The bullets whizzed above my head and tore into the shrubs and tree branches as I slowly raised my head from the tangle of grass to seek out the rest of my companions. I knew the situation was dire, but I had no inkling it was practically hopeless. I realized I was on my own, the last person standing (or rather crawling) from our team of 10 who set out to test our airsoft mettle against Baguio’s veterans of the game.
For the uninitiated, airsoft is a recreational sport where players shoot non-metallic pellets launched via replica firearms. Games are patterned after real combat situations and involve military strategy and tactics.
If you’ve ever played first-person shooter games like Counterstrike, Point Blank or Left4Dead, you’d know that the objective of airsoft is pretty simple: Kill, don’t get killed. And apparently there is no better place to learn this war sport than in a cool and tranquil forest of pines.
“There’s a big difference between playing shooting games on the Internet compared to playing airsoft. It’s the closest you can get to actual war games,” says Randy Carolino of the Baguio Airsoft Club Inc.
Our team of travel writers and photographers had been pitted against members of their club for a special match at the Baguio Country Club. Hardly fair, I thought at first, since we were dressed in a mish-mash of multi-colored jackets and clothes that stuck out like sore thumbs against the landscape. The other team had suited up in sleek camouflage uniforms while one even donned a disguise that resembled dry grass. They also had the advantage of knowing the terrain. Not to mention years of playing airsoft.
In fact, some of their games last as long as 24 hours and they even play against trainees of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).
Seeing our hesitation to go against them, the opposing team gamely assigned one of their own expert players to our team so we would have a fighting chance.
Before the game started, members of the club gave us the basics and demonstrated how to handle the variety of guns, including replica AK-47s. The guns use compressed air to push projectiles towards a target. Ironically, we were told that the impact of the bullets is anything but “soft.”
If you’re shot from at least 10 feet away by a gun with typical muzzle velocity, it shouldn’t hurt too much. But if shot up close, the pellets can really sting you and leave bruises.
Thus, a minimum level of gear is required to participate in the game, including a pair of impact-rated goggles to protect one’s eyes. To be safe, we were told never to remove the goggles even after being hit and leaving the playing arena to go to the safe zone in case of stray bullets.
We were also told that if you’re within speaking distance to an enemy and you spot them first, the honorable thing to do is to do a “knife kill.” You tell the player they’re “dead” without actually shooting them, so as to spare them a bad bruise.
There are various game play scenarios for airsoft, ranging from short-term skirmishes, organized scenarios and military simulations, to competition target shooting events. Our first scenario as part of the counter-terrorist team was to “rescue the pilot,” a non-playing character “kidnapped” by the opposing terrorist team.
I found that my vision was limited by the airsoft mask. I could only see fragments of the scenery in front of me, as if looking through a very small window. Most of us held back, making our way slowly to the middle of the game area. We huddled behind trees and crouched low in order to avoid getting hit. A few of the guys made mad dashes to trees on the other side to get a better vantage point, but they were taken out by the opposing team’s sharpshooters. At one point I saw a spray of pellets ricocheting from behind a tree trunk as a teammate did his best not to get hit.
Unlike similar games like paintball or lazertag, where it’s obvious when you get hit, airsoft is a “gentleman’s game” and relies on an honesty system. If you’re hit, you leave the game. One by one, my teammates would shout “Player hit!” and leave the game with their hands up in the air until I was the only one left.
I knew the enemy was shooting from behind a wall of dry grass, which repelled any bullets I shot their way. I slowly crawled my way towards the left side of the barrier, hoping to see an opening. Twice, I shot randomly in that direction as I ran hoping to hit anyone. My gun jammed and I tried to roll the cartridge on the gun barrel to loosen the pellets before I approached the end of the tall dry grass area. I looked up to see an opponent clad in black crouching in the grass pointing his gun directly at me. Game over!
In the second game where we had to protect a VIP, I was taken out early on when a bullet hit me square in the airsoft mask just above my eye as I was trying to search for enemies in an elevated portion of the terrain. A third game included two traitors—participants had to pick pellets and whoever got the green pellet could turn on their teammates once the official signal for the traitors to engage was given.
Aside from providing a great cardiovascular workout, Carolino says that playing airsoft is definitely a thrilling activity. Every year, airsoft clubs from all over the country converge during the Panagbenga Festival for friendly skirmishes.
If you want to try out airsoft for yourself, several commercial establishments in the city offer gear rental and closed quarter areas for these games. But those who take the sport seriously really invest in their own equipment and guns and join airsoft clubs.
There’s really something to be said for the thrill of the chase—crawling through the grass and dirt, hunting down your targets and battling it with other people in real life. That afternoon in Baguio let us live out our action star dreams. As Carolino puts it: “You’re playing against people who actually think and move through real terrain and not just against a computer.” •
Visit the author’s personal blog Travel Up at www.travelingup.wordpress.com