Airsoft and paintball might seem similar at first, but the two sports are, in reality, very much different. From gearing considerations to the style and size of arenas and fields, to the pace and flow of each match, paintball and airsoft show how each one is far from a carbon copy of the other. While it may be up to the individual to decide which sport is right for him or her, I’d like to show you some comparisons between the two games.
Airsoft vs Paintball
Before you can ever hit the field, you need the right clothing and equipment for both paintball and airsoft. Some considerations, such as wearing long sleeves and long pants, should stay consistent for both games. However, key differences arise when you start looking at more advanced gear options. Paintball masks can be worn for airsoft, but airsoft players may also wear mesh face masks that should not be worn when playing paintball. I wear my paintball mask for both sports, but if I wanted to, I could put on much more versatile and comfortable headgear when I go airsofting.
Airsoft equipment also tends to emulate real weaponry better, with more realistic guns and magazines than paintball markers. While chest rigs and utility belts can be used for both sports, the ammo containers and accessories you carry with you can be very different. Plus, since airsoft games have much less potential to damage clothing and equipment, you do not need to worry about wearing your everyday clothes and equipment into the arena.
Arenas and Fields
Paintball and airsoft tend to have similar fields and arenas available for play, with some facilities offering both sports on alternating days. Other places, however, may be dedicated solely to one or the other, and for good reason.
Many airsoft arenas tend to be smaller than paintball facilities, since close-range engagements with airsoft guns are much less painful and far more common than with paintball markers. Both close-quarters and standard size airsoft fields tend to incorporate many corners, short angles, and maze-like structures that are scarcely seen in paintball facilities. Airsoft arenas also tend to include more snipers’ roosts thanks to the ability for specialized airsoft guns to fire at higher velocities and longer distances than paintball markers.
Paintball arenas, on the other hand, tend to be designed for more medium-distance engagements and greater use of cover. Plenty of opportunities exist to advance on your enemies and flank around them, but you’re likely to spend a lot of your time exchanging shots with an opponent resting behind cover. This means that less-experienced players may tend to bunch up in areas of higher protection, which isn’t always a good thing. Some of my favorite moments involve sneaking up on a group of enemies and decimating them from the side with a spray of paint or a well-thrown grenade. More experienced players use the larger arena space and longer angles to spread out and support one another through wider ranges of fire.
Both airsoft and paintball can be played in forests and brush, but in my opinion, paintballing in the woods is much more fun than trying to go airsofting out there. Airsoft has a major problem that paintball doesn’t have as much of –cheaters. It’s hard to pretend that you didn’t get hit when you have a big paint splatter across your mask. Wooded environments tend to have more of those ideal medium-range engagements than even some well-designed paintball arenas and provide an opportunity to use terrain and stealth to your advantage.
The Flow of the Game
Once you’re actually out on the field playing airsoft or paintball, you may notice some stark differences between the two. In my opinion, the most noticeable difference between the average round of paintball and a game of airsoft is that people are more afraid to get hit by paintballs.
Airsoft players like to get close and flank much more than paintball players because shooting and getting shot at close range has fewer consequences than getting hit with a large paintball. Close-range paint splatters hurt, often leaving bruises or even cuts where they impact, even through clothes. This, combined with the higher price of ammo per shot, means that most paintball games are slower-paced than airsoft games.
I think that distinction is the most important one to make when evaluating what kind of gameplay you want to have. Do you prefer faster games where people run up and get aggressive, or do you enjoy more methodical engagements from behind cover that punish those who try to advance too quickly? Both cover-to-cover and close-range combat happen in both sports but, as a fan of the former option, I enjoy playing paintball just a little bit more. It lends to a more authentic and suspenseful experience than many airsoft games do and helps to make you feel genuinely afraid of getting shot. But, if you’d prefer to move faster and engage targets from both shorter and longer distances than paintball allows for, perhaps you should give airsofting a try.
You should probably give both airsoft and paintball a try before deciding on which one should receive your time and money investments. Visit a few different ranges and try playing different game modes with rental gear and see for yourself which playstyle feels right for you. I have equipment for both sports, but a lot of my stuff is bought for paintball first and airsoft second – and I like it that way.