Sonny Lopez is the owner of the Los Angeles Hitmen, a multi-faceted team which has embraced a unique focus in their approach to the game. The LA Hitmen play all types of paintball: pump tournaments, big games, scenarios, and regular Airball tournaments. They will be heading down to World Cup to play in the pump division or the UWL. Lopez has seen everything in this sport. He played for Dynasty back when the team first began, used to work at JT and Worr Games, and has promoted tournaments and big games, and still works as a consultant in the industry. He sits down to talk to Paintball Access’ Matty Marshall about his team’s unique take on the game.
This is part 1 of his interview.
So Sonny, you came out of old school SC Village scene, in Corona, California, arguably the most legendary field in the world. Even when paintball made its transition to semi-automatic guns, there was always a group of hold out players at SC Village who didn’t want to switch. They really appreciated the pump game. Does that have something to do with why you like pump so much? Where does your love for the pump version of the game come from?
It definitely goes back to SC Village, you hit the nail on the head there, when I was first really getting into paintball January ’90. When I first showed up I thought it was high-powered squirt guns (laughs), I had no idea what to expect. But once I started to get into it, all the cool guys had pump guns. There was semi’s out there but back then they were SMGs, then 68 Specials, and they changed the game, they were powerhouse guns but they weren’t as many of them as there were pump guns.
The first team I got involved with was called Team Generic, and we had UPC codes on our backs. We literally were the guys who were fighting against compressed air. (laughs) We all thought it was ridiculous to buy these expensive tanks and regulators, we were saying things like, “Yeah, I’m good with my 9 ounce tank.”
(Laughs) Yeah, that was a big deal for a while, the sport took time to transition over and some guys definitely didn’t want to make the switch.
(Laughs) Again, this is back when I didn’t know shit. But at the time we thought it made more sense because they were lighter and cheaper. As time went on, it became a big disadvantage to use a pump gun, and there’s no doubt I loved the semis as well, got into those, but it did change the game. People weren’t making moves, people we’re just shooting, then they’d get a kill, then move.
With pumps the game was faster and more dynamic. When semi’s came out some of the sneaky part of the game got lost. Then as more time went on, when ramping guns came out, where the guns almost shot themselves, it got to where people were coming to events, they loved it, they thought it was cool, but it was scaring people away, like they didn’t want to play because the guns were too fast, it was a little too aggressive.
I looked at the sport and thought, “There aren’t any cool teams, any names embracing that part of the game, of the pump side of sport, which we needed because it can help bring people to the sport. That’s why I thought about the Hitmen.
I thought, maybe I just need to take these guys, who have a lot of raw talent, and train with pump guns, just to show that you can compete with a pump gun, even if your playing against semis. Yeah, you’re going to be outgunned, and yeah, you’re going to have to rely more on your skill, less on your gun, more on yourself to get those kills, not the board doing what it does.
It was hard at first. People thought we were weird, they be like “Uhhhh, OK”. But a lot of the newer people in paintball and a lot of the older people in paintball got it, and appreciated what we were trying to do. We would do pump and semi combinations on our teams, and we got a lot of fans and a lot of respect from the other teams, and the refs.
Even if we lost the game, I feel like we gained more fans than the other teams, especially if someone cheated us, or if the other team got away with something. It was definitely tough, and in the beginning I started it because I thought it was a part of the sport we were all turning our backs on.
Someone had to embrace it. Someone had to help save it, maybe that’s not the right term, but it really felt that way. People were leaving the sport because of the insane guns, and this was before Airsoft became an issue. And Airsoft really takes it to another level, when you’re talking about losing market share to another similar activity.
I think the pump community is really good for the sport, I think it really is a cleaner version of the game, and the community behind it is close knit. If a team comes in and plays dirty then they are shunned, it’s a tight little community. I think it important for the spirit for the sport.
We all talk about the NPPL and the PSP, and everything going on there, but to me it’s pretty obvious, the PSP already has 300 teams for the World Cup, and every one in the world is excited to go to that event. I’d love to see two divisions of pump but we’re a cottage industry. I’m not even sure if pump play is best suited for an Airball field, but that’s just my opinion, I love the UWL (Ultimate Woodsball League).
Yeah, I love that style of paintball too. It’s a total throw back. Reminds me of when we were coming up, when I first met you. I was from San Diego and you were from LA, but we were on the same trajectory, both moving up the ranks, but this was back when all tournament paintball was played in the woods.
To me, paintball is such a diverse activity, and that’s why it’s awesome there’s going to be Pump, UWL and Ten-Man at the World Cup. The very first World Cups, when they were up in New York years ago, those were pump tournaments in the woods. So it’s cool to see it all come full circle. I think that why we’ve had so much fun over the years going to play these big games.
Yeah, we’ve had some great times out there, that’s for sure.
Well, one of the things I love about your crew, the Hitmen is that they are fearless when it comes to playing with pump guns and getting into the mix. I’d go out and be battling dozens of guys with a machine gun, and one of your 15-year-old kids would be right beside me with a pump gun, handing business. I just love how, to them, that’s man shit. To them, using anything other than a pump gun was like using a crutch. How stoked are you guys to be able to play Pump and UWL at the World Cup?
Yeah, for sure. it honestly couldn’t be a better finish to the year. Heading into this year, everyone was a little scared, no one really knew what to expect. And to see all these things happen this year, and to see the PSP say, “Hey, here’s a division that’s just pure intense fun.” It’s great because when people come out to watch they can get a look at all the different things that make up paintball, and that’s what World Cup is.
You can watch the best paintball athletes in the world on one field and then head over to watch some pump teams. Me and the boys were just talking about it, whether we’re putting in a Pump team or a UWL team. We need to support this and promote them. And to the guys who made that happen, hat’s off man, really.
We even got ten-man back (laughs). Pump, Ten-man, and UWL.
Yeah, when I first saw that I thought it was a typo (laughs). So cool though.
They actually had to increase the number of teams slotted for the ten-man event. And yeah, I’m real excited about how this year turned out, there’s going to be around 300 teams at the World Cup in 12 different levels of play. Stoked. This is where it needs to be going.
It’s like skating, or surfing, there are different ways to compete with your skill sets, and paintball is like this too. There are even guys who are using magazine fed paintball guns, which is even harder than pump in a sense. They only have 7 to 20 rounds, which in a firefight isn’t a lot, as we know. So I’ll give those guys respect too.
And it looks cool. And that helps bring guys back from playing Airsoft, which is just guys out there, playing dress-up. There’s no other way to put it and I play Airsoft sometimes. We shoot these guys up and they’ll be like, “Uhh, that’s not tactically correct, you didn’t need to shoot me that many times.”
Make sure to check back on Paintball Access for Part 2 of Sonny Lopez’s interview. Also, mark your calendars for Oct 25th- 28th as Paintball Access brings you the 2012 PSP World Cup Webcast, live and free, don’t miss it!