If you click on any one of the hundreds of different paintball or airsoft videos out there on Youtube, then scroll through the comments, it's only a matter of time before you come across a battle between the two camps over which sport is better. I can honestly say I've never heard of such a thing as a civil discussion about the two games, probably because conversations turn into yelling matches and debating in the Youtube comments section always turns into name calling and flame wars. Since I'm so fantastical, I'm going to climb on my soapbox here, and try to outline what both have going for them and try to leave out what they don't.
|Airsoft HK 416|
I'll give airsoft a go right away since airsoft should probably not be mentioned much in the future. When it comes to 1:1 scale replicas of guns, airsoft is the decisive winner. The projectiles in the sport are 6mm in diameter as opposed to .68 cal in paintball. This gives the guns a more realistic appearance which is super important to some, not so important to others such as myself. In regards to the scale and ammunition size, airsoft also has a lack of bulk going for it. When I used to play, I'd take my gun and a bag of BB's that could just barely fit in my pants pocket if I needed it to, nothing more really was needed.
|The very HK 416-like Milsig Paradigm|
In paintball you have to drag out a pretty heavy case of balls to the field, or purchase them upon arrival. Paintballs are also a whole hell of a lot more expensive than airsoft BB's: 8 dollars for 5000 BB's, vs 20 for 500 paintballs and that's the cheapest I've seen at a field. Airsoft is again a clear winner in it's not requiring a large bottle for propelling the projectiles. Most use springs, built in electric motors, or 12gram CO2 cartridges which if you don't already know, are a heck of a lot smaller than a 20oz tank. Another thing that springs to mind for the airsoft camp is accuracy, at least over short distance. You can get varying weights of BB's which will help accuracy but reduce velocity but over great distances you lose it no matter what and negative relationship of accuracy and distance also applies to paintball. I also miss being a sniper, paintball guns all shoot roughly the same distance unless you buy an APEX or Flatline barrel to put backspin on the ball, much like the hop-up of an airsoft rifle, but some airsoft guns can come very close to being 500 feet per second which would maim you in paintball. This means you can actually snipe people in airsoft from a good distance off. In paintball we don't have true snipers, just really clever players with long barrels who know how to camp in their ghillie suits next to a high traffic play area. It's sad but it's really kinda true. Lastly and most obviously is the hopper, a great big reservoir on top of your paintball gun that holds 200 balls and they can look pretty out of place some times but we do have small ones which look better and lighten the load, and magazine fed paintball guns are becoming more popular as well.
|Paintball Barrett .50 cal, can't we all just get along?|
Now for paintball to shine. What rocked my world when I picked up my first BT4 Combat was not what it looked like at all, but that it was metal. I know that full metal airsoft guns are out there but in paintball, you get that out of the box and they're allowed to be black too! No clear plastic parts on the receivers to adhere to federal laws, and no annoying orange tip. I bring this up because everywhere I look on sites in Canada all the guns need to have clear bits, you can't get new guns that are all black or all metal and this can be an expensive thing to change with after market parts, and I like to buy things that feel indestructible right away, not plasticky. You can also feel paintballs when they hit you, unless they break on a pod on your back. Airsoft being replica weapon crazy sport usually means those playing it gear up the same way the ladies and gentlemen of the military do and that's a lot of padding. In the past when I did this, I didn't feel some of the BB's that hit me. You don't need an honor system in paintball for calling hits either, it's pretty hard to lie when A: the person your shooting at yelps and screams, and B: the have a big blotch of paint on them. Paintball guns have scale on their side in a different way than airsoft. Like I mentioned earlier, they are bigger as a result of the larger calibre but I personally really like this, the heft, the size, milsim paintball guns are beasts, much larger and more intimidating off the field than the airsoft counterparts. Paintball guns are also super moddable aesthetically speaking, and just as moddable internally. I encourage you now to put into Google “Ops Gear A5 builder” and see what you get. This little program will show you just how much you can change up the look of just one kind of paintball gun. In airsoft when you buy an MP5 or M4 look alike, thats it, you can put on some different furniture for that gun but your stuck with that gun. In paintball you could have an MP5 look on your gun one day and turn it into a heavy Barrett M107 sniper rifle the next. Some players despise the added heft of these guns but then they have something else they can do as a result: speedball.
Speedball is totally not military simulation and has no real place on this blog but it's a huge +1 for paintball. We have this diverse sport here with so many different ways to play that aren't limited to the ways you play with replicas. This play style involves 3-7 man teams, using very small, tight to the body, fast shooting paintball markers, trying to eliminate each other on fields made of turf and inflatable bunkers. It's genius, awesome, intense, and expensive as hell to play if you don't have a sponsorship but it's so different and yet somehow it's still paintball. Check it out on Youtube, it's some kind of craziness everyone should try at least once!
Take what you want from these reflections. Odds are if you already belong to one camp then none of what I've said will change your opinion to one sport or the other. If you've sunk as much money into it as I have you might get worried about things like: was paintball the right choice? Was airsoft? It doesn't really matter guys, this isn't a battle of ideologies and it doesn't deserve to be. The goal of both is to have fun, not belly ache online over how your 1:1 scale replica M4 is a gift from god compared to the next guy's Milsig.