Chris “LC” Laico -of Category 5

In this interview I chose to highlight an insightful person that has shared the ups and downs with me in the past or present in many situations with or without paintball, we met mutually online through paintball. The history runs deep in the Northeast, an area that even some of the greatest paintball players must deal with the four seasons in this region. Chris share’s his experience coming up through the divisional ranks, quitting, rebuilding, and overcoming circumstances as we all do. It’s a reminder that we’re not alone when we go after something we dream for, even when it hinders us some days.

T:  Before you came back to paintball again what was the highest division you’ve played?

Chris:  I played D1 for a team called Condottieri at NPPL Boston ‘06 but have only played D3 in all other events. including PSP, NXL, NPPL, and regional event series.

T:  So what happened? Division 1 is a step away from pro, that’s pretty high up.

Chris:  Yeah, I got invited to play with Condottieri for that event back in 2006 by Breanna Rinaldo. Brianna, at the time, was one of the only females to captain as well as run a team. She had an abundance of sponsors backing her and the team from both within the paintball industry and outside of it. Since the team had all of the exposure and sponsors, it was the first team that I had the chance to play on that was pretty much free. I was 17 at the time and knew that I wasn’t a D1 player, but wanted to have the experience to play an event at that high of a level. You have to remember that back at that time, NPPL was a huge series. It was as big, if not bigger, than PSP/NXL was back then. In D1 there were teams like M.O.D and SD Aftermath, who were teams I had always looked up to as a kid. It was awesome to even be on the same field as those guys, but needless to say, we got absolutely smashed. It was a great and humbling experience that I’m really glad I got the chance to participate in.

T:  Where are you from and what is the field you practice at?

Chris:  I’m from Fairfield County, CT and play at Matt’s Outback located in Coventry, CT about 1 hour 45 min from my house

T:  Fairfield, Connecticut…hmmm, how far is that from Massachusetts?

Chris:  I’m from Weston actually, which is a small town in Fairfield County. Where I live is about 20 min from the NY border, so I’m about 3 hours give or take from Mass.

T:  I thought you would be a lot closer from me since I’m from Springfield (Massachusetts). I could literally ride my bike 10 minutes into Connecticut.

Chris:  Ok so 2 hours lol.

T:  Jeez still a little ways.

Chris:  Yeah for sure, I drive at least an hour and 45 to the field. To Boston PB, Maynard it’s almost 3 ½ hours, and to the indoor it’s like 4 hours. To Fox4 it’s also 3-3 ½ hours. So I do a lot of driving just to play paintball.

T:  What do you think about teams like 187 coming out of the northeast where you have to deal with all four seasons. Do you think there could potentially be more from that area?

Chris:  I think there’s two sides to it. Obviously coming from the northeast we’re handcuffed by the weather and get maybe…and I say maybe….“paintball weather” 6 months out of the year unlike places like FL and TX. As of now, it’s clear that the best teams are coming out of the south where it’s warm all year round. However, I think that the weather in the Northeast creates a sense of resiliency that becomes branded on us.

“It forces us to make the most out what we have and figure out ways to keep our guns in our hands.” 

For instance, this past winter has been pretty mild. Most of the fields up here are closed for the winter but my home field, Matt’s Outback, has been hosting rotations every weekend that have been packed and overbooked. Teams like the NY Outlaws, Greenwich Yacht Club, my team Category 5 and even 187 has come out each week and grind as hard as possible. We tend to figure out ways around the weather. That might be playing at Boston PB indoor or just braving the weather and playing outside. It’s obvious that we don’t have the luxury of nice weather all year round but I would say that instead of the paintball community in the Northeast using it as a crutch, we tend to grab it by the balls and grind even harder. I think that the Northeast is becoming one of the hotbeds for paintball with a lot of quality teams climbing the ranks and gaining respect throughout the paintball community as a whole. To me…it’s about time.

T:  Ok, so what’s the day to day life for you? What did it take for you to play at the national level and was it hard to get to that point? We all know its costs to play the best. 

Chris: Currently I work in commodities as the admin on a fuel oil brokerage desk in White Plains, NY about 15-20 min outside of NYC. Fuel oil is basically the fuel for large ships like tankers and barges. The type of atmosphere I work in is fast passed and hectic most of the time. The best way I can describe it or what I can compare it to is how the floor of the old stock exchange used to be with people yelling and screaming down two phones brokering deals, etc. I’m the type of person who needs and thrives in an environment like this. I could never imagine myself sitting behind a computer programming all day or working in sales or something of the like. I need the energy, I need the excitement, and I need the pace. I think this directly correlates and is a roll over into why I need paintball in my life. I’ve been playing for about 15 years, with taking a few years off here and there for life reasons. I’ve been playing serious tournament paintball since 2004 when I played my first PSP with D.K. Navy D3 at the North East Open in South Carolina I believe but I could be wrong; it was a pretty long time ago. I was 15 at the time so it was hard to completely fund paintball. So, I was lucky to have parents who understood the passion I had for the sport and was able to gain their support financially and emotionally. They helped me out with national events and some paint money on the weekends until I turned 16 and got a job that helped pay for paintball, but I worked my own way up on my guns. I started out with a Visioned Impulse and traded up from there to eventually get the guns I wanted. Now that I have a well-paying job and am financially secure, I can fund all of my own play and gear, which I am truly thankful for. I know that I was extremely lucky to have parents who supported and understood my passion and need for the sport in life. I know that not many other kids playing today had that opportunity. I’m also very fortunate that my current girlfriend is super understanding about the need for paintball in my life. Being at the field every Sunday and every other Saturday has been tough for her but she has been amazing about it and her understanding of the process that helps me, among other things, keep my life in order and stay clean.

T: If it not had been for paintball do you think where you are today would be different? Maybe would’ve taken a different career path also into other interests?

Chris: I’ll start out by saying that paintball is something I need in my life. I had played competitive Ice hockey since I was 5 years old all the way through high school (ending with 5 concussions) and Lacrosse since I was in 7th grade, also throughout high school. So, once I graduated high school I literally lost all the competition and camaraderie that came with the competitive sports I had been playing since I was a little kid. It felt like a death to me…like a piece of me was gone or like a void had been created inside of me. Paintball was the thing to fill all those voids that had been created by the loss of the traditional organized competitive sports that had been in my life since I was a child. It provided that competitive atmosphere, physical activity, and the stress relief that we all feel once we step on the field. It’s that blurring of the reality that waits for us on the other side of those nets, feeling the struggles of the, “real world” dissipating, and the melting of the stresses we all face on a daily basis that drives our insatiable appetite for the sport. Between 2008, after playing my last NPPL event and 2011 when I came back to play with Team No Name, who had had a resurgence with a whole new roster which made us an extremely competitive team in D3 during the 2011 season, I had taken time off from paintball to focus on School. I ended up heading off to Nova Southeastern University located in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I decided to put paintball on hold in order to focus on school. After playing NJO ’11 and Cup the same year I took some more time off between 2011 and the end of the 2014 season because I had stumbled and created some issues in life that I needed to address. I needed to address these issues in order to become a whole person again after I lost a piece of my self during the inevitable dredging we do through the murky waters we call our, “early 20’s.” I struggled for a few years but straightened myself out and started playing again with the same team I’m currently with, Category 5 at the end of the 2014 season. This time around, I needed paintball in my life to continue to add a lot of the things I had been missing. It makes me accountable to something outside of work and family; it has provided me with a new kind of family and a whole new set of friends and teammates, who I absolutely consider to be my brothers. Paintball has given me a positive and productive way to get my energy out and to focus it on something constructive. Paintball has been one of the saving graces in my life and I couldn’t be happier to be back in the full swing of things.

T:  Where do you see yourself and your team? You think they’re ready to step it up for years coming ahead?  

Chris: Sometimes people ask and or scoff at me for still being ranked D3 after all the years I’ve been playing. The reason is because of the time I took off and the teams in New England. There is a wide gap between the levels of teams in the area. You have a lot of local teams that are ranked D4 and D3 playing regional event series such as Foxball and some that play a couple national events a season. On the other side there are teams like the NY Outlaws that play semipro and 187 that obviously play pro. There are only two teams, Greenwich Yacht Club and The Bay State Bandits, which is run by Jeff Stein the former owner of The New England Hurricanes, which play D2. So, when I came back at the end of the 2014 season after my hiatus I ended up hooking up with and joining Category 5. It’s run by the greatest lady in the world, Robin Maroney. She created a family like atmosphere that the team presents and carries to this day as well as financial structure, which 99% of teams around today lack. This was a huge draw for me since all the team I had been on in the past had been run by kids, which usually didn’t turn out well. We have developed ourselves into one of the premier teams in New England in my opinion, especially after becoming the factory team of sorts for our home field, Matt’s Outback. We help run the OPS (Outback Paintball Series), a regional event series held out of Matt’s Outback. When I joined Category 5 at the end of the 2014 season they were playing D4, which I was originally apprehensive about because I had only played D3 up to that point. After deciding to play with the squad once I had come to realized that D4 was now a, “race too” format instead of just 5 man like it had been in the past, I jumped on board. Right around the time I joined, one of the best snake players in New England, named TJ White, had just joined as well. I was immediately the oldest and most experience player on the team which helped me to become the number one D side player on the team. With TJ and I on the same line, coupled with the skills of the existing players like the owners son Corey Maroney, who had now become my two on the D side, we became a cohesive and competitive line one. We were able to switch parts of our line like switching our captain, Jeremy Jason Reardon aka “Kermit” for Nicholas Carrol, who are both beasts up the middle and great insert players. Corey and I became a pretty dominate D side coupled with TJ and Dan Smith, another new addition with much experience and skill as a snake side player, governing the snake side. Our additions to the team really improved our competitive chances throughout the ranks in NE during the end of the 2014 season. We played well at World Cup despite having a few guests on the team, placing the middle of the pack. It was a pretty decent showing for it being our first national event together with the new players and as a whole new team. We had decided to jump to D3 for the 2015 season and because we had made this decision, we grinded in a serious way during the winter of 2015. We ended up playing at Boston Paintball Indoor almost every other weekend, which was about a 3 ½ drive for me both ways. Our hard work paid off when we won the first event of the NEXL in D3. We placed in three out of the 5 NEXL events throughout the season. Actually, the second event we played, I played like dog shit and ended up sitting myself for the whole thing. I believe we actually took second so something most of worked. It was a humbling experience and a good example for the rest of the team I think. It showed that even though I’m one of the better/”higher ranking” players on the team, if I’m playing like shit, it’s better for the team if I sat and clearly it was. I felt as if I needed to set an example for the rest of the guys that no matter whom you are, the team comes first…the family comes first. After skipping the first three PSP events, building up our confidence in NEXL D3, we played NEXL Virginia Beach, which was our first national event in D3. We placed 8th, which was HUGE for us. We had added three additional players earlier in the season that had left another local team to come play with us. They were a great addition and continue to make a huge impact on our team. After making Sunday and placing 8th, we went into Cup with veracity. We grinded so hard and thought we were ready to place even higher in our second D3 event. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. We were without our captain to steer the ship and ended up dropping the old proverbial ball and placing dead last, only scoring 2 or 3 points the whole event. It was devastating at the time for all of us; it destroyed our morale and challenged everything we believed in ourselves as a team. I personally think that our last place finish will be the best thing that ever happened to us. Making us never want to feel that pain, utter despair, and shame we felt after our embarrassing finish. It will make us work and grind that much harder in order to prove ourselves to not only the paintball community but to prove to ourselves that we belong where we are. We were tinkering with the idea before cup of possibly moving up to D2 after that season had ended, but idea was quickly squashed after our jolt back to reality following our dismal performance at Cup. One reprieve was that a lot of the guys from Houston Hate, who has become one of our friendly rivals after we beat them in prelims at Virginia Beach and then they knocked us out in the second round of the finals on Sunday of the same event, came up to us and said that they believed we were a much better team than our last place finish. They said that they believed that this was just a fluke and bad event for us, which was the truth. At Virginia Beach they went on to place second overall for the event and win World Cup. We had both found a new sense of mutual respect for each other and VA Beach. We, as a team, recognized their skills and abilities and were pumped we got to play them at both VA Beach and Cup. Their observation of our abilities as a team was the only positive that came out of the event as a whole. For the 2016 season we have added one of my best friends in the world, Aj Monaco, who is one of the, if not the, best up the gut player in New England. We call him the hound and release him up the middle to get two or three kills at a time. I believe that he will be a huge addition to our team and rounds out our team perfectly. He will hopefully be the piece of the puzzle that will propel us even further up the ranks. This season we plan on playing Foxball majors as well as the last three NXL events in D3. At the moment, I see my team as one of the top teams in NE in our division. I see big things for us and our family. We are a desirable team with a farm system of both a D4 and D5 teams that we are trying to help develop the young guns in NE, giving them the opportunity to play with better players than themselves and improve their skills to get to the next level as a player. We feel it’s an obligation and our duty to give back to the paintball community and create an avenue for the next generation to build the sport of paintball as much as possible.

T:  What would you tell anybody new to tournament paintball?

Chris: What I would tell anyone new to tournament paintball is there are many things you need to learn and skills to develop but don’t be discouraged in the beginning if things don’t necessarily go the way you want them too. One of the big things is learning the rules. Learn what spinning is, learn that you can’t say “out” and instead you have to put your hand on your head and walk off the field, which is new this year to the NXL. Learn what major and minor penalties are assessed for. Learn the name of each bunker; learn how to play both sides of the field (snake and D side), learn field awareness, as well as learning how to communicate with your teammates. Communication is one of the most essential parts of the sport and learning how to relay bunker calls as well as receive bunker calls is a great skill to develop. Those are field skills that a new player should work on. However, there are extremely important personal skills that need to be developed. My biggest suggestion is to develop your off hand. Play with your off hand for 2 out of 3 points until your off hand becomes as good as your strong hand. Developing your off hand and creating proficiency will help move you forward exponentially in tournament paintball. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people run with their gun in their inside hand. Being unable to run with your gun in your outside hand (especially your weak hand) is indicative of a novice player. You do see pros doing this sometimes but for the majority, good players run with their gun in their outside hand because they realize that you get more bounces off your side/body than you do off your gun. It is of utmost importance to develop your gun skills. This means building proficiency at snapping, running and gunning, first ball accuracy, laning, etc. etc. Some of these, such as snapping, can be done off the field simply by watching yourself snap from the corner of a mirror. You’ll be able to see your form and what’s showing. It’ll help build muscle memory and form that will make you better. Again, off hand, off hand, off hand. I can’t stress it enough. Only being able to play with one hand will handicap you in every way.
All of these skills come with time and practice. Keeping your gun in your hands as much as possible, such as rolling your trigger while sitting on the couch at home, will make a difference. Some of the most important advice that I can give is to not being discouraged by being smashed or failing hard in the beginning. It’s going to take time to build the skills and understand the format of the game and the best way to play it. We all had to take our lumps in the beginning and learn how to overcome those disappointments and failures in the begging will make you a much stronger player overall. Next would be to not worry about everyone else’s equipment. Get a gun that suits you and your budget in the beginning. Get a middle of the road gun to see if you like playing speedball or not. It’s not worth it IMO to get a $1,500 gun once you’re just starting out. The $400-$600 guns are just as good as the $1,500guns now. Once you have figured out your equipment, try and find someone at your field that is better than you and is possibly willing to work with you. If that’s not a possibility try and watch as much ball as you can, whether it be on YouTube or watching teams practice in person. It’s always essential to watch/try and play with people better than you because that’s the only way you’re going to learn. It has taken us all a while to get to the level we’re at so be patient…Rome wasn’t build overnight.

T:  And lastly is there any one you’d like to thank or any closing words?

Chris: Hmm there are a lot of people I would like to individually name and thank but that would take too long. I would like to start by thanking my parents for understanding my love and obsession for paintball from an early age and driving me too and from the paintball field on Sundays. I would like to thank all the field owners out there for providing a place for us to play this crazy sport. I would like to thank Robin Maroney for everything she’s done for me as well as everything she’s done and continues to do for Category 5. I know she puts up with a lot of bullshit so I solute you for that. I want to thank all of the guys I’ve ever played with, especially all of the old TNN guys that have moved on to bigger and better things. To the ones still play, I love seeing you guys on the verge of making it to the pinnacle of what our sport has to offer and love learning from you guys whenever I can. It’s amazing to see how much the sport has grown in New England and want to thank all the teams who have grinded and struggled, not only in my region, but all over the country and world, for sharing in this crazy experience we call the sport of paintball.