You've probably seen SOP (Special Ops Paintball) in Kelvin Grove in passing; the warehouse next to the Normanby Hotel houses a world of camouflage netting, wet paint, and adrenaline.
Twice a year, the Spec Ops team put on a tournament of sorts, with groups of 6 versing each other in a realistic scenario to either attack or defend in each game. Whereas a normal paintball session will run for 2 hours, with games happening in rounds of about 10 minutes each, the CT Games have a heavy focus on strategy. The games run for about the same amount of time (if not shorter, as some teams win very quickly). With a '1 shot and you're out' rule, the allocated 100 paintballs per game are usually more than enough.
Upon entering SOP, a sprawling paint-splattered arena lies behind a wire safety fence, containing prop buildings, strategically placed tires and sandbags, and even cars to hide behind (or in) during the madness to come. Every couple weeks the field is rearranged to create a new scene, so players will never become too familiar with it.
The CT Games began with a briefing from Francis, the ex-Special Forces half of the husband-and-wife team that run Spec Ops Paintball. Surrounded by teams that had been practising for weeks, experienced players that brought their own gear, and my own military teammates, this was both intimidating (for a first-timer like me) and realistic enough to get the adrenaline running before even stepping onto the field. Our mission? Recover 3 briefcases containing illicit substances, hidden somewhere inside the game arena and guarded by the opposing team.
A 'briefing room', containing a replica of the game arena layout, is available for teams to strategize visually before heading onto the field. Because paintball guns are legally classed as weapons, they must be kept in the 'armoury' when not in use, and a protective mask must be worn at all times. This covers some peripheral vision, and while that may seem like a minor restriction it is very noticeable in the game and makes even just looking around a challenge in itself at first.
My team's' first role was as 'Attackers': so I, of course, stumbled behind my teammates until they were all shot and I had no more human shields to prevent the same fate for myself. Our next game as 'Defenders' was a little different: our strategy was to hide in silence, waiting to catch a glimpse of our targets. Well, my teammates hid in silence: I crouched in a corner with a repetitive soundtrack of my own nervous heavy breathing and heartbeat thudding in my ears.
Over the day, each team plays a total of 4 games. Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it (I wasn't), Francis switched things up by turning out the lights and attaching torches to all the guns. This was crazy but so fun, and I found out the hard way that although getting shot from a distance will generally just sting, a close-range shot puts the 'pain' in paintball!
Between games, there was a long break while we waited for the other teams to finish their sessions, which did seem to drag on a little. During a regular paintball session, I was told these pauses wouldn't happen: the CT Games run a bit differently. At lunchtime, a $2 sausage sizzle is run just outside the entrance, and refreshments are also always for sale, but I would advise bringing your own water bottle as you will need it.
Hand eye coordination in the field? On point. At lunch? Questionable...
My team held the title of 'lowest score' the whole day, but it didn't matter: though the games were intense, everyone there came to have a good time and newcomers are welcomed. Even the referees are laidback and happy to interact with the teams (even after a few 'stray paintballs' found their mark on these legends during the game!).
Overall, this was a blast! From hilarious hostage situations to intense all-in shootouts, the SOP team have dozens of game variations up their sleeve to keep things interesting, challenging, and fun for paintball regulars, Bucks Parties, team building events - even specialised combat training nights run by Francis.
There is a lot going on at SOP... and I plan to get back inside that paint-splattered fence soon.