Yeah. That’s a bold title. A look at airsoft as a whole, the roles and how to making the most of them.
With 2021 upon us and the covid vaccine appearing, there’s some hope of getting games and events in this year. I do enjoy picking up an assault rifle now and then, especially at sites that don’t favour snipers. It’s fun and good to change things up now and then. The inspiration for this blog comes from a conversation with a couple of experienced teammates about the different roles in airsoft. As part of a large team, we’ve often considered setting up different roles for ourselves to try to offer something different.
Certainly weapons wise, there is something for everyone available now. Although assault rifles form the bulk of the global airsoft arsenal, there are also plenty of options for budding support gunners, grenadiers and marksmen. And of course, snipers, but I’ve covered a lot of that already. But how effective are these different roles on the field and are they worth the investment?
First and foremost, the sniper. The elite long range specialist (or at least ten metres longer). Or so the myth goes. In reality, it’s more a game of stealth than long range shooting, picking off individual targets and creating a hostile environment for enemy players to pass through. With only a single shot rifle (I’ll come to semi automatic in a minute), snipers have limited, although accurate fire. Too often I read that to be a sniper is difficult and requires a lot of investment in the gun – if the notion of that extra few metres range being absolutely necessary is dropped, it becomes very cheap and easy indeed, if you have the patience to engage and understand the role completely. There’s loads more information elsewhere on the site for that though so I’ll leave it there.
And the designated marksman rifle (DMR). A semi automatic, high powered rifle that does take some engineering to get right, but supposedly offers the firepower of an assault rifle (almost) at the range and power of a sniper rifle (almost). Its that almost bit that gets me – it can’t lay down fire like an assault rifle, although not far off in these days of lightning fast trigger response, nor does it have the mobility in and out of buildings for cqb work, suffering also from a minimum engagement distance. And it doesn’t quite hit the range or accuracy of a true sniper. Moreover, players with a DMR are more focused on kills and shooting than stealth, and so occupy a different role on the field. It’s a jack of all trades, but master of none role. Quite often, I feel that it’s an excuse for good assault rifle users who use semi auto anyway rather than spraying everywhere, to simply jack up the power from 350 to 425, depending on site rules. I know Stirling Milsim events don’t allow them at all, which I do agree with. But they look nice.
I know there are a lot of snipers out there who like using DMR rifles, especially HPA-tapped versions, but for me the loss of trigger discipline leads to less care in the stealth aspect, because you know you can take multiple shots if you find yourself in trouble. Shooting your way out doesn’t develop the same kind of disciplines as knowing you only have 1 shot and you can’t afford to mess it up.
I’ve never considered DMR users to be true snipers in that sense. It’s a long range AEG without the full auto capability.
The Support Gunner
Light machine guns (LMG’s) look absolutely fantastic in the field. Huge magazine capacity allows continuous bb spraying of areas.
Here’s a pic of my sniper buddy Aiden and his GPMG at the 2019 England vs Scotland game. I was covering him with an m4 while his imposing GPMG kept watch over the road ahead. The main aim of the support gunner is to provide suppression of the enemy to give their team the opportunity to move or attack, rather than looking for kills. It does do a great job at keeping enemy heads down and does have a certain “presence” to it; it’s a beefy weapon and it gets you noticed. The only problem with LMG’s, bar the odd reliability issue, is that they only shoot at assault rifle distances, making a burst from an LMG as effective as a burst from a standard assault rifle, with the ammunition and power being exactly the same. In addition, it is a big, heavy, bulky weapon (an M4 with a box magazine isn’t a support weapon) which limits mobility. So, does it offer anything different? Probably not.
OK, I’m not sure how to define this role. With the Norvern Monkeys, we have access to a few mortars. We have one guy on the team that can use pyro to great effect, and in bulk. His callsign is Booty and he’s a one man demolition squad, here’s a link to his YouTube channel, and his Instagram which is full of cool stuff too (he’s a professional).
There are also players who use grenade launchers, either stand alone or underslung, to similar effect (some good footage in this short video. I’m not in it directly, but I was the other side of the door at 1:03 when some unfortunate Scottish player got shoved into a hostile building.). Basically, it’s throwing expensive bangy stuff at the enemy. And it is VASTLY expensive. But spectacular. From being close to one of our mortar teams at an event, they are very difficult to land anything on target, and are ridiculously loud, although it was fun to watch. Being on the receiving end of a mortar barrage for most of an hour, it does keep your team pinned down if there’s enough explosive raining down. Usually, due to the cost, this will be a short-lived role before switching to a different weapon.
And we arrive at the main focus of this article, the good old grunt. Yes, specialist roles are fun. Beyond the roles listed above, you can mess about with shotguns, fully auto pistols with drum mags, try and get clever with riot shields or rocket launchers, or run around the site with rubber melee weapons. There is one role however, that if done properly, outclasses all the others.
The rifleman is the basic building block of all armies, and the same is true of the airsoft field. It’s a role, especially in airsoft, that is capable of any task, from defending to attacking, securing buildings, eliminating key targets, or setting ambushes. What I think limits it is the desire by a lot of players to overcomplicate their loadouts and prioritise the wrong things.
At the most basic level, the rifleman should have a rifle (obviously), a radio to communicate to his teammates and something to carry spare ammo in. The key to being good at airsoft isn’t in the shooting, but in the movement – being able to use cover and terrain, knowing where to move to, where your team and the enemy are, and where the objectives are and how to get to them. Your kit should be lightweight and simple, and aid you in doing what you need to do, not getting in the way. It’s perhaps not as good for instagram photos, but is a much better approach for performance.
Here’s a pic of me (left) with sniper buddy Aiden (middle) and Snowe from the Norvern Monkeys at a skirmish last summer. Aiden and I thought it’d be really cool to run a Task Force Black inspired kit using Blackhawk Helivests for load bearing. As great as they are, and as cool as they look, we struggled with them when trying to crawl 100m flat to the floor to flank the enemy. Although we made it, the plate carriers really got in the way and the quick access mag pouches (for those speed reloads) were full of mud and grass. We decided immediately after to start looking for a better solution that would help us in different terrain and performing different roles. Plate carriers always seem to be the most common load bearing solution yet we figured they were only any use in cqb environments, for photos, or for standing around, and are pretty unsuited for those of us who give it 100% through any conditions. Load capacity needn’t be huge, for most players, around 400-500 rounds loaded into mags is more than enough for a period of play, and a speedloader plus a bag (never a bottle – noise discipline) of bb’s in a spare pouch will see you through to lunch/end of day. No need for toolkits, if you have to do that it’s probably better done in the safezone or better yet, at home. Anything else you want to carry is up to you, but don’t overload it.
It’s not just the load bearing either, although I’ve always argued that load bearing has the biggest impact on performance; being able to quickly access what you need without looking, and knowing where everything is on your rig, can save vital seconds. Weapon choice is important. Too often players put their time and money into building unreliable guns to try and chase extra range, or a ridiculously high rate of fire, which quickly leads to empty mags and more reloads, leaving you momentarily defenceless, rather than trying to develop their soldier skills. Although upgrading can be fun, usually the best performers are the ones that are close to being stock, that run and run all day long without missing a beat, always feeding and always firing, even if it’s at a slightly shorter range. If you want to learn about the “less is more” approach to gun tech, go check out Negative Airsoft on YouTube. Loading the rifle up with as many accessories as possible too adds a lot of extra weight, and although I have an M4 that has plenty attached to it –
I’m quite attached to it for short games and showing to people so I won’t get rid of it. And it’s been very solid down the years. My new build for my rifleman loadout however is a lightweight, stripped down retro M4, similar to those seen in the film Black Hawk Down, which I’m a huge fan of. It’s cheap internally, but it works absolutely fine and that’s all I can ask for. Reliability is key – you don’t want to have to run back to the safe zone at a big event because your shiny new super hop unit and bucking combo won’t feed, or the mosfet dies on you. In truth, the only accessory I’ve ever found really useful is a torch, but only for night games or dark buildings. No night vision or lasers here. Beyond weapons and load bearing, personally I avoid helmets and too much headgear in favour of a simple bandana (here’s a link to my trusty Czech green one that I’ve been running for years) or beanie hat in the cold, mainly for camouflage and stopping sweat dripping down in warmer weather. Your head needs to be alert to what is going on around you, so it makes little sense to weigh it down.
Aiden’s classic m4
The last bit of kit, for any role and at the sites I usually go to, is still very rare, is the radio. A very wise marshal said once “the team that talks is the team that wins”, and it’s no surprise that in the real world, armies are very focused on improving communications and IT equipment, although their kit is a bit out of reach for airsofters. The humble radio (if you get the right one) allows you to coordinate with the rest of the team to maximum effect, give information on enemy positions and objectives, and keep your teammates one step ahead. A team is obviously much more effective than an individual. I covered my setup in this article on comms, and would still recommend the fully programmable Baofeng UV-82 ahead of any other radios. The dual channel mode is extremely valuable at bigger games where you might want command on one channel and your squad on another, and is far more compatible than something like a Motorola TLKR (I have 4 of these, and they’re great but shorter ranged and can only communicate with other Motorolas). On top of that, it’s dirt cheap and easy to get accessories for, such as headsets, extended antennae and extended batteries for those longer events. Although to save having an ear blocked by an earpiece, I run a fist mic on my shoulder, which is also very cheap and it works nicely, though make sure you get a dual channel compatible one otherwise you lose a lot of functionality, and they can be a pain to find sometimes;
Mastering airsoft – it’s definitely not about how much money you throw at your kit, but how much thought you put into it. For anyone new to airsoft, looking at heavily tooled up SEAL or SAS wannabe’s and wondering how to compete and how much airsoft is going to cost you, I hope this article has helped allay some fears about that. Most players fall into a cycle of buying new kit at some point anyway. I think in airsoft the only two distinct roles are rifleman and sniper, short range full auto vs longer range stealth. In either, putting the effort in to learn how to do it properly will make much more of a difference than buying more bits.