Airsoft is a thrilling pastime enjoyed by people all over the world - and most people have at least a basic understanding of what airsoft is. To put it briefly, an airsoft definition could be summed up by saying that airsoft entails using guns that fire plastic BBs in addition to a wide variety of other gear in order to simulate real-life combat in a way that is as realistic as possible while still being completely safe. If you're new to the airsoft sport, though, you probably still have a lot of questions. To help you better understand why airsoft has gained so much popularity over the years, we'll take a look at everything you need to know about the question of "what is airsoft?".

History of Airsoft

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Though it is certainly enjoyed all over the world, airsoft today is largely considered an international hobby. It may surprise you to learn, however, that airsoft actually originated in post-WWII Japan. Due to Japan's strict gun laws, Japanese civilians were not allowed to own real firearms. Instead, Japanese civilians who were interested in firearms were only able to purchase non-functioning firearm replicas. Eventually, a man named Ichiro Nagata came up with the idea of creating replica guns that would fire harmless, plastic BBs. And thus the history of airsoft began. Once people discovered Airsoft, it didn't take long for people to start using these realistic airsoft guns to simulate war games, and soon the hobby started to spread beyond Japan.  Some early examples of airsoft guns were spring-powered or powered by using an air tank and hose! For the most part of the 1990s, Airsoft first spread to Hong Kong and Taiwan, and eventually spreading to Europe, the United States, and the rest of the world.  Today, the United States and Japan have the most airsoft players based on population and uptake of the sport.

Modern Day Airsoft

Presently, airsoft is a sport enjoyed by military and firearm enthusiasts, law enforcement & military trainers, and anyone else who wants to experience the challenges and adrenaline rush of combat in a way that is entirely safe. The evolution of airsoft over the years has produced a wide variety of game modes and an equally wide variety of guns and gear used to simulate combat in a competitive environment. We'll take a look at the various airsoft game modes that exist today a little later. For now, let's explore the products, rules, and facilities that make airsoft possible. 

Guns

Most airsoft guns are designed as replicas of real firearms, and as we alluded to earlier, some of these early airsoft guns were basic in operation or required air tanks. It was not until famed airsoft manufacturer Tokyo Marui invented the "Version 2 Gearbox" which revolutionized airsoft altogether. The gearbox allowed for the use of motors and gears powered by rechargeable batteries. It was with this introduction that a high degree of realism was achieved which is a big part of what makes airsoft so appealing. High-quality airsoft guns look and feel just like the real firearms that they replicate - right down to the smallest details. Many bear the same logos and trademarks as the real gun, and some even share the same materials in order to make them feel as real as possible.  Some companies take great pains to make the trigger, switches, and movement feel and even sound like their real counterparts.  These all add up to making airsoft a highly immersive experience. 

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As for the types of airsoft guns that you can purchase, there is an incredibly wide variety to choose from and as technology has improved over the years, different platforms have emerged for more diversity in the sport. Fully automatic airsoft rifles and SMGs that spray BBs at hundreds of rounds per minute, airsoft pistols with cycling slides just like the real gun, airsoft shotguns that shoot multiple BBs with each pull of the trigger, and airsoft sniper rifles designed for long-range accuracy are just a few of the options you have to choose from when picking your airsoft loadout. Just like real firearms, different airsoft guns have different advantages and drawbacks, enabling a wide variety of strategies and play styles depending on the guns that you choose.  Choose longer guns to play outdoors for greater range.  Choose shorter guns to play indoors for greater maneuverability in tight spaces. Choose spring-powered sniper rifles for better reliability or Choose electric-powered rifles for better consistency.

Gear

In addition to the guns that make airsoft possible, airsoft players also make use of a wide variety of other airsoft gear. This gear includes devices called Speed Loaders that are designed to help you reload your airsoft gun faster, the CO2 cartridges that power many airsoft guns, the vests, shirts, pants, and other pieces of tactical clothing designed for camouflage, gear storage, and maneuverability, face shields to protect your eyes and face, and specialized gear such as flashlights, airsoft grenades, optics for your airsoft guns, chronographs to test how powerful your gun is shooting, and beyond. There's certainly no shortage of gear to choose from when deciding on the gear that will give you the best advantage for your particular play style, and assembling the gear that defines your go-to loadout is an enjoyable element of airsoft in and of itself.

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Since Airsoft guns are so realistic, they often fit real holsters, can be fitted with real scopes, real stocks and rail systems, grips, and many other components.  The same goes for what you wear on your body.  There are lots of Airsoft helmets, vests, plate carriers, backpacks, holsters, slings, that will work perfectly fine for gaming.  But for those who can afford it, wearing real gear adds even more to the realism and durability. While you can most certainly use gear and accessories designed specifically for airsoft, some players want only the best. Being an action-packed outdoor sport, gear with more durability also gives you the added sense of security when lugging your equipment around! Finally, some real gear does offer increased capabilities for the user. For example, there are many who play Airsoft at night with real night vision goggles.  Most airsoft retailers will carry a mix of dedicated Airsoft gear as well as real gear manufactured for real-world duty.

Teams

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Many airsoft game modes are played on teams. While it is certainly possible to simply show up at an airsoft range by yourself and join a team once you get there, assembling your own airsoft team is a great idea if you are serious about the sport. An added benefit of running with your own team is building comradery together. This extends beyond game modes that are force-on-force based but can also be a factor in competition shooting. Working on a team to tackle different courses of fire allows each member to maximize their abilities such as shooting fast, running fast, or accuracy. This kind of teamwork is what wins competitions!

Fields and Ranges

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With the right guns and gear, airsoft can be played at sites and fields almost anywhere ranging from wide-open outdoor spaces to indoor close-quarters battles. You are certain to have a more enjoyable and immersive experience if you play airsoft at dedicated airsoft ranges or fields. It's also important to mention in some places around the world, it's strictly prohibited to play airsoft away from authorized areas! Airsoft ranges and fields no matter indoor or outdoor typically include a number of manmade barriers and buildings in addition to natural barriers such as woods and hills in order to provide an environment where a wide variety of combat scenarios can be simulated. Thanks to the growing popularity of airsoft, finding an airsoft range near you shouldn't be a challenge.   If you live in the United States, checking the defunct Airsoft C3 site might yield some results.  Otherwise, search on Facebook for fields in your city or state. The same can be said for players living outside the United States. There are many friendly and accommodating airsoft communities on Facebook that arrange regular games.

Cost

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Like almost any hobby, how much airsoft costs is ultimately determined by how much you want to spend. Some airsoft players spend tens of thousands of dollars on top-quality guns and gear, while others choose to assemble a more budget-friendly loadout that costs just a couple hundred bucks total. At the very least, you will need an airsoft gun, ammo, and eye protection, with the gun itself being the only sizable expense. If it’s a gas gun, then you need to buy gas.  If it’s an electric gun, then you need to buy batteries and a charger.  How much you choose to spend beyond this is a matter of personal choice.  If budget is an issue, you can find cheap airsoft guns in the form of a low-cost spring cocking gun or a gas gun to get started.  Most people start with an entry-level pistol or budget AEG rifle. You can always opt for brands such as Tokyo Marui when choosing an AEG as they have fantastically affordable base prices and are designed to work well out of the box. In addition to this, depending on the gun you choose, such as the M4, you will have access to some of the widest ranges of upgrade parts.

Laws and Legality

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While airsoft guns are legal in every state, there are some laws regarding airsoft guns that differ from state to state. In the United States, airsoft guns are required to include an orange tip and/or other bright-colored markings that distinguish them from real firearms. These laws are designed to prevent unfortunate scenarios where law enforcement mistake an airsoft gun for an actual firearm. In most states, you are also required to be eighteen years or older in order to purchase an airsoft gun.  If you live outside of the United States, you can learn about Legal Issues In Airsoft by country.  Some countries treat airsoft guns as real guns, and are completely banned.

How to Play Airsoft

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Most airsoft game modes are played on an airsoft field with two or more teams participating. Beyond this, though, there is a wide range of airsoft game modes that differ from one another quite dramatically. A few of the more popular airsoft game modes include: 

  • Skirmish - A skirmish is the simplest and most straightforward game mode. In this game mode, two or more teams take the field at various starting points then work to eliminate the other teams. The last team with a member still "alive" is the winning team, though a number of other objectives can be used to determine the winning team as well. Skirmishes are great for beginners that want to give airsoft a try as it offers high speed, high adrinline gameplay to satisify any action junkie!
  • Milsim - Milsim airsoft is a game mode designed to emulate real military combat. In this game mode, the scenarios are much more pre-determined, and the realistic experience itself is arguably more important than the competition between teams.  One of the biggest airsoft milsim games ever held was in Russia, Armored War VIII, which included real tanks and aircraft and had a reported total of 6000 simultaneous players over two days of non-stop scenario gameplay. Milsims are something any serious airsoft player should try to attend at least once. Due to its incredible reaslim, this puts each player's guns and gear to the ulitmate test!
  • AIPSC / Action Air - Airsoft International Practical Shooting Confederation (AIPSC) or Action Air is a game mode that entails navigating a course and shooting at inanimate targets (metal targets) rather than other players. It's similar to three-gun competitions or cowboy action competitions, except it uses airsoft guns as opposed to real firearms.  Airsoft is officially recognized by the IPSC and termed IPSC Action Air.  IPSC holds an Action Air World Shoot every few years.  RWA Gas & RWA BBs are the official gas and air of the IPSC Action Air World Shoot. Action Air is a great game type for players that want to put their skills to the test and offers real competiton. Many shooters go on to form teams and even represent their countries in competitons held around the world!
  • Speedsoft - Speedsoft is a fast-paced and more competitive version of airsoft that entails separating teams into a tournament format before having them compete in fast-paced, close-quarter skirmishes in order to determine the tournament's winner.  In speedsoft, each skirmish typically only lasts a few minutes.  This form of gameplay is similar to paintball, and is swiftly gaining popularity around the world.  Players tend to leave their camouflage clothing at home in favor of bright sporting colors. Speedsoft is the closest game mode you can play in airsoft that resembles fast paced video games such as APEX Legends, or Call of Duty as it requires fast movements, fast shooting, and creative ways to attack the opposing team!

Airsoft Rules and Etiquette

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No matter the game mode you are playing, there are a number of rules and etiquette that you will be expected to follow. You will be required to always stay within the bounds of the course, you will be required to "call out" when you are hit and never ignore being hit (this is considered the lowest form of cheating and is something that is severely frowned upon), and you will be required to stop shooting at someone after they have called out that they are hit. Shooting someone from close range may also be prohibited and you will be expected to call out “Bingo” instead.  Most importantly, always keep airsoft safe for everyone involved.  And you should never ever shoot anyone who has not already agreed to engage in an airsoft game with you.  Shooting someone with an airsoft gun without their approval can be considered assault in some cases.  Of course, if the other person engages in a game with you, then the permission to shoot them is given implicitly even if they don’t want to get hit.  For a full list of airsoft rules and etiquette, check out this article

Safety

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With the right gear and precautions, airsoft is completely safe for everyone involved. Getting hit with an airsoft BB stings just enough to let you know that you've been hit and enough to provide a little adrenaline to the experience, but certainly not enough to cause any real damage. Of course, getting hit in the eye is a completely different matter, which is why it is essential to always wear eye protection at all times on an airsoft range. There is a wide variety of airsoft eye protection from goggles to glasses. But no matter the style, always choose ones that are high-quality and offer the most protection for your eyes.

There are some experienced players who might opt to play with heavily upgraded airsoft guns that shoot at much higher power levels.  Getting hit by a highly upgraded airsoft gun can hurt a lot more and potentially cause bleeding so be aware of who you are playing with.  When in doubt, ask what power levels everyone is playing at before you join the game.  Many organized games and individual fields or sites have power limits, which can be easily checked by making everyone shoot their airsoft guns through a chronograph, or often referred to “chrono” for short.  A chrono will measure the speed of your BB in feet per second (fps).  Coupled with the weight of the BB, you can calculate the energy of the BB measured in joules and how much it will hurt on impact.  Some countries like Japan have legal limits of 1 Joule, or 320fps using a 0.2 gram BB.  The United States does not have a legal power limit for airsoft guns, but game fields and organizers typically set their own power limits up to 350fps or 400fps to keep the sport safe and fun for everyone. As we previously mentioned, when in doubt always ask what the power limit is.

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While there is no minimum age required to play airsoft, it is recommended that you should be at least twelve years old before you take up this hobby. Limiting airsoft to players who are twelve years or older ensures that everyone is mature enough to follow the rules and etiquette that make airsoft safe and enjoyable. Minors who wish to play should seek the guidance of a guardian who can ensure muzzle discipline and adequate eye protection. With that said, there are certain countries such as Japan that require you to be of a certain age, usually 18 and above, before you can buy airsoft guns. Always ask your local airsoft shop or site what the minimum age is.

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