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    Over the past couple of years an added benefit has surfaced from participating in this sport. Military and law enforcement veterans have come forward with stories about how the MILSIM experience is helping with their PTSD symptoms. Read More
  • Airsoft vs. MILSIM

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State of the Sport 2014

State of the Sport – 2014

I am not a pretentious person, matter of fact I am humbled by the experience I have created in Operation Blacksheep – the paramount MILSIM experience.  That statement is not something I made up or some fancy marketing scheme.  It is based on the testimonials from hundreds of players who have experienced what Blacksheep has to offer.  My last article was on the difference between Airsoft and MILSIM.  I guess in simple terms Airsoft is a hobby and MILSIM is a sport.  There is room for both.  In this article I want to share my vision for the sport of MILSIM. General George S. Patton once said, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.”  This statement has become a basic foundation of leadership doctrine.  I am a leader – been that way for a long time.  United States Army training honed those skills.  As an Infantry officer those skills were tested by fire.  So as I share my thoughts and visions for this sport keep the words of General Patton in mind. When I was in the Army I heard this amusing description of the military.  The military is like a tree full of monkeys.  If you are at the top looking down, all you see are smiling faces.  If you are at the bottom looking up, all you see are assholes.  So here are my thoughts and visions from the top of the MILSIM tree.


The development of MILSIM/Airsoft as a sport is similar to the development of American football.  The football games remained largely unorganized until the 19th century, when intramural games of football began to be played on college campuses. Each school played its own variety of football. Rules were simple and violence and injury were common.  The violence of these mob-style games led to widespread protests and a decision to abandon them.  On October 19, 1873, representatives from Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and Rutgers met at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City to codify the first set of intercollegiate football rules. Before this meeting, each school had its own set of rules and games were usually played using the home team’s own particular code. President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to shut the game down if drastic changes were not made.  On December 28, 1905, 62 schools met in New York City to discuss rule changes to make the game safer. As a result of this meeting, the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States, later named the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), was formed.  MILSIM/Airsoft as a sport is in its developmental stages with many of the same challenges that football experienced. Just think for a minute – the similarities are obvious.  I am going to use football as the comparison throughout this article.

I have been an athlete my whole life participating in football, wrestling, track and rifle at the high school and college level.  I played Rugby for the Army team at Fort Knox until I blew my knee out.  I have also coached some of these sports.  In all of my athletic endeavors I have not found a sport like MILSIM which offers a level playing field regardless of age, gender of physical ability.  Although MILSIM is a physical sport, you do not have to be a traditional athlete to participate.  In all of these sports there are common rules that allow athletes to compete at the local, regional, national and international level. The dysfunctional aspects of our sport become blatantly apparent at the National level where games become a melting pot of various rule sets from around the country and world.  Let’s look at this a little closer.  It’s almost a game of one-upsmanship as each field or event producer tries to create a new set of rules.  Now I’m not talking about scenario development – that’s the creative side of this sport.  After all, soldiers are trained to fight on any terrain and in any weather to achieve victory against any opponent.  Look at the basic foundation of our sport.


 Squad size – an Infantry rifle squad is 11 members.  Just imagine showing up to a football competition with a 6 or 15 person team. Would you be allowed to compete? Tools of the sport – currently manufacturers are driving the characteristics and much of their thinking is derived from their experience in paintball.  Paintball is all about paint.  It’s all about the volume of paint you can throw down range and that’s how they make their money – by selling paint.  MILSIM is a different sport and it’s not about BBs.  I really don’t care what type of replica you use as long as it fulfills a role in the squad.  It doesn’t matter if it has an electric motor or an air powered engine as long as it meets the performance and safety requirements.  FPS/Joule ratings should be standardized to provide accuracy at a reasonable distance and safety for close quarter combat.  Replicas must be capable of firing semi automatic – double tap triggers and trigger modifications have no place in MILSIM.  Eye and face protection should be designed to provide clear vision and the ability to get a good sight picture under all weather conditions.  I could go on, but I think you get the message.  Back to the football analogy – just imagine if Rawlings decided the size of a football and not the National Football League. Medic rules – are all over the place.  Bandages, knots, elaborate methodologies, various healing times and the infamous “respawn” are just confusing and in many cases degrade game play.  You play this game to be with your buddies and the bond of brotherhood is built by working through challenges together.  No one wants to be separated from their squad or wait an inordinate amount of time for some medic to take their temperature.  MILSIM medic rules should reinforce squad integrity, support fire and maneuver and provide a fluid battlefield environment.

There are more, but that should get the pot boiling for now.


Let’s look at football again.  Football has an established feeder system – peewee, Pop Warner, high school, college and professional playing opportunities.  Teams are organized at each level to foster competition and skill development as players move up through the system.  There is also a rotation to this cycle as experienced players return to coach and mentor the next generation at all levels. MILSIM is already set up with local, regional and National competitions.  What is lacking is the formalized formation and sponsorship of competitive teams.  Any sport is built from the bottom up by teaching younger players how to play – safety, honor, sportsmanship and tactics must be the foundation. Local – without a strong foundation this sport cannot survive.  The younger players are out there, but no one is coaching and mentoring them.  Local fields, both indoor and outdoor, are like little fiefdoms hoarding their players like scarce crops.  This is not how a sport is built.  There are plenty of models out there and I think youth soccer might be the best to use for MILSIM.  My daughter plays premier soccer so I’m familiar with this model.  She belongs to a club that has many teams based on age groups and they travel.  As parents we pay about $1,800 for her to play in this club.  So how does this model apply to MILSIM?  Rather than being a cheap daycare facility, each field should form a club with several teams.  Kids want to belong to something – give them a team and they will get their friends to join.  Give them an identity – a cool name and patches.  Establish a hierarchy of teams within your club – probably not based on age but on ability – possibly basic, advanced and travel teams.  Coordinate with other fields in your area to alternate competitions – field A versus field B.  Charge a fee to cover team membership and competitions.  Teach them how to operate as a squad.  Contact a National level team in your area to be the coaches and mentors – sponsor that team.

Regional – give your club something to work towards.  This would be like the tournaments my daughter participates in with her premier soccer club.  Work together – all of the fields within a State or region work together to sponsor a capstone event that they can send their teams to.  Pick a neutral venue or alternate fields for the competition with Spring and Fall events.  Get the distributors to help sponsor this event.  Build allegiance to a side by establishing conferences within your State or region – this group of fields is Alpha Company and this group of fields is Bravo Company.  Now you have a legacy!  We had a saying in the Army when it came to training, “COOPERATE and GRADUATE.”  Build the competition and you solidify your business by working together.

National – I guess the National level could be categorized like the NCAA classifies schools; Division I, II and III – at these levels event production should match player expectations.  There are a variety of experiences at this level, but rest assured the competition is intense.  The venues are awesome and hard to find – that’s a another paragraph.  Many teams at this level are independent clubs that train year round to compete and use local and regional competitions as training opportunities.  This is an excellent opportunity for every college to form a team and ROTC programs are great nucleus for that effort.

Professional – it’s the military.  There is a synergistic relationship between MILSIM and the military.  It’s a relationship we should all cultivate.  There are many players who are now in the military because of their experience in MILSIM.  The skills learned in this sport are directly transferrable to the military – leadership, tactics, marksmanship, land navigation, teamwork and more.  Those who have gone from MILSIM into the military have excelled.  On the flip side, military veterans bring a vast amount of knowledge and experience to this sport and increase the competition as they coach other players.  I started this section off talking about a rotation – can you see it now?

 Military Synergy = MILSIM Validation

Sometimes y’all just piss me off that you can’t see the forest for the trees.  I have seen teams come and go and come back again.  I have seen the petty rivalry and bickering.  Call it Airsoft Drama – it has no place in MILSIM.  More importantly it demonstrates an immaturity of this sport that the military wants no part of.  When I speak to the military they rarely know that this sport exists or how real and high tech the competition is.  There is so much wasted potential here, let me explain.

Recruiting – our sport is a feeder system to the military.  Not everyone who plays this sport will join the military, but it is a valid pool of potential candidates.  Military recruiters spend most of their time visiting high schools to find candidates.  In many ways it’s like searching for a needle in a haystack – they either want to join and are not eligible or are eligible or don’t want to join.  It’s a numbers game – increase their odds.  MILSIM presents a self-selecting pool of players who enjoy military simulation.  Every local field should contact their local Armed Forces recruiting office and introduce themselves.  Invite them out for one of your events.  Show them what you do.  Ask them to bring their stuff – they have lots of neat things and a budget to support it.  Ask them to teach some classes to your players – they all know basic squad tactics.  If you need the lesson plans – the Blacksheep Squad Tactics lessons are on www.milsim.com.  Be prepared to walk the talk – get a military veteran to help you get your act together before making contact.  Just imagine if all of you did this and made a positive impression.  You validated our sport in the eyes of the military!

Retention – our sport provides an outlet for soldier skills that are not normally needed in the civilian sector.  MILSIM allows the military to strut their stuff – sharing skills, knowledge and experience with an eager audience.  It makes them feel proud and valuable outside of the military.  It gives them an incentive to stay in the military because others value what they have to offer.  Embrace the military – active, reserve and National Guard.  Introduce your activity to them and invite them to one of your events.  You validated our sport in the eyes of the military!

Venues – the hottest, funnest, bestest and safest places to play MILSIM are on real military training facilities.  The immersion factor is intense.  There are only a handful of people that understand the intricacies and difficulties of finding National level venues for our sport.  National level events are an administrative, logistical and operational challenge beyond your imagination.  Insurance is costly.  It’s often a legal quagmire and in many cases a zoning headache.  Safety is always a challenge when faced with old facilities.  Then add in the cost of using the venue.  That’s why military training facilities are best suited for MILSIM events.  Opening these doors is not easy.  Validate the sport in the eyes of the military and these doors will open!

PTSD – our sport is a worthy cause.  From the top of the tree I can see the horizon.   There is no other sport in existence that has shown a direct link between participation and coping with PTSD.  We’ve all seen it and heard the testimonials.  None of that means anything to the medical community until we have the research to document and validate it.  We are just a bunch of folks shooting each other with toys until we have the scientific data to support it.  Listen to the veterans – MILSIM works.  Research is expensive.  Our sport emulates the military – gear, guns, tactics and attitude – and many of you have experienced a mild form of PTSD through Operation Blacksheep.  The ultimate honor you can give our veterans is to help them through their difficult times.  The PTSD-MILSIM Challenge is that opportunity for you to state clearly, “you have my support.”  Here’s the link to the campaign –http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ptsd-milsim-challenge.  Our sport needs positive media attention, instead of the stupid teenagers in the news or law makers trying to inhibit our sport.  Here’s a link to a recent interview I did on Fox News out of Connecticut –http://foxct.com/2014/03/26/operation-blacksheep-helps-veterans-transition-to-civilian-life/.   The PTSD-MILSIM Challenge has been a unifying effort with folks from across the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Philippines involved.  I am just the point man.  It is an opportunity for us to make a significant difference.  It exposes our sport to a larger, broader audience.  I’m just a little perplexed here, if you won’t support the soldiers you emulate in this sport, then why would you expect the soldiers and military to support this sport?  I will have to do some real personal soul searching on that question.  In the bigger scheme of things this PTSD-MILSIM link validates our sport in the eyes of the military and the Veterans Administration.

In Closing

Well that should be enough to think about for a while.  As I look down from the top of the tree, it’s like herding cats – dyslexic cats with ADHD.  Here’s a link to my favorite video – I think it was a Superbowl commercial many years ago:  

  Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.  . This sport is doomed if we can’t come together – much like what football did.  We must put aside our personal, team, regional and even National opinions and determine what is good for the sport.  One team, one voice, one fight – or we will be picked apart.  When I briefed the new soldiers as the Commander in my Infantry Company, I used the analogy of a fishbowl.  There were no individuals – we were all United States Army soldiers in Germany and the actions of one reflected on all.  That’s where we are – all swimming in the fishbowl called MILSIM/Airsoft and some of our folks are pissing and shitting in the water.  What happens in California or New Jersey affects all of us.  This is a topic for my next article!



By John Bucciarelli, Blacksheep6, Blacksheep MILSIM

Major, Infantry, United States Army Retired

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