Sometimes life can be a funny old thing…
One minute you’re ranting about how Airsoft Magazines are not living up to their potential, the next you’re talking to one of the most respected former editors of Airsoft International (Ai). I’m being modest on his behalf but under Ben’s editorship the magazine and its readers enjoyed what is referred to by many as “The Golden Age Of Ai”
Whilst chatting, I decided to chance my arm and ask him for an interview, not only because I’d never heard his side of the story but also because as a relative newcomer to the writing world who has spent years reading his articles, I wanted to know what it was like to have Airsoft as a full time job… Not just a hobby that swallows up far too much time and money.
Do you get free shit non stop? Do you have to pay to play? And will Travis Haley return your DMs? Or is the truth a little less glamorous?
I wanted to ask him about his personal and professional journey from where he started to play Airsoft, how it turned into a career and also find out a bit about the guy himself.
So with that in mind, I’ll dispense with the waffling and get right into it.
ATRG: So, first question… Most people will know you as the former Editor of Airsoft International, but tell us a little bit about the start of your Airsoft journey… When and where did you first play and how long did it take to get the bug?
Ben: So… Yeah, for better or worse I guess most people reading will know me as the /Former/ editor of Airsoft International, although it’s been a good while since that came to an end and I started at ASG!
I started playing airsoft about 10 years ago after I had a dabble with casual stag-do paintball. A friend (Hi Dan!) suggested that I would prefer Airsoft… I have no shame in admitting that we were standing in Games Workshop Peterborough at the time and that’s a common hobby that bought several of the first group I started playing alongside together.
The first time we went we headed to Free Fire Zone at Bulby Woods. I was set to borrow my mate Jamie’s spare gun but as it turned out, he had a massive session on the Jäger the night before and could barely speak when we turned on his doorstep. Consequently I got the pick of his kit to borrow and had a great run out with a couple of hi-caps and a Classic Army AR of sorts.
After that it all escalated week on week… Before long a workmate caught me looking at guns on the Fire Support website and realised we shared the same excitement. The rest, as they say, is history… Pay day after pay day the collection grew, upgrades were delved into and we were playing 5-6 times a month thanks to midweek games at Urban Assault.
ATRG: So leading on from that, how did you become involved with Airsoft International?
Ben: Well the aforementioned workmate happened to be an accomplished layout designer and also a pretty techy guy with some camera know-how. Through another friend that became mutual, I was put in touch with the publisher of the magazine. They wanted somebody to increase their web presence via a blog and with Facebook then starting to become a thing, manage that. I took it on as a hobby after work… I wasn’t paid to start with but enjoyed testing a few products and taking a few photos.
Things led from there and after the publisher had a falling out with the previous Editor (evidently a pattern was forming 😂) I was asked if I would take up the mantle. Initially I said no but after consulting my then boss, a career Editor himself, he convinced me I had little to lose.
From there on out I went from working in a massive office for a multinational, multimedia publisher to hammering away on a lap top in my spare room.
It was a big change and there was a pretty steep learning curve, but I took things day by day and each month an issue came together.
ATRG: Whilst you were at Ai there were a number of projects you worked on with the team…
The Recoil Mk12 “lone survivor” project,
The Zero Dark Thirty 416/load-out article
and last but certainly not least…
The L119A1 Qala-I-Jangi / Tora Bora articles.
Are there any projects you worked on that you have especially fond memories of? Also, how does it feel that even several years later that they’re still read and passed on as good resources for people recreating those looks and widely regarded as some of the best researched and presented articles to have been featured in a UK Airsoft magazine?
Ben: Wow… That’s pretty humbling to hear, and thank you.
The idea of “the team” on these things is a bit of a stretch. 99% of the time Benno, who I believe still works on the mag, and myself did the work. We’d collect the kit, build and paint the guns, I’d do the photos (quite often as selfies) and then write the words. Benno would sort the layouts and when time allowed, help with photos and proof reading. We did get some guest appearances from some great friends along the way too, including but not limited to Bill, Phil, Duffy and Griff.
The features you mention there were some of my faves, largely because it was kit I was interested in at the time. That allowed me to spend more time and money on researching and getting stuff right.
Nobody actually wants to donate the kit to do these shoots, so the specific stuff usually had to be personally purchased. There wasn’t a budget to do these things, so I was generally able to put more effort and detail into the kits that I was willing to collect up myself.
Lots of people ventured to help over the years, but rarely was there a budget to travel to do the photography, which is a shame as there are lots of guys doing good stuff I would have liked to have featured.
The real world “impression” kits were my favourites for sure and they were easiest to write. Most of the time I had to cut back on the details and just cover an overview because of time and space restrictions.
When I first started on Ai, Gaz Perkins gave me a right earful on Zero In because Ai had previously been a bit thin, wordcount wise. From that point I always tried to make sure it was wordy enough to last longer than it takes to have a shit! I think sometimes I took it too far.
To answer “how does it feel”, it’s actually a bit unreal. It was mostly just smashing stuff out in a spare room, racing against a deadline and working on a shoestring budget! I’m amazed we pulled it off half the time!
One of the standouts was getting the SPR shooting. It shot like a fucking cannon and considering the state the gun I used as the basis was in, it was a miracle. I bought a totally trashed, half cocked attempt at a recoil L119A1 off of Vivek, a character a few old heads might recall and I think I’m the only person he ever dealt with that was threatening to take him to court!
I swapped that gun for the 416 recoil I used for the Zero Dark Thirty stuff. I do inwardly chuckle when I read about the recoil hype these days… We were doing that shit back when people couldn’t understand why we’d pay £420 for a SOCOM just because it jiggled and had bolt stop.
We did also have a hell of a lot of fun doing some silly “zombie hunter” features but they were mostly just photographic projects backed with a little editorial.
ATRG: And the obvious question, the one I think there’s been so much speculation over… What led to you leaving Airsoft International and what happened next?
Ben: Ohh that’s a meaty one! I’ll try and be thorough without turning this into OK Magazine’s gossip column.
I was employed at Ai as a full time Editor, although my role encompasses Staff Writer and Photographer amongst other responsibilities. Unlike many other magazine staff in the airsoft industry, I was paid a salary, not a rate based on page contribution. That meant from 9am-5pm Monday To Friday, or whatever period it took for me to complete my responsibilities, (some weekend work May be required) I was working on the mag and in return, was paid a set salary.
There came a time that my requirements for remuneration for my full time commitment did not match the requirement of the publications cash flow. At this point I entered into a consultation with my employers and an amicable acceptance of redundancy was reached.
I have used the coldest of “business” terms that remain readable here because I don’t want to be inflammatory. The magazine is operated as a family run business at a small scale. I didn’t want to be the strain on the cash flow that folded the whole thing and left a family without a home. I had hopes that I’d go straight into new full time employment quickly.
In the interim I agreed that I would potentially write on a freelance, page rate basis for Airsoft Action (the other magazine) to supplement the statutory redundancy payment I was living on. The same offer was open from Ai, however from a purely financial perspective AA paid more. Man’s gotta eat, right?
Meanwhile I was applying unsuccessfully to some unrelated, non-airsoft industry roles at businesses based in Nottingham, where I had recently relocated to.
As the timescale worked out, I never did have much time to write anything substantial for AA, as shortly after the announcement, a job offer at ActionSportGames (ASG) came, which I gladly accepted. Things were a bit touch and go for me as my redundancy only just stretched to cover my unemployment, but a new start at ASG was everything I’d hoped for.
At the time it was a joint media and sales role, as reflected in my title, but as things have progressed, I am now solely focussed on sales, managing accounts in the UK, Hong Kong, Croatia and Malta, along with a few other emerging areas.
ATRG: With regards to writing and editing content,what advice would you give to anyone who was either interested in working with one of the two major mags or maybe looking to go it alone on their own Site/Blog/YouTube channel?
Ben: Probably the best bit of advice I can give is “get it done”.
I got lots of speculative offers over the years with loose pitches and promises to produce something. 99% of the time these never amounted to anything, even where I was very interested.
Write the content, submit it (even in part) and then be prepared to supply the whole finished piece on demand. It’s not a book publication and there’s usually a deadline looming less than 4 weeks away.
Secondly, know what a word count looks like. Understand what 2500 words looks like and what amounts to a reasonable feature. The amount of times I had submissions of 324 words and three screen grabbed images blew my mind! You just can’t work with that in print.
With respect to digital media, I’m no expert… I would say consistency seems to be paramount. Be regular with content and try to uphold a standard.
Lastly, understand why you want to write about something and also consider why somebody might want to listen/watch/read.
Are you an authority? Do you understand your subject matter? Do you care enough to spend a week refining the details?
There are different types of writers and presenters. Some people are gifted in terms of technical insight, others have a great way of disseminating information like a teacher and further still, some people can work information out of others in an interview. I guess some people are just entertaining to watch or listen to, too!
Maybe work out what you are good at and then go from there?
ATRG: Fantastic advice, so moving on to Airsoft in general… Bog standard AEGs still remain the dominant force in the Airsoft community despite advancements such as Tokyo Marui’s NGRS line, the GBLS DAS and ASGs own Scorpion Evo 3… what do you think the future holds with regards to technological advancements? Or do you think we’ll still be using the basic AEG design in another 20 years time?
Ben: Over the last few years we’ve definitely seen the definition of “bog standard AEG” shift. MOSFET has become a byword, (no matter how much it irks me that most people actually mean ETU) and tech that was a far-fetched upgrade has now trickled down to not far off of entry level.
Working in the realm of selling airsoft guns, there’s 100% still a space for a simple, basic gun. Rental players probably don’t need the complexity and inherent fragility of an ETU/MOSFET… that is until they become more resistant to abuse.
I do think ASG forged a path forward by including the electronics they did in the Evo and it’s quite exciting to know they are not resting on their laurels. Several projects are underway to progress things forward.
One thing I do see is that for better or worse, there’s a shift towards what I call “gamer guns” rather than replicas of military kit. Gamer guns as I call them are guns decided to shoot BBs to the best of their capability and the players that use them are simply interested in playing airsoft at that level. It does kinda sadden me as my draw to airsoft is very much from a 1:1 scale modelling angle… the fact the gun shoots BBs is often just a happy coincidence!
Will we be using standard AEG tech in 20 Years? Probably not, in my opinion, but I think things will change so gradually that we won’t notice.
ATRG: And the game itself, we’ve seen companies like Tier One and CAG offering ultra realistic games but somehow not managing to last the course whilst others like Gunman and Stirling have prevailed with their own loyal players…
Do you have any fond memories of certain games or organisers and do you think that the milsim community’s eyes are bigger than its stomach when it comes to ultra-realistic gameplay?
Ben: With games themselves I think you have to consider the pretty boring and not very impassioned concept of commerciality. Tier One and CAG were absolutely fantastic and some lifelong memories were made at those games. From my perspective it seems like they weren’t operated by commercial motivation though, they were run because of passion and a desire to provide something special. Any individual only has so much motivation to do this kind of stuff, then when you consider that real life always has to take precedent, and that none of these things can be done without huge effort, it’s no shock that the guys behind them needed to pull away.
On the subject of Gunman, I know Josh has BOUNDLESS energy and enthusiasm and runs things with true passion, however there’s are more strings to his bow, more appeal than simply hardcore Mil-Sim action. I guess that helps turn over player numbers and keep things fresh?
Stirling, I honestly don’t know enough about to pass a qualified comment although from my limited experience of their games, they put on a consistent, regular, quality game and have become a staple in the more strenuous game organiser’s world.
I don’t necessarily think the communities eyes are bigger than it’s bellies, but I do think that we have to be realistic. To afford these things we need jobs, and jobs take up a lot of time and energy. I think the truth is, is that the hardcore community is quite small so it’s essential to make things commercially viable, that games are accessible to all-comers that might just fancy dipping in and dipping out.
One of my fondest memories of a “big” event is probably the final Town Assault at Copehill… I won’t get all misty eyed about it but if you were there, you were there!
ATRG: Talking about taking its toll, with so many years now with Airsoft being not just your hobby but the industry that puts food on your table, do you still manage to play regularly? And what types of games and events are you interested in currently?
Ben: Now that’s the real question! I’ll admit I have been on a bit of a slump lately. Time pressures and simply doing other stuff has got the best of me recently. I’ve been playing events that will be more “fun” rather than testing. I think in the last year I’ve only done 2 weekenders, one being Stirling EvS last December… More recently I’ve been to Gunman’s 90’s filmsim, which is much more of a LARP event with airsoft guns than a Mil-Sim. That was amazing fun running as a crew to provide an immersive experience to guys indulging in their own Mogadishu set pieces! Playing 6 or 7 “characters” over the weekend and setting up “scenes” to play out is amazing.
I’ve been to the odd walk-on Skirmish but to unwind and do a bit of shooting, we’ve been going to a practical range compete with steel targets and doing our best John Wick impressions. It’s been really interesting to test my skills rather than test the honesty of a human target… not that everyone cheats of course, but it’s a great controlled environment to test skills. You can exercise repetition and really judge how gun upgrades perform and how your own training progresses.
So yeah… For sure, I think anyone in the industry that tells you that working with airsoft all week doesn’t take a bit of the shine off is being rather optimistic!
Engagement comes in waves though and for me it always has. It won’t be long before something new has really got my attention and I’ll be neck deep in it again.
ATRG: Just to wrap it all up, a question I’ve asked everyone on the blog, a two part question really…
What one thing do you like most about Airsoft? And what one thing would you change if you could?
Ben: Wow… More meaty questions… One thing I most like about airsoft. I mean this response could span thousands of words and I think it’s pretty impossible to narrow it down to one thing, but I think the aspect I still get most excited about is the camaraderie. Being at events and games and really acting as a team, even if half the guys you are with have only just met each other, there’s often still this awesome bond. I really enjoy that.
Gaming wise, I love it when you get on a roll, get your sneak on and take opponents by surprise.
One thing I would change? That’s even tougher. Would I change anything? Maybe I’d have to say that I would like to see more players taking personal responsibility for the restrictions and guidelines we have. I’d like to see more people playing along with the VCRA regulations rather than trying to work around them, no matter how nonsensical they might be. I also wish that it was a more widespread thing to take personal responsibility for chrono testing and other safety related aspects. Why wait to be caught out? It only reflects badly on us all when you get busted.
So there you have it, I genuinely hope you guys enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed asking the questions. I was initially worried that there might be some areas that were off limits due to his ongoing work in the industry but in true no bullshit fashion, Ben wanted to answer everything I put to him.
My thanks again to Ben, I expected nothing less from a guy who once gave a friend of mine the nickname “Shit Beast” merely because he didn’t think his current nickname suited him… Although that’s a story best saved for another time.