Speedball is one of the two distinct game variants in the sport of paintball, the other being Woodsball. It is a general term for a game in which the playing field is composed of Air Bunkers or other artificial objects. It is a fast-paced game, with rounds significantly shorter than woodsball.
Paintball is the most widely played extreme sport in the World, due to the popularity of the speedball variant in professional leagues. Speedball evolved paintball into a more formalized game, with each league having a differing format. Paintball was originally a recreational activity, but became a sport with the advent of organized speedball tournaments; professional teams making use of coaching, corporate endorsements, media coverage, and fan followings.
In the 1980s and 90s tournament paintball was played strictly in the woods. Because of different terrains, the playing field was different at every park. However, a popular playing field in Southern California called SC Village featured a field bereft of trees or natural cover and just contained roofless plywood buildings. This was the favorite of many players because of its fast paced action. This is what started a new format of paintball that became known as speedball. The field was tweaked and worked with to adjust to players liking until 1996 when the first fully inflatable field was unveiled by Brass Eagle. Because of the ability to transport and reconfigure inflatable bunkers, and the lower potential for injury due to players colliding with them, this type of field would eventually become the standard field type for most tournament paintball leagues in the United States.
Speedball is a team game, and can be played recreationally or professionally; with tournaments usually specifying 3, 5, 7 or 10 player teams. The game is characterized by a small symmetrical playing field, filled with artificial terrain (such as inflatable bunkers), and a game time of several minutes. This is in contrast to woodsball, where fields are very large, using primarily natural terrain features, and some games can take hours. Stealth and concealment is of little use on a speedball field; there is very little to blend in with. Professional teams will instead rely on teamwork, aggressive movement and constant communication to win a game. Players wear brightly colored jerseys and pants to indicate their team, similar to other sports, with a professional team sometimes having sponsor logos and the team name.
Tournament speedball leagues specify the points system to be used for games. For example, in the National Professional Paintball Leagues opposing flag format, points are awarded for staying in the game the whole round, shooting someone out, grabbing the flag, and hanging the flag. PSP uses the XBall format, where a match between two teams involves multiple games of center flag; there is a flag in the center of the field, and a team is awarded a point every time the flag is captured and hung on the opposing team's start box. Teams can play to a certain number of points, or to a set time limit.
Because of the small size and openness of the field, suppressing fire is a primary element of speedball tactics; the team who is better able to keep their opponents pinned behind cover while they themselves are free to move will have an enormous advantage. Therefore, the number of shots fired by each player in the game is significantly higher than in other paintball game formats.
There are a variety of paintball leagues that employ speedball as their format for tournaments. Two of the main national leagues are the NPPL (National Professional Paintball league, formerly the United States Paintball League or USPL) and PSP (Paintball Sports Promotions), which sponsors tournaments under this name and also owns the pro-level National Xball League or NXL. Each has its own professional and amateur divisions and has slightly different rules. The Millennium Series is Europe's national league and features rules and styles of game play similar to that of the PSP, NPPL and LAPPL.
Sponsorships, television endorsements, extensive media coverage, and nation wide events have all pushed the leagues into mainstream popularity. In 2007, at World Cup, the most popular PSP event located at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, boasted over 35,000 spectators and featured 373 teams. There are also numerous regional and local events all over the world, including most paintball fields which many times host their own events.