Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Does Airsoft Have Referees?

Does Airsoft have referees? Or does everybody just run around yelling "I shot you" "No, you didn't" "Did so" "Did not" all the time? In between calling in imaginary air strikes and calibrating their night vision goggles, of course.

Seriously, who do those people think they are? The NPPL? Come to think of it maybe that sheds some light on how Tom Cole botched the big calls at DC so thoroughly. I mean he's not in the paintball biz anymore, after all. To be fair though you woulda thought--or at least I woulda thought--he'd still remember how paintball works. (Maybe he was channeling Bill Cookston. Sorry kids, that gag was for the OGs.) What do you think the chances are we see a UWL event with Airsoft gear? It's a no-brainer, right? Unless of course Airsofters don't really compete. Mostly they just fantasize--and play with their radios. (And no that isn't a euphemism for something else. Unless you want it to be.)

I was thinking of calling this post When does a paintball field stop being a paintball field but there were two obvious answers--so I didn't. The two answers? When they go out of business or they turn into an Airsoft field, doh! Speaking of which I was reading about the upcoming field owners conference coinciding with WC to be held next week in Kissimmee. (Funny how that worked out. Come to central Florida for Cup and spend a day at the conference. Serendipity. Gotta love it.) Anyway, I was looking at the list of sponsors for the conference and it made for some interesting reading. Airsoft giant PALCO, PolarStar (another Airsoft company), Tippmann Paintball Laser Tag, Steradian Technologies (makers of outdoor laser tag equipment) plus a couple of actual paintball companies. (If you're looking for links you're outta luck. I ain't giving you any.)
I know what you're thinking; it's hard times and if paintball fields need to diversify in order to stay in business that's a good thing, not a bad thing. And if I were a field owner I would probably agree with you but as a paintball player I'm not so sure. The website for the conference promoters is fieldownersconference.com. Nary a paintball in sight. And once what were paintball fields start down that road where does it end? Look, if a field can't survive as a paintball field I understand--change or die. But shouldn't the answer be learn how to be a better paintball field instead of morphing into something else? And please don't tell me laser tag and Airsoft are gateways to playing paintball. They aren't. (Airsoft is for weekend commando wannabes and laser tag is for children, girls and Betas. Yes, I said it. Deal with it.) Is there some movement across those boundaries? Sure, but it isn't one way and there isn't an obvious natural progression from one to the other.
It's kinda funny really. If this is how the industry and its friends try to save Paintball I have a hard time imagining that its enemies could do much worse.


Anonymous said...

Airsoft doesn't need refs Dude, it has the 'Honor system'. Those with honor understand and respect this, however, those without tend to stay in the game a lot longer.
Pretty sure if Tom Cole played airsoft he would be virtually indestructable.

Anonymous said...


"View From The Tissue Box"

Anonymous said...

Mark said:
I had a airsoft dude stop in to my shop one Sunday begging to use our field. I was not averse to the idea, diversifying if you will. Seems dude was tired of having to drive 2 hours past my field, which took him the better part of an hour to reach this mile stone, in order to meet his clan of 100-200 or so softers like him.
Two things were discovered as the conversation continued:
1) In a state of 15 million it takes a 2+ hour drive to meet 150 softers half-way.
2) The reason being is because of structure.
There is no money in airsoft to build structure i.e. forts, kill houses, what have you.
Eventually I had to tell him that I must reserve my best fields, those with all the structure, for my customers who pay $60 for 2000 paintballs rather than $8 for 2000 plastic BB's.
There's a good reason Yankee Stadium was called the house that Ruth built, not the house that Al Devormer built.

Missy Q said...

I used to set aside 1 sunday per month so that the airsofters could use the 'good fields'. They paid me $30 on that day, compared to $15 to just use the top end of the land, which was just bush with an old staging area. It was clean profit, and they were extremely well behaved. You're absolutely right though, they pay $5 for 2500 rounds, so you can't make money off them from supplies, however they really do want to use realistic fields and will pay for this priviledge. The Airsoft kids were really polite - nothing like the paintball kids.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget NERF!

Reiner Schafer said...

I think they are promoting this event as a Tag sport field owners conference now rather then a paintball field owners conference.

I'll disagree with you Baca that Laser tag is not a gateway to paintball. I believe it is a stepping stone for kids that are too young to play paintball, who then end up playing paintball (or airsoft) when they are old enough. But it's not a gateway for many adults who play it because they are too afraid to try paintball.

Paintball has changed over the last couple of decades. Big time. It's much more intense and the chances of feeling pain, multiple times during an outing has increased dramatically. No big deal for hardnosers like you and the people you hang around wuth mostly, but it is a big deal to the general public (the ones footing most of the bills). Is it any wonder that these less intense and less painful forms of tag are picking up steam in the recreational arena? Doesn't surprise me much at all.

I'd personally be looking into hosting airsoft myself, if our facility wasn't so damn busy dealing with paintballers. :)

Neal Ryan said...

Airsoft will eventually consume the scenario side of paintball and paintball will get what it has always wanted: to be considered a "sport."
Why would anyone pick a game (airsoft) over a sport (paintball)? Because people are intimidated by competition, jocks, rules, jerks, and PAIN. By comparison, think about football- the industry in college and the pros makes it's money from viewers: consumers, advertising dollars, tv contracts, Not pop warner kids buying helmets. The key to fending off the airsoft menace is an industry-wide agreement on a viable tv format.

raehl said...

If lasertag and airsoft are not gateways to paintball, because people who play those won't play paintball, doesn't that pretty much mean they are also not substitutes for paintball?

Laser tag has been around since the 80's. We actually used to play 3-on-3 laser tag in the woods when we were 9 or 10. For a month or two. Then we got bored, because everyone just hid the sensor so you couldn't shoot it, you didn't know where your shots were going or where shots were coming from, didn't know if you'd hit anyone, blah blah. I realize that some of those issues have been solved, but not well.

I suppose airsoft could grab some of the milsim crowd. Judging by the large game events I've been too, the milsim crowd isn't interested in playing paintball anyway (which is why they buy equipment based on how much it looks like real stuff as opposed to whether it actually, well, helps you perform better on the field.) But other than a portion of the milsim crowd, I just don't see more airsoft as also meaning less paintball.

If we're going to worry about airsoft, shouldn't we also be worried about civil war reenactment groups? They've got guns that don't leave a mark too. And what about people who dare to play capture the flag and NOT shoot at each other? Or water guns?

Worrying about airsoft is just as silly. People do not get less interested in paintball because airsoft is available. They get less interested in paintball because they don't like paintball. And if you don't like paintball, there are TONS of other things you can do for fun, including the most popular substitute for paintball there is:

XBox/PS3/PC games.

Hell, you can even play paintball on your XBox! Where is the outrage at Greg Hasting's Tournament Paintball? He's made it so you can play paintball on your TV at home!

Instead of running around damning airsoft for our problems we should focus on what parts of paintball people don't think are fun and fix those. Airsoft isn't the problem. We're the problem.

raehl said...

@Neal Ryan:

Paintball should not be compared to Football. Football is a sport your average person has no chance of enjoying participating in. It's also a sport that a lot of people want to watch, precisely because they don't have a chance of competing in it.

Paintball is much better compared to skiing or snowboarding. It's something anyone can have fun doing, it's something where there is an industry that makes money selling sporting goods to consumers, it's an industry where there are diverse privately-held parks that provide consumers with an experience that they can technically get anywhere there is a hill but is much better at a commercial venue, and where most of those consumers participate in the sport infrequently (especially with skiing) and rent their equipment when they do. It's also a sport where participation is definitely not painless and is even downright hazardous. And it's a sport where the top athletes can just barely make a living at it through limited TV exposure.

If we want to have a "reasonable vision" for what paintball could be, we need to think skiing, only instead of a snow-covered mountain, we provide a paintball course.

Everything else works exactly the same - from equipment rental, to how often people participate, to how you get casual participants to be competitive participants, to how televised paintball COULD work.

Israel said...

Raehl makes a good point about the Skiing analogy. Well put.

Reiner Schafer said...

Yes, skiing is a decent analogy for recreational paintball, but not as much for competitive paintball.

I think one of the biggest mistakes the paintball industry made for many years was trying to convert paintball into a sport. There is nothing wrong with having a sport branch within paintball, but focusing on just the sport was a mistake. Recreational paintball and competitive paintball are two totally different animals and not only should a serious efforts have been made promoting both branches, but they should have purposely been kept separate as much as possible.

Recreational paintball should have been kept and promoted as alLeisurely "extreme" pastime if you will. I consider the paintball that we try to provide at our field (a lower volume experience than most paintball parks) probably more closely resembles airsoft than competitive paintball. If I were going to expand our product line beyond recreational paintball, we would more likely choose airsoft than speedball.

Competitive speedball, at the intensity levels it is today, is much like full contact football; only a small portion of the population is even remotely interested in taking part. Couple that with the high cost, probably considerably higher than football, is there really a surprise that the sport has problems sustaining itself? The big difference between paintball and football is the watchability of the game (lack of a single focal point in paintball).

Airsoft will never be competition for competitive paintball, but I do believe it is a much more direct competition for recreational paintball than many of the other activities the general public can choose from.

For most modern recreational paintball fields, airsoft is different enough (much less intense, much less painfull), that it becomes a viable expansion in their offerings, especially when you consider much of the infrastructure needed is the same. When fieldowners discover that running airsoft games has fewer confrontations between players and is much less work and stress, I think we'll see much more marketing towards airsoft and less towards recreational paintball.

Baca Loco said...

Geez, some of you people need to lighten up. Raehl. (Who remains predictably wrong--again.)

Reiner--when I say gateway I mean a predictable nearly universal path so I'm happy to agree that some kids might play laser tag and choose to move on to paintball--or Airsoft.
And if you as a field owner offer both choices I still don't see laser tag as doing much for paintball except taking fields away from paintball.

Maybe you need to be at a conference or two advocating operating the way you do as an answer to struggling paintball fields. :-)

Raehl comment #1
First para--No, it doesn't.
Third para--if both activities occur at the same location then plainly they are competing because there are both time & space limitations. If separate Airsoft fields opened up that would be something completely different.
Fourth & Fifth para--as soon as any of those activities start taking place on paintball fields instead of paintball being played I'll have something to say about it.

Baca Loco said...

Almost forgot.
Anon #2--Boo hoo, View from the tissue box. Nice. I like it. It was funny but maybe you should'a saved it. Square peg, round hole? Seemed a little forced.

Reiner Schafer said...

If you could get the 8, 9 , and 10 year old kids to your recreational paintball field playing outdoor lasertag, seeing their older counterparts playing the more "grownup" version of a tag sport, I do believe that it is a good marketing tool for paintball (as well as a possible revenue stream). Will it take resources away from paintball? Maybe a bit, but from what I hear, there are a lot of under utilized resources at the average paintball field these days. Plus, being too busy is usually a good problem rather than a bad problem.

I don't need to go to conferences to advocate less intense recreational paintball. I may have been one of the early voices of such ideas, but there are plenty of people that have taken up the cause that are better suited for that roll to do that job. Besides, does one really need to teach common sense and is it even possible to teach it? One just needs to look around to see what's working and what is not working.

Ryan K said...

Why is this such a tough topic for people to understand. The more profitable the field the more they put back into it and develop the facility. The better the experience for the customer, the more times they return. The more profitable the field.

Airsoft will never ever replace paintball. We have been running Airsoft once a month, on Sunday(our slowest day) for the past two years on a field we rarely use. I put one ref out there for safety reasons and to start and stop the game. We average 200 players per event. This found money.

As for the crossover:

Only one Paintball player at our field has crossed over to Airsoft. However we have had at least 20 Airsoft guys crossover to paintball.
Field owners everywhere should be looking on how to increase their revenue at their facilities. Weather it is Paintball, Airsoft, LaserTag or Thumb Wrestling, If it bring customers then its a good thing.

Then there is the kids market. We do allow kids under 10 to play paintball, so we have been send those inquiries our local Indoor Lasertag shop. So far this year we have sent him over 200 players because they were to young.

With Airsoft and Lasertag available we will now be keeping those customers (10yrs and under) at our field.

If you really want to discuss this as well as learn some other revenue producing streams the you should come to the Field Owners Conference in Orlando


Ryan K said...

Clarification of last post.

We do NOT allow Players under age of 10 to play paintball

Anonymous said...

Ah, no way, Ryan, how are you doing? I hope to bump into you and Debra in Orlando, I hope you're both well!


Anonymous said...

Mark said:
How ironical. I'm get 3 or 4 paintballers traveling to my field for the first time because a field near them is doing their monthly airsoft day.

Anonymous said...

The focus on whether airsoft displaces paintball or not should not be on what happens at a field. Those participants are already players of their chosen game.

The focus needs to be (if anything serious is going to be accomplished) on the new player market.

In that regard, airsoft has almost all of the cards: product is ubiquitous (and as entirely or almost entirely replaced paintball gear at major retailer and sporting good chains). Survey everyman on the street and you'll find that he's heard of paintball but he's SEEING airsoft.

Price of entry. For basics in airsoft - as low as under $100.

Availability: if you've got woods anywhere withing walking distance, you've got at least two kids shooting plastic BBs at each other. They DO NOT NEED air systems. (And most of them seem to think they don't need safety gear.)

Word of mouth: airsoft is presented positively, paintball is "messy, hurts, too expensive, too intense, too much trouble"

Paintball is losing out - big time - at the point where new players are made - first exposure.

If something is not done at the introductory level, Bill's Paintball, which recently became Bill's Paintball & Airsoft, will soon become Bill's Airsoft.

Anonymous said...

We see more new people coming into Airsoft specifically because of the lower cost of entry and the lower per-weekend cost. We have also seen a fair number of players switch over from paintball to airsoft. Again, because of cost. We have a fair number of players who play both, and usually they side more with paintball, but that's either because they are into the tournament side or their friends are paintballers.

Reiner Schafer said...

I wrote a summary of my thoughts on the subject on my blog (can be found in the blog links on the side of VFTD - it's probably at the top of the links). Those interested can browse. Make sure you come back here though, I wouldn't want Baca accusing me of stealing his non paying customers. :)

raehl said...


If someone moves from paintball to airsoft due to cost, that's probably not someone who left paintball because airsoft was better. That's someone who was going to quit paintball no matter what, only now there's an alternative to just quitting entirely.

Airsoft could cease to exist right now, but that would not change that paintball is too expensive for some people to have as a recreational activity. It's never going to be cheap, but it certainly doesn't have to be as expensive as it is now.

Maybe more fields will wise up and charge more for paint and hand out a lot more free passes.

Anonymous said...

Chris, agreed. I'd rather earn a little bit from the Airsoft crowd than nothing from the "quit paintball" crowd. But when the store sees airsoft outselling paintball 2-to-1, it raises concerns.

The only way we can lower entry is if we restrict BYOP. I don't have a large enough field to restrict BYOP to specific sections, so we would need another solution.

Even still, we see more of our Airsoft free passes coming back than we do our Paintball free passes.

Baca Loco said...

Reiner--steal away. In fact I've got a couple of commenters I'd like to send your way.

9:23 Anon--Yes.

Reiner Schafer said...

Ha ha. I bet!

raehl said...


If you're running a field where the customer even knows what BYOP is, then you're running a field for tournament players, and the only way to make paintball cheaper there is to adopt a limited paint format.

But most paintball fields are (or should) be looking for the recreational customer, and they are happy to buy paint on-site. Most don't even want the hassle of stopping to get paint first. And your FPO field will be cheaper than the BYOP field that has to charge admission to stay open.

And it will be a LOT more fun for most customers. Your customers who insist on BYOP are basically casual-customer-killers.

Sam Smith said...

I am looking for new Airsoft Guns, any suggestions?