Big Boss’s Player Profile: Sonny Lopez
Name: SONNY LOPEZ
LA Hitmen (Los Angles Hitmen) Founder and head coach
Bob Longs Ironmen in the UWL (Ultimate Woodsball League)
Some past teams: Hawaii Exodus coach (2009), Naughty Dogs (2003), Dynasty (2001), JT Factory (2000), Outta Control (1998), Dragoons (1995), Team Generic (1994). There are many more.
Marker of choice (Mods included):
Worr Game Products (WGP) Pump Sniper “Vertebrate”, WGP Kaner barrel with two zip-ties at the end, Bob Long input regulator, LA Hitmen BD pull pin, R7 Replay HD Camera and mount, Stainless air line, 45 frame and Hogue grips. All internals are WGP stock.
SM: What were the things that lead you into paintball?
SL: I got started at Bishop Amat High School in September of 1989. All freshmen had to join some clubs or a sports team. I found a club that had guns (turned out to be markers) on the table and played this game called “paintball”.
I could not believe it! So I joined up and played my first game in September of 1989 at Field Games in Norco, CA right next to SC Village. At the time I was playing in BB gun wars in the streets so my mother made me agree to give up BB gun wars and in return she would let me play paintball. I did it in a heartbeat.
SM: What were the inspiration and the chain of events that lead to the birth of the LA Hitmen?
SL: In 2003 I was playing with the Naughty Dogs and destroyed my ankle in a practice at a local field on a random Wednesday night. The injury didn’t let me run or play for over two years. I didn’t think I ever would be able to play again and thought to myself: Should I coach and pass on what I had learned over the years? I thought it made the most sense at the time. So I started to coach and hold clinics.
After coaching and taking 2.5 years to be able to run again I had some strong opinions on pump play for training new players and experienced players with bad habits. I wanted to see a team where all the players were good with a pump gun. The ultimate bonus would have been for them to be good at all forms of paintball and not just one. Meaning air-ball, hyper ball, MilSim, big games, scenarios, and even mag-fed would all be participated in.
I think it was in 2005 a team owner I knew very well had to get out of being a paintball team owner and asked me if I would take it off his hands. We both didn’t want to see the team members loose out on the sport we all love so much. We decided that I would take over the team, rename it and allow the current team members to stay together.
It was a sort of a dream to have the almighty pump guns as the eventual heart of the Hitmen family. Now 7 years later the LA Hitmen has multiple squads focusing on multiple formats and we are building more.
SM: With the current economic climate and the paintball industry moving into the woods, how do you feel that this has helped the sport?
SL: The current economic climate has not helped the sport at all. Moving into the woods I think has helped bring more players back who originally quit for one reason or another. Also recognizing that most paintball players play in the woods now it is easier to get some new projects approved by the bean counters and top brass. We recognized this early on at WGP years ago when we created and marketed the VF-T Tactical Auto-Cocker, a cocker with a tactical twist. Players loved it! I love all forms of the sport including the speedball and air ball but those formats are not what most paintball players are into. Playing a woodsball big game you have total fun and very little stress. A less stressful event is going to attract more regular players in my opinion. I would say 90% of the players leaving a woodsball event are super happy while only about 20% of the players leaving a tourney are super happy.
There is something about interacting with the environment in a woodsball game as well. I love that part so much and I think that attracts lots of people. Being in the shade watching your target being able to listen to them talk is an amazing adrenaline rush. There is nothing like getting closer to make the surprise and damage worse for your targets. Figuring out your escape route after you attack or your secondary attack positions is a mind tease and I am smiling the entire time!
Crawling past people to get to their commander or goal is a serious nail biter. Playing paintball in the woods is a total disconnect with real life. You are not thinking about stressful competition but rather just running around and shooting anyone looking at you the wrong way. The land is uneven you are partially hiking, partially surviving (for ten mins lol or a couple hours), and are literally just having FUN. The more FUN paintball is the more people are going to spend more on it.
SM: With paintball having their critics about the war aspect, and paintball being used for training by first responders and the military, how do you feel that this has benefitted the sport?
SL: Some parts of it are beneficial for those who do real life protecting and law enforcement. Muscle memory is so important and you cannot deny that performing the motions over and over becoming faster, more confident and with less fatigue it is going to help them over time. Paintball has a place in close quarters when the right rules and controls are in place. I have seen horrible attempts at training and I have seen the most ingenious formats and situations covered. Of course different instructors and schools are going to have different goals and talking points.
I think if those aspects are explored we shall see paintball do its part for the benefit of those who have sworn to serve and protect. I think this ultimately makes the entire paintball market more attractive for the law enforcement, military and security markets. This is good.
People like guns. The critics just want a reason to open their mouths. People use guns for good and for bad. Just like if it was a car, bat or crowbar. It is the people who make the choice with their gun on what happens next. Paintball is benefiting from the training side because prior to this paintball marketing was turning many of them away. They thought we looked like BMX riders hiding behind massive inflated condoms. So I think we just absorbed a massive market that is now more willing to accept us. Bring on more Mag-Fed, MilSim and full on training events!
SM: With the latest evolution to more tactical markers and magfed markers, how do you feel this has changed the game in relation to airsoft?
SL: Some players who have left paintball to experience mag-fed play in airsoft will return to paintball once they get excited about a new product or event. I believe as mag-fed markers evolve and become higher quality we will see higher mag-fed numbers and sales. I hear about current airsoft players wanting to come back quite often. And others have found a new home and are happy as can be. But at the same time I see cycles where some players just bounce from paintball to airsoft and back again when new products and events seem to inspire them to change the present activity.
Airsoft has taken a good piece of the pie that is for dam sure. But there are ways for paintball business to benefit so I don’t worry about it. Paintball fields can create airsoft only fields and paintball stores can carry high quality airsoft products. I think they should expand the customer base and do not turn them away! As far as training goes airsoft just doesn’t give enough of a hard hit to let guys know they have been shot. With so much tactical vest and mags on a body they aren’t cheating on purpose, they just can’t feel it. So even though I do some training with airsoft guns I believe for close quarters paintball is the better option. 43 cal powder rounds are super fun too! Our Mag-fed efforts will bring some people back to paintball I firmly believe that.
SM: Greg Hasting came out recently with his latest paintball game, and it’s coming online in Europe, how do you think this has helped with the public’s acceptance of paintball?
SL: I think it has probably been one of the most successful marketing campaigns paintball as a whole has ever experienced. What other paintball event or product was mass marketed and has made virtual paintball available to people in their own house at any time of the day? He did it first with a big splash.
To the companies who sponsored those games imagine how many impressions their logos received to this day from players around the world playing that game for so many years? They received massive value and impressions by sponsoring just one game.
Another note to bring up is for shooting games Greg’s game is the only one Rated “E” so kids are allowed to purchase it. I am glad he did a paintball game before someone did an airsoft game! So this is great for the moms and parents who are being educated by the rating system that “Paintball” is ok for “Everyone”.
Some would give this nod to Wal-Mart but I think Wal-Mart needs to get out of paintball so mom and popshops can increase traffic and business.
SM: How would you say you’re your experience in the boardroom translates into the way you play or approach the game?
SL: That is an interesting question. I tend to be safety conscious at all times. I recently saw a new mask that has design elements from two completely separate goggle systems. When I placed slight pressure against the cheek area the facemask part separates from the lens creating a gap that paintball fragments can get through. It really scares me that the mask had enough R/D to make it look nice but maybe not as much actual testing in the field with ramping guns to know if it is truly safe or not. This makes my warning radar go crazy. I won’t use a product unless I test it myself, working behind the scenes really made me respect that.
Thinking about this question makes me remember all the cool people I have gotten to work with over the years. I am very grateful for all the hard work the employees give to get the new products and technology to market. Many unsung heroes are behind the scenes making up those paintball brands we tend to love. Sometimes those brands let the people go who made them great and sometimes the brand changes hands. Change is constant and I tend to enjoy the blessings of the day and the events I find myself at. Loving life and understanding if you are even getting to play paintball once a year you are a very lucky person. J
SM: How do you think paintball has altered the way you see the world around you?
SL: It has helped open up my eyes to the world around me. I have been fortunate to travel to some great places and meet wonderful people all directly due to paintball. I see that people from different nations can help one another and are usually friendly and have open arms to enjoy moments and memories. The media tends to want us to believe everyone is an enemy but that is simply not true. Also I believe I am lucky to have experienced all I have gone through to let me see both sides to stories and hear different people out on their beliefs and customs. It is thrilling to know most people are good and want to help one another. Of course TV shows, media scares, false flags all are designed to program us to thinking this is not the case. Lame! Paintball has helped me see things clearer and given me the chance to hear others input.
SM: With the LA Hitmen also having their own brand of goods as well, what is the goal of the product brand as it relates to paintball or life in general?
SL: We have numerous goals for the LA Hitmen brand. One is to help paintball grow and make paintball more accessible for the masses. Please check out www.rti-mitank.com to see one idea that is very close to our hearts. Another goal is to help inform those who are interested in pursuing healthier food choices and a strong paintball lifestyle. I have been raw foodist for 4 years now with an average of about 70% raw intact per day. This experience has been life changing and I highly recommend it for anyone who is tired of eating processed foods and feeling like a zombie or being tired after meals. Anybody on prescription drugs can eliminate the root of the problems and quit taking drugs that only deal with the symptoms. They don’t actually help you get rid of the issue.
One of the main goals of the brand besides health promotion, paintball promotion and our sponsors is to simply enjoy life at all costs and follow your dreams because if it wasn’t for a dream pursued the LA Hitmen would not exist. Basically follow your dreams at all costs. Take the steps to make the dream real because a wish man once said if a dream isn’t acted upon to become true it was just a hallucination.
Sonny Lopez, in many ways he is the embodiment of a player in the athletic term. A man who has been a pro, and an industry insider and for all intents and purposes, the perfect blend of business savvy and experience as a player that has turned out equipment that is very good if not superb in quality. Check him out at http://www.lahitmen.com/about-us/our-founder/