The hardest part of this interview was actually deciding on what to title it, many will know him from the Maple Leaf Tactical handle he used from the days of his very own content channels, others might simply know him as @Echo27_XRay on Instagram.
And let’s not forget his presence on Facebook, where he’s won friends, made his fair share of enemies and sometimes made the rest of us wonder if he’s calling us cunts because he likes us or hates us. He’s been at the centre of many an argument, rustled his fair share of jimmies and had grief follow him from the online world and land on his own doorstep.
There’s one place a lot of people will certainly know him, eBay. It’s been a running joke to those that know him that if you envy something he’s just acquired, it’ll be on his Ambiguous Dave eBay account quicker than you can like and comment on the photo.
One things for sure, he doesn’t sit on the fence. He’s pretty in tune with the mood of the UK Airsoft community and whilst you might think you know everything about him, there’s actually a fairly knowledgeable, funny and helpful guy behind the sometimes brash persona.
So what could I call him, I’m sure some of you reading this might have your own pet name for him, but I’ll simply call him Dave.
So I asked Dave a few questions, partly because there’s questions I wanted to ask myself but mainly because I knew it’d be an interesting read. I don’t try and give people a free pass on these interviews, if I think of something that I want to ask, I ask it. An interviewee has the option of not answering it, without judgment and without me even publicising it. But to his credit, Dave answered everything I asked.
ATRG: How and when exactly did you get into airsoft, where did you play and is that site still a regular place you attend?
Dave: I got into airsoft via the usual route; backyard plinking with friends with old Marui springers (and the classic little Colt 25s) in the garden. In my last year of school about fifteen years ago I met a guy who played Airsoft ‘properly’ in some private land, and I got my first AEG (a Tokyo Marui AK47).
I played at a proper skirmish site for the first time at the old Phoenix Urban up north after moving up there for Uni and never looked back. I started playing at sites around Yorkshire and got involved with a small site called Airsoft Commando near Ferrybridge, which emphasised midcaps as much as possible.
Their home ‘team’ went to several Milsim companies including Stirling, Town Assault, IED Airsoft and Tier 1, and I’ve played a mix of Milsim and skirmish since without ever being a high cap kiddie or speedsofter. I don’t get up north these days as much as I’d like to due to work, but it was a great site to start on and I met some great people.
ATRG: And speaking of meeting people, you’re quite well known within the community. Many of us knowing you from your Maple Leaf Tactical days, how did that start and what made you decide to eventually move away from reviews etc?
Maple leaf Tactical came about rather accidentally.
I was heavily into Canadian kit, which I started collecting due to my Canadian heritage and the rarity factor. I decided to do YouTube because I quite liked making footage of game days with my team, where I’d try and show the funny stuff and fuck ups as much as/if not more than the kills.
The logo I just copied from a tattoo of mine, and I kind of fell into the kit reviewing after people kept asking me what I thought of various things. I used to be quite active on forums as well, which for the youth unfamiliar with the concept were moderated online message boards where information on all matters airsoft was fact checked & curated, rather than the modern dumpster fire of misinformation, bullshit and spoon fed imbecile Facebook airsoft groups like UKAC and ‘pew pew airsoft’ (vom) have become, so anything I didn’t know I was able to fact check and find out quite quickly.
The channel grew and I made a lot of good friends and got a good rep in the hobby, but I found the attention to be a double edged sword. While I enjoyed helping others (something that may come as a surprise to some), I’ve never been comfortable with the ‘airsoft personality’ thing.
The situation got complicated by the fact I lacked technical ability with video editing, photoshop, and media in general, and I struggled to really stand out from the flashier, smoother competition that kept coming up. Without blowing my own trumpet I was always confident in my content, just knew I couldn’t package it in such a way that would have mass appeal.
And with my stubbornness in refusing to shill for various manufacturers, I was never going to make a living out of it and for the amount of time it took up, it just wasn’t worth doing it once youtube started to demonetise airsoft and gun related channels.
I don’t begrudge those who do get paid for endorsing certain brands, but I got a bit of a rep for being brutally honest on things I thought were shit and I’d never have been able to give a pass on myself.
Things came to a head when there was a major blowup with a certain former retailer, which got pretty ugly. Myself and several other prominent airsoft media and forum regulars ended up being targeted by a deeply unpleasant pair individuals and their network of cronies, which resulted in my parents’ address being published online, threats being made and a bunch of utter nonsense courtesy of the dregs of the Essex airsoft scene.
It culminated in getting wrongfully arrested for defamation, a deliberate attempt ploy to sabotage the job I’d just got in the police. I refused to accept a caution and the case was eventually thrown out after my solicitor and I dismantled the prosecution’s evidence, but when you lose your dream job and spend a night in the cells for calling someone a cunt on the internet you reassess how high on your list of priorities making videos about toy guns actually is.
Ironically they probably did me a favour because while I could have got back into the police my life took a turn into caring for an unwell relative, which led to the job I’m now doing and has given me so much already. But at the time, it really poisoned my enjoyment of the Airsoft scene and a short hiatus turned into a long sabbatical, then when I got a new computer with no content creation and editing software, I realised I had no interest in ever getting really back to it.
ATRG: So with airsoft media evolving and being increasingly everywhere you look, what are your thoughts with the current state of play?
Dave: A large part of the reason I got out of airsoft media was, ironically, airsoft media itself. I enjoyed giving my honest thoughts on things, and my reviews of products I ended up thinking were bobbins were some of my most popular, like the mag pouch I got from Dave’s Custom Airsoft, which was so terrible Dave convinced me it was broken so I sent it back only for him to refuse to send another for me to finish the review. I even had to borrow one from Chris K, the artist formerly known as REMF Tacticool, to complete my thoughts.
Airsoft media by its very nature struggles to be independent. It’s extremely difficult to sustain airsoft media content at a level you can live on. Airsoft is expensive, as are business overheads and living costs. So anyone with Airsoft media as a primary source of income (and in fairness a good few of those with it as a sideline) are, by some level, dependent on the Airsoft industry for their content. Whether through advertising, paid-for promotions/appearances, etc
The decline of Airsoft International into a hot mess of recycled ancient articles, ‘loadout guides’ that are really just well-camouflaged Military 1st product catalogues and pages and pages of ads is well documented. But Airsoft action has begun going the same way, with barely an issue going by without a massive plug for the latest Nuprol product masquerading as ‘independent review’.
I don’t really blame them, the increasing popularity of Airsoft has led to a mass dumbing-down of the average airsofter, and anyone who spends five minutes on UKAC or ‘pew pew’ (vom) either quickly realises the average airsofter is a thick, lazy potato wanting to be spoon fed, or actually IS a thick lazy potato wanting to be spoon fed themselves.
These people usually can’t be bothered to spend twenty seconds googling or using the facebook search bar to find the answer to their question. Back in the day these people were the exception rather than the rule, they couldn’t be bothered to read forums. Now they’re legion.
They now have instant-gratification comment sections and glorified adult crèche-like groups where they can sit around circle jerking, and we expect them to read print media? Magazines’ days are numbered.
ATRG: And other media, such as YouTube?
Dave: Youtube airsoft is a different kettle of rancid, decaying fish.
Airsoft is now a very “young” hobby. The increasing availablity of cheap guns and kit has led to an explosion of younger players. Some of which are great, some of which make Damien from the Omen look well adjusted & socially talented. But at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, the result of the average age of airsofters now being from teens to twenties is that this demographic have grown up on social media, so have been weaned on a diet of likes, shares and page views.
When I was doing it it was bad enough, there were loads of people starting channels, gameplay videos, etc. Now, it’s exploded.
There are so many airsofters who’ve started channels having only been playing for months. The field is saturated, and the only way you can compete is having a hook- and now that competence in media and editing is no longer a rare talent, that hook is increasingly about simply causing controversy.
Everybody has a channel, everybody wants attention, everybody wants to be special and wants to be seen. But there’s so many people trying to be special, nobody is special. Airsoft gameplay videos are hard to make interesting. I settled on commentary and honest dissection of my successes and mistakes being the best bet, but I bored myself. Either you’re honest and show lots of dead time, getting shot loads, falling over, etc and have a mundane and borderline tedious video, or you ditch veracity and edit your videos into rapid-cut kill montages making yourself look like the unholy offspring of Rambo and John Wick, instead of the potbellied graphic designers from Billericay you probably are.
But even that’s not enough; it’s hard to set your fast-cut kill montage with battlefield-style hit markers aside from the dozen other fast-cut kill montage with battlefield-style hit markers in the YouTube sidebar.
So what do you do? Clickbait. Put a title like ‘airsoft Cheater exposed’ on there, with a giant screenshot of your crosshairs over some kid’s face. Or put ‘airsoft Cheat punished’ on your clip of you dumping a thousand round from your Speedsoft microdick rofmonster into a small child’s back because he didn’t feel your initial rounds hit the back of the Darth Helmet-style full face mask they gave him to wear.
Pain sells page views. For example, Nobody gave a fuck about that sniper cunt when he started, so he populated his channel with the cheat videos, then moved into deliberate head-shotting, embraced the clickbait, stoked the controversy and is now locked in a downwards spiral of increasingly desperate ways to stay relevant.
Then he whines and cries and sends fake legal threats when people who treat him like the sociopathic little cunt he pretends to be on the internet. It’s pathetic and laughable, but he’s just the predictable, inevitable product of the warped system. He’s the Katie Hopkins of airsoft, and eventually will go the same way: becoming overreliant on controversy until he burns out and becomes irrelevant and ignored.
Going back to the journalistic side of airsoft media, this does lead me back onto why I believe we need to move away from airsoft media personalities in general. This style of airsoft YouTuber started in the states, and has spread. These ‘personalities’ usually seem to start as youtubers with decent editing skills, who make some decent content, showcasing sites and cool guns etc. Then other sites/vendors see the popularity of those videos and say ‘hey, want to come to our site/sell our product/be at our show?’ And before you know it, you’re an ‘airsoft celebrity.’
As a wider community though, we’ve grown to care too much what these people have to say. They’re given products to advertise. They’re given free game days, free trips. The bigger ones get air travel, appearance fees. They literally get paid to advertise kit- their reviews are not independent and should not be seen as such. Whether they’re doing it on YouTube, in print, on blogs- as I said earlier, if someone is making a living off airsoft, they aren’t independent. And potentially unpopular opinion here: I’m fine with that, as long as they’re honest about it.
Seriously, I’d fucking love to be paid to play with toy guns and kit all day. Anyone in airsoft who says otherwise is a liar. And I suspect that’s where a lot of the flak some get sent their way comes from. But it’s not what I got into airsoft media originally and I don’t think any of those people should refer to themselves as journalists. Because they’re not. They’re paid advertisers/influencers.
And before those in the Milsim community reading this go ‘aha! You’ve just validated all my hatred of Femme Fatale, Airsoft Mike, Jet Star Fox, Princess Leia!’ It’s time for my second unpopular opinion.
The Milsim community is Just. As. Bad.
I don’t follow Femme Fatale airsoft. I’m completely not her target audience, and she does a lot of stuff professionally I don’t agree with. But using her channel as an example, Infind it hilarious how a lot of ‘milsimmers’ will slam her for entering paid business partnerships to advertise kit, guns and sites yet will think nothing of walking around decked out in head to toe merch their mate made with some China-made flex fit caps and T-shirts and a cringeworthy viking/Native American/crusader/sheepdog/punisher logo they knocked together in ten minutes in Microsoft paint and call themselves ‘brand ambassadors’.
There are tons of people in the Milsim community that would leap at the chance to do what she does, in the same way that she does it. But going back to my point about oversaturation, it’s really hard to differentiate your team of teenage boys with iced gem haircuts and Crye combats from the other dozen teams of teenage boys with iced gem haircuts and Crye combats in the uk ‘Milsim’ community.
If your chosen facet of the hobby relies on replicating units that are, by their very nature, generally extremely uniform in appearance and kit, don’t expect to be treated differently or for people to be even able to tell you apart. Just because it’s free plate carriers, nods or milspec builds you’re trying to blag, doesn’t mean you aren’t playing the same game FFA and the rest are. Sorry… where was I?
‘But it’s not all doom and gloom… While the big airsoft forums and print media decline, there are a growing number of independent bloggers reviewing kit and airsoft pieces off their own bat and writing interesting & engaging content that isn’t promotion.
The Reptile House is the obvious granddaddy of this style of media, having showcased kit and gun builds for the discerning Airsofter since time immemorial. Though like myself he knows what he likes and tends to stick to certain manufacturers, his clear & precise style coupled with excellent photography skills mean that you’re unlikely to get a clearer rundown of the products he writes up.
The Geardo Crow has been around for ages, and despite making me considerably poorer since he left the army and stopped buying as much of my kit, is a fantastic photographer and offers blunt, no-nonsense reviews & articles.
Chris at TheFull9, the artist known REMFTacticool I haven’t read quite so much since he changed the blog name and his style of writing, but he’s so insanely knowledgeable about kit & clothing to the extent that I’m fairly sure he won’t know the tender touch of a woman until his first sponge bath at the nursing home he should be in, so he should be on any serious kit nerd’s reading list. He’s also a funny fucker and does some great patches and stickers.
AATV, formerly Airsoft Action TV now Anvil Airsoft TV, are pretty much the only youtube airsoft channel I watch regularly now. Run by a guy called Tom, they broke away from the Airsoft Action label with their blessing to become an independent outfit doing a variety of kit and airsoft content, with regular input from UK airsoft media OGs Gadge Harvey & Ben Webb.
Last but certainly not least, my fellow E27 UK kit nerd Jay Taranis’ Taranis blog is a UKSF & recoil centric collection of articles & photographs that really showcase his stature as one of, if not the, most knowledgeable figures on the UKSF impression scene.
Jay runs the largest and longest running UKSF impressions groups on Facebook, and is the original source of information for the vast number of UKSF kit ‘experts’ that have cropped up elsewhere since E27 began so if you’re interested in UKSF kit, E27 or just cool kit and recoil builds, check him out.
Oh and I nearly forgot, there’s some cat-obsessed weirdo that runs around in plaid and has a shrine to Sonny Quinn in his basement that’s worth a read too… his name currently escapes me.’
ATRG: controversy, something you’ve had a taste of in the past, certainly you’ve never been shy of voicing your opinion. Have there been times where you think you’ve been too quick to rise to an argument? When maybe walking away might have been the better thing to do for all involved?
Dave: Oh a few times. The aforementioned ‘being arrested’ thing was hugely stressful for myself and my family. So I should definitely have been more considered in my response there (though in fairness I challenge anyone to respond to your family being threatened coolly and logically).
ATRG: Back to more pleasant times, you’ve more recently become better known as part of the E27 UKSF impression group… what caused the shift towards UKSF impressions and tell us a little more about E27 in general.
Dave: I actually never really went away from UKSF impressions, I had a basic SBS Al Jhangi jail siege type kit for playing the bad guy at milsims back in the airsoft commando days. More recently I got back into it when I was winding the Canadian kit down (I nearly quit, and sold of most of my gear). Because of my ongoing interest, I was in groups and chats with prominent UKSF kit impressionists and collectors such as Jay Taranis, Gaz from Redwolf, Matt D and others. Matt is one of the people I’ve known longest in airsoft. We basically started talking about running together at the high-realism, small scale tactical training events Gaz’s other company ITAS events were putting on.
We had our first run out at the somewhat doomed Blue Fox 2 weekender, and although the game that weekend went south due to catastrophic comms failure from environmental interference, we really gelled and put a lot of effort into becoming a more cohesive looking group of people. Life’s got in the way for most of us lately, but we talk regularly and they’re a great bunch.
There weren’t a huge number of people doing modern UKSF impressions when we put 27 together, and none I’m aware of that were doing it in such a cohesive, large scale way. We figured originally it would be cool to pool our knowledge and attend some events together, but the ripples we’ve made (including the affordable Angry Gun L119A2 rail, made possible hugely by Jay), a resurgence in counterterrorism type events in the scene and inflating the price of black Crye briefly to stupid levels was pretty cool.
ATRG: You’re also known for being very much a gearwhore and somewhat of a trader in this particular field, how did you go from simply buying stuff for yourself to being able to work out if something was worth buying purely as an investment?
Dave: Simply put, I didn’t really. I’m a huge magpie and I used to just buy shit because it was cool. I’ve lost a fair bit of money over the years, though I have broken back. It’s really not hard or complex. I watch eBay and the groups for deals. That’s about it. I get loads of questions about ‘can you get <insert controlled issue item> for me, which I usually politely or less politely fuck off. People assume the stuff I get I must have super secret squirrel contacts that I’m dealing with, but generally I’ve just found stuff on eBay.
ATRG: And plans for the future, anything planned outside of the (now arguably saturated) modern UKSF impression scene?
Dave: I think we’re planning another event soon. We’ve seen some other companies trying to do what we do and while we don’t mind that at all (it’s much less stress for Gaz to go to another event than organise one himself), they’ve been a bit up and down. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, streamline the kit into what works for me and probably ditch the excess and trading.
ATRG: So… Two things that have been seen in more than a few E27 (and other groups Pics) are often talked about and everyone has an opinion on, Dogs in airsoft and blurring of faces. I’m sure many of the readers will have an opinion on both, but what’s the deal and is there a line on both subjects that shouldn’t be crossed?
Dave: In response to the first question, dogs have no place in airsoft and absolutely should not be used in any airsoft games whatsoever.
The two dogs in the E27 pictures are both trained former military working dogs. They’re never in the area where bbs are being exchanged, they have eye pro, and they’re also trained to be around people wearing the kit.
Essentially, during some of these events there’s an ‘SSE’ phase where ‘suspects’, casualties, objectives Etc are processed after the shooting stops. That’s the phase the dogs are limitedly involved in. For them, it’s a big scavenger hunt where they get to play and find things and get treats. They spent years doing it, they’re really happy being around, and they’re the VIPs in the area as soon as they come in. Think of it like one of those dog trial obstacle courses.
A problem we have seen of course is where people see the photos out of context, don’t understand the background or the amount of precautions taken, and then think it’s a good idea to take Fido out for a shoot. Which is fucking stupid and irresponsible and not something anyone would condone. Don’t do it.
As for the blurred faces. We have three members of the emergency services in the team, a teacher, a regular military member and others that simply don’t fancy having our faces plastered all over the place. There’s a variety of reasons for this. A lot of it is our decision for E27 to be about the group and the kit. We’re pretty uniform; we go for matching gear, with personal touches, and most of us just use callsigns as IG handles.
Kinda cliche at this point but it’s not really about individuals showing off. E27 is a group project doing stuff as a group. Lots of us have little side projects but if people aren’t in the group running with us and on the same page, it doesn’t really work. So the anonymity of the blurred faces is a decent ego check.
Some people like to take the piss out of blurred faces in general for airsoft- ‘hurr durr why is your face blurred you’re not Military.’
The thing is, airsoft is a hard hobby to explain without sounding like a serial killer. Obviously a bit of facial blur won’t stop someone determined to dig up your life, but given the factional and frequently personal squabbles that erupt within the scene, more people should probably avoid the potential for leaking/sharing photos of them tooled up all over the Internet. I used to do background checks in one of my old jobs, and the amount of people who have racist and sexist shit or drink and drug use all over their social media is nuts. In today’s literally gun-shy world, the community as a whole could do with tightening up their social media use.
Just because you have a job now that doesn’t care doesn’t mean that will always be the case. And although it’s a downer I fully expect there to be eventually some kind of mass shooter or extreme right or left wing scumbag from the community who gets the full spotlight of media attention on all of us.
ATRG: Ok, so let’s talk about positive stuff for a while… what positive impact has airsoft had personally on you?
Dave: I’ve met some brilliant people.
The people are why I’m still doing it. I’ve met a huge diverse range of people from backgrounds and ages. I’ve got friends I chat with constantly and I’ve met very few times.
Airsoft gave me an outlet when I was going through some rough times with health and work. There’s still more positives than negatives. Probably not so great for my bank balance but it’s good exercise and I’ve done some cool stuff. Filmed a beer advert in Hereford, with an audience of ex regiment guys. That was pretty dope. Flown in a helicopter. Rode a RIB boat to insert at night under NVG to scout out an area. Some cool experiences.
ATRG: And finally, a two part question. What do you like most about airsoft and what would you change?
Dave: Hmm probably the same answer to both questions. The airsofters.
The people doing this hobby are the reason I’m still here. A lot of them are the reason I think about quitting. We need to remember we play a game based on honesty, and act accordingly. Even though you may look like an operator, you are not one and few if any of us will ever be one. Having the kit doesn’t make you elite. A lot of people need to remember that.
People in skirmish airsoft and Milsim alike take things way too seriously. I’ve been guilty of it in the past but the whole scene is way too tribal now. We need big events companies to come back, like Legion airsoft on a bigger scale that can get large groups of players together and have a laugh and have fun.