December 2, 2020

The Joy of OpFor

Earlier in the summer, a decent MilSim event was cancelled because so few people booked onto the OpFor team. I reflected on this and was reminded by how, for most of the games I play, the Multicam/BluFor/TaskForce etc always sells out first.

Don’t get me wrong, I love getting out all the multi-cam and playing the good guys, but sometimes, it’s super fun to not be. Many of my favourite airsoft experiences have come when I was playing as the OpFor. I’d love to hear an organiser’s view of this and how bookings run for different team types.

This all made me stop and wonder: why is this the case? Sample size here is very small, N=1 for this study but I’ve done some informal sampling (beers with mates) so this is more than just an untested set of opinions. It’s a semi-tested set of opinions but they’re mine and if you think I’m wrong, fair enough; but it’s what I think based on my experience.

Broadly speaking, I’ve got 4 good reasons for thinking that most players don’t choose to play on the OpFor :

1 – Being the good guys is fun and right

Airsoft is basically cops and robbers for grown-ups. Just as most kids want to be the cops and the ‘goodies’, so with the ‘grown-ups’ playing airsoft. I get it – I love pulling on my CPC, grabbing my helmet and UKSF accurate L119A2 immitation and going out to save the day. There’s something about being the good guys that’s rewarding – it mirrors what we see on TV, what we mostly pay in video games (ahhh Captain Price, I’d follow you anywhere) and probably how our inner eye sees us going all hero for the objective.

2 – The good guys often get more attention in event/game design

This is more controversial. There is something a sense that the good guys get better missions, get more attention from game and event organisers and are maybe more original. Now, I don’t subscribe to this theory. I’m lucky that the places I play run serious events where both teams get equal thought and treatment. Nevertheless, the idea that the OpFor are canon fodder for the Good Guys seems to persist. I don’t quite know why but there it is.

What does bother me is that, too often, OpFor options can get at best derivative and at worst potentially offensive with what amounts to frankly racist tropes being rolled out (“durka durka” anyone?). This is more aimed at players, but there’s more to OpFor than either an approximation of Middle Eastern dress or a generic Eastern European.

All I’ll say is that if you’re going to imitate an individual from a particular ethic group, please do so respectfully. This is not some wanky call for political correctness, it’s a just good manners, and if that still doesn’t bother you, every time there’s a news article like this, politicians have more reason to make airsoft more difficult. Don’t be a dick and if you think you’ve just having a laugh, stop for a moment and think about how it would look if sent a video to the BBC. I’m not singling out anyone or any events in particular but suffice to say, I’ve seen it and I don’t like it.

Back to missions. Something I have experienced is BluFor getting all the door kicking and RedFor getting most of the running around and staying covert. This imbalance is something I have encountered a few times in different places. The best airsoft event I’ve ever attended was way back in 2006 and involved a proper force-on-force event at Copehill Down. OpFor were in deserts, BlueFor in DPM so there wasn’t any of the potential stigma around being a ‘baddy’. There were also ~150 on each team: it was massive. And both teams had the same task – take the town. And both teams sold out quickly. Awesome.

OpFor = Sneaky Patrolling?

Just as the MOD is coming to terms with the effect of staging a defence effort around years of asymmetric warfare, so should event organisers look to move away from Red = small, light, agile force.

3 – It’s easier to be multi-cam

Now this I think is less controversial – with massive availability of M4 style RIFs and surplus MTP, it is harder to assemble a BlueFor load-out than something OpFor. But with the E&L AKs, AK recoils from TM, it’s never been easier to get a really good RIF which isn’t an M4 or SA-80.

Getting a decent alternative camo does probably require a bit more effort than multi-cam. Grey-shop helps for Russian kit, and ebay and Facebook do have some cool options for you. And there’s always the PMC look of jeans and a checked/plaid shirt! For me, part of the appeal of OpFor is putting something together which isn’t standard Crye multi-cam but which is equally comfortable and effective. I’ve just acquired a combat-cut set of Russian Digi-cam trousers which will be tested in a few weeks’ time – review to follow. I already love my Russian recce suit (photo at the top of the page) – it’s a really different take on what a smock should do and works really well: I’m a massive fan of it.

A Final Thought

Wrapping all that up – I’m left reflecting on a few things but mostly how many events conceive of the two teams. I wonder whether it’s time to being a bit more imaginative and ambitious about our games.

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