Monday, July 11, 2011

Venue review - Dodge City Paintball

Ah, paintball. One of the many pastimes enjoyed by yours truly as often as possible. A demanding sport that requires the most out of both its' players and their equipment. Players have to be fit enough to sprint, jump, dive and turn on a dime, all the while shooting at one's adversaries and, in theory anyway, not getting shot by the same. Anyone who disagrees about it being a sport, I invite to play with me sometime and I'll show you what it takes.

It's a sport that demands the best from its players and their equipment, for sure. But it also demands an arena worthy of the sport. Anyone can play paintball and have fun as long as they're willing to get a little dirty, the gun works, and the field is a good one. Whether woodsball or speedball, the field is an integral part of the experience. My favorite small woodsball fields generally have a forested area with moderate underbrush, some good elevation changes and at least one open area near the center. I'm not much of a speedballer myself, but I can enjoy it as long as it's not the only thing I'm playing that day.

Just this weekend I was out for an evening of paintball with several of my coworkers at Dodge City Paintball. The field is located off Highway 3 out near Piedmont. From NW Expressway in OKC you can head West out past Piedmont Road and hang a left on NW 150th. The road will immediately turn right and you just keep driving until the road turns to dirt, then it's about another 1/4 mile till it dead-ends at the fields.

Currently they have two speedball fields and two woodsball courses. The speedball fields are where I'll start. One is an airball field with your standard set of inflatable cover. This field is a pretty good one. The cover is well-spaced and seems to make for a decent speedball match. The second is a course known as Tetanus. It's made up of a bunche of metal crate and pipes and stack of tires. The name is well-deserved. Feel free to hide behind the cover, but you may not want to touch it. While I like the initial looks of this field better, we found it to be quite one-sided, as one team initially has a large stack of railroad ties to hide behind, while the other is basically left standing in the open. The refs make sure of that. Once you get past that the course is OK.

The woodsball fields are what I'm out there for, and unfortunately this is where the disappointment begins. Now it's not really their fault, this first point, but the poor guys had the bad luck of getting hit by a tornado that ripped up a large portion of the trees. Fewer trees = not-so-good woodsball field. The first field you see is practically bare, and not at all fun to play on really. They've basically turned it into a crappy speedball course surrounded by some fallen trees. The course in the back seems to have been spared the brunt of the tornado however, and was thoroughly enjoyable as a course. The few fallen trees in that area added to the field really, and it was good.

The other problem related to the tornado is the inevitable debris. The speedball fields are easy enough to clean up, but immediately upon entering the first woods course I spotted a small piece of lumber with a bent, rusty nail jutting out. I promptly tossed it into a trash pile to get it off, but it did little to assuage my fears of impaling myself on a tetanus-infested shard of something pointy and mean. Luckily the day went without such disasters.

The second thing a good venue needs for players to have a good time is decent rental equipment. This is where the disappointments start to really take their toll, as this is a completely controllable variable. Tornadoes come and go, but your equipment is vital and it's not that hard to mark a bad gun for repair later. Given that many of the ones who come for company paintball don't have their own guns, it's mandated that we all use rentals to make the playing field a little more even for everyone.

I've been to Dodge City three times. Once with church, before I really knew what I was doing, so I don't remember much. The second time was our previous company outing. That second time the rental guns failed me a total of six times. The very first match the grip on my gun broke, which made it more difficult to use but didn't really affect the function. I promptly returned it after the match and had them hand me a new one. After that it was a series of 5 guns that would shoot no more than 5 times without failing in some way or another. The bolt locked on one and began leaking all my air, and others simply would not re-cock all the way, leading to misfires in the most important of movements. Always during a sneak assault from an unexpected direction when I exposed myself to an enemy, knowing I could take them out and take their cover. That is, until my gun would fail me and cause my painful demise.

This year I had not so much trouble with my gun, but two of our party had trouble that required they return theirs. One with similar trouble as I had and the other whose gun seemed to not be shooting at velocity. After visiting the chrono station (which the refs did not require before playing, a serious safety concern) the gun could not be made to shoot faster than 150. All of the guns would fail to fire occasionally and would need the bolt manually cocked. I never returned mine for fear I would only get one in worse condition.

Another thing needed is good paint. I don't so much remember the paint from our last visit, but this year we could not get it to break to save our lives. I traded fire with a coworker constantly during a 5-minute standoff between the two of us in the woods. We each bounced rounds off each others' masks, necks and other various appendages. Finally I gave up on him and moved to assist a teammate in need. I knew my enemy wasn't moving out of that cover quickly. My teammate was up against two, and when I flanked one and caught his attention my teammate took him. None of the rounds broke, he just agave up.

I turned my attention to the other and got the drop on him from the side. I unloaded 8 rounds into his arm, side and gun. None broke. He simply gave up, not wanting the onslaught to continue. Later on I flanked one of the same two in a speedball match and from 15 feet fired 5 rounds into his hindquarters, only one broke. The last player on their team and I traded fire over direct line-of-sight and he simply gave up when he got flanked by my teammate.

A final comment I'll make is the facilities. I know they had a bad run of luck with the tornadoes, but this was also an issue prior. They have a couple awnings and a place to store the paint and guns, but they have no water. Oklahoma summers are hot and nasty, and water is imperative. Our ref resorted to bumming drinks that we had brought, because they had nothing for even him to drink. If a player drops from dehydration out there it's at least 20 minutes to the nearest hospital and that's if you're driving real fast. Hydration is something I consider a must, and the fact that they don't even provide something for their refs, let alone for the players, speaks negatively to me.

This review has turned out longer than expected, so here's the TL;DR. A venue needs good fields, good equipment and good paint to really make for a good experience. Unfortunately Dodge City Paintball can't do much in the way of fields at the moment, and that's just a string of bad luck. But twice I've been out and we've had a horrid time with their equipment and I know at least this time we had no luck with their paint. I've got a couple real nasty bruises from the bounces that are going to last me a while.

A good venue is a must if you're going to play paintball at any level of experience. For those of you looking for a place in central Oklahoma I'll suggest Adventure Zone south of Guthrie. I haven't played their speedball fields, but they looked good while I was there and their woodsball fields were very good. My personal favorite is the city though. For a good time paintballing, try them out. Dodge City just isn't up to snuff. The rentals have been rock-bottom the last two times, at least one time their paint was part of their downfall and their fields at this point are downright dangerous to the players. I like to slide into my cover and I got lucky this time. There's obviously still shrapnel out on the fields though, and I'd stay far away given the choice.

Happy hunting.

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