Forging community with fire

Dialog reporter recounts Casa Loma vs. St. James paintball battle

As the troops, in this case at least 70 George Brown College students, mill around in the staging area of Sgt. Splatter’s Project Paintball, the tension grows.

These students are very green when it comes to paintball, most have never played, and many nervously speculate about what being shot feels like.

I’m somewhat more seasoned, having played extensively and packing my own gun and mask. I applied my cooler head to calibrating my equipment and cautioning the jumpy to, please, keep their safeties on until zero hour.

For the last five years, Casa Loma and St. James campuses have worked out their differences through the ancient rite of ritual combat. The brave gird themselves well with mask and moxie, gun and guts, and enter the arena to defend their campus’ honour.

Casa Loma has won all five years thus far, but not for lack of trying from St. James.

The referee calls for attention, and the room grows silent.

The room buzzes with anxiety. It’s a feeling I remember, replaced now by coiled adrenaline ready to dull pain and sharpen senses and overtax muscles. The ref yells a ‘Let’s Go!’, I rack the pump on my trusty Phantom, and I’m ready to fight for Casa Loma’s title.

Before the ref’s whistle stops echoing I’m sprinting for a good position amongst the plywood huts and junked cars that cover the field. New players play conservatively, and it’s easy to take advantage of. Nonetheless I soon find myself cowering alongside everybody else, pinned down by the withering fire 35 players can bring, even new players.

I leapfrog huts until I find a dark alcove that suits me. My gun is a slow-firing relic alongside the semi-automatic rental guns, but it’s accurate. I start picking targets downrange and go to work- and before I know it, the round is over.

This round is a draw, as is the next.

The next round is capture the flag, but played with a spinner. Spin your colour upwards to score a point, but spin recklessly and you might give the other team a point. The match is hard-fought, with students finding their stride and moving up aggressively on the spinner.

A Casa Loma student makes a break for it, rotates it in our favour, scrambles back to cover. As the clock runs down I sprint from cover, making a blind grab for the spinner, falling into the paint-muddied sand in the process.

By pure dumb luck, I score another point for Casa Loma. I count my blessings at not humiliating us.

The remaining games are much like the first two; indecisive stalemates that are fun but end in a draw. Casa Loma, having scored the only two points of the night, was once again declared the winner. But the victory felt a little hollow for me.

I helped us win, but it wasn’t through skill, foresight or better gear. It was dumb luck. Even worse, I easily could have scored for St. James and tied the score for the night.

I watch people pack up, laughing and comparing welts and bruises, and realize nobody here really cares about which campus scored the highest. Community and the building of friendships won tonight, and it didn’t need fancy guns or a practised snapshot to do so.

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Forging community with fire