'It's a chess match -- with guns," says Pure Promotions director John E. Favourite. From each team, seven players carrying paintball guns get seven minutes to grab a flag a little over halfway across a field of battle. The players start at the ends of a 200-foot field, or floor, and move toward each other. They must avoid being shot by opposing players. One hit forces them out of the game. Darting from bunkers to bunkers that have been arranged for competition, they try to reach a "red zone" in the middle of the field. Once in the red zone, the players are in good position to make a final dash through the enemy to grab the flag at the opposite edge of the zone.

"The same game will never happen twice," says Favourite. "So you have to prepare your lanes mentally, and all seven players have to be on the same page while they gain ground." The "lanes" Favourite mentions are not marked off the way yard lines are in football. Instead, they are the most direct routes players would have to take to run from one bunker to the next.

When one player makes the dash to a more forward bunker, "He needs his teammates to be his eyes and protect him," explains Favourite. A player who finally wins the game for his team, he says, often runs straight through the remaining enemy "while all these paintballs are shooting at him in the midst of madness. As he runs, he might shoot three or four opposing players at the same time. As in other sports, you have the conservative approach or the attack approach."

Favourite is promoting the National Professional Paintball League's Super 7 World Series, which will be held at Qualcomm Stadium November 12 through 14. The prize is the "Commanders Cup," the pinnacle of world paintball competition.

Dynasty, a team out of Pacific Beach, is a three-time world champion. A highly successful team from Miami, Infamous, is expected to compete in the finals this year. But teams come from Russia and other European countries to compete.

The prize for this year's championship is $20,000. "A team of ten will split it $2000 for each player," according to Favourite. "Or they might reinvest the money to prepare for upcoming paintball games. Professional players can make their living by playing in tournaments almost every weekend, including ones overseas. They go from city to city, practicing during the week, and hardly ever get to go home."

Teams build up points throughout the year by beating other teams. But even in games they lose, they can add to their point totals by scoring hits on opposing players. A team can earn an extra 100 points by capturing its flag in a game without any of its players getting shot.

Do players ever get hurt playing paintball? "They get a few bruises and welts," says Favourite. "But it's nothing like football and basketball. Everyone on the field plays with masks and goggles and sometimes padding. People hurt themselves riding bicycles more commonly than they do playing paintball.

"The best players are ones that communicate well with the rest of the team while it's moving over the field," says Favourite. "While one team is shifting to the right, the other may be shifting to left. To be true professionals, players have to communicate on the spur of the moment to make a run for the flag at the right moment."

In one game, good professional teams often use as little as ten dollars' worth of paint, which is a mixture of vitamin E, sugar, and oil. That's because their players "know who their targets are and whether they're able to hit them," says Favourite. Amateur teams can spend $1000 on paint per game.

The gear and clothing players wear can run upwards of $500. "That depends on the team," says Favourite. "There are designer pants and jerseys available that would drive the costs up. A good paintball gun can cost anywhere from $300 to $1300. The best can shoot 31 rounds per second."

I ask why grown men have made professional games that kids started out playing informally in the woods. "You have to be both intelligent and athletic to excel at paintball," says Favourite. "The coach of any kind of sport would love to have the discipline, skill, and teamwork required in paintball. Those abilities are hard to find in this world."

Right now the sponsors of teams are manufacturing and distribution companies associated with the paintball industry. But other kinds of corporations are starting to consider sponsorship, says Favourite. "And they might have a few employee teams only for fun. Instead of doing a lot of backbiting around the water cooler, people who play paintball get their aggressions out. When they come back in, they're geared up for the next office project."-- Joe Deegan

National Professional Paintball League Super 7 World Series

Qualcomm Stadium Friday, November 12, and Saturday, November 13, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, November 14, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. 9449 Friars Road Mission Valley Cost: Free or $40 for VIP seating in front of center court

Info: 714-536-9261

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