Paintball after Covid-19

Paintball after Covid-19

Disclaimer: This article is written for the interest of paintball promotion and to allow paintball enthusiasts to pick the Asians’ mind set when promoting and developing the sport in Asia. This article does not represent any organization or any company and is solely the author’s personal views and perspectives of the how the paintball industry has transformed over the years.

If you are reading this article, you are either an avid paintball player or someone who has developed an interest in the paintball scene, you could either be a field operator, a pro shop owner, an event organizer or perhaps someone who is like me, idling my life away while trying my best not to get too fat and staying at home in order to save the world but stumbled on this article… noble yeah? Saving the world… now I know how the Avengers feel.

In an unprecedented crisis where the entire world comes to a slow standstill because of the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses from around the world has been badly hit with little to zero dealings for at least 3 – 5 months with existing rental to pay and employers to retain. How about the aftermath of playing catch up to the draggy economic return in hopes of returning to the “good old days”? Economists predict years of picking up the pieces before things can be eventually returned to the new norms. At the time of this writing, some paintball fields located in USA, France and Australia (except for the state of NSW for some unknown reasons) are slowly opening their doors for paintball games again. It is not surprising that the nature of a paintball game requires one to maintain some form of distance from their opponents or in an army slang not to “clusterf@ck” together with their team mates, social distancing is always been a second nature to paintball. As for minimizing group size, this requirement can be easily oriented with regulations in place under the do’s and don’t’s in the compulsory safety briefing. As a non-physical contact sport unlike most conventional team sports, the return of paintball seems promising however doubts remain if we can go back to the golden days.

News relating to Covid-19 is on a ramping mode (paintball slang), flip the newspaper, click an Internet article, scroll through facebook or Instagram, one cannot avoid not reading news related to the pandemic every single day, mostly related to number of daily infected, potential reemergence of a 2nd wave or businesses shutting its doors. Most recently, news of economic downturn is slowly creeping in too. News propaganda some would say… don’t believe in everything you read on the Internet say the others. “Bad news sell because amygdala is always looking for something to fear”. Don’t we all hope for a little ray of light at the end of the tunnel where a knight in shining armour awaits the return of paintball? Except that this time, it is a knight who swayed not with his sword or lance but with a vaccine to end it all. Or is it?

In Asia, the numbers of daily infected (regardless of citizens or non-citizens) are gradually increasing with no near sight of expected slowdown in the coming weeks. There are days where the number of newly infected cases are reported low and looked as if its turning for the better but on other days, it does seemed like the end of the world is within reaching distance. Countries with little health care and protection are suffering from this crisis let alone think about returning to work. But in a very logical term, no work means no food and no food means no work so which one is more important? To eat or to work? When the Circuit Breaker (CB), Movement Control Order (MCO) and Lockdown (whatever fancy names they call it) began a few months ago, it was always easier to push the red button and put a stop to our habitual commitment but the real question remains: “When can we start the engine again?”

Surely, it is not as easy as “okay, the situation is improving, there are lesser reported cases, let’s stop this confinement and get back to business”. If it was that simple, the biggest country of world economy, “Mr. Big Brother is going to save the world”, “I know it was a pandemic before it was called a pandemic”, USA, is sitting right at the top of the table with the most number of infected cases and they are opening their doors!!! We are safe! NOT!

I mean, does it make sense to anyone that the country is ready to open its economy against the possibility of more getting infected through our daily social chores? Isn’t this the reason why the doors were closed in the first place? It seems almost illogical that confinement was introduced to prevent social interaction and now that the numbers are higher than before and we forgot about the primary reason of why the gates were closed in the first place? Let us say the reopening of economy is inevitable and definite but who is to say that the numbers are too low or high for the gates to remain close or open? Is one infected case too many? Are we sending people to their death? Are we really ready for a reopening and a possible return of the 2nd pandemic wave? Several countries such as Korea and Germany have reported fears of a 2nd outbreak as soon as they are reopened and are constantly monitoring its numbers. Philippines have announced that schools will not be opened until a vaccine has been found. Malaysia has extend, extended, extendeded, extendededed which reminds me of a male sexual organ which many male Homo sapiens are hoping for. China and Thailand has opened their domestic tourism and travel. Singapore has closed all its bubble tea stores, DUH!… different folks, different strokes.

Now that we can somewhat understand and determine that restriction orders have no correlation to the number of infected cases and with different countries having their own ways to determine the countries’ priorities, paintball business and in fact all businesses are going to make an eventual return looking somewhat different. There is no clear or definite answer in sight since paintball is considered as an non-essential activity (not to regulars, I am pretty confident). As such… what is left of paintball? A game which promotes social interaction and certainly more enjoyable when you have more players to shoot is not going to be the same activity 100 days ago until a vaccine can be found. While the future remains bleak and unclear, only the strongest and fittest will survive this outbreak. Some paintball business will close but some will survive. The Prime Minister of Singapore was quoted in an article, “The economic hit will likely be more serious than the Global Financial Crisis and longer-lasting too, even beyond the end of the pandemic.” And we know that this battle is going to be a long and enduring one.

And if you are into the paintball business like myself, I would like to share with everyone my 5 Rs:

1) Reactive – With situational changes in Covid-19 almost every other day, paintball operators must be quick to engage and disengage. Face the battle in a retrograde manner, fight the enemies when D-Day arrives and be quick to fall into retreat when the need arises. Review and implement game packages in accordance to the ever changing situation, for example introducing new game packages which caters to a smaller group size, organize mini competitions when the situation gets better, rally the community for quick but immediate support. For you never know when the doors will close again. The early bird eats the worm.

2) Resources – With Covid-19 comes a wave of uncertainties in the logistic supply chain. Paintball supplies which take weeks to arrive your shipping port can now take months from production, shipping, delivery to clearance. Don’t start your business when the green light comes on. Pedal slightly on the accelerator while in red. Plan ahead and be ready. That pallet of paintballs which is sitting at the warehouse is also eyed by the your competitor who might be willing to pay a much higher price to get his business up to speed. This might lead to a demand and supply problem which may jack up the paintball pricing worldwide. Not convinced? Just a few months ago, surgical masks were in high demand… buy early at the right price.

3) Readiness – Is your field ready to commence business as soon as the confinement is lifted? Did you sloth around during the confinement period only to get back to work as though nothing has happened? While you might be resting at home, weeds do grow, dirt do accumulate, o-rings do harden, solenoids do build up static friction and the list goes on and on. There are plenty of things to do. Some paintball fields that I know of are taking this time to introduce new fields, change field layouts, upgrade their website, buy new paintball markers, grow some grass… and YES, the grass has never been so green for years. Are you ready?

4) Regroup – With the placement of travel restrictions everywhere, it is for certain that paintball travel (in the case of speedball) is going to be extremely difficult and the reality is that it is not going to return anytime soon. Air tickets are likely to be expensive given the limited flights per day, baggage are going to cost more with luggage restriction (paintball players have the biggest bag) but most important of them all, who is going to play with the risk of getting a virus?

Event organizers are going to come up with extremely good incentives for teams to travel and make it all worthwhile for everyone. Free air ticket? (My team and I got free ticket to PALS UAE once). Free hotel stay? (My team and I got free 4 days 3 nights stay in Desaru Floral Fest once). Free paintballs? (My team and I got some paintballs incentives at many, many events). Free team registration? (My team and I got free team registration at Formosa Taiwan Paintball International Tournament once) over your life? I don’t know…

When there is a will, there is a way they say, event organizers will need to reinvent the competition wheel and welcome the crowd (if any) again. And if all fail, event organizers need to regroup and re-look into their domestic market. Grow the grassroots, work with the local community. Organize free paintball clinics, free paints deals for every purchase, work with existing teams to encourage their friends to play paintball at discounts, organize a variety of events, 1 vs 1, 3 vs 3, 5 vs 5, 7 vs 7, 10 vs 10, add some fuel to fill the paintball void, get someone to shoot something! Do something, do not just open the door and expect customers to roll in. This is the unprecedented time we are talking about.

5) Reset – Everything has to change. The world is now different from 100 days ago… New standard operating procedures (SOP) has to be introduced. Contact tracing, washing of hands, wearing of masks, standing far away from one another, no more high 5s, good air ventilation, ever changing rental masks, personalized markers, disinfection after every use, cashless payment, almost everything that we have known for years will now be a new norm as though a reset button has been pressed with a brand new business. Start everything from ground zero. Not easy but it can be done.

The return to normalcy will see everyone undergoing a V-shaped recovery, one that will need time to allow economic activities to slowly return while adapting and adopting social distancing as a new way of playing paintball. All of these mentioned haggling over the slow pace of recovery with days ahead remain daunting for some over dark clouds. Some businesses will die but some new rookie will emerge. Till then…

About the contributor: Ben Seow is the Director of Business Development with EK Paintball Group Pte Ltd which manages Red Dynasty Paintball Park in Singapore. His involvement with paintball started almost 13 years ago when he organized a paintball team building game for his university mates. Since then, Ben has been involved in the promotion and development of paintball sports across all levels, from establishing paintball fields, organizing of paintball competitions to supplying, distributing paintball gears and manufacturing, he has nearly covered every aspect there is to paintball in Singapore and Asia.