With this article, we want to present an opportunity for discussion, for our customers and blog readers to have a chance to voice their opinion on the topic. Airsoft is a sport we can all contribute to and help to support the growth of, but sometimes it’s just out of our hands. We all want to see our hobby and passion continue to expand and evolve, but what could be the barriers to this happening? Here we take a look at the varying factors that could impact the growth of airsoft, both in negative and positive ways. Don’t forget, jump onto Facebook or Twitter to leave your thoughts, or post us a comment down below.
Despite what many of you may think, airsoft has been around for some years. Having been initially developed in Japan, it was a form of entertainment and a way of shooting your buddies without causing significant injury. Credited with the development of the Battle Royale video game style after the launch of the 2000 film ‘Battle Royale’, along with TV shows such as Takeshi’s Castle, the Japanese have always viewed the world from a slightly different lens. Thankfully, this gave birth to our favourite sport of airsoft, something we are grateful for.
In the mid-2000s, airsoft began to skyrocket in popularity, especially in The States. This coincided with Walmart and other large chain stores stocking the guns in the sporting goods aisle. A strange concept over here in the UK, where guns would have no place in Tesco or Asda. Although we’re sure many people would have purchased guns from these kinds of stores in the US, it would also serve as a fantastic point of discovery for people who wandered off from their spouses to look at the sports gear. Having seen the airsoft guns, they may later return home and research the sport, potentially making a purchase from a specialist store, online or in-person, in the future. This initial spark of imagination would have drawn in a lot of new people during that time; however, Walmart ceased to stock airsoft guns in the year 2012, reducing the likelihood for discovery. This can be seen when tracking Google’s search history of the term 'airsoft' in the US over that time, as seen below:
Image Source: Google Trends
In the UK, popularity has been slightly steadier, with regular peaks and troughs according to seasons, rather than years. This is to be expected, as airsoft is by and large an outdoor summer sport - although not exclusively. The casual players will tend to steer clear of cold and wet winter days on the field. Compared to the US, the UK has typically been more regulated when it comes to guns and replicas. During its surge in the late 2000s and into the 2010s, stores in the US were sprouting up left and right as it was relatively easy to be able to buy a bunch of guns and sell them from a store somewhere, with less paperwork required than over here. This meant that almost anyone with a few quid could get some shipped over from Asia and start an ‘airsoft store’. Needless to say, the majority of these would have failed, as it would have been seen as a hobby rather than a business.
Nowadays, both in the States and in the UK, we’re pleased to say that pretty much every store is run in a business-like way, with funds being managed and all regulatory boxes being ticked. UKARA, having formed in 2006 in response to the 2006 Violent Crime Reduction Act to give Airsoft Retailers a way to check the newly essential Airsoft defence. The VCRA meant that not just anyone could walk through the door and pick up a replica AK, and checks had to be carried out beforehand. As you can see, since 2007, airsoft hasn’t really dipped in popularity over here.
Image Source: Google Trends
Airsoft is a sport that’s different to many others, not surprising really. However, one of the main things that continues to set it apart from others within the UK is the lack of opportunities for financial gain from playing it. This could be from leagues, tournaments or sponsorships. Unlike many other sports that have such popularity, financial incentives are yet to really play a part. For many other sports, growth in popularity is closely linked to money. Esports, for example, have seen a meteoric rise in the last few years, with games such as Fifa 19 and Fortnite. They have attracted thousands of viewers, watching players compete for grand prizes of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pounds. Something yet to be seen in the world of airsoft.
This lack of financial motivation could be seen as one of the key elements that keep the sport ‘honest’, giving players less of a reason to bend the rules or outright cheat. Additionally, one of the main barriers to competitive airsoft is the fact that the action isn’t centralised; it’s spread across a large area which can be hard to manage even at the best of times. If a big-name sponsor were to come along and pump a chunk of money into the sport, such as Red Bull, it might be a different story. It certainly wouldn’t be impossible to regulate, but at this stage, it’s something that’s yet to be seen.
One thing that we, as retailers, site owners, and players can contribute to, is keeping people playing for longer. Discovery is not an issue for airsoft, especially with its prominence on YouTube and other social media sites; more people are finding the sport now than ever before. However, ensuring that those new players turn into regular and, long-time players should be the collective goal. Ensuring they are met with help and support, allowing them to become ambassadors for the sport, rather than leaving with a bad taste in their mouths. We’ve addressed this topic in a separate blog on contributing to the airsoft community here.
One thing that has played on the side of airsoft in recent years is the relatively relaxed nature of lawmakers when it comes to the sport. Granted, there are a stringent set of guidelines which clearly set out when we can, and cannot use/carry our weapons and kit. But, it’s still pretty awesome that we can go to various sites and shoot at each other with replica weapons and throw grenades without the worry of harm or of breaking the law. Technically the sale or transfer of ownership of Airsoft guns is illegal in the UK, we just have a defence written into the regulations to allow us to continue our sport with relatively few hoops to jump through!
If laws, either regarding use or manufacture, change within one of airsoft’s key countries, such as Japan, China, the US or the UK, we could see a ripple effect spread out across the rest of the community. If there were to be a thorn in airsoft’s side, new and stricter laws would undoubtedly be that. Currently, these countries very much lead the charge, and it could be to the detriment of the others if new legislation was put in place to limit use and manufacture.
It’s also positive to see airsoft growing in new areas, with countries such as Chile and Brazil in South America jumping at the chance to head to the field with their pals. Countries in Central and Eastern Europe are also getting involved, with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary all returning high Google searches for airsoft. There are many within Australia attempting to legalise Airsoft, it’s one of the few bigger countries where Airsoft is still illegal!
For airsoft to keep growing in the UK, we’d hope to see more of the same community spirit and attitude that got us to this point. Encouraging new players and retaining current ones should always be the priority, while ensuring sites are maintained to a high standard, and fun is had by all. YouTube has very much assumed a point of authority when it comes to airsoft discovery, which means that YouTubers need to consider the image that their videos convey to a potentially easily influenced audience. If their first experience of airsoft is a cheater video, this isn’t the reputation that we want to be spreading. Ultimately, the responsibility for airsoft’s continued growth lies with all of us. As ambassadors of the sport, it’s important to remember to paint it in the best possible light, share it with your friends, and last, but not least, always call your hits.
If you’re keen to hit the field and start taking down some enemies, make sure you have the gear to do so. Check out our store where we stock a wide range of airsoft guns, including rifles and pistols! You can also find loads more airsoft articles on our blog here!