Splat! You’re Dead.

The stride of the teenage boy’s walk is uneven as he carries a nine-pound paintball gun in his right hand and six extra pods of ammunition on his back. Chris Cheng ’09 slowly steps onto the paint-filled dirt, saving his energy before his battle begins. The age of the 5’ 10” boy is disguised by his thick mask and heavy clothing. The protective knee guards harden the crease in his knees as he struggles through the blazing heat. The lens of his mask reduces his peripheral sight, so he turns his head and shouts to his team, “Boys, keep your head in the game and play smart!” 

A moment later, the huddled team breaks away to take cover behind the paint stained air bunkers. The field immediately becomes a war field as the players hurl .685 caliber paintballs at nearly 200 mph. With each gun shooting at a lightning rate of 15 balls per second, the field rings with the sound of raining pellets.

Cheng and his older brother Jon ’07 are part of a rookie level paintball team called SoCal Syndicate. The team consists of nine players, and competes in tournaments across Southern California. SoCal Syndicate came together a year ago and has been successful in many speedball tournaments, including the Riot Series and the Bears Cup. The team earned sponsorships from Conquest Paintball Park and i-5 Paintball, an online paintball store.

“We almost always play speedball, though occasionally we’ll go out and play in big scenario games to work on certain game tactics,” Chris said.

Speedball is one of the several types of games in paintballing. The competition rules vary, but they usually play in five or seven man games. The pace of the game is very fast, and the teams use air bunkers as blockades. Speedball games generally last 10 to 20 minutes. Besides a few welts and bruises, the Cheng brothers were never seriously injured from the sport.

“It’s a bad sting at first,” Jon said. “But you get shot so many times, that you begin to get used to it.” Their ability as track runners gives the two brothers a big advantage in the game. Jon has been a CIF track finalist for three years, and plans on contributing to the track and field team when he attends Harvard University in the fall.

“When you’re faster, you can get to the bunkers before your opponent,” Jon said. “The fields can reach up to 102 degrees, and running builds your endurance to last longer.”
The two initially got into paintballing three years ago, and slowly became more involved with the sport. After playing regularly at different parks, they built relationships with other players and began their own team.

“I walk out onto the field every morning before I play to check out all the angles of the bunkers,” Chris said. “If I am snap-shooting behind a bunker, I can visualize my target and gain a better sense of the game.” Snap-shooting is a paintball technique where the shooter moves their body in and out of the air bunker to cycle between firing and taking guard.

“Sometimes you have to sacrifice yourself for the benefit of the team,” Chris said. “Taking out a valuable opponent can turn around the game dramatically.”

Jon uses a top-of-the-line DM6 paintball gun, weighing in at only 2.5 pounds. Connected to the marker are a 4500 psi Nitrogen air tank, and a hopper to feed the balls. The paintball gun has the capability of firing at 26 balls per second, but the tournament regulations cap the rate at 15.

“We always want to play against teams that are better than us to learn how to improve our game,” Chris said. The Cheng brothers have practiced against a number of professional paintball teams, including the NPPL Splat Kids and Bush Whackers.

“It takes years of practice and experience to feel comfortable with this sport,” Chris said. “But once you get certain techniques on lock, it becomes a really strategic game.” Their team practices every Sunday at their home field in Castaic. The positions they cover are the fronts, the backs, the offensive snake position and the defensive “dorito” position.

“One time we had to wake up at three in the morning for a tournament in Whittier,” Chris said. The team has certain code words to communicate efficiently on the field. They shout out “poison” to warn a team mate if an opponent is hiding on the opposite side of the same bunker.

“Although your heart is racing and your adrenaline is way up, it’s important to stay cool and calm,” Chris said.

“Paintballing is all about communication,” Jon said. “People in the back work with their front men to know what’s going on. You always want to play a smart game and know where your enemy is.”