Tuesday, 5 November 2013

CQB Airsoft, Centurian Airsoft, Scarborough

Something of a pleasant surprise, that very nice chap and airsoft aficionado Spider alerted me to a CQB event being run in Scarborough by Centurion Airsoft. Well, as the venue was virtually at the bottom of my street - sort of - there was no excuse for me not to join in.

In fact, I had been planning a return to airsoft for some time now, it was just fortuitous that Centurion managed to secure a temporary indoor site at the town's Military Adventure Park (which usually runs laser quest games). Centurion described the event as a 'tester day' to evaluate the viability of a game run in a relatively small building - which turned out to be the old outdoor swimming pool admin and changing rooms!

Above: Google Street Map view of the location of MAP - this shot was taken before they built the assault course for laser quest in the foreground, but you can make out the CQB venue which is the building just under the old swimming pool water slide!

Now, I've been banging on about 'small scale' urban skirmish venues and that there should be more and so this was the ideal opportunity to see just how realistic it is to create a 'pop up' airsoft site in a town centre. Additionally, this was my first chance to experience airsoft CQB, something I have always been keen to try out.

Loadout: Russian Tiger
I decided it would be nice to run out my Russian Splav made BEKAS battle dress in Tiger camo. I was tempted to wear my 'new' (two years old now) Gorad camo Bekas suit as this is probably more appropriate for a Russian CQB unit, but I got all sentimental about wearing my Team AKA regalia!

The choice of AEG was a no-brainer - it had to be my VFC AKS74U. It is exactly the right format for the job as even with the stock unfolded it is a very compact weapon. I didn't add a red-dot nor did I add a flashlight to the AEG - in hindsight I really wish I had applied these options, for reasons that will become clear.

Webbing was my trusty Russian Splav M23 'Pioneer' chest rig, which held everything that I needed in it's good array of pouches and pockets. These include four double capacity AK47/74 pouches and was ideal for my choice of 6 120BB mid-cap mags plus one 2000 bottle of 0.2g Madbull Biodegradable Precision BBs (with an additional 4000 spare BBs in my kit bag in the car).

Finally, and most importantly as this is CQB, protection. I went with full face protection and a helmet - both because as this is a close quarters event ranges are very short but also because in CQB the head is often the only visible part of the player (more about this later). My goggles are the perforated steel plate type of 'mesh' googles and not the less safe wire mesh goggles - though I did take my hardy Bolle polycarbonate double-layer eye protection, but in the end I was concerned about 'fogging' up so went with the less safe mesh.

The venue: Indoor at the MAP
Scarborough's Military Adventure Park occupies what was the town's old outdoor swimming pool complex. The pool has been filled in and now is a Laser Quest assault course but the CQB games were being held in the disused changing block. This dilapidated building is quite compact but is a bit of a Tardis as it consists of a maze of small rooms which filter into the large changing rooms - most recently the building has been used for a Zombie Apocalypse game (hence the rather unnerving 'blood' smeared walls).

Drawn from memory, so probably not 100% accurate, but this diagram
gives you some idea of the layout of the CQB venue at the MAP. The 'red
room' is the main point of contact and the main bottleneck.

Centurion Airsoft secured the venue for this one-off trial event and the building was just about right for short format games for about 20-26 players, any more and the rooms would become too congested.

The only playable exterior entry was this side entrance - the majority of the action was
conducted inside the building and AEG's were prohibited anywhere outside the
designated safe zone so we didn't freak out the locals!
Game Formats
Obviously, long format and complex ‘mil-sim’ operations were not perhaps appropriate for a site of such limited space. The limited number of rooms available to us was just not great enough to afford varied locations as we used all the available space for all the games. So, shorter ‘attacker/defender’ type competitions were organised, such as ‘free the hostage’, ‘escalating attacker’ and – a very ingenious – ‘find the bomb code’ game!

The ‘escalating attacker’ was ideal for a limited player situation – everyone but two players defended the main room and the two designated ‘attackers’ tried to ‘kill’ defenders in order to convert them into attackers. EVentually the balance of numbers would turn to the attackers favour and defending would become harder and harder.

Above: Spider's excellent footage of the game event. Credit: www.raptorsairsoft.co.uk/

It's worth repeating that - as a first time venue - this was a 'tester' event and some of the games were modified and improved - based on player feedback - as the day went on. But all-in-all the day worked out very nicely indeed and it was a credit to the Centurion staff that things went off so well.

Safety and enjoyment
Obviously paramount importance was given to safety. As a very close quarters game a lot of emphasis was given to the need to avoid head-shots, also firing was limited to semi-auto only with a FPS limit of 350fps (nobody opted for sniping for obvious reasons).

Now, here's where there was a bit of a conundrum (and the only hic-up in the day)...

By it's very nature CQB prohibits the amount of fully exposed target opportunities and while the staff heavily emphasised the preference for 'centre of body mass' shots and 'no head shots' naturally the head is often the only part of the body which become visible in this sort of simulation!

Simply by random chance you ARE going to accidentally make a head shot even if you aren't trying to - defy anyone to say they didn't - I did! The plain fact is, due to darkened rooms how would you know a lot of the time? (--- Note to self: Erm, take a torch! ---)

"You want ME to go in THERE?"
...But what makes this such a contentious issue was - as normally being told 'no heads shots' should be enough and that's that - the choice made by many of the players NOT TO WEAR FULL HEAD PROTECTION (I told you I would be coming back to this)!

Yes, despite this event being clearly advertised as a indoor CQB airsoft event approximately 75% of the players on the day opted for the 'cooler' polycarbonate ballistic glasses eye protection and maybe a hat!

...At this point I could write a huge diatribe about the whole 'full face protection spoils the realism' and 'it isn't paintball' arguments made by some airsofters regarding full face protection....But guys, THIS WAS CQB! Headshots will - and did - happen, I know because one of the things about wearing a helmet is that you hear the head hits like a snare drum being played on your head and I had a virtual military tattoo being played on my head at times! (To be fair, because I had the security of full head protection I did stick my noggin out a bit more than some.)

Spider's eye view of my big ass! As you can see I sort of fill the doorway and
make a wonderfully silhouetted target for the defenders!

Lessons learned on the day
[Apologies, as this section is more of a 'note to myself'...] Contentious arguments about head protection aside - as we are all grown ups and make our own choices about our personal safety - I enjoyed my first taste of CQB, particularly as I haven't skirmished at all in over a year. I learned a lot, made a couple of glaring feck-ups and am now better equipped to more confidently approach CQB armed as I am with some 'does and don'ts' which I shall impart to you...

As said, I made one major faux-pas on the day and one 'grey area' mistake (that may not have been a mistake):

The main mistake I made on the day relates to firing over high cover. I inadvertently shot someone in the top of the head as I tried to use my height to fire over a high partition wall - I simply hold my hands up and say I was an idiot for trying to do this, I clearly wasn't tall enough to ensure I could clearly identify my target over the 'wall'. Although not strictly 'blind firing' - I was trying to aim - because I couldn't see properly over the wall I couldn't get my gun to bear properly and in snatching a couple of shots at some movement at the other side (it was dark) I'm afraid I - quite rightly - upset the recipient of my in-advised fire.

The moral: Unless you are tall enough so that a partition allows you to get head and shoulders above it, or you can stand on a platform to allow you to get head and shoulders clear of the partition, then count that partition as a 'wall' and do not attempt to fire over it. It's just too unsafe.

Second issue, as I say, was a grey area one - literally, as it concerns a darkened room!

As I say, head shots can happen purely accidentally but more particularly in the case where you are dealing with a darkened room. Putting fire into a darkened room without illuminating a target (...remember me saying I wish I had brought a red dot and a torch...) is something of a necessary evil at time - you want to lay down suppressing fire but you may only have the vaguest notion of where your target actually is (judging by the direction of incoming fire).

Now remember at this point that the defenders in the darkened room have the advantage - as attacking from even a low lit room means that you are silhouetted against the doorway every time you pop out to take a shot!

Defender's eye view of one of the main doorways - any attackers coming into
this entry point are clearly silhouetted targets!
The same entry point, this time illuminated by Spider (attacking). Without a
flashlight this is a big black yawning hole of doom!
Because I had good head protection (LOL) I popped my head out the doorway more than I perhaps should - in fact on a number of occasions I moved across the open doorway laying down fire as I went...And I got a hit, a head shot! Du-oh! To which the recipient shouted 'no blind firing'!

A bit annoying as THEY had the tactical advantage in that they could better see me than I could them - and I must have been clearly visible crossing the doorway as I fired!

--- Discuss this situation! (The moral could be to only fire at positively identified targets BUT this is difficult in the frantic situation of CQB and without illuminating the target - and in so doing giving away your position in return. Maybe clarify the 'suppressive fire' rule?)

I'd say that was 'positive target acquirement' by Spider and his magic torch!
'Take the hit?' - 'Er, yes please!'
Conclusion - emphasising the positive
Now, I've gone on far too much about negative sounding isolated events - but hopefully you will understand that there are 'positive' reasons I included these incidents as they highlight some of the challenges about playing CQB - a very difficult game format. However, I have to balance these with a whole day of enjoyment and good play.

The Centurion staff did an amazing job, they were friendly but firm about discipline (a good thing) and were very ingenious in their game format development. Saying that this was the first time they had done this I think they really have to be commended for running such a well organised and fun event!

A win! Yellow team decode the bomb to take the game! An excellent prop
and well thought out game.
I really hope that they think that the event was a success and decide to run more - and not just because having a airsoft event at the bottom of my street is 'convenient' for me! If I had journeyed to this event I would still have thought it very much worth while. So thank you very much Centurion Airsoft and also a big thank you for the owner of Scarborough's MAP for making the venue available.

SO - now to the traditional pros and cons:

- Perhaps not advertising/emphasising the 'advantages' of full head coverage in a CQB event so that potential players can make a more informed choice about whether to wear it.
- Not marking 'safe zone' with signs (just as a visual reminder)
- Not organising an alternative mini-competition for the long-arm shooters while the pistol comp was going on (those not involved with the pistol comp were getting restless due to the length of waiting)
- And that's it! :)

- Well and courteously run event.
- For your £20 (walk on) fee you got a a bacon butty and cuppa before starting and a bread and stew lunch! Terrific!
- Very sporting fellow players - as far as I could see everyone took their hits! Excellent.
- NO arguments - not one 'it was a hit' - 'no you didn't' nonsense (again this was due to good event management, well done Centurion).
- No-one was sin-binned or sent home (I probably came closest by my unfortunate head-shot on the Marshal)...Oh dear!
- Very enjoyable and ingenious game - I particularly enjoyed the 'bomb code search' game.
- Just the right amount of players, it could have so easily be over-congested
- Very good venue - small, but an interesting set of rooms
- Very friendly and entertaining set of fellow players (Spider was on his usual great form)
- There were proper toilets - hurrah!
- BBs were on sale.
- Oh dear, I could go on and on......

Bottom line: Bloody good day and I'd definitely do it again! Highly recommended - 7/10.


Not the first or the last time - I find myself in Spider's sights! HIT!
Just a few ideas for whatever they are worth...

- Portable cover with 'kill house' boards: These are free standing portable boards - about one player wide - that can be moved about by the staff to vary the cover in the 'kill house'. They are particularly useful for modifying 'bottle necks' by providing additional cover just inside doorways and in the middle of large rooms.

- CQB timed target clearing mini-events: One idea that could have been used for the 'long arm' shooters while the pistol shooters did their thing would have been a separate 'steel plate' or paper target course through a few rooms. Timed target course for room clearance techniques.

- 'Hostages' scenario: A few designated people could have acted as hostages - shooting a hostage would have resulted in the attackers loosing a player. More than two hostages killed would mean a win for the defenders.

- CQB tactics mini-briefing: Not a training session as such, but some 'useful hints' about good CQB entry techniques for everyone at the beginning.

- White board availability: Sounds daft BUT it might be useful to have a large white board available in the safe zone to illustrate game rules and job down ideas, techniques and tactics.

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