What is Airsoft?

Since its development decades ago, airsoft has found great popularity worldwide. 

With its highly accurate replica firearms, wide diversity of games and organized events and potential for endless customization and modification, it certainly is a hobby that captures the imagination.

If you’re a newcomer to airsoft and aren’t sure what its all about, then read on as we dive deeply into basics of the game, its history, its equipment, its rules and hopefully answer the question of whether or not airsoft is actually a sport. 

What is Airsoft?

Airsoft is a hobby and sport that revolves around the use of replica firearms, called airsoft guns, that shoot small, 6mm diameter plastic BBs. 

These airsoft guns are designed to look as close to actual firearms as possible (frequently referred to in the sport as “real steel” firearms) and in many cases sport many of the unique features and handling characteristics of their inspiration, such as functioning slides, safety mechanisms, picatinny rails, drop free magazines and more. 

picture of an airsoft MK18 carbine demonstrating realism and detail of airsoft guns

Airsoft has seen increasing popularity in the United States and around the world, thanks in part to the greater availability and access to airsoft guns compared to real steel versions, as well the fair number of team based games, competitions and fields that have emerged over the years.

In addition to being a fun and fairly popular hobby / sport,  airsoft has also seen some adoption in military and law enforcement agencies as a cheaper and safer way of developing gun-handling techniques and running scenarios, as the guns themselves are comparatively cheap to buy and don’t require the use of live rounds.

The History of Airsoft

Airguns and BB guns have a long history, first appearing in the late 19th century as a safer and more affordable option for target shooting, small game hunting and even pest control. 

Those that use compressed gas, such as pellet guns, came into use a little later in the 20th century (the 1970s to be precise) and brought a little more power and realism to the market. 

Airsoft, however, came into existence a little later when Japanese photographer and firearms/shooting enthusiast Ichiro Nagata decided to create an airgun that could safely be fired at other people without significant risk of injury. 

To do so, he redesigned and reconfigured an air rifle to fire softer plastic BBs, rather than hard brass or metal ones, and the idea quickly took off in Japan with people quickly realising that they could legally own realistic looking guns that could be used in a variety of survival-type games.

By the 1980s, airsoft and airsoft guns began to spread in popularity for many of the same reasons – they looked real, were safe to fire at other people with basic safety equipment, and more importantly could actually be bought, kept and used by the average person without much issue -a real benefit in countries where actual firearms are heavily restricted or banned for personal use. 

Airsoft found popularity in the US as well, despite the greater access to real steel firearms. 

Initially classified as toys, airsoft guns had very few regulations associated with them and so could be purchased and used easily. 

Things really started taking off in the 1990s when a Japanese company called Tokyo Marui invented an electric gearbox that could be inserted into an airsoft body.

Prior to their invention, most airsoft guns were powered by spring (which users had to pump) or gas canisters (which users had to buy and replace frequently).

Powered by batteries, these electric airsoft guns, or “AEGs” as they were called, offered players a far more reliable, fast and consistent shooting experience that also didn’t require them to constantly pump or swap anything, which in turn made airsoft far more user friendly.

As the years progressed, Tokyo Marui continued to innovate, developing various AEG gearboxes that could be fit into a wide variety of airsoft gun types that people could collect, such as rifles, carbines, SMGs, full machine guns, bullpups and, eventually, even pistols. 

As a result, people could get their hands on functioning replicas of firearms that were completely restricted, even in the more lenient United States, such as fully automatic guns, SMGs, machine pistols, military weaponry of various types, machine guns and even miniguns. 

Soon, other companies began creating their own airsoft replicas, often basing their internals off of the Tokyo Marui standard, which led to a small explosion of airsoft guns (and aftermarket parts) on the market that continues to this day.

With new guns and replicas came increased interest in the sport and today millions of individuals participate in airsoft competitions and tournaments worldwide.

What Are The Different Types of Airsoft Guns Out There?

Airsoft is based around its replica guns and there are a ton of makes and models out there.

From rifles to pistols to SMGs and even shotguns, machine guns, miniguns, grenade launchers and RPGs (yes RPGs), if a firearm exists (in real life and in media) chances are there’s an airsoft replica of it. 

As for types of airsoft guns, they can be broken down according to their mechanism of action – electric (AEG), gas powered and spring powered, all of which we detail below. 

AEGs

An AEG, or Automatic Electric Gun, is an airsoft gun that uses a battery-powered electric motor and gearbox to drive a piston that compresses air and fires a BB out of the barrel. 

example of an airsoft aeg gearbox for demonstration purposes

By and large, AEGs tend to be the most popular type of airsoft gun due to their ease of use, higher rate of fire, cheaper running costs and greater reliability and consistency in all weather conditions. 

Because of their electric nature, AEGs tend not to generate quite as much force when fired and so can be made of a wider range of materials, from ABS to actual steel, which lets them have good variation in terms of handling characteristics (lighter vs more solid) and allows them to be sold at a wider range of price points. 

Because they often use similar parts for their gearboxes and powertrain, they also tend to be more easily customized and upgraded, which is good news for those who like to tear things down and tinker with them.

On the downside, they tend not to be as realistic as gas operated airsoft guns as they tend to have very little to no simulated recoil and tend to make a whining/whirring sound when fired. 

Gas Blowbacks (GBB)

Gas blowback airsoft guns use canisters (or some other feeding mechanism) of compressed gas, such as propane, green gas or CO2, to fire their BBs. 

picture of airsoft green gas bottle

The use of pressurized gas tends to give these guns a far more realistic look and feel than their electric counterparts, including giving them what we call blowback action or recoil when fired. 

This can make using these guns a far more immersive experience for players. 

They also tend to be a little more durably built than other airsoft gun types, owing to the need to stand up to the pressure of their job…literally.

On the downside, good quality gas blowbacks can often be more expensive (both to buy and run) compared to their spring or AEG counterparts, and it can be a little harder to upgrade them.

Spring Powered Airsoft Guns

The original airsoft gun type, spring-powered airsoft guns use a spring-loaded mechanism of some kind to fire their BBs down the barrel. 

The guns are, for the most part, manually cocked, meaning that (like a classic BB gun) users will have to pump or otherwise prime the gun before each shot. 

By and large, these guns are likely the simplest, and most reliable airsoft guns out there. 

They are also quite cheap, both to buy and run – there are no batteries or gas canisters to worry about.

On the downside, the manual nature of spring airsoft guns tends to make them quite slow to fire and there is no automatic option available for them.

The lack of compressed air or gas also tends to limit their power somewhat, with most struggling to produce 300 FPS. 

Finally, being cheaper airsoft guns, they tend to have a reputation for being shoddily made and sometimes being hard to upgrade or repair. 

Is Airsoft A Sport?

In short – yes, airsoft can be considered a sport. 

While some may chuckle at the idea, given the use of collectible replicas and the general emphasis on shooting things at other people, we feel that airsoft can certainly be considered a competitive sport. 

Let’s start by defining our terms.

A sport is an organized and competitive activity that involves physical exertion or application of skill and that has a set of rules or regulations associated with it.

Sports may be played by individuals or as part of a team and often make use of specific equipment or take place in specific facilities.

They may also be played as a casual, leisure activity or be organized into larger leagues, competitions, tournaments or even professional associations.

When we look at airsoft objectively, it seems to adhere pretty closely to this definition. 

Physical exertion and/or skill 

Airsoft is first and foremost a shooting sport. 

Although small plastic BBs are not exactly the most aerodynamic or accurate things in the world, and the inherent accuracy of an airsoft gun (or other air gun) does not come close to that of a real steel firearm, it does take some skill to estimate distances, sight a target, adjust the gun and hit/walk the airsoft BB to a target.  

Further, airsoft games can involve a good 15-30 minutes of running, jumping, sliding and even climbing around, sometimes in a complete replicated military loadout, which will certainly get your heart rate up. 

This physical exertion is even more pronounced in more high intensity airsoft games, such as speedsoft, where players will run, duck, dive, roll and slide full out across a field for several five minute rounds, as can be seen in the clip below.

It has rules and regulations associated with it

Contrary to popular belief, airsoft can have rules to it and doesn’t just involve going out there and blasting your friends at point blank on full-auto.

This will become immediately obvious to those who step onto any airsoft field for a quick skirmish.

Players are almost guaranteed to face time limits, limits on the types of guns they can use, minimum engagement distances, power limits, restrictions of the use of full auto, limits on the use of accessories and so on.

Much like any other sport, there are also generally also refs who wander around and enforce these rules.

Uses specialized equipment 

This part is sort of a no-brainer, airsoft requires the use of airsoft guns, airsoft BBs and usually most fields will also require players to wear eye protection and appropriate safety gear. 

picture of airsoft player wearing safety equipment

In addition, there is more specialized equipment out there that airsoft players can make use of, such as HPA rigs, helmets, accurate milsim loadouts and so on.

It can be organized

Although it may be a popular way to spend an afternoon, airsoft does not have to be a backyard-only endeavor. 

Airsoft fields offer organized skirmishes and games that players can drop into, complete with full sets of rules and referees.

More than that, there are competitive airsoft leagues of various types all around the world that talented players and teams can try their hand at, such as SpeedQB or the Airsoft International Practical Shooting Confederation.

Overall then, while it may not have the cache of football, wrestling, baseball or MMA, it is clear that airsoft certainly meets all the criteria of a sport.

In fact, we’d argue it is far more of a sport than table tennis (olympic sport since 1988), bowling, figure skating or even bodybuilding.

Basics of Airsoft

There can be a lot of different ways to run an airsoft game, but there are a few things that most have in common. 

As we’ve mentioned, airsoft involves the use of airsoft guns, which usually look as close to actual firearms as possible. 

Players may also want to don some protective gear, such as gloves, masks and goggles, to prevent injury.

Airsoft games can take the form of anything from capture the flag to base defense to deathmatches, but largely involve teams or individuals firing small plastic BBs at each other. 

When an individual is struck by a BB they are considered “hit” and are eliminated from that game.

Although some fields may have refs to police this, others may be too large and consequently players are expected to adhere to an honor code of sorts when “calling hits,” or admitting when they’ve been eliminated. 

Depending on the scenario, airsoft games can end when an objective is reached (by capturing a flag, for example) or when all opposing players have been eliminated. 

Rules of Airsoft

Contrary to popular belief, airsoft is not (usually) a bunch of crazy people shooting at each randomly and most fields tend to have rules that they adhere to pretty strictly to prevent injury and poor sport. 

There is, however, wide variation in the rules a given field may have, as well their enforcement, but there are a few you should keep an eye out for.

Eye Protection – for liability and safety purposes, most airsoft fields will require users to wear, at a minimum, some kind of impact-rated eye protection.

Power limits – Many indoor and CQB fields (and some countries like the UK), limit how powerful the airsoft guns allowed in a game can be. 

Such fields will test all customer airsoft guns using a chronometer and 0.20g BBs and most will put a hard limit of 400 FPS, with some limiting user guns to 350 FPS or below. 

That is, if your gun shoots “hot,” or above these limits, it will not be allowed on the field. 

Minimum engagement distances – One of the more fundamental rules of airsoft is minimum engagement distance. 

Fields will set a minimum distance, based on how powerful a gun is, from which you can safely fire at your opponent.

The higher the FPS of your gun, the father away you’ll need to be to shoot your opponents.  

No blind firing

Most airsoft fields take a rather dim view of firing without looking at your target, such as shooting wildly from behind cover.

With blind firing, the potential for hitting another player or accidentally injuring someone casually strolling by at point blank range is unacceptably high and usually a good enough reason to get kicked off a field or even banned.

Pyrotechnics

Airsoft grenades can be pretty cool, but can be dangerous to other players and can even be fairly destructive to the field’s property itself.

As a result, they aren’t always allowed to be used on every field.

Bottom Line

Airsoft is a very popular hobby and sport that uses replica firearms as part of its games and organized play. 

Aside from the guns, which can be cool collectables, airsoft can be an excellent activity and can offer a variety of physical and mental benefits to its players, including increased physical fitness, teamwork and tactical skill development, increased self-confidence and self-esteem. 

It is no wonder, then, that over the last few decades airsoft has amassed a sizable and loyal player base across the world.

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