Tales From The Hardside – An Interview with Airborne Airsoft
This time around we take the time out to sit down with Kenny from Airborne Airsoft.
Kenny, for those who’ve not already met this amiable and approachable fellow, he hails from an illustrious military and law enforcement background. This is all very aptly echoed in the training programs and events with which Airborne Airsoft have exploded onto the scene over the last few years.
Now, I always believe it’s a good sign of a thinking man, but Kenny is also a highly skilled model maker, those of you familiar with the hellish nightmare within which the 40th thousand millennium takes place, will take no end of delight in Kenny’s attention to detail.
What’s this got to do with Plastic Deth (MilSim/Airsoft) ?
Well, it’s this attention to detail that’s seen Airborne Airsoft deliver some of the best story driven MilSim events over the last several months, all of which have been bolstered by relevant courses run by their training wing.
GM75: Kenny, thanks for taking the time out to talk with us. I’ve got to ask – how did you first discover Airsoft and how long have you been playing ?
Considering that, when did you reach the point where you felt you could bring something new to the game, running events and training, did you perhaps feel something was missing or lacking ?
KA: I was first invited to play airsoft in about 2006 when I was still serving on SO19 – I had been invited a few times and had always kind of looked down my nose at it because of the day job but eventually I gave in and went along to a local Kent site and had a great day, got tons of kills and I really enjoyed myself and went out and bought myself a gun the next day and that was me hooked! The main advantage I had was I already had piles of kit from the police and army.
If was after a good few games and some really bad experiences with various companies and a few good ones too, that I started considering getting into the site operator business and it was at one of the first Airborne Airsoft Longmoor games which I attended as a customer this came about. My little 4 man team and a couple of hire guys took on what was at the time a team called 1st Airborne, the home team and we smashed them about the site so badly the team was disbanded and I was approached about coming on board, initially as a consultant and then after that I was offered partnership in the business as suggested changes were embraced and started having more or less an immediate effect. That’s how I met John, my current business partner who at the time was being held back in business by the then two other directors. Changes were made and since it’s just been John and I the business has really grown.
I hate poor customer service and it’s something I am passionate about and I have experienced at sites more often than not – ex army types swaggering about in regimental sweaters wearing site hi viz jackets like they are carrying a roll of carpet under each arm looking at their customers with contempt wasn’t the way I wanted the business to go so we put in place professional dress standards, customer service training, first aid and conflict management training which was mandatory for everyone and fostered a real team ethos. I wanted my guys to be rated amongst the best in the business and I am immensely proud of the team – everyone plays their part. Even Brylcreem.
GM75: So, whilst I’ve yet had the good fortune to attend one of your events – a lot of good friends are firm devotees of the series. Has the story driven arc captured the imagination of what is very much a growing and loyal audience ?
KA: I think the immersive aspect started growing by accident initially as characters had started forming and the narrative kind of started flowing of its own accord and that was when I started seeing team loyalty being embraced going back about 3 years or so when it was NATO vs. the then bad guys, The Jafar. People were really getting in role and I embraced that and built on it and the campaign was a real success – current global events with ISIS meant ultimately people fell out of love with what was incidentally an insurgency style OPFOR so we felt it was time to reset the campaign and design a new player led OPFOR, based on a French resistance style organisation called Vendetta. I wanted the teams to remain player led and self-generated and the planning aspect of the events by the players are a key aspect of how we do things – players are playing the game weeks before they even attend the camp. The pre party drinks are usually quite a spectacle to behold as well!
GM75: Now, whilst it’s not mandatory, how’s the training wing progressed and have you seen as a direct result an improvement and immersion for the players that have partaken in courses and subsequently attended events ?
KA: The training Wing is fully a third of what we do as a business and in our milsim events, the hardest hitters are the teams that attend training, whether that’s standalone days with me or our All Arms Cadre students. The Cadre is structured like a martial arts class as I also teach Japanese martial arts. It’s designed to be fun, progressive and real steel tactics designed to enhance a player’s game of airsoft. We run periodical gradings which can earn students different coloured Pegasus patches which illustrate rank and attendance and it’s something to aim for. Gradings are deliberately hard but with the pass mark relevant to the grade of patch being attempted. A big part of it is fostering safety as even with airsoft guns, they are dangerous in the wrong hands. It’s not however, designed to have airsofters abseiling in through embassy windows , contrary to popular belief!
Where the immersive aspect is concerned definitely as it’s the trained teams that seem to be ruling the roost in the campaign to date, on both sides making the operations closely fought recently. That’s what it’s all about.
GM75: One thing that has really struck me is the huge emphasis on customer focus and satisfaction, undoubtedly this has driven brand loyalty and created a huge fan base, is this something important to you and part of the company’s ethos ?
KA: Customer service and satisfaction is paramount in everything we do – we accept we can’t please everybody all of the time but we strive to, and after each event, even if it’s a success, we go back to the drawing board and think “How do we make the next one better?” and we change the format of every event and write new missions for each element of the campaign. There is a pattern at about 1430 onwards players can get a bit tired and emotional and we expect that so just take a bit more of an empathetic approach than some other venues might.
I respect all of my paying customers and if they are paying good money to come to our events for a good day out with their mates, then that’s what we will strive to give them. It’s based on the Japanese process called Kaizen – constant improvement. We aren’t scared to try new things and these don’t always work but we do ask for feedback and respond or take on new ideas where possible – not everything is feasible or relevant but customers will always have our ear and they will always have my respect. It’s unacceptable to me for customers not to feel valued and you will never hear me being disrespectful to customers at events as I want everyone to come back and get drawn into the carnage! Even those that refer to me as the cat whisperer!
GM75: Now, you’ve held some staggeringly ambitious and large in scale events, having seen a slew of photography and footage from many of these – is there one that particularly stands out for you ?
KA: We often have several photographers on site – Nick Kennard and Aaron James are our two longest serving guys and do a great job for us and their skills are epic and we have others that come and go as well – also got to mention my good bud Dan Foofighter who runs my instagram page for Airborne and is a legend at doing it and has a massive following in his own right. We are also currently getting another promo video done, this time for the milsim Total War campaign and a third will follow when our new London ‘Blitz CQB’ venue opens so watch this space. I have seen the first cut of the milsim promo and Gareth our video man has done a stirling job of putting up with my direction and pulling a great vid out of the bag. We can’t wait to see it launched!
GM75: Real Steel & Airsoft have always had an uneasy relationship, invariably it’s the fault of the latter. Whilst of late the Real Steel world has been a little more brotherly of late, and receptive of the idea of Airsoft, both as a past time and as a training tool. Do you think there’s room for improvement, could there be a crossover where a happier medium could perhaps be reached. Or, perhaps Airsoft/MilSim shouldn’t take itself so seriously ?
KA: I think you should never lose sight of airsoft as a fun activity to be done with your mates – it’s basically modern day re-enactment and politics or regimental pride should stay well out of it – I have no issue at all if players want to rock up representing the SAS or paras or whatever, wearing wings patches or whatever as it’s a game of imitation at the end of the day but I do draw the line of ‘Walter Mitties’ claiming to have done things they haven’t which is massively disrespectful and harmful to the industry. No need to embellish what you have done, wherever you are in life, be proud of your achievements as that’s who you are is what I think. I have had more cap badges than I have had hot dinners over the last 24 years of service in different guises.
Walting definitely damages credibility and does real harm to the industry and I have come across more members of the ‘Regiment’ in my time in airsoft than you would think possible. When instructing I usually carry my professional certificates scanned onto an ipad or have my military ID and credentials with me so I can support my service record. Many’s the time I have had people ‘call me out’ for stuff I teach, claiming its incorrect or bad drills etc. and it usually turns out that they are a chairborne warrior or were a cadet once or military 30 years ago – things change, drills enhance with changes in tactics and the development of new weapons systems, kit and equipment – I am still serving and my skills are current and up to date and more often than not it’s the haters that are far behind the times. I just let the haters hate and concentrate on driving the business and meeting customer expectations of a great experience whether that be milsim or training or our Young gun events and private parties we do a lot of. I think, immerse yourself in the campaign, work hard at missions which are deliberately hard and take pride in a hard fought game with and against your pals and go for a relaxing cold beer afterwards satisfied you have had a great day out – that’s what it’s all about for me, especially if customers are buying me a beer as well!
KA: We have a lot of Longmoor dates coming up and are working on an exciting new indoor CQB project in Whitechapel – Blitz CQB – watch this space as we are working on the project as I we speak. It’s going to be 300m squared, of indoor carnage designed to be WW2 bombed out Whitechapel, hence the name. It’s going to be the only one of its kind in London when we go live and is really exciting to be involved in the design, build and implementation of what could be the capitals most exciting indoor airsoft venue. We also have another two sites in the pipeline and another promo vid being edited as we speak so lots going on for us – almost too much but it’s good to see hard work helping the business progress. We are also setting up a security industry training business focusing on not only the SIA related aspects but High threat and hostile environmental training for non-combatants. Again, watch this space.
GM75: Right, before we wrap up, really appreciate you taking the time out to talk, obligatory last question I always like to ask (kind of a trademark), I’m a fan of 30 Rounds per mag, what’s your thoughts on this – could you see this perhaps bringing something new and fresh to game play if embraced by the masses ?
KA: I think it’s a good idea however my honest thought is if it was 30 rounds of 7.62 people would take their hits but 30 rounds of .2g plastic People are less likely to notice and there are significant external factors such as range, weather, terrain, shooters ability etc. to make it a viable option for us as the capability of airsoft ammunition is so far removed from real steel airsofters have to use so much more of it. We run midcaps in our milsim which for me, gives us good balance in the games and still encourages plenty of fire fights giving players the flexibility to get stuck in and get their fix of shooting their pals whilst still being tactical and discouraging spray and pray merchants. I am looking to foster a community of higher calibre of player where we can eradicate cheating and shouts of “take your hits” completely and where mutual respect regardless of winning or losing is the order of the day. I believe we are slowly getting there.
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