By Thomas Votaw
This weekend, I had a chance to sit down with Dave Pando, owner of LVL UP Paintball in Columbus, Ohio. Dave definitely has the resume to open a paintball field. He fills the role of player and a businessman. As a player Dave and the Ohio University bobcats made it to the finals in 2009 at the NCPA College Paintball Nationals in Class A X-Ball where they finished 2nd against Purdue. As a businessman, Dave has worked for SC Village, a world famous field in Southern California. He also worked for Dye Paintball, also located in California. If you have been to a national event in the last few years and shopped at the Dye truck you probably talked with Dave.
LVL UP Sports is pronounced “Level Up Sports”. It refers to the video game culture with the idea the more time spent at the field, the better you will become as a player, just like leveling up your character in a video game by playing frequently. LVL UP had their grand opening a month ago on Sunday, August 21st. They opened with six fields; three recreational fields, one, six acre woods field, and two full X-Ball fields, one has a perfectly graded artificial grass turf. With a perfect X-Ball field and Dave being a collegiate paintball alumni, it’s no surprise that LVL UP has already become the main sponsor of The Ohio State Buckeyes and Ohio University college paintball teams.
I asked Dave that if this was Stage One, what was his plan for Stage Two and also his goals to make this the premier field in Ohio. Dave said that his first goal was to get the six acre woods field ready for UWL next year. He then went on to say that the woods are playable, but they are only using 30 percent of the six acres. He also mentioned that he wanted to enhance the trailer park field and the cube field. Dave then pointed to a giant empty space behind where we were sitting and explained that they will be building a nuke town esque field. He explained that he would not be doing nuke town exactly, but a field to that quality and something you could only play at LVL UP.
Since Dave mentioned UWL, I wanted to pry a little bit and asked about the tournament side. “I have already been approached by the MSXL series and they definitely want us to host one next year” said Dave. This would be a big relief to a lot of Ohio players who are used to driving six hours or more to play in a regional series. MSXL requires four fields, so it sounds like Dave is on his way to be a hub for tournament action. He let me know that LVL UP already has the ability to run three fields, so adding a fourth won’t be a problem by next Spring.
I felt like I should push my luck and ask about the chance to have a national event at LVL UP. Dave smiled and said “Our goal is to host NXLs here in the future. The guy who helped build this park is the operations manager for the NXL. When we designed this park, there are three fields then there is a gap and room for another three fields directly next to the current fields. To have a NXL event, you need six fields and a pro field, which would be located in the center of the park. Then the parking lot would have the room for a full trade show.” This is wonderful seeing as NXLs first event was in Cleveland in 2015 and this gives them a chance to relocate if necessary and still keep an event in the Midwest.
I asked Dave why he chose Columbus as the place for his field especially when he has spent the last few years in beautiful Southern California. His response was simple, “If I was going to build a field, I wanted to do it the right way… a perfect X-Ball field, larger than life rec fields…. the paintball park of my dreams.” He also said that there are great fields in Southern California, but were scarce in the Midwest. Dave first looked in the Cleveland area to build his field and decided that it didn’t really fit. The lake effect snow and the fact that there are a few fields around it didn’t seem right. So Dave thought about it and realized the only true field in the Columbus area was Splatter Park (a long standing rec field) and they were almost a hour north of the City. Columbus has just under 1 million people, so he figured there was a need for a field for any kind of player.
Dave also has some plans for the immediate future. Starting in October, he will have a zombie shoot. This is a very popular and wildly fun event where people can come to the park and have some fun shooting at zombies and targets. October will also mark the first beginner and intermediate tournaments at LVL UP. Then late Fall, Dave will be running a big game on his woods ball field. He plans on keeping the field open year round as long as the snow isn’t deep. The turf will wick away the moisture and be playable year round. If it is too deep for X-Ball, throw on your snow pants as there will be some epic woods battles all winter long. He will also be expanding the pro-shop during the winter and will be carrying a full line of products from all your favorite companies.
My absolute favorite part of our conversation was when Dave explained his weekend laying the turf. “Man laying turf is annoying, I had to hire an army from Craigslist. There are 40 sections of 10’x60’ pieces and each piece weighs 3,000 pounds. You use machines to kinda get in it place, but we did it right. As a tournament player myself, if I was going to build a tournament field, I wasn’t going to make it a place I was used to playing at, I wanted to do it right. Basically once you get it all kind of in place, you have to scoot them perfectly in place so you can seem them all with sod staples. This is where a lot of fields take the easy way out and that’s where you get those gaps and divots were all used to playing on. So to scoot them in place you have to move them by hand, 3000 pounds by hand. So, if you have ten super strong dudes that doesn’t help, you need 30 kind of strong dudes. It came to a point where I couldn’t get enough volunteers or even employees, so I put an ad on Craigslist. I then proceeded to get crack heads and a wave of random people show up to help, but in the long run it was what was needed to install the turf.”
In my opinion, Dave is taking every step to change the level of dedication shown by a field owner. Not only are his ideas well thought out, but he is building with no expenses spared, something that has only been done at a handful of fields across the nation. Dave is in touch with what the players want, both recreationally and competitively. I can’t wait to get the chance to try out his fields and compete. Possibly in a MSXL or UWL in 2017. If you are interested in learning more about LVL UP, please visit their website at www.lvlupsports.com and check them out. They also have a Facebook page. I have provided the link here https://www.facebook.com/LVLUPSPORTS/?fref=ts .
Dave teased that although his 36 acre park is massive, there is the option to add another 50 acres in the future. If Dave continues with his goals, with the possibility of owning 80 acres of playable land, he will not only be the premier field in Ohio, but LVL UP will compete with the best fields in the world.