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1998 - The Masters is back. For years it was the paintball tournament for top level teams, and an innovative event with activities like the Bike 'n Shoot. Lively productions is back in the game, with the Music City Open in April, and now the Zap International Masters October 8th through 11th in Nashville, TN. 

This year's Masters has set itself aside as a unique event with much more than the 3 and 5 player tournaments to see and participate in.  One entry fee covers players for all of the events, providing somewhat of a carnival atmosphere.

To start things off, the keynote speaker was Hayes Noel.  Noel organized and played in the first game of paintball.  Noel re-counted the story of the challenge that lead to the game, and how it went.  He also expounded on his vision of what type of paintball game will be necessary to succeed as a televised sport.  The key points he raised were that the ball would need to be more visible on video, the play slowed adding a moment of vulnerability to the player, such as with pump games, and that it would need to be a game of individual achievement.

After the opening speech, the attendees split up into a player conference lead by Paintball 2 Xtremes' Mike Henry, and an industry conference headed by Xtremes' John Henry.  The industry conference featured a panel of industry notables who addressed the firepower issues discussed at the Pittsburgh industry conference earlier in the year (see Zap Amateur Open coverage for more).  While much debate and discussion ensued, the same conclusion came about, that the manufacturers would agree to design their products to fire 13 shots per second or less.

The second day of the event featured the big game - something typically not seen at tournaments.  Held in both morning and afternoon sessions, this relaxed play set the tone for the rest of the event.  Players going head to head in the tournaments had a chance to get to know one another playing side by side. 

A number of television, radio, and country music celebrities from the Nashville area came out to try their hand at paintball.  While not all were ready to take the plunge into the big game, most tried out Tippmann's pop-up target town and did a little one on one dueling on the 3 man field.  Their visit was followed by a BBQ dinner sponsored by Jack Daniels, and concluded with a performance by the Amazing Rhythm Aces.

Meanwhile the SupAirBall field was the spot to be for the Top Gun competition.  Players went head to head taking cover between the new Sup Air inflatable bunkers.  Gone are the rubberized fabrics and, deflation issues replaced by sturdy nylon and a constant inflation system.  Bright green fabric ducts run from a blower to all of the bunkers maintaining positive air pressure.  While not impervious to damage, the cloth construction allows for repairs without access to exotic vulcanizing or radiowelding equipment.  When one of the air ducts had a problem with a zipper coming loose, Rose Griffith of Unique Sporting fixed it by hand with a needle and thread.

In Tippmann's tent Ben Tippmann ran player after player through the pop-up target town.  Players were able to try out the Tippmann Model 98 on shooting gallery style targets to get used to its feel before jumping into the course.  Inside, while jogging a shot path, players would fire at Plexiglas sillhouette targets which were activated by motion sensors.  The sensors opened a gas valve which fed a pneumatic ram popping up the target and holding it in place for several seconds.  PigChat regulars will know Ben by the nickname "TIPPMANN" (all in upper case).

The Target shoot tested players skills firing at fixed targets, while the Bike 'N Shoot pitted players against the clock on mountain bikes moving from location to location to shoot at targets along the way.  Nearby, the target shoot offered just shooting for the less athletically inclined.  

The Scott Bad Ass Challenge was a triathlon, combining players scores from multiple side events to choose a well rounded winner.

Under the Vendor's tent, the usually fare of paintball companies like National Paintball Supply, Airgun Designs, Exotic Sportz, Diggers, Bad Boyz Toyz and others showed and sold their products.  Lane Pearce, owner of Pearce Grips got his first taste of a paintball trade show, showcasing his line of flat panel and wrap-around 45 grips, and composite grip frames.  ACI debuted their newly remodeled F4 Illustrator.  They've replaced their grip frame with a composite frame with smoother, more ergonomic edges, a smoother trigger pull, trigger shoe, and a cover to protect the ball detent.  They have also taken the process used to anodize their Graffiti barrels and applied it to the F4 with some exciting animal skin and flag patterns done right in the ano.  As the only company licensed to use this unique anodizing process for paintball, they are poised well for a new fashion trend in equipment.  

Promotional vehicles were everywhere in the staging area.  The National Paintball Supply super truck with its mobile office, and store was on hand, along with two other NPS trucks carrying Zap paintballs and gear.  The Scott RV, which normally follows MX races made a stop and provided a nice respite fr Scott sponsored players and teams.

Stay tuned for more coverage, photographs, and PigTV video.

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