Airsoft in the present, past, and future

Players on an airsoft field

Players playing airsoft on a field

What is airsoft? Airsoft is many things. It is a sport, a hobby, a learning tool, and a history lesson. Many people play airsoft, no matter age, gender, or strength. Today, I want to talk about the history of airsoft, the safety concerns involved, and how to start playing if you’re interested.

Airsoft has a long and somewhat complex history, starting in Japan during the 1970s with a man named Ichiro Nagata who was a photographer and gun enthusiast. Nagata wanted a model gun that could actually shoot a projectile but be completely nonlethal. Due to the strict gun laws in Japan, regular civilians could not own guns legally, so many civilians wanted something similar. Both of these factors combined to create “soft air guns,” named after the silicone oil mixed with propane used to power many of the guns. Over time, this made its way to Europe, where the guns were legally allowed to become more powerful and realistic. After that, airsoft players spread it to the United States and, eventually, the rest of the Americas.

The beginning of what we would call modern airsoft was the 90s, with the introduction of electronic airsoft guns made by a company called Tokyo Marui. These days the guns come in a range of different sizes and prices, with three main different mechanisms. The first of these is a spring mechanism. The way these work is you pull back something, usually a bolt or pump mechanism, and then pull the trigger releasing the spring and launching the BB forward, usually with not a lot of power (80-200 feet/second), though some versions pack a little more distance, anywhere between 300 and 700 feet per second. More common are automatic electric guns or AEGs, which use electric motors to launch the BBs forward at anywhere from 250-450 feet; with enough upgrades, you can shoot 50 BBs per second. They come in all sorts of forms from rifles and pistols to miniguns and snipers. The final, and oldest, type of airsoft gun is a gas gun. Gas guns are propelled by either CO2, high-powered air, or “green gas,” which is propane mixed with silicone oil. These are mostly shaped like pistols and rifles and shoot from 360 to 700 feet per second, which is impressive. These are often the most expensive and powerful guns. There are hundreds of types of guns in every make and model.

Almost 30 years ago, airsoft was basically a small group of dedicated fans; today there are an estimated ten million players across the globe. The popularity of airsoft has only grown with the introduction of YouTube, and even some TV shows now include airsoft-themed episodes. Some of the most popular airsofters on the planet are Silo Entertainment, a Dutch airsofter who has 6.85 million followers on YouTube, and the Austrian Novritsch, who has his own brand and 4.69 million followers of his own. Airsoft has also appeared in a few TV shows—for example, one of Modern Family‘s first episodes was about airsoft, and it recently appeared on South Park.

There are many ways to play airsoft, the most common of which is local skirmishes. Skirmishes are about two hours long, so that multiple games can happen in a day. They often choose from a few game modes like capture the flag, deathmatch, and conquest, each having their own rules and play styles. There are also CQB matches which take place in large arenas and are often one-hour, fast paced games. There are MILSIM games, which are military simulation games and can last days. These often cost a lot of money to play, due to their size. Some games will even have cars, tanks, and helicopters. There are also competitive games which are structured very similar to regular sports, with teams and competitions.

Now, you may take a look at all this and think that to play, you must have the build of a quarterback and the endurance of a marathon runner, but the reality is that anyone over the age of ten can play. At my local field, River City Airsoft, I have seen a small 11-year-old with a gun as big as he is, playing with his 17-year-old sister and 57-year-old dad. Truly, anyone can play and enjoy the sport no matter what. All the game requires is clothes, face protection, and a gun, most of which is for sale or rentable at any local field, and you can start playing.

Mind you, like any sport, there are some dangers with the game. Without adequate protection, you can suffer various kinds of injuries, especially to the face—which is why you cannot play without eye and face protection. Sometimes, if you get hit on the skin, it can cause some bleeding, and will usually bruise. There is also danger when running through a rough environment, especially if the field is on wilderness, where you can suffer broken bones and pulled muscles.

Airsoft has been used also as a training and learning tool. Many countries use airsoft as a military simulation training tool to train recruits and keep their soldiers up to speed with exercises. Police used to use a local indoor field to train their officers. Airsoft replicas can be made with extreme detail and realism which makes them great for teaching gun safety.

I’ll finish up with some ways to start playing and what the best gear might be. First thing you should do is find a local field. As mentioned, I play at River City Airsoft on some weekends and would recommend them for anyone living in Rochester who wants to play. All you need is around $30-60 to get field access, rent a gun, and get face protection. There are plenty of guides online that help with choosing your first weapon, the best clothing and face protection, and the best play style, but this is where I will leave you for now. Thanks for reading, and stay safe out there.