It’s late; Markus Nielsen and the rest of San Diego Dynasty are cruising the winding and narrow streets of Montpellier, France after a Millennium Series stop in Toulouse looking for a good time. Markus Nielsen is one of the world's most fearless and aggressive professional paintball players and feeling on top of the world. Alex Fraige can’t quite recall the name of the European paintball player who got them access to the hottest club in town, but the entire team gets in and the party is wild. As you can imagine, like any young men would do, they find themselves getting raucous and living life. These are the greatest paintball players in the world, and they are celebrating the most dominant run in history.
The night wanes on and as the clock hits 4:00am, the club is still packed with guests partying and having a good time. Suddenly, a performance begins to take place on stage; a scantily clad woman appears and asks the audience for a volunteer for the show. Out of the thousand-plus partygoers packed into the club, in a foreign country, and the woman speaking a language he does not know, Markus Nielsen finds himself called up onto the stage. No matter where Markus was, he always seemed to end up with the de facto role as life of the party.
Who Was Markus Nielsen?
Electrifying, passionate, and polarizing; this is what Markus Nielsen was. In the professional sport of paintball, he was among the game’s first wave of ultra-aggressive players who made their mark on the burgeoning sport during the rise to its golden era. Throughout his career he influenced the way the game was played and constantly pushed his peers to their limits with his creativity on the field, and wild nature off the field. The social effect he had on the game can still be evidenced in today's iteration of the sport as well.
But, Markus was so much more than just a paintball player; he was a talented artist and entrepreneur who spent his life living in the moment and inspiring those around him to dream. He should be remembered for the wild, crazy, and sometimes chaotic life he lived, but also his extreme generosity, caring nature, and ability to connect to all those around him.
Markus was born on January 3rd, 1981 and grew up in the small but bustling town of Braidwood, Illinois. As Markus approached his teenage years, he began to work at a small paintball field, where his passion for the game began to flourish. Markus had a phenomenal support system from his parents during his youth and Alex Fraige noted that “I always credit his parents for letting Markus be himself. He had a great relationship with his parents and they were truly supportive of him."
His mother Rita, always did her best to instill a sense of care and compassion to Markus and he always took what she said to heart; "As a young boy I had always told Markus he could be spoiled as an only child but never selfish. He took that to heart, giving away things from the newest Jordan shoes to all the jerseys everyone could want. When I would ask about them he would always just say the kid needed it more. His respect for Mother Earth came at a very young age as well. I remember the day I taught him a lesson; he had thrown something out of the window. I immediately turned around and had him pick it up and told him, what if everyone threw garbage out the window? We would be walking waist deep in it . He was living in LA and that lesson got him beat up pretty bad for telling someone they shouldn’t throw their garbage on the ground and he carried a bad scar on his lower lip for most of his life from it."
Rita, his mother, mentioned that around the age of 20 Markus began to struggle with a mental health disorder, he was bipolar, but he never let it define who he was and Rita always did her best to help Markus. "I will never know what he went through mentally I tried helping but it was never enough, so please if anyone you love needs help, be there, get them the help they need. It’s a debilitating disease when going through the manic periods; Markus and I would often talk for hours on the phone and do breathing exercises to try and calm him down." Markus was able to find balance in his life because of this and never let anything get in the way of his dreams.
Early Roots in Professional Paintball
Markus started to dedicate more time to the game and by the time he turned 18, he earned a spot with Chicago Farside, a team that would develop some of the best players in the Midwest in the late 1990s. Markus first played with Farside in 1999 in the Amateur A division, and by the time the Skyball 1999 event rolled around mid-season, he was playing pro with Farside and starting to make a name for himself.
John Dresser recalled Markus and his time with Farside at a young age, where even then, his unique style was evident “Markus was a force of nature, on and off the field. Needless to say, that often produced random and unpredictable results. He was the original paintball, high-powered mutant that made up the rules as he went. He was part of the new young punk generation that redefined how to play paintball at the pro level. But, his level of aggression was next level, even compared to his few peers. Markus was never afraid to go, never afraid to push into guns, well past the gray area, and was unabashedly himself all the time."
It was with these early flashes of brilliance on the field with Farside that Markus would begin to put the league on notice, and develop the style that would go on to change the game forever.
Redefining the Sport of Paintball
Markus pushed the limits of aggression from the earliest points of his career. At a time when paintball was emerging from the woods and creating its identity to become a mainstream sport, Markus redefined the game on the hyperball and airball field. His polarizing personality would often be a major point of discussion in magazines and videos all around the world and his often callous style wasn’t always accepted by everyone.
One of the things Markus was known best for was his fearless approach to the game that would frustrate opponents. Ryan Greenspan, one of the best players of all time, played with and against Markus throughout his career and when talking about his style said “He was a pain in the ass to play against. He was raw and fast and he was fearless. Every move and every idea he had was planned as if it were going to win big or lose big. Playing with him was equally as hectic. Our time together wasn't long, but he won us a lot of games by flying by the seat of his pants.”
It was that fearless play that pushed Markus to the top of the paintball world with legendary teams like Aftershock, Dynasty, Ground Zero, and Arsenal. His big-play mentality was the blueprint for the style of paintball that became rapidly popular in the mid-2000s. Alex Fraige best described his style of play, “Markus was an early precursor for guys like Alex Rodriguez. He is going to go out and make huge moves that will win you games, but it came at the cost of letting him freestyle and play the field as he saw it. Markus would be in the meetings, very involved in all the game planning, and then the ten second call goes off and he is moving and pushing guys out of the way on the box saying “I see something”. Then he would go out and eliminate two guys off the break, and run down the field and get two more. He was truly the first of his kind and you constantly had to worry about him on the field.”
One of Markus's lifelong friends and Traumahead legend, Danny Manning, mirrored Alex in saying that “Markus was just a guy that you let play free. Like, you are going out there for a 10-man game, you just game plan for 9 guys and let Markus do whatever he wants. He was that good.” Those are defining words from a man who has watched tens of thousands of hours of paintball throughout the course of his career in the sport as a commentator.
Another aspect of his game that was often highly debated in magazines and internet forums was his willingness to push the rules to their limits and play within the gray area of the sport. This was one of the most polarizing parts of who Markus was as a player, and when combined with his natural ability to read the field, it made him one of the biggest weapons of the 10-man and NPPL 7-man days of paintball during its golden age.
At the time, the NPPL had a somewhat unique ruleset in how penalties were assessed. Each player wore an armband that had to be removed from their arm prior to them being officially eliminated. Markus knew this and would often use it to his advantage; he knew on his huge run-through moves, the refs needed to catch up with him and remove his band prior to his elimination or major penalties being assessed. Markus combined this with his natural ability and aggression to dominate the early 7-man and 10-man events.
After barely a season with Chicago Farside, Markus’s level of skill began to appear on the radar of pro teams around the league. At the time, Chicago Aftershock was the best team in the world; they had some of the best players in the game like Billy Ceranski, Todd Adamson, and Mikey Bruno. Their roster remained largely unchanged through the late 90s, so when they decided to bring in the young and aggressive Markus Nielsen, the paintball world blew up.
Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, paintball was very tribalistic; you had your tribe that you went into battle with and you stuck with them. So, when Markus left Farside to join the exclusive and mystic tribe that was Aftershock, it was almost the start of the unification and brotherhood we now see across the pro division of teams today. According to John Dresser, Aftershock signed Markus to the roster just before the 1999 World Cup. It was with Aftershock that Markus truly began to blossom as a player on the 10-man field.
“Aftershock would use Markus to help open up the field for the rest of the team, almost like a decoy, except he would eliminate 3-4 guys as he did it” said Danny Manning. He would be sent to the spots on that field that were the hardest to make, and this was at a time when most competition fields were so long you couldn’t even shoot from one side of the field to the other. But, Markus would always be willing to either make the spot or die trying. On the Aftershock days Ryan Greenspan said of Markus “He was a rough cut diamond. He grew up in the Aftershock camp, which wasn't the most conducive environment for a player to grow positively, but Markus came on to an older team of ruffians and fit right in.”
A Move that Revolutionized The Game.
It was with Aftershock that the legend that was Markus Nielsen really began to emerge. On the field he was already fiery, razor sharp, and aggressive. Playing with the super-tough Aftershock camp only further instilled that style of play in him. He was doing moves on the field that, at the time, were just unheard of. Outside of Richie Maliszewski, who created the run-through move, no one was utilizing it as a viable strategy on the field, that is, except for Markus Nielsen.
According to Danny Manning, Markus can be credited with terming the phrase “run-through” that is so critical to modern, professional paintball. With his massive run-through moves, Markus would often blaze down the field, eliminate multiple players, and walk off the field covered in hits. This earned him the nickname “The Carcass” since his aggressive style would often all but guarantee his exit from the field, but never without taking a few players with him. When the rest of the league was still playing methodical and measured like a fine game of chess, Markus was waging a war against the status quo of the sport and changing what a professional player could be in the game of paintball.
During the infancy of the run-through, Matty Watts, a former teammate and friend of Markus remembered the first time he saw Markus do a run-through, "Markus would fly in to practice occasionally at Del Hobbies, which was a legendary East Coast field that was the home to some of the best 7-man guys around. Im watching the practice and Markus came in and I don't think he shot a lane the entire time. He would basically just go to a tower in the middle of the field, then run down the center and bunker half the team. I had never seen something like that, and this was maybe 2002 or 2003."
After seeing the potency and mayhem that a run-through caused, Matty Watts decided to use the move he watched Markus just do and try it on the field. "I go into the snake, and got inspired watching Markus I guess. I ran down the snake and bunkered out snake 1 and the corner, and then shot nearly the entire rest of the team from behind. A grown man went ballistic yelling at me, and Im like 13-14 years old, and I just vomit because I'm so scared and this guy is telling me I'm ruining the game. Markus and my teammates reaffirmed that what I did was actually positive." Markus was already influencing the next generation of players and changing the way the game was played regardless of what the status quo demanded.
The WDP Years, Top of the Paintball World
From Aftershock, Markus began to jump around from team to team, never quite able to find a place to call home. That was the case until Markus met the owners at WDP, makers of the Angel paintball marker. At a time when the style and attitude in paintball was rather stoic and reserved, Markus teamed up with WDP to bring a new level of style not quite seen in the sport up to that period. He was unabashed, jagged, and electrifying; he just acted and played the way he wanted, never conforming to anyone or toning himself down. Along with other star players, Markus helped influence the rockstar lifestyle that became popular in the sport around 2001.
According to Danny Manning, he would help design and create the extravagant displays and booths for WDP at events affectionately known as “Heaven”. This was a place that would be full of women, partying, food, and anything else a professional player for WDP could want. It was with this crazy style that Markus started to change the identity of paintball and lay the framework for the atmosphere that would drive the extreme sport of paintball to its peak in the mid-2000s.
He was on the forefront of creating true international superstars in paintball with other players like Chris Lasoya and Rocky Cagnoni. His involvement with WDP drove paintball to what many consider was the Golden Age of the sport, and it was because of the groundbreaking change to the culture that WDP, Markus, and other pro players cultivated.
Markus was able to travel all over the World because of his status as a top paintball player. His mother Rita mentioned that this may be where he began to really understand how difficult and brutal the rest of the World could be; "I remember the time paintball took him to the Ukraine he called me crying! He told me they were bused to a field to play but as they rode to the field he was humbled. He told me little kids were lined up along the rode begging for food and it truly broke his heart ." This could have potentially been a major catalyst that led to his philanthropic drive later in his life.
Dynasty and Beyond
San Diego Dynasty; a team that was, at the time, relatively unknown and new to the professional paintball scene. Dynasty saw the value in a player like Markus and decided to bring him into their program. It was an instant fit for both Markus and Dynasty, and he moved into what would become the legendary Southern California home known simply as “The Dynasty House”. The iconic home was the residence of Markus, Ryan Greenspan, Oliver Lang, Alex Fraige, Sonny Garcia, Johnny Perchak, and Yosh Rau. Although Markus only spent a short time with Dynasty, many of his teammates would become his lifelong friends due to this time together.
Many of them noted that although Markus was a wild force who proudly held the honor of, as Ryan Greenspan put it, “the last man standing at any party”, they were quick to note his kind-hearted, selfless nature. Oliver Lang recalled his time rooming with Markus in the Dynasty house "Surprisingly, he had a side to himself that was really quiet, humble, and caring, and we got to see that while living with him. That's the side of him where we really got to know him."
According to Alex Fraige “Oliver moved into the house after about six months, but there was no more room so Oliver and Markus shared a room. Three days a week were Oliver's day for the bed, and three were for Markus, and they would fight for who got it the seventh day. I remember that Oliver was just always trying to bring home a chick so he could convince Markus to give him the room for the night, but they would always fight about it. It was just like brothers fighting."
Markus had an interesting creativity about him and a mind that was always moving and thinking. After a long night on the town, Markus and Oliver woke up and were walking around the Dynasty house yelling "WE'RE GOING TO THE PAINTBALL FIELD". On the way to the field, they are drawn to a sign that reads "fresh eggs", Markus then proceeds to call Alex Fraige while speaking muffled and slightly incoherent words and laughing, "Is that FRASHGEE?! ..... FRESHEGGS"?" Alex would go the rest of his playing career with that nickname donning his jersey at various times. Oliver Lang counted it as one of his favorite memories with Markus; "He came up with Alex's nickname and there was just something about that moment that just always stayed with me forever, and it was Alex's nickname forever and no one but Markus and I ever knew why Fresh Eggs was Alex's nickname. From that point on we always sort of had all these inside jokes. It was just really subtle but really important to me. It's the subtle memories that were always the most profound with Markus."
Just a few events later, he would one day simply pack up all his belongings and leave, without giving much explanation as to why he was departing the team after finding so much success. Some say it was because of tension with team ownership, but Alex said it was just who he was, "He just decided "hey I'm doing this" and that was it. We didn't cut him or anything."
Markus’s story with Dynasty didn’t end when he left the team though, as one of the most iconic moments of his career would come three years later with the team in Madrid, Spain. Exhausted from the endless travel, practice, tournaments, and partying all year long, Markus and his team Arsenal collided with San Diego Dynasty on the Millennium series field in the middle of the 2004 season. According to PaintballWinCount.com, at that point in time, Dynasty was making history in the midst of a 16-game winning streak dating back nearly 2 years in the NPPL, PSP, and Millennium series, including 7 straight event wins in the Millennium League. Just so readers understand how significant that is, there are only a handful of teams in the entire 40-year history of the game with 16 event wins total, and Dynasty achieved that number in less than two years.
Although the Arsenal team was loaded with talent, they were still a fairly new team to the professional league. They had a roster made up of legendary players like JC Whittington, Wayne Davis, Tom Fore, and Jason Andrae, but they were still finding their identity and chemistry on the field. Markus nearly single-handedly pushed Dynasty to the brink in a wild finals game that saw Arsenal end the epic 16-game winning streak of Dynasty. Alex Fraige recalled the event and how proud Markus was of the feat. “He took us down with Arsenal in Spain and he never, ever, ever let that go. He would always talk shit about that to me, but I gave it to him and told him he beat us and he was truly proud of it."
The Entrepreneur and Dreamer
For a number of years Markus would continue to play professionally, but he began to slowly pull back from the game each season as he had a new and refined focus on what he wanted in his life. A dream took hold of Markus towards the twilight of his professional playing days and it began to become a relentless drive towards entrepreneurship.
Markus had the goal of pushing all of those around him to achieve their dreams and find their own greatness. His eternally positive demeanor and giving nature was evident according to Ryan Greenspan, “Markus was an insane mash of a hectic mess and a genius. His mind moves at a million miles a minute and he was always thinking and coming up with wild thoughts and ideas. In the moment, sometimes, you are thinking, "what is this maniac talking about?" But that was the genius in him; his ability to create something from nothing and always dream big! It is actually inspiring to think back on. He was always in the limelight, or at least trying to be”
His company, Dreamy, in Markus's own words was "Dreamy is a concept I created over a decade ago with a simple mission to spread positivity. We are growing and becoming better by the day. With travesty and global chaos it’s a time we can look to the sky and in our hearts to find what’s dreamy to us.”
His own dream led him all over the World where he was always pushing his creativity. "He was that type of person, he was always thinking outside of the box and thinking creatively. He was someone who was just in tune with the moment and would tap into that honest situation of the moment and that contributed to his creativity. In art, the fear of making bad art is what stops so many people from putting pen to paper, but Markus was fearless and always willing to try to create and dream bigger. For Markus, his motivation was never about money. For instance, I can remember walking down the street with him in LA and he would just hand out $100 bills to homeless guys. His drive was always about the art and to be appreciated." said Alex Fraige.
Why He Mattered
There is an interesting dichotomy of personalities with Markus. His teammates and close friends all mentioned both sides of who Markus was; an utterly wild and crazy personality who was the life of every party he walked into, and a fiercely loyal and generous friend who would do anything for those around him. Alex Fraige perhaps best explained it: “He was a very sweet person under the raspy voice and all the tattoos. The one thing that always drew me and Markus together, was that I always accepted him no matter what. He would come to San Francisco and stay with me and my family and he was just the kindest hearted person. It was the beautiful part of the juxtaposition to the different personalities Markus had, just the two ways he could be. It was a testament to not judging people on what they look like or who they were acting like at that point. The guy loved to party for sure and pissed a lot of people off for sure, but that was just one side of him.”
Maybe the most important thing to take away from this story is that Markus was truly genuine in his message. As Oliver Lang put it “After all the years with Markus, this is how I understood his genius to work, he planted a bunch of seedlings all over the Earth and got out of here. On a spiritual mission that is what his purpose was. I loved Markus, I loved his insanity, I loved his message, and now we are all left with the seedlings of his message to dream."
His endless drive to achieve his dreams and always flying by the seat of his pants led to an amazing life where Markus lived 100 lifetimes worth of experiences. Markus’s contributions on the paintball field in both style and the way he played were crucial to competitive paintball while it was transitioning and trying to find its identity as a sport. His aggressive style influenced the way that many paintball teams played from the late 1990s and into the current day. His unfiltered attitude and bona fide nature made him one of the most unique and skilled paintball players in the World for a brief moment, and his generous soul helped to inspire many people to follow their dreams.
He was quite simply, Dreamy.
The Words of Markus
“Don’t quit on your dreams. Don’t distance them during tough times. Work in silence. Work harder. Now is your chance to pass your competition.”
“Every day you wake you win. Take life precious and love the ones that show up for you!”
“Be a chameleon and always keep an ace up the sleeve. “
“If you lose sight you lose the fight”
“Making friends and memories is what life’s all about.”
“I’d say be a GOAT and do it day to day when nobody’s looking. Also remember that there is someone in the world willing to work crazy hard to do the exact same thing you dream of so pick up the pace. “
“Live your own dream and don’t burst other people’s clouds “
“Trust the process and remember to be patient. Mountains were not formed in a weekend”
“Life is about making connections and turning the dreams into reality.”
“My mantra is my dream and my dream is my mantra.”
“In many cases in life less is more. Dreamy is a concept I created over a decade ago with a simple mission to spread positivity. We are growing and becoming better by the day. With travesty and global chaos it’s a time we can look to the sky and in our hearts to find what’s dreamy to us.”
How were they ranked?
When looking back through the decades of professional paintball, there have been many elite players to come through the professional ranks. Our look at the 50 Greatest Paintball Players of All-Time analyzes each player's career and determines why they belong on the list. There was a criteria that was used when I set out to build this list and many pro players, coaches, and legends of the game were consulted. The most important factors for earning a spot on this list are:
I looked at the players overall contributions to the game off the field, as well as their contributions on the field because truly great players transcend the game in many ways. Current players who are still in their prime only had their current achievements and status considered without speculating on how the remainder of their career will unfold.
Table of Contents
1. Ryan Greenspan, Iconic's Best Overall Player, All-Time
Notable Teams: Dynasty, Ironkids
With the most wins in professional paintball history, there is no other player that can top Ryan Greenspan’s resume as the greatest player of all-time. He has been able to sustain a consistently elite level of play for over 20 years and was arguably the most important player on his team in any given season during his more than 50 event wins. He is an architect both on and off the field and he has been the crucial centerpiece of San Diego Dynasty during their two decade run of success. Known for having one of the highest paintball IQs in the game's history and for his positional versatility, he has been dangerous in all facets of the game. Ryan has always had the unique ability to bring out the best in all his teammates and his endless demand for excellence has been the driving force that created some of the best players in the game today like Kyle Spicka, Marcello Margott, Blake Yarber, and Tyler Harmon. His contributions to the sport off the field are tremendous as well. Being one of paintball’s greatest ambassadors, he has been able to introduce paintball to tens of thousands of new players all over the world for more than two decades. Ryan and Dynasty have introduced dozens of outside industry companies to the sport of paintball that led to the worldwide exposure of the game in the mid-2000s to the present day.
2. Oliver Lang, Iconic's Most Talented Player, All-Time
Notable Teams: Ironkids, Ironmen, Dynasty, Lofty
Oliver Lang is unquestionably the most individually talented player in the history of paintball. If Ryan was the architect of Dynasty, Oliver was the artist and leader that inspired greatness in all those around him. Known for his game-breaking moves, unmatched ability to read the field, and elite poise, Oliver was the most dominant player in the league for over a decade before his retirement. He was able to consistently produce World Championships throughout multiple eras of paintball and did so on multiple teams. He was the spiritual and emotional leader of the greatest team ever, San Diego Dynasty, and used his unique approach to the game to become the highest earning player of all-time. He was able to assert his will on opposing teams in a way that no other player before him, and no player since, has been able to replicate. Oliver rose to the top of the sport during the most crucial period in the game's history. During paintball’s push to become a mainstream sport, Oliver pulled the game in front of a worldwide audience of players. The vast majority of tournament players over the last two decades fell in love with paintball while watching Oliver Lang make huge moves on ESPN and his contributions to the sport can never truly be quantified due to the vast reach of his influence. He is the most influential athlete in the sports history and his relentless drive for his own perfection of the game has been a key centerpiece of the sports success.
3. Chris Lasoya
Notable Teams: Avalanche, Infamous
One of the most dominant players across multiple eras, Chris Lasoya was one of paintball's first true worldwide superstars. His rockstar attitude and high intensity on the field made him a star of the extreme sports world and his long list of World Championships and event wins made him one of the greatest players of all time. His ability to dominate in the woods during competitive paintball’s infancy and then define what the professional game could be during the emergence of airball and hyperball formats. His high intensity on the field was imbued in his passion and love for the game, and his big-move style of play paved the way for future superstars like Ollie Lang, Jon Richardson, and many other modern pros. Chris Lasoya is perhaps the best example in the game's history of cross-era dominance and his ability to lead teams to championships is undeniable. Along with other players on the pro team Avalanche, he was able to craft what the image of the sport could be and was a huge reason for the sports success in the early and mid-2000s.
4. Konstantin Fedorov
Notable Teams: Russian Legion, Art Chaos, Heat
The greatest non-US player to ever play the sport of paintball, Fedorov has been a dominant player in both the US and European professional leagues for close to two decades. Originally a member of the feared “first wave” Russian Legion team, he immediately came into US professional leagues and made a statement that non-US players can dominate the sport. Konstantin defined what the modern pro can be with his intense, full-time training schedules, and his demand for greatness drove much of the league to follow similar training paths. He is one of the most unorthodox players on this list and his unique style has influenced many other top pros since his emergence as an elite player. Fedorov is able to read the field and attack the weakness of the opposing team. His ability to impact game plans and ability to take on teams nearly single-handedly has driven him to the top of the paintball world. He also has the second most World Cup wins of all time behind his teammate Mishka Kniazev.
5. Alex Goldman, Iconic's Best Snake Player, All-Time
Notable Teams: Aftermath, Ironmen, Dynasty, Impact
For his entire career thus far, Alex Goldman has been constantly raising the bar on what it means to be an athlete in the sport of paintball. His commitment to constant improvement of his physical abilities is unmatched in paintball history and the effect on the field is massive. Many coaches have tried and failed at slowing down “Mouse” on the field and his elite ability to make spots no one else can make, combined with his high mental sharpness has earned Alex the respect of nearly every pro player in the sport's history. It's not often you see incredible athletes also have the highest paintball IQ on the field, but Alex is that player. Alex is able to impact the field in ways beyond just simply playing the snake; opposing teams need to adapt their entire game plans based on how he lines up at the box and his ability to strike fear into even the most seasoned players is unmatched. Alex, quite simply, is playing a different game than his peers and his relentless commitment to always demanding more from himself is Michael Jordan-esque. His dominance is evident on his resume as well, with nearly two dozen pro event wins so far in his career. When his final point is played, Alex will likely be near the top of everyone’s list as the greatest to ever play the game.
6. Todd Adamson, Iconic's Best Back Player, All-Time
Notable Teams: Aftershock, Ironmen
The best back player to ever play the game, Todd Adamson is perhaps the best example of how support players can impact the game in multiple ways. Todd was a key part of the Aftershock teams of the late-90s and early 2000s that went on one of the most dominant runs of any team in the game’s history. With his steady presence from the back-line, Todd helped Aftershock become arguably the greatest team of all-time. Known for his elite marker skills off-the-break, and his ability to read the field and position his players like a master chess player, Todd quickly earned the title as one of the best back players in the game. His impact off the field is also substantial, as Todd and his wife Tami created and ran one of the most successful soft-goods companies in the early 2000s, Extreme Rage, which revolutionized the gear that players used to carry paint on the field.
7. Mishka Kniazev
Notable Teams: Russian Legion, Art Chaos, Heat
One of the best non-US players ever, Mishka holds the record for the most World Cup wins by any single player. In a sport where winning even one World Cup in your career is a major achievement, Mishka has won 7 total World Cups with multiple teams. He was one of the first players to define what a true professional in the sport of paintball could be. His vigorous 5 day a week training schedule and full-time commitment to the game in the early 2000s was unheard of at the time and even uncommon in today’s game. He is maybe the greatest reactionary player in the games history, with an elite ability to play off his teammate’s moves to close games and win tournaments. Along with his lifelong teammate Konstantin Federov, he was able to build the Russian paintball scene into the high-powered region it is today.
8. Angel Fragoza
Notable Teams: Dynasty
Affectionately known as the “Ghetto Superstar”, Angel was the quiet and ultra effective snake player that was critical to Dynasty during the 2000s and a major piece of their dominance. He created the blueprint of what a snake player can truly be in the modern game; methodical, aggressive, and reactionary. His ability as a gunfighter is often overlooked, as maybe the best tool in Angel’s arsenal was his ability to go head to head against some of the most marker-skilled players in the game's history from any bunker on the field. He brought a high level of athleticism to the game as well and was one of the fastest players in the league during his prime. His importance to Dynasty was showcased after the departure of Oliver Lang in 2006, when he continued to help lead Dynasty to more event wins and world titles. Angel had an elite ability to read routes on the field and consistently find ways to make his spot. Often overlooked, he may be the best pure-snake player in the history of the game, and his crucial importance to the best team ever cannot be overstated enough.
9. Marty Bush
Notable Teams: Ironmen
Throughout the course of professional paintball, many tacticians have come through the ranks, and perhaps no player was more tactically precise than Ironmen legend Marty Bush. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, the strategy driven approach that Marty took to the game set the foundation for the style of the game we still see played today. His ability to simply walk a field and diagnose every major point of strength and weakness was elite, and his methodical style of play focused on putting his teammates in the best positions possible. He was one of the first players to actively scout and gameplan specific players and teams. Marty was the first elite pro player to emerge from the woods and find worldwide success as a professional player, and along with Fred Schultz, can be viewed as one of the game's first true international ambassadors. His individual skill with a marker was also way ahead of his time, and many would credit his techniques as a crucial base for how modern marker techniques have developed.
10. Archie Montemayor
Notable Teams: Xfactor, Dynasty
“Kid Arch” has been one of the most complete paintball players in the game’s history. His elite ability to read the field, combined with his athleticism, marker skill, and positional versatility has made him one of the best players in the world in the current professional ranks. Archie has been winning events since the mid-2000s and he has been his team’s crucial centerpiece in every year he has been in the professional league. Archie has one of the most versatile skill sets the game has ever seen and his ability to play every single spot on the field at a truly elite level has been unmatched in the games history outside of maybe Oliver Lang. San Antonio XFactor and Texas paintball as a whole, has benefited greatly from Archie’s endless drive to find success in the game of paintball and his dedication has been one of the key factors in the emergence of Texas as one of the country’s paintball hotbeds. Even more impressive is the fact that he is still in the prime of his career and likely to produce many more wins before he hangs up his cleats when he will go down as maybe the best to ever do it.
11. Bob Long, Iconic's Best Tactician, All-Time
Notable Teams: Ironmen, Assassins, Blast
When it comes to pursuing greatness, no player did that with more passion than Bob Long. A professional player from the late 80s and all the way into the mid-2000s, Bob was able to win World Championships in three different decades of paintball while being one of the most respected and vocal business owners in the game. After he retired, he became one of the best coaches in the game's history, with many all-time great players coming from his coaching tree such as Tyler Harmon, John Marques, Rich Telford and nearly every other professional player from California. Bob was a master planner on the field and was the centerpiece of many great Ironmen championships during their golden era run of the 90’s. He continued to find success into the early 2000s with his team, Oakland Assassins. Bob had the unmatched ability to walk onto any field, and consistently formulate winning game-plans whether it was in the woods, on the hyperball field, or on the airball field. He demanded excellence both on the field and with his business BLAST, which ignited the tech wars of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. He pushed paintball technology to its limits and was consistently ahead of his time in both design and implementation of new ideas into the sport of paintball.
12. Alex Fraige, Iconic's Best Counterpunch Player, All-Time
Notable Teams: Ironkids, Dynasty, Lofty
Alex Fraige has been impacting the sport of paintball since he was a teenager and he has been at the forefront of the game's development into its modern style. Known as the most elite counterpunch player the game has ever seen, his unique ability to breakdown chaos and react instantly was a crucial part of the 50+ wins he has helped San Diego Dynasty achieve. Alex was one of the centerpiece players that helped define the aggressive style of play that Dynasty created and nearly every team has used as a blueprint for success since. From his early days playing at Mare Island Paintball, he has been impacting the culture of the sport with his artistically driven style on and off the field. Many front players in today’s professional league point to Alex and his calculated aggression as one of their inspirations for playing the game. Outside of the nets, Alex is quickly becoming one of the most influential industry members in the game. His highly successful company Hormesis is redefining one of the most emotionally intrinsic parts of the game with the organically created headwear that he created with Oliver Lang.
13. Jon Richardson
Notable Teams: Image, Infamous, XSV
Jon Richardson is perhaps one of the most underrated players in the history of the game. Often the most critical player on his team, his humble and quiet demeanor often kept him out of the spotlight. But, his game breaking moves, consistent pressure, and athleticism put him at the forefront of his opponents minds for two decades of pro paintball. Jon was one of the best in the game at reading paint in the air, finding an opening, and taking half the opposing team off the field with him. He was also a best in class gunfighter during a time when gun dominance reigned supreme in the sport. Winning world championships with multiple teams across multiple eras was just another accolade added to a long list of wins for Jon. He was one of the modern archetypes for how the “2” position plays the game; at any time he could become an elite attacker, or regain positioning for his team from the back line when their guard was breached. He best personifies the style of a silent star, always letting his play do the talking.
14. Shane Pestana
Notable Teams: Ironmen
Shane was arguably the first young professional player to come into the sport and outclass his veteran peers immediately. His most potent weapon has always been his mind, and his methodical approach to the game set the tone of the professional league all the way to its current iteration. With multiple World Championships in the 90s and 2000s, he is again one of the best examples of a multi-era dominant star. He learned from some of the best minds in the games history and added in his own style of methodical aggression to help build some of the best Ironmen rosters in history. Many players that rose to fame in the early 2000’s credit Shane for their passion and desire to achieve greatness in the game. He always commanded a quiet respect among all of his peers and teammates and he was consistently looked to for leadership. Shane is maybe one of the most influential players in the game in terms of his fingerprint on the modern stable of pros that many of us watched in the 2000s and 2010s.
15. Yosh Rau
Notable Teams: Ironmen, Dynasty, Lofty
Yosh Rau has been the silent and calming presence on San Diego Dynasty for two decades and is one of the most consistent players of all time. From his early years on the Ironmen, through the best run in history with Dynasty, Yosh has been the voice of reason and a leader. He is a fearsome gunfighter and his career is filled with clutch saves in big moments. His consistently elite level of play, year after year, is a huge factor in the success Dynasty has enjoyed during their historic run of dominance. He can always be depended on to save games when the odds are against him, and he is maybe the best player we have seen in paintball at winning down-body situations. Outside of the industry, he has been a driving factor to the success of Field One, and has led a renaissance in the technology that Bob Long created, refining it and creating special products.
16. Frank Connell
Notable Teams: All Americans, Avalanche, Dynasty
Passionate and loud with a distinct voice, Frank has been nothing short of a winner on every team he has been a member of. With 5 world titles including two series titles in the original NXL, he is one of the winningest professional players in history. With a commanding presence on the field from the backline he took a methodical approach to the game. His underrated athleticism was often overlooked and he would make his opponents pay late in games, which earned him the reputation as one of the best closers in the game. His mind was one of the best tools in his arsenal and his ability to find openings in his opponent's guard was invaluable, especially when combined with his elite marker skills. Off the field, Frank has been a player and fan favorite for decades. He was the owner of Vanguard for a number of years and led a successful rebirth of the Avalanche program in the early 2010’s.
17. Ryan Moorhead. Iconic's Most Versatile Player, All-Time
Notable Teams: All Americans, Philly Americans, Impact, Heat
Ryan Moorhead has been one of the most efficient and successful attackers in the sport's history. His unorthodox style of play and wildly aggressive moves made him one of the key pieces of one of the most dominant teams ever, the Philly Americans. He has the uncanny ability to make spots that many players cannot and his high survival rate as a front player has been one of the best ever. With teams like Houston Heat, Philly Americans, and Impact, Ryan has put over 20 wins on his resume. His multi-era success and elite level of play has been astonishing and his career isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Ryan has also been a crucial industry rep for Smart Parts, SP, and DLX throughout his career in the sport as well, and his involvement with the Iron City Classic and the mechanical renaissance has made a major impact on the sport of paintball.
18. Fred Schultz, Iconic's Most Influential Player, All-Time
Notable Teams: Constant Pursuit
Fred Schultz can be best described as the godfather of modern paintball. His relentless drive to expand paintball across the world led to widespread adoption in the 1980s and 1990s. During his time as a player he was dominant, bringing in strategy that had not yet been seen in the sport during its infancy. His largest contribution is certainly his role as an ambassador to the sport. Fred was among the first to push for paintball to be featured on television; he created shows that saw paintball games played on the streets of Disney World and were broadcast across the World. It can be argued that without Fred’s drive to push the sport to new audiences, that it may never have seen the level of growth that it did during its explosion in the 1990’s and we may have a very different sport than what we see today. His innovations in sponsorship relations with players and a marketing based approach revolutionized the game of paintball.
19. Alexander Berdnikov
Notable Teams: Russian Legion/Red Legion
Alexander, also known as Maloy, has been a staple of Russian professional paintball for a long time, and perhaps rivals his Russian comrades Fedorov and Mishka for the title of best Russian paintball player ever. He is “weapon X”; he is the player that the Russian Legion consistently calls upon to score eliminations, open up the field, and win them games. His stoic approach to the game has created the perfect storm of methodical player, and controlled aggression that has led Maloy to multiple World titles and numerous event wins. He is consistent and concise on the field and his command of his teammates has led the Russian Legion to be one of the most disciplined and unified rosters in the sport. His marker skill is unmatched in the European and Asian continents and his longevity of elite play has extended for nearly his entire career in the game. He should continue to move up this list throughout the rest of his career and could ultimately challenge Fedorov for his spot as best non-US player ever.
20. Matty Marshall, Iconic's Top Ambassador to the game, All-Time
Notable Teams: Ironmen, XSV, Navarone
Iconic, stoic, and everything that a true paintball ambassador should be, Matty Marshall got his start on the pro fields of Southern California in the late 1990s with historically great teams like Marine Team and Navarone. He then helped win multiple world titles and numerous events with the Ironmen and XSV. From the beginning, Matty had a methodical and measured approach to the game of paintball and was an effective front player who would break open games. He was one of the first players to do paintball-specific drills, and soon after he became one of the most dominant gun-fighters in the pro league. Matty is the game's best ambassador and he was among the first players to travel to Europe to play across the world professionally and promote the game of paintball. His dominance on the field transitioned into a writing and media career that has changed the way the game is portrayed in media, and he was a major part of nearly every piece of media that was critical to the game's expansion such as Push, Sunday Drivers, Heroes for a Day, and every major livestream. He continues to push paintball media to tell great stories and the way he has enriched the game for both players and viewers has been monumental for the sport’s growth in popularity over the last two decades.
21. Rocky Cagnoni
Notable Teams: Avalanche
Rocky has and always will be the first true rockstar player in the sport of paintball. His wild attitude, reckless play, and the style he brought to the game came at a time when the sport was fairly tame and somewhat of an “old guys' game”. He brought the mentality of a rockstar and his style of play matched it. Alongside Chris Lasoya, he was the emotional leader of the Avalanche rosters that were nearly unbeatable in the late 90s and early 2000s before, in wild fashion, it all came crashing down from a wood side hill. Rocky also brought a new type of fashion and style to the game that was very influential during the emergence of the sport into the golden era. His contributions off the field as one of the game's biggest personalities cannot be understated and he was critical to the rapid spread of the sport's popularity across the World. He was consistently one of the best front players in the game during his prime and continues to be a high-level player in the classic circuit today.
22. Billy Bernacchia
Notable Teams: Hurricanes, Xfactor
When it comes to longevity of elite play, Billy is perhaps the best example in the league. From his early days on the Hurricanes in the mid-2000s he has been an elite snake player and athlete in the professional division. His marker skill while on the move is nearly unmatched in the history of the game and his consistent standing as one of the best players on his team every year has led Billy to many wins over nearly two decades of play. Billy has been one of the best snake players the game has ever seen and his survivability in one of the hardest positions in the game is perhaps his best asset. In addition, he is arguably the current best player in the world in the mechanical/classic format where his team, Infamous, is essentially the uncontested best team in the format. Always willing to make the hardest runs on the field and make spots that few others can, Billy will continue to be a thorn in the side of every team he plays as he continues to stack up wins in the pro division.
23. JC Whittington
Notable Teams: Bad Company, Arsenal
JC was versatile. Tall and athletic, JC was able to bring an elite level of play to every bunker on the field. One of the best off-the-break shooters of his era, he had a unique skill of being able to consistently find ways to impact the game from all over the field. Whether it was jumping into the snake, laning from the back-line, or making a huge move down the center of the field, JC was the best player on his team for almost every year of his career. Starting his pro career with the legendary Tom Cole led Bad Company, and then leading teams such as Arsenal to event wins and World Titles, JC was always one of the most feared players in the pro league. He brought a fire and energy to the field that commanded the respect of the entire game and for brief moments, he was the best player in the World. One of his best skills was his command of his teams off the field, he carried himself in a way that inspired greatness amongst his teammates and his leadership was crucial to many event winning rosters.
24. Travis Lemanski
Notable Teams: Image, Infamous
A truly elite back line player, Travis anchored many championship teams over his 30+ year career in professional paintball as both a player and coach. His off-the-break shooting was best in the league for the majority of his career and his ability to change games in the first five seconds was unmatched. He could consistently eliminate players early and then apply relentless pressure from the backline to get his players down the field. His IQ and ability to read the field was also elite, and he was able to use his IQ to close games effectively for decades under teams like Image and Infamous. His effect off the field is just as potent as his time on the field as well. He worked as an industry rep for some of the biggest companies in the sport and then went on to create his own brand of products around the Infamous team. His company is now producing some of the best products in the industry and he continues to innovate new products in the game.
25. Marcello Margott, Iconic's Highest Paintball IQ, All-Time
Notable Teams: Aftermath, Ironmen, Dynasty
Marcello Margott is one of the best players in the current professional league. He is calculated, smart, and reactionary. His ability to hold guard for Dynasty, and then exploit openings on the field is best-in-class and his calculated nature allows his to plan out his moves on the fly. This opens up the field often for Marcello and has brought him the reputation as one of the best closers the game has ever seen. His marker dominance is notable as well, and his consistent ability to overwhelm his opponents in gunfights is a big reason for the success Dynasty has seen in their most recent run of dominance. With multiple world championships with both the Ironmen and Dynasty, he has the resume to support his position as one of the best in the game. Off the field, Marcello has been an important ambassador to the game. He has ran his training clinics all over the world and brought higher level paintball knowledge to many parts of the world. His expanding reach of influence with his show, Play the Game Podcast, has also been critical in preserving the history of the game with their exclusive interviews with some of the game's best players.
26. Rich Telford
Notable Teams: Ironmen, XSV
Rich Telford was scary, both on and off the field he commanded a high level of respect from all of those in the game. Often the toughest guy on the field, Rich was always ready to assert his will on the opposing team from the backline. Often cited as one of the best gunfighters ever, Rich was a player you never wanted to face on the field. He was the Captain of legendary, world championship teams like the Ironmen, and XSV. He led both of these teams to long periods of dominance and won dozens of events throughout his pro career. Rich was one of the first team owners to incorporate professional levels of training for athleticism and endurance in the sport of paintball and was a key influence in the current rise of athleticism in the sport. Rich has also dedicated his time after his pro career as an ambassador for the game both as an industry rep and a lead commentator on the GoSports webcast for the NXL. His unique, story driven approach to commentating has helped enrich the sport with history and anecdotes from the past and he continues to grow the sport alongside long time friend Matty Marshall.
27. Justin Rabackoff
Notable Teams: Damage, Impact, Russian Legion
Justin Rabackoff has been a top player in the professional league for the majority of his career. He has everything you would want in a pro player; pedigree, athleticism, killer instinct, and leadership. From a young age he was able to study and learn under some of the most effective players in the league like Jon Richardson, Rusty Glaze, and his father Steve, whom was also a skilled pro player during his prime. Justin is able to play nearly every spot on the field and be effective and he has used his versatility to win championships and events since the late 2000s. His timing is impeccable and his ability to close games to win points is unmatched. He has helped keep the core of Impact together and playing at a dominant level as he has forged their legacy as one of the best teams to ever play the game. Justin is still playing at an elite level and should continue his stretch of dominance well into the 2020s.
28. Richard Maliszewski
Notable Teams: Image
“Richie Mau'', as he was often referred to throughout his career, was an important figure during the emergence of the professional game in the 1990’s and early 2000s. With his team Image, he established the reputation as a relentless and merciless attacker and game closer. He can be credited with the creation of the “run-through” move. At the time when Richie pulled off this maneuver, it was revolutionary and completely changed the way the game was played forever. The concept of close-up run-through eliminations and trade-outs would become a crucial part of the modern game and strategy. Richie helped lead Image to multiple event wins, and a World Cup title. He should be remembered as one of the professional game's prototype players and a masterful strategist..
29. Nicky Cuba
Notable Teams: XSV, Ironmen, Infamous
Tenacious, high-energy, and in-your-face, Nicky Cuba had an incredible paintball career as one of the best smack talkers the game has ever seen. From the start, Nicky established himself as an elite front player with teams like Aftershock and XSV. He brought that classic East Coast attitude and combined it with an endless drive to improve his game. In 2005 and 2006, he was arguably the best player on XSV as they took down the giant that was San Diego Dynasty. As his career went on he showed true versatility, with the ability to play all over the field with the Ironmen and Infamous. He was an emotional leader of many of the teams he played on, and his ability to inspire his teammates was always the key signature he put on every one of his dozen plus event wins. His trash-talking skills were maybe the most iconic tool in his arsenal and he was always known to even be talking smack in the middle of points as he eliminated players on the other team.
30. Tyler Harmon, Iconic's Best Gunfighter, All-Time
Notable Teams: Assassins, Dynasty, Heat
Tyler Harmon has been a special player in the professional league for nearly 20 years. Earning a pro spot with the Oakland Assassins at just the age of 13, Tyler quickly developed his game to become one of the most potent attackers and dominant gunfighters in the game. His unique positional versatility combined with his high survivability rate is something we haven't really seen in this game outside of maybe Ryan Moorhead. His ability to fully enforce his will on opposing teams has led him to multiple World Cup titles and a double digit event win total. What is even more impressive is that he is still in the prime of his career and will likely continue this level of dominance well into the late 2020s. He is also the undisputed, undefeated one versus one World Champion, and no challenger yet has been able to defeat him in the one versus one format. He is an utterly dominant gunfighter and most skilled player with a marker on Earth. His contributions off the field with his podcast have been critical in the preservation of the history and stories in the professional game.
31. Thomas Taylor
Notable Teams: XSV, Infamous
Thomas Taylor has been a constant in the pro league for over 20 years. His relentless style of attacking down the snake has led him to earn the reputation as one of the best snake players in history. From the start of his pro career, his ability to move down the field and cause damage was notable and it earned him a spot with the Ironmen. He then ascended to the top of the paintball world, arguably as one of the most recognizable pro players on earth, during his time with the superteam XSV, which he helped form. His iconic mohawk and reckless style inspired many players to get into the sport of paintball. His continual level of dominance throughout his career, and his status of often being the best player on his team any given season, makes Thomas have one of the best levels of longevity that we have ever seen. Had Thomas left XSV earlier in his career, he would be even higher on this list with likely another dozen plus event wins on his resume.
32. Chad George
Notable Teams: All Americans, Heat
Chad George is an interesting player; he flirts with the line of hyper-aggressive and high survivability in a way that we haven’t really seen over the history of the game. Seemingly always in position to make the best move, Chad has been calculated in the way he plays but is never afraid to make huge moves down the snake. Purely a snake player for the majority of his career, he has been one of the top three players at the position for every year of his nearly 15 years in the league. With double digit event wins, and multiple World Cup titles, he also sports one of the most impressive resumes over a long-term period at a position that historically has one of the shortest durations of prime play in the game. Playing with legendary teams like the Philly Americans and Houston Heat, Chad has been one of the hardest snake players to eliminate in sports history, and his consistent ability to survive at the snake position is unmatched by maybe no one other than Angel Fragoza.
33. Tim Montressor
Notable Teams: Philly Americans, Impact, Damage
Tim Montressor was a visionary player who was incredibly versatile throughout his career in the professional league. Tim is one of the winningest players in the game's history and was able to rack up dozens of wins at multiple positions. Over his career he was an elite snake player, center player, and then began to transition into more of a support role where he became one of the best insert-type players the game had ever seen. His IQ and decision making on the field seemingly always ensured he was in the best position to succeed. Off the field, Tim was an unmatched industry rep and ambassador of the game. Tim travelled to countries all over the world playing, teaching, and supporting the sport of paintball. His work on the Iron City Classic led to a renaissance of the classic style of paintball and completely changed the landscape of what professional paintball can be. He also was a key figure at Smart Parts, DLX, and GOG over his near 20 years on the industry side of the sport, and assisted in the development and implementation of some of the most popular products on the market over the last decade.
34. David Bains
Notable Teams: Russian Legion, XSV, Impact, Avalanche
Dave Bains was a staple of the professional paintball league for nearly 20 years. Often viewed as one of the best break-shooters and gunfighters of his time, Dave was a dominant force on the field. His ability to consistently eliminate specific players off the break was elite and his mind has been a crucial tool to his success as both a player and a coach. With a dozen plus event wins and four World cup titles, Dave has shown a long track record of elite play. As a coach, Dave has lead Impact to multiple World titles and double digit wins while finding ways to build some of the most elite rosters of the last 10 years. At a time when back players were slowly fading out of the game, Dave continued to redefine and evolve the way the position was played and stayed near the top of the league for the majority of his career in terms of pure skill and ability from the backline. Off the field, Dave has been a successful field owner as well as a major figure in the NXL and its development.
35. Billy Ceranski
Notable Teams: Aftershock, Ironmen
Billy Ceranski is a titan in the paintball world. His involvement in the early days of the sport, as well as his current role as the head of the largest company in paintball has been hugely impactful on the sport. Billy started his professional playing career in the late 1980’s and was the epitome of methodical and high survivability on the field. He was a masterful technician of the game and led teams such as Aftershock and the Ironmen to multiple World Cup titles and more than a dozen event wins. He was always measured and calculated in the way he played but never would shy away from openings in the opponent's guard. Off the field, Billy was a critical figure during the early developments of Shocktech with Rennick Miller and Danny Love, and eventually worked with industry giants like PMI and KEE. Billy would go on to eventually become the current CEO of Kore Outdoors/GI Sportz and is arguably the most influential industry insider in the paintball world. Over the course of 30 years, Billy has been directly involved in some of the most critical products to ever be released and continues to lead Kore Outdoors as the largest company in the sport.
36. Bryan Smith
Notable Teams: Damage
Bryan “Agent Smith” Smith has had a paintball career that has been nothing less than impressive. He is an elite support player and has been one of the best to ever play professionally in that role. Bryan has utilized his incredibly high paintball IQ and elite gun-skills to win multiple World titles and for a time, was one of the best players in the world. Bryan has the unique ability to both support and guide his front players down the field while also being able to insert into any position on the field when the situation calls for it. He is a masterful strategist on the field and his level of clutch and poise was one of the leading reasons that Tampa Bay Damage went on their historic run in the mid-2010s as one of the best teams in the world. He is the epitome of a quiet and reserved player on and off the field, and he always lets his game speak for him. It's no coincidence that many of the game's best snake players like Alex Goldman, and Keith Brown all spent the early portions of their careers with Bryan playing as their 2, he is an elite talent and elevates those around him.
37. Garrett Noblett, Iconic's Toughest Player, All-Time
Notable Teams: Aftershock
Garrett Noblett is an intimidating figure; both on the field and off the field he helped to build Aftershock's reputation in the 1990’s as the toughest team the game had ever seen. Players would think twice before overshooting or arguing with someone on Aftershock when Garrett was on the field. He also was an elite support player from the backline that played a huge role in Aftershock becoming one of the most elite programs in the game's history. Lauded for his accuracy with a paintball marker, and his natural ability to coach his players down the field as he provided cover, Garrett earned five World Cup titles in less than 10 seasons and double digit wins. When paintball was emerging from the woods and onto the hyperball and airball fields, Garrett created the blueprint on how impactful back players could be. His ability to “sweetspot” off the break and effect the outcome of games in the first 10 seconds was elite and his poise was legendary. Garrett could often close out games singlehandedly from the backline when the odds were against him and was critical in the rise and rule of Aftershock as the best team of the 1990’s.
38. John Marques
Notable Teams: Ironmen, Assassins
John Marques was an intriguing player during his time in professional paintball, although his career was a bit shorter than many on this list, he was utterly elite for nearly every year of that short career. Earning a reputation early in his career as an athletic and elite attacker, John was a game-breaking front player that helped Bob Long led teams rise to the top of the league in the late 90’s and early 2000s as teams known for consistent play and relentless attack. He was often described by his peers as “unshootable”; his small stature and surprising speed were the bane of many players and his quiet nature led to often being underrated in the landscape of professional paintball. Although John doesn’t have many wins on his resume, he was an all-time great attacker on the field and a contributor off the field. He created the company, Hybrid, in the early 2000’s that became an industry leader in paintball accessories and a company known for their dedication to the growth of the professional game and it’s players.
39. Davey Williamson
Notable Teams: Ironkids, Ironmen, XSV, Dynasty
Going all the way back to the infancy of some of the best players the game has ever seen, Davey has always been a natural leader and elite paintball player. Starting with the Ironkids in Southern California, Davey earned the de facto role as leader just due to his seniority, but he quickly proved that he was a critical player both in his ability on the field, and his knack for assembling elite talent. Davey was incredibly versatile for all-time great teams like XSV and Dynasty and he was one of the prototype players for how professional paintball is played today. He was often vocal about his vision of the future of the game developing into a positionless sport where every player had the ability to play anywhere on the field. Davey was a fearsome gunfighter and elite insert player who played every spot on the field throughout his career. An emotional leader on his teams, Davey helped lead XSV to do the impossible and dethrone Dynasty in their prime. He then returned to his roots with the Ironkids/Dynasty to continue winning events and world titles until his retirement. At the end of his career, he had racked up more than 20 event wins and multiple world championships, being a key player on the roster for every one of those wins.
40. Kevin Rudolph
Notable Teams: Infamous
Kevin “Kali” Rudolph has been a staple of the Infamous paintball program for more than a decade. He brings a level of consistency and presence along the backline that few players over the last ten years have been able to. His decision making is by far his greatest asset, he seemingly is always able to put himself in the right position and his ability to close games is arguably the best in the pro league. He has the versatility needed to play anywhere on the field, and his early career days in the attacker position for legendary teams like XSV has been one of the driving factors in his ability to read the field so effectively. Off the field, Kali has been a critical part of the Infamous Paintball brand in their rapid growth as a company producing popular soft and hard goods that are used around the world.
41. Mike Carey
Notable Teams: Aftershock, Ironmen, Assassins
Mike Carey was the first player of Canadian nationality to make it as a professional paintball player in the US leagues. He would start a trend that would open up a flood of high level Canadian players over the next decade joining the pro paintball ranks. Mike played a unique style of paintball in the early 2000s with teams like Bob Long’s Ironmen, and Aftershock. He was a highly skilled breakshooter that would often immediately insert into an attacker position and cause damage up the center of the field. His ability to create pressure up the center in a methodical and measured way was often critical in the success his teams saw. Mike also created one of the longest running regional paintball leagues in the world and created a series which has been developing Canadian players for nearly 30 years.
42. Brandon Short
Notable Teams: Ironmen, Dynasty
When it comes to elite snake players, Brandon Short is on a short list of the best players of all time at the snake position. Brandon brought a level of speed and athleticism to the Los Angeles Ironmen in the mid 2000s that was unmatched in the league at the time. With the Ironmen, Brandon notched over a dozen event wins and multiple world titles before then joining Dynasty and continuing to rack up wins until his early retirement. Short brought a level of marker skills to the snake position that, at the time, was a rarity. Brandon always had a plan, and his ability to instantly turn his incredible level of aggression on and off made him incredibly difficult for teams to scout and eliminate. He can be credited with really redefining how the snake should be played in modern xball, and players like Chad George and Keith Brown are modern evolutions of his style. Outside of his pro career, Brandon has been a critical member of the HK Army brand and his tournament series, Pro Tour, has been hosting unique events in the one vs one and 7-man formats with success.
43. Neil Eberle
Notable Teams: Ironmen, XSV, Bushwackers
Neil Eberle spent the better portion of his career as a staple backline player for teams like the Ironmen, XSV, and the Bushwackers. He also just so happens to be one of the most underrated players in the history of the game. Neil was a prototype for the modern backline support player. His ability to lock off the field with fearsome lanes, and provide consistent pressure off the break combined with his athletic ability in late game situations made him one of the most reliable players of the 2000s. At a time when back players tended to be anchored to the backline, Neil was always fluid in his role and looking for a big, game changing move. Neil had a high survivability rate and could run down the field, corner to corner, to close a game at a moment's notice. His quiet and reserved nature may have pushed him away from the limelight, but he always produced for the legendary teams he played with and he earned more than a dozen event wins and multiple world titles throughout the course of his career.
44. Spesh Robinson
Notable Teams: All Americans, Philly Americans
The “Speshalist” was among the first wave of players to showcase extreme positional versatility in the modern xball game, and he was truly a blueprint for how corner and insert players would play the game in the years to follow. His ability to impact the game off the break from the backline and then insert down the field to close games was a stark indicator of the direction the style of play in xball would go. Spesh has always been an elite athlete and he was training in a way that was rare for paintball at the time. An emotional leader for the legendary All Americans and Philly Americans, Spesh helped this all-time great organization continue their dominance well into the late 2000s. He helped lead the team to double digit wins in the 2000s and was one of the best players on the roster for nearly his entire career. Spesh is still active today and is still leading the All Americans on the classic paintball fields in the ICPL.
45. Raney Stanczak
Notable Teams: Aftermath, XFactor, Impact
Raney Stanczak has been nothing short of elite for the better part of his career. From his early roots in southern California with Aftermath, to his current position as one of the leaders of X-Factor, Raney has been able to impact games with his elite ability to communicate and his best-in-league marker skills. Known for his break shooting, Raney has been one of the most poise players in the modern NXL and is heavily relied on to close games for his team, which he has done at an elite level. Raney also happens to be one of the winningest players in the modern paintball league, with more than 20 event wins and multiple world titles across multiple leagues and continents. Raney is still currently one of the top players in the league and his longevity of elite play is among the best of this list. Off the field, Raney has been impactful in the style of the game that became popularized in the early 2000s paintball scenes of SoCal and his involvement in the Astra Invitational looks to be setting the stage for an exciting future when he retired from the league.
46. Markus Nielsen, Iconic's Most Aggressive Player, All-Time
Notable Teams: Aftershock, Dynasty, Arsenal
Markus “The Carcass” Nielsen was revolutionary to the sport of paintball at a time when it was finding its identity on the world stage as a legitimate sport. As paintball emerged from the woods and onto the hyperball and airball fields, Markus had no peers in his pure aggressive and groundbreaking moves. He was known for his fearless style of play and ability to break open games. He would be higher on this list had his career been a bit longer, but Markus left the game to pursue his dreams of entrepreneurship. With multiple world titles, and a dozen plus event wins, Markus cemented himself into the history and legend of the golden age of paintball. His crowning achievement came in 2004 during a Millenium series stop in Spain, where he led his newly formed team, Arsenal, to an event win over Dynasty, ending their 16-event winning streak across three leagues and two years of play. He should be remembered as an elite and fearless attacker on the field who became the prototype for the modern center attack players like Arod and Nick Levial.
47. Mike Bruno
Notable Teams: Aftershock
When it comes to some of the earliest examples of extreme aggression in the pro league, Mike Bruno was among the first wave of ultra-aggressive players when he began playing for Aftershock in the late 1990s. Mike played alongside one of the best rosters in history and was the tip of the spear for the Aftershock roster that would become one of the greatest World Cup teams of all time, winning multiple titles over the course of a decade with the team. Bruno was a relentless attacker and would help popularize the ideal of “die moving forward” with his huge moves off the break. Mike was also an accomplished coach for the later versions of Aftershock in the 2010s and helped provide a level of consistency and stability to the team during a time of volatility for their organization. Mike’s style of play would help define the evolution of aggression in the sport that would become hugely popular in the mid 2000’s during paintball's golden age.
48. Jason Edwards
Notable Teams: Rage, Damage
Jason Edwards started his career in the pro league nearly 20 years ago and he has been a critical part of every major professional Florida program during that time. In the early portions of his career, Jason was an elite front player for teams like Miami Rage and he would develop a reputation as one of the top attackers in the league. He then developed into one of the most elite gun-fighters the pro league has ever seen. Over the course of his career, he would begin to take on a bigger leadership role within the major Florida teams, eventually becoming the Captain of Tampa Bay Damage. With Damage, Jason has earned double digit pro wins, and multiple world titles. During a two year run in the early 2010s, Jason led Damage to win nearly half of the professional events that occurred across the NPPL and PSP. He was the most critical member of his team for essentially every year of his career thus far and continues to help Damage in the current NXL Pro league hold their status as one of the best teams in the World.
49. Tom Cole, Iconic's Greatest Leader, All-Time
Notable Teams: Bad Company
Before he was leading the largest tournament series in the World, Tom Cole was first and foremost, an elite pro player and leader of team Bad Company. Tom has always been an ambassador for the game and from his start in the 1990s he was always supporting and promoting the game to a worldwide audience. With Bad Company, Tom did what many thought impossible; he led the team to event wins using entry level, blowback paintball markers from Spyder as the rest of the pro league were using high-powered, electro pneumatic markers. Known as an elite communicator, Tom helped Bad Company win multiple events against the odds. He also developed many players that would become superstars in the pro leagues of the 2000s like JC Whittington, Jason Andre, and Wayne Davis. Tom was critical in player rights and the forming of the NPPL, and he currently is the head of the NXL Professional and Amateur paintball league.
50. Maximus Lundqvist
Notable Teams: Ground Zero, Joy Division
Maxiumus Lundqvist was the first of many elite players to come from Europe over the last 20 years of professional paintball. Max got his start with Ground Zero in the early 2000s and would rise to the top of the league quickly as an elite front player. Max then led his Swedish team, Joy Division, to compete and dominate some of the best pro teams in the World in the mid 2000s. With 10 pro wins, Max is one of the most successful non-US pro players of all time and he was incredibly important to establishing European paintball as a premiere paintball region. Max also was the founder of the wildly popular Bunkerkings brand in the early 2000s where he combined paintball and modern fashion to create some of the most iconic gear of the 2000s. Max then would later establish the brand into the worldwide success it is today.
With so many Iconic players in the history of the professional sport of paintball, it can be hard to truly rank them all. Below are some of our honorable mention players who also made notable contributions both on and off the field.
Too Soon to call, But Elite Level Talent
In addition, there are also currently players that are emerging in the National Xball League that can be considered to be all-time elite talents in this game, but they are simply too early in their career to fully judge the extent of what their impact on the professional game will be.
Since the introduction of the event in 2017, the NXL Chicago event has been a flagship event that has connected the two sides of the country together to clash together. The NXL first made the decision to host an event in the Chicago area for a few reasons; the event is near a major landmark city, it’s close to one of the largest airports in the US, and it reignited a national event commitment to one of the most prestigious paintball communities in the country. For nearly 40 years, the Chicago area has been a hotbed of professional teams and players. With all-time great programs like Aftershock, and some of the top current pros in the league like Ronnie Dizon, Chad Bouchez, and LJ Woodley all coming from the region, the Chicago area is no stranger to elite paintball.
When the NXL announced in early 2017 that a major US NXL event would be returning to the historic city, players around the country were excited for a chance to compete for the Chicago Open Title. At the time, the NXL was in its third season as a competitive national league, and the advances they made in both event infrastructure and quality were notable. Now we will take a look back at some of the previous winners of the Chicago event and what it meant for the rest of the league during that time. The Chicago event seemingly is one of the best indicators of season-long success, as two of the last three event winners have gone on to win the season championship in the professional league.
By the time Impact came into the 2017 season, they were coming off five event wins and two season championships during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. They were showing the world that they were the team to beat in the professional paintball landscape and looking like they were ready to dominate again in 2017. However, Impact started the first three events of the 2017 season slowly, losing to Dynasty and Heat in the finals during the first two events, and then not even making the finals in event three. This lit a fire under Impact and they came into Chicago motivated to prove themselves as the NXL’s top program. After coming out the first match and losing to Red Legion 6-2, Impact went undefeated the rest of the event, beating ac: Dallas to win the title.
Why they won: Edmonton Impact was fully entrenched in the debate as the best team in the World, and a win in Chicago would solidify their position at the top of the mountain. The Chicago event also proved to be a critical juncture in the season, where leaving the event without a finals appearance would likely mean the season title would be out of reach. They were able to arrive in Chicago and dominate so convincingly due to a few key reasons; Raney Stanczak, the continued emergence of Alex Goldman as the league's elite snake player, and Justin Rabackoff. Raney was critical to the success of Impact because he was able to fill the communication void between their elite attackers on both the snake side and dorito side of the field. This event specifically, Raney was able to close games consistently and provide a dominating gun off the break. Alex Goldman was maybe the most critical reason for their success. On a field with arguably the hardest to play snake side we have ever seen, Alex was able to dominate. Impact left Alex on an island in the snake corner for the majority of the event and he was able to make a bunker that less than half of all players at the event were making alive off the break. Justin Rabackoff also absolutely ignited this event, producing the most eliminations of any player present and he did so without even being in the top 15 for total points played.
How it affected the season: Impact would go on to win the World Cup, and yet again, capture the NXL Season Championship. However, the 2017 season began to show the cracks in the dominant run of Impact and they would inspire other major programs to begin to develop their own “Super Teams” to compete with Impact over the next few seasons.
It's 2018, and the Red Legion is emerging from one of the darkest parts of their tenure as a professional paintball team. After becoming one of the most dominant teams the game had seen in the 2000s, they watched their roster get picked apart with the departure of major players like Fedorov, Mishka, and many others. For the first time in a decade, the Russians were rebuilding the roster with an infusion of young talent. One of those players just so happened to be a future superstar in Leonid Smotrov. After getting a taste of victory in 2017 at the NXL Atlantic City Open, the Red Legion was once again positioning themselves to take the crown as the best team in paintball. They would arrive in Chicago not knowing this would be the stepping stone that once again vaulted them to the top of the paintball world.
Why they won: Put simply, the Chicago event layout for 2018 was grueling. In a war of attrition all event long, the Red Legion were the last team standing. After feeding the snake with the relentless attack of Smotrov and Berdnikov and counter punching up the center and dorito side with the veteran guns of Karsliev and Kirill, they were able to win the event in dominant fashion against the Ironmen. Ironmen snake player Kyle Spicka was given the task of slowing down Smotrov, and while he was able to score eliminations against him, the unrelenting pressure from the center of the field was too much for the Ironmen to handle. The most stripped down reason they won this event was, quite simply, coaching. The Red Legion staff was scouting at an elite level, and had a strategic answer to every single team they encountered.
How it affected the season: The victory in Chicago would ignite the fuse that pushed the Red Legion back into the conversation as one of the best teams in the World. Their relentless style of attack would go on to produce some of the most exciting matches in the NXL over the next few seasons. Chicago was critical in reasserting the Russian’s style of play in the league during a time where methodical and slow-paced styles of play were most prevalent.
Retrospectively speaking, fans and players of the game would not know just how important the 2019 season would be. It would be the last full season of paintball that the world would get before COVID-19 would shut down the world in the following year. It had been six years since the epic finale at World Cup 2013 where San Antonio X-Factor had a shocking win over Edmonton Impact to win the World Title. Archie Montemayor and the rest of the team was hungry for an event win and to once again show that this hand built roster of Texans were the greatest players on the planet. The Russian Legion was emerging as the best team in the world and stood as a major challenger to San Antonio. They also had fellow statesmen in ac: Dallas dominating the league and consistently appearing in the top five. After a shocking win over the Russian Legion at the Philly Open, the battle for Texas that would ensue in Chicago would cement X-Factor as the best team in the world.
Why they won: When it came to winning the event, X-Factor would combine a perfect storm of team synergy, elite coaching, and clutch play from Archie and Raney Stanczak. Ryan Brand had, by this time, developed the reputation as a great coach. However, he was criticized for his lack of event wins. Many were questioning his ability to lead a team the full distance to the podium. The answer to the critics that Ryan had, was what we consider, a perfect gameplan. He strategically dismantled every team they encountered on the way to a perfect 7-0 record in prelims and finals. The superstar players across the entire X-Factor roster played in perfect unison with the calming presence of Raney Stanczak on the backline, and the relentless clutch ability of Archie Montemayor. Billy Bernacchia and Archie were both able to rack up eliminations all event long and ended up both finishing in the top six for total eliminations.
How it affected the season: Chicago would end up being a critical win for the X-Factor organization for multiple reasons. For one, it legitimized their claim as the best team in the world and proved Ryan Brand as one of the best coaching minds in the sport. The points earned in Chicago would also be crucial in the season standings and lead X-Factor to winning the NXL Season Title by just three points over the Russian Legion. In addition, their victory over ac: Dallas would start to create the cracks in the foundation of the ac: program that lead to the explosion of their roster and scatter elite players like Matt Jackson, John Jackson, and Ryan Hall to rosters all across the league.
As we look forward towards the 2021 Windy City Major in Chicago, the landscape of the professional league is fiercely contested amongst elite teams such as Impact, Dynasty, Infamous, and Heat. Will one of these major programs leave Chicago with the first place trophy, or will we see an underdog team like Seattle Thunder cement themselves amongst the league's best? Tune in to the GoSports.com livestream on September 17th-19th to watch the best teams in professional paintball battle it out for the right to call themselves the best team in the NXL.