Jonah Jamroz’s first step to becoming a professional paintball player started during a discussion with friends in a Neenah middle school. They were planning to make a zombie movie.
The second step was watching an episode of “The Simpsons.”
“It was really wild,” Jonah said during a phone interview, recalling how he got interested in paintball. At the time, filmmaking was his passion.
Bart Simpson playing paintball inspired Jonah. Fill a paintball gun with red paintballs and, bang, blood splatter special effects when zombies get shot. It was the kind of solution needed for his no-budget horror flick.
One problem. Neither he nor his friends had a paintball gun, so Jonah did what all successful filmmakers do, he sought outside funding. In this case from his parents.
Jonah’s dad, Steve, said going out with friends to play paintball sounded like a good activity.
After one afternoon on a paintball field near Green Bay, Jonah abandoned the film to pursue competitive paintball. Though his video production and paintball passions would reunite during college.
A week after his first round of paintball, Jonah began looking for tournament teams to join. He found one — on Craigslist.
“My parents were a bit concerned,” Jonah said.
Joining a team
Steve confirms there were concerns, but said they had two choices any parent faces in these moments: “You can run with it or completely squash it.”
They ran with it by contacting the parents of that team and confirming identities and carrying out other parental vetting duties that allowed Jonah to join the Wisconsin Evolution based in Green Bay.
Having teammates with different ZIP codes, or even in different states, is common in the world of competitive paintball. Without daily or even weekly team practices, players need self-discipline to keep skills sharp.
Not a problem for Jonah, on the field and off. During his freshman year he won a logo design for a contest after putting in about 100 hours of work. During college, he set his sights on a buying an RED Digital Camera, which sell for upward of $15,000, Steve said Jonah took worked every shift possible one summer to earn enough money.
“Whenever I took on a task, I kept putting my best into it,” Jonah said.
To put his best into paintball, Jonah set up cones in the backyard. He’d shoot the cones while moving to improve his accuracy. Jonah said his backyard drilling helped set him apart at paintball clinics, including one where he caught the attention of four-time world champion Marcello Margott.
“He pulled me aside and said, ‘You have potential but keep working at it.'”
When friend gave Jonah two inflatable bunkers, like those used in paintball tournaments, he set them up in the backyard to improve his snap shooting (popping up or around the inflatable bunker wall to fire one or two shots before ducking back behind cover).
Jonah kept working on it and is now getting ready to play in the paintball world championship.
Going national ‘because you never know where life will take them’
The National Xball League (NXL) runs tournament paintball events across North America and Europe with 20 pro teams in each market. In North America, semi-pro level with divisions from 2 down to 5 for X-Ball.
X-Ball is a 5-on-5 format with 12 to 15 minutes per match (depending on division) with the goal of not getting hit by paint in order to hit the opposing team’s buzzer. The winning team has the most points after time expires or forces the mercy rule by getting a 4- to 6-point lead (depending on division). Teams compete in four preliminary matches before playing in playoff bracket to determine the event winner.
Results from four majors, which includes the World Cup Championships of Paintball, determine the league champion for each division.
From the beginning, Steve has filmed all of Jonah’s practices and matches. Jonah studies the videos as part of his training.
While filming at one tournament during Jonah’s high school years, Steve said a parent asked what he thought Jonah was going to get out of making such a big commitment to paintball.
To Steve’s way of thinking, it’s important for parents to support their kids “because you never know where life will take them.” He didn’t know it at the time, but paintball would take Jonah to Chicago and Prague, Czech Republic, in 2019 to shoot promotional videos for the NXL.
But before heading off to UW-Milwaukee to study cinematography, Jonah traded having a high school graduation party for a trip to a paintball combine. Yes, a combine with coaches and scouts evaluating players. Evaluators ranked Jonah among the top 5 out of 90 participants, Steve said.
Jonah made the jump from division 4 to division 2 during his freshman year of college when he earned a spot on a team based in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
In between practices and tournaments with the Fort Wayne team, Jonah kept his skills sharp at UW-Milwaukee with the college’s paintball club team that competed against other college teams and traveled for events.
The Fort Wayne team progressed to the semi-pro division but by the end of 2018 Jonah did something out of character, he took a step back.
Going pro as a paintballer and videographer
Pro paintballer Cody Mickowski, a member of the Los Angeles Infamous and a lifelong Wisconsinite who lives in Burlington, asked Jonah if he’d be interested in joining and fostering a new team based closer to home — the Wisconsin Infamous. It would be a division 2 team.
Though Jonah imagined his next step would be to a pro team, he thought it was a great opportunity to work with Mickowski. The decision to take a step back paid off, double.
Jonah and the Wisconsin Infamous won the division 2 NXL World Cup Championship in 2019. The next year Mickowski said the Los Angeles Infamous wanted to have Jonah come out to practice to see about offering him a roster spot.
Thousands of hours of practice and competition paid off. Jonah made the team. Being teammates with players he’s admired for years was “overwhelming,” he said.
At age 22, Jonah was nearly a decade younger than some of the star players on the Infamous and around the NXL.
Turning pro in paintball doesn’t mean dropping out of college to sign multi-million dollar contract. Pro players get their travel, lodging and food expenses covered for practices and tournaments but make their livings as dentists, business owners, high-end hotel managers and other professions. In Jonah’s case, professional videographer for a performance nutrition company based in St. Louis, where Jonah now calls home. A job he landed in February soon after graduating with a bachelor of fine arts in cinematography and film/video production. A job he found out about through his connections in the paintball community.
The Los Angeles Infamous enter this year’s World Cup tournament in second place in the season standings.
Every event has a different layout and teams are given two weekends to practice on that layout. Two weeks ago, Jonah and his teammates traveled to San Antonio to practice and scrimmage against teams using the layout. Jonah said practices run 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Jonah said they use practice time to find the best shooting angles, maneuvers and strategy. Depending on the layout and opponent, they might push further up one side or try to contain an opponent’s best player. Since they can’t see each other at all times they name each section of the course so they can coordinate actions and adapt to their opponent’s moves.
Jonah’s dad still travels from Neenah to the practices and tournaments to shoot film, but now as a staff member of the Los Angeles Infamous the focus isn’t strictly on Jonah.
“At the beginning, paintball could have divided us because of how far away it takes players,” Steve said. “But it keeps us together. I get to come along with the team to film them during practices. This one sport that’s taken away so much money and time is giving back more time with my son.”
If Jonah has his way, he will have many more years to feel his heart start racing just before stepping on the field, the surge of adrenaline while charging to the front to the spot with the best angles while dodging incoming paintballs and the thrill of the win.
“I love the competitive nature of paintball,” Jonah said. “That feeling once we won World Cup it was one of the highest highs I’ve experienced. It just doesn’t get better than that.”
NXL World Championships of Paintball
When: Nov. 11-14
Where: Kissimmee, Fla.
Preliminary rounds: Los Angeles Infamous play at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Friday, and 2:30 p.m. Saturday. (All times CST)
Watch online: Matches streamed on gosports.com with an account and subscription.
Contact Daniel Higgins [email protected] Follow @HigginsEats on Twitter and Instagram and like on Facebook.