Splattered: A video game come-to-life

Two paintballers peer over a rock.

Photo by Jamie Rhein

Head to Splatter Park near Mt. Gilead on a crisp, fall day, or pre-spring, before trees bud, and you’ll almost always find at least a little company. By summer, though, you’ll join as many as 600 other paintball warriors at a time looking to splatter their foes.

People ages 10 to 70 (and sometimes beyond) don face masks and load their paintball guns with gelatin-shell paint pellets, then head to one of the park’s 12 themed game areas for an adrenaline rush of fun. Mike Miller, a member of Consolidated Electric Cooperative, owns the place, and seems to have perfected the art of recreational paintball. “It’s like stepping into a video game where you’re the action,” he says.

From Splatter Park to Pinnacle Woods in Chardon, which were among the first on Ohio’s paintball scene, to LVL Up Sports that opened last year near Grove City, players can find a place to play across the state. Whether one is a recreational or a competitive player, there’s an experience to match the skill-set.

For Lucas de Leon, who first played at a Splatter Park birthday party when he was 12, paintball has turned into a job as one of the park’s green-shirted referees — matching players for the best fit to keep the atmosphere safe and friendly. “Refs make sure that you get in the right group, based on age and skill level,” de Leon says. “They’ll make sure that parents and their kids are on teams together, if they want to be.”

Masks on! Roll out!

As soon players are sorted onto teams and issued armbands, the call is issued: “Masks on! Let’s roll out,” and “Call of Duty” comes to life.
Players duck behind trees, peer over barriers, and dart from cover to cover as they seek their opponents invading from the other direction.

Once a player is hit, that player is out, and must leave the playing area until a game’s end. In the meantime, rapid-fire rat-a-tat-tats, as well as more-measured shots, send paintballs flying toward satisfying splats. Oh, and those splats: they can sting like a rubber-band snap. Long sleeved shirts, pants, and gloves are recommended for that reason, and masks that cover from forehead to past the chin are a must, because there have been instances of serious eye injuries.

Refs watch games like hawks, making sure that play stays safe. Whenever they see a mask get lifted to clean it off during play, there’s a “Masks down,” reminder. Every playing field has safe areas for mask-cleaning and breaks.

Splatter Park hosts games that are more laid-back, But there are other spots, such as Pinnacle Woods and LVL Up Sports, where fun is also a focus, but competition gets fierce.

The next level

On any weekend, at both LVL Up Sports and Pinnacle Woods, teams practice and play X-Ball games on a field of large inflatable structures that are set up to match professional tournament games — the players drawn to these fields are experts, with customized paintball guns that are designed to fire faster and with more accuracy.

“If you want to get better, you have to play with people who are better than you,” says Dave Pando, owner of LVL Up Sports. He knows. Pando was on the No. 2 college team in the U.S. during his days at Ohio University. He liked the game so much, he signed a long-term lease on some farmland in Grove City and LVL Up Sports was born.

At Pinnacle Woods, paintball is a family business that started in 1982, when Cathie and Tony Pisek played their first game in Conneaut Park in Pennsylvania. Almost before they got home, they decided to open their own paintball park. Their son, Steve, and two daughters, Chrissy and Jenny, now run the business. Steve has even played paintball professionally, competing across the United States and internationally.

They’re just more examples of the sport’s ever-growing popularity, showing that once players get a taste of the action, they often keep coming back.

Okeme Bassett, for example, knew nothing about paintball when she came to Splatter Park with her two teens and their friends for a late-fall game last year. “I had on a pink Columbus State shirt [and] was a moving target,” she says with a laugh. She left already planning a return trip with her girlfriends.

If You Go

Participants must sign a waiver (parents sign for minors age 10 and above). Costs are $25 to $50, depending upon equipment rental and how many paintballs are used. Typical games last 15 minutes with short breaks. Each park has open play on weekends. Call or check park websites for details. Birthday parties and other private events — such as Splatter Park’s Zombie Park in the fall — are offered at each. A shop to buy equipment, paintballs, and snacks is at each site.

Jamie Rhein is a freelance writer from Columbus.