Airsoft in a Nutshell

Upon hearing the word “airsoft” for the first time, many people respond with a puzzled look and the question, “what’s that?”  Others immediately associate the word with low-quality, clear, plastic guns purchased from a sporting goods store.  While this is a part of airsoft, there’s just so much more to the sport of airsoft than that. 

Which leads us to the question, what is airsoft?
Airsoft is many things.  It is a sport, similar to paintball, in which players use replica firearms which use air to propel plastic BBs (ball bullets) measuring six millimeters in diameter.  However, unlike paintball, airsoft places a heavy emphasis on realism, be it in the design of the guns, or in the way the game is played.  Before we get into what airsoft is as a whole, though, let’s take a closer look at the guns themselves.

These replicas come in all shapes and sizes, most replicating real-world firearms.  Similarly, the method used to propel the BBs varies as well.  Some, known as “spring-powered,” require the user to manual cock the gun to fire each shot.  

Others, called “electric powered,” use a battery to operate a gearbox which cocks back the piston and releases it, shooting air out the barrel to fire each shot.  The high quality versions of these guns, the most common in airsoft when played on the field, are known as Airsoft Electric Guns, or AEGs.  AEGs are capable of firing in semiautomatic or full automatic fire modes, as well as burst fire modes on some models.  All manner of replicas are available on the market which use an AEG system, ranging from the common M4 or AK type weapons, to more obscure ones such as the FAL or ACR.  Most players’ primary weapon is an AEG of some type.  

The third and final type of airsoft gun is “gas powered,” which uses a type of gas (CO2, propane, green gas, or high pressure air (HPA)) to propel the BB.  While airsoft guns were initially designed to use externally mounted CO2 or HPA tanks, similar to paintball guns, these “classic” airsoft guns are rare to see today.  Most gas guns are of the green gas variety.  These require the user to fill the magazine using a can of green gas or propane (most green gas compositions are made mainly with propane today, with other elements mixed in).  One can will fill many magazines’ worth of gas.  The gun then uses the gas from the magazine to propel the BB.  Most green gas guns currently take the shape of pistols, and are commonly used as sidearms in airsoft games.  However, more and more gas-powered rifles and submachine guns are being released.  Most gas powered replicas also incorporate a feature known as “blow back,” which means that when the replica is fired, its slide or bolt recoils and returns forward, very similar to the manner in which a real gun operates.  In terms of realism, gas blow back guns, or GBBs, are the most realistic.

Now that we’ve covered the primary tools of airsoft, let’s dive a little deeper into what airsoft is all about.  Airsoft guns can be used for many purposes, be it target shooting or competitive, force-on-force gameplay.  Similarly, the sport of airsoft can be played in many ways.  It can be played on one’s own property with a group of friends, or, more commonly, with many other players on a sanctioned field designed for airsoft game play.  Some players try to make the experience as realistic as possible, using real combat tactics and equipping themselves with real or replica military gear.  Others take it a little less seriously and play in standard clothes.  Either way, the goal of airsoft is to have fun, and replicate real combat scenarios without the downside of real combat: injury or death on both sides of the equation.  Some may think of it as a real-life video game.

The game itself can be played in different ways, be it simple force-on-force death match, to realistic, objective-based scenarios, to large-scale “operations,” hosting several hundred players, play fields reaching several square miles in size, and even real military vehicles such as humvees or armored personnel carriers!

There are just three things that every game type places a focus on: safety, integrity, and fun.  Safety is a major concern because the players are firing plastic BBs at each other at high velocities, some reaching up to 550 feet per second (FPS)!  For obvious reasons, suitable eye protection utilizing ANSI Z87 rated shatterproof lenses are required at ALL airsoft events.  You will NOT be allowed to play without proper eye protection.  Similarly, it is often advised, or even required at some play fields, to use proper body protection, such as full face masks and long sleeves, particularly at game sites where the range of engagement is close.

Player integrity is another big issue as it not only makes the game less fun, or sometimes not any fun at all, when one or more players on the other team does not follow rules, it can also be downright dangerous.  All players are expected to “call their hits,” meaning that they must call themselves out when they have been hit by a BB, whether it was fired by a teammate or an opposing player. 

Cheating can take a turn for the dangerous when players ignore or purposely get around field velocity limits in order to bring a gun to the field which shoots “hot,” or more powerful than the field allows.  Most outdoor-type fields have an FPS limit of 400 for standard AEGs, and 550 for bolt-action sniper rifles.  Close Quarters Battle, or CQB, fields usually have a limit of 350 for AEGs.  It is up to the player to know the limits of the field they plan to play at and to follow them.  The limits are there to keep other players safe, and violating them puts other players at risk, and can result in injury.  Similarly, many fields enforce a “minimum engagement distance,” meaning that players are expected not to fire on each other within these distances for safety reasons.  It is important to be considerate to one’s fellow players and obey these rules.

And last, but certainly not least, all fields and games emphasis fun, as it is the main reason airsofters come there to play!  Event coordinators try very hard to make sure that their games are enjoyable for all people involved, and players are expected to follow along and obey the rules to keep the game fun for everyone.

In the end, airsoft is what you the player makes of it.  It’s up to the player to find what level they enjoy playing at through experience.  However, no matter how you like to play, airsoft has a place for everyone, and always welcomes new players.  The community is quite friendly and very helpful, and information can be found through various online forums, or from shops such as our own.