as a historic landmark and has most of the original structures still in place; including satellite towers, barracks and training trenches, according to Frey.

“We’re one of three Nike Defense Bases that is somewhat still intact [in the U.S.] … It’s kind of a historic field just by itself,” Frey said.

It might be easy to use simple military themes when putting together a themed game day at Blast Camp, but Frey and his team take a novel approach.

“We like to do something a little bit different than the norm,” Frey said. “We like to do themes that are not always military-related. In January, we had a “Star Wars”: Battle of Hoth theme, and in May we’redoing a Simpsons-themed game. Obviously all our big games are going to have a military theme, but we like to go off the beaten path a little bit and do things a little bit differently than everybody else.”

Unlike the much larger outdoor paintball fields in the area, Chicagoland Paintball is a smaller and more intimate.

The indoor arena  picks up the speed of the game while still delivering the same thrills and excitement of its outdoor


“It’s a little bit quicker of a game because the field in general is smaller,” said Dustin Queen of Chicagoland Paintball. “The props and stuff like that generally promote a quicker game [indoors]. Outside in the woods, it’s a lot bigger and there’s a lot more places to hide.”

Because the field is indoors, Chicagoland Paintball has its peak season during the winter months, Queen said.

To counteract the shift of players heading outdoors, Chicagoland holds more tournaments during the summer months to keep regulars routinely coming back and away from their competitors.

From big team games to quicker, smaller group frays, Chicago-area paintball providers cover a range of services. Paintball fields in and around the Chicago area are ready for the summer rush.

For more information about rates, events or hours of operation, visit BlastCamp.com, TheBadlandz.com or Chicagoland-Paintball.com.