A representative of one of the major airsoft and military shop in Poland decided to share the above cited assumption with me a few years ago. I could be wrong about whether he used a perfective or imperfective verb, but the message was clear - your better tomorrow was yesterday.
The shop still exists, although it has been pushed out from our field of interest, partly by its own doings. In the meantime, airsoft in Poland has ended so much that every year there are giant events and a lot of smaller ones, and Gunfire.pl is building a larger warehouse.
The title statement is part of a certain trend. Regularly, for as long as I am interested in this "industry", every now and then I hear news about a next crisis, chich, in just a moment, is about to make airsoft history.
The last time I heard about the crisis in the airsoft community was somewhere after the summer holidays. “Fromacja Śląsk”, due to minor interest, cancelled an event that was to commemorate the 15th anniversary of airsoft in Silesia, Poland. Well, if such a well known team cannot find people willing to take part in an airsoft game, then this probably means that the long foretold End has finally come.
If the situation is so bad how come a larger organized game near Jarocin gathered over 200 participants, each year we have at least 3 nationwide events with a few hundred participants each and the two biggest Polish airsoft retailers have a combined number of page views reaching about 2 million a month?
Crises like the ends of the World
Well, there is no crisis, there was no crisis and, most probably, there will be none unless, of course, the legislator will push some faulty law which will affect our hobby directly or indirectly. So why have those grim predictions been repeated for so many years?
The answer to the above question is simple - a human is a being who falls in love with the status quo, while, paradoxically, his surroundings are constantly changing. With each successive "generation" of players, their tastes change slightly, so the market has to keep up with them (of course, this is an extreme simplification, but we will not divulge here into discussion about feedback).
The pace of these hated changes is increasing because, for a long time, the player's average "life cycle" has been shortening rather than lengthening (no, I have no data to back it up, this is just my observation). For many of us, year 2015 is ancient times, 2010 is antiquity, and 2005 is prehistory at best, which is known to have existed, because it simply had to.
In those prehistoric times, to which some people are longing very much, the overwhelming majority of participants of airsoft games was a group that has been marginalized nowadays - let's call them “Real Enthusiasts”. These are people for whom airsoft is not a seasonal "retreat", but a long-term passion, extending to "civilian" life as well. In those times, people who were dropping out after their first serious failure of a replica were few are fare between. The average age and average time of involvement in airsoft were much higher than presently.
So what? Was it better in the past?
Here I would agree - such perception of the community passed through a dozen-year-old filter of nostalgia can actually seem appealing to some. However, this situation did not result from the discipline of "ancestors" but from the state of life in Poland 2005 A.D.
We are talking about a time when the average salary rarely exceeded 1600 PLN net, and buying a sensible AEG replica below 850 PLN was just as possible as licking ones elbow - for the overwhelming majority, the task was impossible.
The community simply had to look this way, because relatively few people in Poland could allow themselves to start playing airsoft at a whim. People who could afford it were usually already set in life and thus were older, better educated and more resourceful than the general public. There were fewer retailers and online commerce was still in its infancy. This “sport” was therefore placed in the "elite" category, although in my opinion the term "niche" fits it better. If someone has already spent such a huge amount of money on a toy gun, this person surely was passionate about it.
Today, there is a whole bunch of cheaper alternatives but then, until the first "adult" AEGs from China become available, there was de facto none. Of course, if someone did not suffer from an excess of money, it was always possible to buy a "pump" (i.e. a spring powered replica) or a "gas gun", but these had nor the range nor the rate of fire of an AEG. In addition, apart from exceptional situations, the owners of "non-electric" replicas ended up as cannon fodder. In woodland areas, even one well-placed player with an AEG (and I mean here a stock TM/CA replica) could stop or reliably “destroy” an entire group of people with "springs". It is hardly surprising that the owners of the latter participated in this form of games with little enthusiasm.
Of course, the situation changed dramatically when Poland was flooded with goods from China, most of which were not faulty straight off the assembly line. I still remember that some of the older players too it hard that having a replica with a full-auto firing mode no longer elevated the owner to the "selected caste". Well, in those "golden times" there also were really big morons. And not only among young people but also those around 25-35 years of age.
Now a piece of trivia - some shops representing the "old order", that were finally forced by market’s pressure to sell cheaper replicas, did it extremely reluctantly, even putting in the descriptions of these products a warning (sic!) against buying them and recommending a purchase of more expensive toys.
However, this applies to times before 2010. Since then, a lot has changed. Today, almost everyone can afford to enter this hobby and treat it as a temporary escape from the daily routine - without major obligations, being a member of a powerful teams numbering in dozens and going to training sessions or compulsory events.
Quite decent replicas are being bought by secondary school and university students earning money during weekends, so the "entry threshold" went down considerably. In my opinion, this is all good although, of course, the disadvantages of this state of affairs can also be found. Specifically, one quite considerable - in a large amount of people it is statistically easier to find an idiot who can do something strange and/or dangerous. Additionally, the anonymity of players has increased.
Years ago, everyone knew each other’s nickname, or at least visually recognized people that came to games, so troublemakers were quickly ostracized. The matter was also facilitated by the fact that practically all the Polish community was organized around WMASG therefore, when someone was deemed unfit to play, they were practically excluded from all games, at least at the local level. Now, for most of games, people organize themselves themselves via FB where, although personal data of most of them are readily visible, there are usually at least several groups in each major city and the flow of information between them is somewhat limited. Moreover, there are many people who wear full facial masks, for protection purposes, which is further facilitates anonymity of the wearer.
However here the, quite debatable, advantages of old times over the new order end. The mass rise of idiots did not occur. Nor did the degeneration of the community or a legislative apocalypse, which the players of the "old generation" warned everyone about, when some teams started promoting airsoft among the "working masses". The vast majority of "new" players are fine people who can get along with each other easily, although they have a different approach to airsoft than the "dinosaurs". However, we are still talking about the same thing. And that’s what counts.
I have also heard accusations of "commercialization" and "macdonaldisation" of airsoft, meaning that the in the past events were less expensive and that today everything is presented on a silver platter, the games are very well organized, all sanitary facilities are provided and sometimes there is even a barbecue after a game, all included in the price. However, all the grumpy people do not see that the market has diversified in a way no one had dreamed of 5-10 years ago. If someone does not find himself in a commercial game on a private field, he/she can still find alternatives and people willing take part in them. Once, the choice of places to play airsoft games did not really exist. There was usually one "general" game organized per weekend and that was basically it. This was because the tastes of players were different and it suited almost everyone.
This can be compared to the situation with beer. In the past, everyone was satisfied with a lager from supermarket. Today, you can still buy one but apart from that you have a choice between numerous other kinds of beer. Does anyone complain that he/she can drink a kind of beer that his/her heart desires? Nop, can’t see anyone.
Today things are just different. In some respects - yes, they are worse. However, many others are much better. Sure, I sometimes miss those "pioneer" times and people who were once the backbone of the community, but have already given airsoft up for one reason or another. Unfortunately, some of them have left us forever.
A crisis will probably appear from time to time but only in our heads. I am talking about the foundations on which the mental map of some players is built. Some see a crisis when team X is disbanding, event Y is not longer organized, and shop Z goes out of business. Some simply become bored with airsoft and begin to notice faults it has that they have not seen before. Others do not like the direction in which all of it is going and if his/her mates stop playing airsoft, he/she also stops.
Moreover, airsoft no longer has a monopoly for easily and widely accessible shooting. For several years now, pro-defense organizations and shooting clubs have been thriving. People who become their members have probably started their journey in the military enthusiasts’ world with airsoft.
To sum up – there is no crisis, just evolution. And if someone does not like the changes, it's his/her choice. A community of living fossils is always composed of people who were once young, dynamic and interested in the world. The recollection of the "good old days" will not change anything, so instead of losing ourselves in the past glory, let's ensure that in the future we will remember the present times with much fondness.
And by the way – anyone of you tried to lick his/her elbow?