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.”