Urban warrior

Shooting at someone and being shot at can be a great way to relieve the stress of everyday life.

By Le Diem. Photos: Galaxy Hunter Paintball Club on July 29,2015 07:57 AM

Urban warrior

Behind a big wheel, Chi lay down as flat as can be, trying to become at one with the ground beneath her while scouting the terrain to her front. There was no movement. She crawled down to a trench to get closer to the enemy’s base and then waited for her team leader’s command. When he waved his finger in signal, she and two others sprinted to the barrel where they thought two enemy soldiers were hiding. ‘Put your hands up!’ they shouted, but there was only one soldier there.

‘Where’s the other one?’ the team leader yelled out, which was met with a hail of gunfire from the left. In their haste to seize the enemy’s position they hadn’t realised they’d been outflanked. By the time they knew it, it was too late. Red stains dotted their uniforms. ‘We’re trapped,’ her team leader said in resignation, ‘the other guy was just bait.’

Linh Chi and her team aren’t professional soldiers in a mock or actual battle nor actors and actresses playing it up for the camera. From all walks of life, today they teamed up to play Paintball, which has become a popular form of entertainment for many Vietnamese in recent times.

Urban warrior

After first appearing in HCMC back in 2009 it quickly spread to other cities such as Hanoi and Danang, finding favour especially among young people. ‘This is the first time I’ve played Paintball and it felt like I was in a real battle,’ said Chi, a 28-year-old marketing executive. ‘My heart nearly burst through my chest when I thought my hiding place was about to be discovered and I’d be shot. But it’s also exciting and challenges your fighting spirit. I really wanted to defeat the enemy.’

A Paintball ‘battlefield’ requires many things to give players like Chi some sense of being in a real battle. The first thing is size. The battlefield must be at least 70 metres in length and 30 metres  in width, to meet international specifications for competitions, but be large enough for two groups of ten, according to Van Truong, the manager of Galaxy Hunter Paintball Club in Hanoi. Most Paintball venues are in forested areas, where a battlefield can be set up. On 7,000 square metres, Galaxy Hunter provides three battlegrounds with different terrains of trenches, bunkers, sand hills, oil drums, wheels, bamboo houses, fences and bridges. ‘We wanted to inspire the players by trying to set up everything to be as real as possible and giving them different options,’ Truong said. The club is open every day and is especially popular on weekends and holidays.

In war, weapons are obviously important. In Paintball, specialized guns made of aluminium alloy covered in plastic and weighing about 2.5-3 kilos each are used, which are effective at a range of up to 250 metres, according to Tien Cong, deputy director of the Tri Long Paintball Club in HCMC. There are dozens of imported guns and rifles in popular brands such as Tippmann, Rap4, and Azodin, which resemble real weapons like Tippmann 98, FT-12, A5, X5, T68 Rap4 - AR15, and AK47. Compressed air or carbon dioxide (CO2) tanks are attached to the rear of the weapon to create recoil pressure for the ‘bullets’. The bullets, or paintballs, are a wheat-based concoction with artificial colours wrapped in a thin plastic covering, both of which are environmentally-friendly and easy to wash out of clothes. ‘When a bullet hits its target it breaks easily and splatters but is painless,’ Cong said.

Costing VND80,000-100,000 to play and VND75,000 for 50 bullets or VND150,000 for 100 bullets, each player chooses a weapon after being issued with combat uniforms (most commonly camouflage), boots, gloves, and armoured vests. They must also wear protective face masks made from resilient plastic, to make them safe from any eye injury. ‘With my equipment and this AK47 I feel so cool, like a cop or a gangster in an action movie,’ laughed Xuan Manh, a 31-year-old engineer.

But there’s no point in looking cool if you don’t know how to use your weapon. Before the games start all players are instructed on how to shoot and taught some basic fighting skills and tricks about the terrain, movement, hiding, hand signals and, of course, safety measures. ‘Though it’s just for fun, everyone is required to strictly follow safety regulations to avoid injuries,’ Cong explained. ‘You can’t shoot from less than two metres away, for example, and must not aim for the head or neck.’

After the training ends, players are divided into two teams and select a type of game. The most popular games are ‘Save the Hostage’, ‘Defuse the Bomb’, ‘Destroy the Enemy’s Base’, or ‘Capture the Enemy’s Flag’. Each game has two referees, depending on the size of the groups, but more referees are available if the players wish.

After a referee gives the signal to start, the ‘combatants’ gather together to discuss their plan of attack or defence and then move out to their action stations.

Despite being familiar with different terrain and fighting skills, as a fan of the shooting game Half Life, Manh said Paintball was an entirely different experience. ‘I had to hide, roll, scramble, run, or flee from attack,’ he said. “I really felt the fierceness and stress of an actual battle. As well as moving, we also had to sharpen our senses, make the right moves, and react quickly as the battle unfolded.’ He believes the game helps with discipline and organisational skills and is good for teamwork and team building, as people must work together to find the best strategy to win and work out how to support and protect their teammates. ‘I’ve played this game a few times and it’s always a lot of fun,’ he smiled.

Chi also enjoyed her first time at Paintball. ‘At the end of the game we were all sweating and breathless,’ she said. ‘But we also laughed a lot, because it’s actually quite fun to shoot someone or to see someone shot or even be shot yourself. But when the game is on you have to focus on the fighting and you forget all the worries of daily life. It’s a good way to relieve stress.’

Paintball is also good exercise, thanks to the running and crouching and everything else the game requires. ‘I think I’d get down to 60 kilograms and become a model if I came out and “shot” someone every week,’ Chi laughed.

As Paintball attracts more people like Manh and Chi it’s become necessary to book in advance, particularly on the weekends. Chi and her friends booked two weeks ahead to make sure they could play, as it’s just not possible to turn up and play.

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