Sunday afternoon I visited the local airsoft arena with my son and a few of our friends. The boys went in first while I stayed outside and tried to take a couple of photographs through the observer's window. Although visibility through the plexiglass window was good, the photos themselves came out blurred and foggy.
When the staff saw me trying to take photographs they offered to let me go into the staging area for a better view but asked I sign a liability waiver first. I also had get clearance from the wife because the camera I was using, a Nikon D40, is actually her camera. Surprisingly, she allowed me to take her camera into the staging area. Not surprisingly however, I was threatened with consequences worse than death should anything happen to her baby, and I don't mean our son ;)
Unfortunately, while I was able to get better photos from the staging area, I was restricted to the staging area, and once my son and friends advanced further into the arena my view was obstructed by the maze of plywood walls.
After a couple of games there was a brief break, and at that point one of the Referees asked if I wanted to accompany him up onto his Referee's platform so I could get an even better view of what was going on. Duh! Of course I did!
From my raised vantage point midfield I now had a great view, although my son was still frequently disappearing behind the plywood walls which made getting pictures of him a hit & miss affair. But when I realized that by focusing on him I was giving away his position and increasing his risk of being shot I stopped looking for him and just took pictures of anyone and everyone.
With folks running around all over the place I tried taking a few photos using the D40's "action" mode but they didn't come out too well, and after noticing the quality of "action" shots I switched the camera back to Auto and just let rip. And that's the beauty of a digital camera; you can take hundreds of photos then delete the ones that don't turn out, because if you take enough photos odds are you're going to get some gems, and I believe I did.
This was probably my favourite pic of the day. These two guys both knew the other was there and this was an exciting "duel" to watch from above as they each tried to get the drop on the other without getting shot themselves; I can only imagine how intense it must have been for them. Later, I would find out just how heart-pounding such a moment could get.
The Referees themselves were armed, and they were occasionally shooting at the players. Sometimes they did so to check if that particular player was honest and would call themselves out, other times it was to get their attention if they were doing something wrong, such as continuing to shoot at a "dead" player who was leaving the arena. The Refs also occasionally took potshots at each other, and the Ref on my platform quickly realized the advantage of having a photographer with him and used me as a human shield...which is probably why the other Ref later asked me to join him on his platform. He said I could get a different viewpoint but I think he wanted his own time with the human shield ;)
Not intending to play I'd dressed light, in t-shirt and jeans, and at one point I got hit in the shoulder. If you imagine someone giving you a solid flick with their fingernail, that's what it felt like. A stinging impact followed by a minute or two of dull ache, and then you forgot about it.
So why are these guys wearing vests, helmets, gloves, etc?
When my son played last year at his cousin's birthday party one of the kids came back with a cut on his finger while another had a cut on his arm. If I could be stuffed doing the math (and I probably will at some point) a 6mm plastic ball traveling at 300-350 feet per second probably creates a considerable amount of impact pressure (pounds per square inch, and all that) so yeah, it's going to hurt, and if you're not protected skin can be broken...as I would soon find out ;)
After spending most of the evening taking photographs I rejoined my son and friends in their locker room and told them as it was getting late we could only stay for one more set of games. My friend, Mike, threw me a spare vest and an MP5K (he shoots a lot and has a ton of gear), and told me to suit up because I wasn't leaving without playing. I pulled the vest on over my t-shirt, tied a bandana around my neck, and put on my gloves (I'm a Boy Scout, I'd come prepared, even if I didn't intend to play ;) and hit the staging area, this time armed with something packing a little more punch than a camera.
In our first game Mike told me to stick close to him, which didn't work too well. While following Mike and trying to cover his back I felt several bb's impact the front of my vest while someone else shot me from behind. That last bb zipped in beneath my vest & t-shirt but above the waist of my jeans. Yeah, it stung, and I was pretty sure it had left a mark. (It did. Meh.)
"Hit!" I called out, holding my gun up, and I walked off the field followed by Mike, because whoever shot me had got him, too.
"I didn't even see where they came from!" I exclaimed to Mike.
"That's usually how it goes," he replied.
In the second game I again got eliminated, but this time at least I not only saw my opponents but even got off a couple of shots. Unfortunately they were camped in corner of their base, behind cover, and they proved to be a little more accurate than me, with a single shot impacting the front of my vest.
"Hit!" I called out again, and as I passed the guy that nailed me added, "Good shot!"
It just so happened that these guys were camped right next to the staging area, where the "dead" players retired to, and when I looked around I noticed Mike and I were the only ones from our team. Both our sons were still out there.
The guys that took me out were behind an L-shaped obstacle on my left. They were protected from the front, and from the arena wall on their left, but despite their cover being an "L" their right flank was slightly exposed to anyone approaching from the right-hand side along the rear wall...which is where my son was coming from.
I don't know if our sons planned it, or if it was just good timing, but as Mike's son attacked from the front and drew their fire my son came in from the side to outflank them, and from about 30 feet away he picked off the tallest of the two kids. I know it was my son who got him because he stopped firing and looked to his right, directly at my son, then he held his gun up in the air and stepped back toward the staging area.
The other kid also turned and looked to the right, and seeing that my son was the more immediate threat turned to shoot at him instead. My little warrior backed up and dodged sideways, not making himself an easy target, all the while returning fire. Accurate fire at that, because his opponent quickly stopped shooting, threw his gun up in the air, and with that the Ref blew his whistle to end that match.
My son had just eliminated the last two opponents. It might sound a little macho, a little barbaric even, but I was SO proud of him.
The final game of the series the Refs told us would be a little different. We're going to turn out the lights occasionally, they said, and when they're out you can move but you cannot shoot.
Again I went out with Mike, this time being a lot more cautious, and when the lights went out it was nerve wracking. I lost Mike when the lights went out for the second time and found myself mid-field. Realizing I was standing between our opponent's base and a single piece of plyboard against the side of the arena wall I quickly ducked back around the plyboard, back on our side, backed into the corner, and crouched down.
Barely seconds later a figure appeared from behind the board from where I'd just came, walked across in front of me, then leaned against the edge of a "house" to look down toward our end of the field.
With my heart racing I pointed my MP5K at his back and tried to breathe as quietly as possible. He was just 5-to-6 feet away, too close to shoot; at that distance the in-house rules required me to order him to "surrender". I waited, ready for the lights to come back on
The lights stayed off.
The guy ducked inside the "house" and disappeared from view.
The lights stayed off.
Another figure appeared from my left. Another opponent. Déjà vu.
And just as his teammate who came before him this second guy also leaned against the "house" while looking down towards our end of the field. Just as before I tried to keep my breathing low & slow as I pointed my MP5K at this guy's back, and again I waited for the lights to come back on.
The lights stayed off.
This second guy also ducked into the "house".
The lights came back on.
I jumped up, took a couple of quick steps to the doorway of the "house" and peered in. The two guys were both looking the other way, covering each other's flank, but neither guy was covering their rear.
Holding my MP5K more like I would my Beretta 96G than an actual rifle I took aim and double-tapped the guy on the left. Both guys turned at the sound to look behind them as I swung my MP5K and took aim at the second guy.
Should I order him to Surrender? Hell no. At this range it wasn't expected, and I offer no quarter and expect none in return. A second double tap and both guys were now "dead" and we all knew it.
As they raised their guns over their heads and started down toward the staging area I turned and rushed toward the back corner where I knew the remainder of their team were most likely camping, just as they had done in the earlier games.
And I was right.
I came out on the top left of the arena and saw three players camped behind a barrier on the far right hand side and we began exchanging fire across the 50-60 foot gap. Large enough distance to see the bb's flying back and forth, not enough to be able to dodge them.
One of the trio held up his rifle, hit, and emerged from behind the barrier to walk toward me. I have no idea why he came my way instead of down the wall back toward the staging area. The other two guys held their ground and I continued to fire. I may have hit the "dead" guy a couple more times as I shot at the two who were still "alive". Not intentionally, but at that distance bb's can curve through the air from the original point of aim. I was also looking at him as he walked toward me and in doing so I might have inadvertently aimed at him.
Then my MP5K started making a different sound; a louder popping noise which I knew meant no bb's. Mike's clip for this rifle had two clips side-by-side. Was the first one empty? I ducked back into cover, ejected the magazine, spun the dial on the bottom to "load" the second clip, slammed it home, then resumed firing.
POP! POP! POP!
I ducked back into cover. Ejected the magazine and shook it. Rattle rattle rattle. There were bb's inside. I spun the dial some more, reinserted the magazine and fired into the wall directly in front of me. If a bb came out and bounced off the wall I didn't notice it. Seriously???
Then a Ref's whistle blew and when I stood up I saw Mike's helmet appear on their flank. I'd actually seen Mike earlier, but by drawing my opponents' attention and their fire I'd provided Mike with the opportunity he needed, and he'd taken it. Game over, we'd won.
My heart was racing like after an open world PvP encounter, and why wouldn't it be? This was PvP IRL.
I fear I may have unleashed a monster. No, that's not true; I don't fear it. I welcome it, and I think I'm going to like it :)