If you've been paying attention you know the plan was to drag this process out for a few more posts. Well, you're in luck 'cus I'm not gonna do that. In fact I'm not even gonna do a top five--at least not without some hedging--although I'm comfortable with my choices and think they are defensible. The reality is the majority of the items on the original list--or any list we might create--are, for the most part, not stand alone items. They were not conceived independent of other choices or ideas and in fact most of the items on our list were dependent on other items. In other words the evolution of paintball is based on the inter-dependence (connectedness) of ideas and choices big and small each in their own time making a unique contribution (for good or ill) to the game we presently play. For example an obvious milestone was the competitive game coming out of the woods but where would the game be without netting? Not at Huntington Beach or Puget-Sur-Argens for starters. Of course no one invented netting to solve a perceived problem in paintball either but prior to moving out of the woods there was no need (in most cases.)
The fact that the influences listed had an impact on other influences in no way diminishes their individual contributions to the game but it may help identify the truly ground-breaking, direction-changing influences that have made competitive paintball what it is today.
Before I begin the VFTD Top Five countdown I do have some honorable mentions. In the Technology category are break beam eyes and thermal lenses. Even with force feed loaders there was a rof limit that could not be consistently overcome before break beam eyes were introduced and for those who played in the pre-thermal lens era you know what a big difference they have made to both enjoying the game and competition. Honorable mentions also go to the 'league wars' and Dynasty. None of the leagues like to hear it but the reality is their competition drove the tournament scene to new heights around the world and the players are the beneficiaries. Dynasty is on the list for their longevity and the inspiration provided to a generation or two of players of aggressive paintball.
Now without further ado (Who needs more ado anyway?) the VFTD Top Five beginning with number 5. The electropneumatic marker. It provided the platform for the ROF race that dominated Paintball for years with the introduction of guns like the original Shocker and the Angel. Software control and switch actuation ushered in the era of overwhelming firepower, the control of which we continue to debate today.
At number 4 is the formation of the original NPPL. Conceived and initially organized as for the players (some of them) by the players (some of them) what the league ultimately did was create the tournament series. Not unique in sports it was the original organizing impulse in competitive paintball.
Coming in at number 3 is Xball. Xball was intended to be the TV friendly, make tournament paintball a sport format and while that failed to happen--yet--Xball did change the competitive environment internationally. Even though the original form of Xball isn't universally played today Xball's offspring dominate major league paintball.
In the runners-up position (second) is inflatable bunkers. While not essential to play out of the woods inflatable bunkers are now ubiquitous and allow paintball to be played competitively or just for fun anywhere. That ability has seen paintball played indoors and outdoors, in parking lots and on beaches, virtually anywhere and everywhere someone wants to set up a paintball field. And even as there is some experimentation with the bunkers the majority have formed a standardized set of shapes and sizes used around the globe.
And the number 1 influence on competitive paintball is (was) the first Hyperball World Championship in 1997. This event captured the imagination of the tournament world and demonstrated that playing the game out of the woods on a unique concept field was a purer, more compelling brand of competitive paintball and marked the moment when tournament paintball left the woods for good. (The UWL notwithstanding.)