Bek Ibragimbekov, vice-president of the Russian Federation of Airsoft, says it took him some time before he began to believe in VR-airsoft and to appreciate the potential of competitions in hybrid disciplines and the future of phygital-sport.
Airsoft is a team military-tactical game which relies heavily on an honor system in which players who have been hit for the first time are expected to call themselves out. A specially developed soft pneumatic gun is being used in airsoft. In its virtual version each player has VR-points which allow him to immerse in new reality and he can see his team mates, his opponents, the obstacles, the weapon, the game statistics and two joysticks which imitate the weapon and allow the player to act within virtual reality – for example, to pick-up objects or fire shots.
We have just seen a VR-game, it looks unusual from aside. How long has it been practiced in Russia and what potential do you see in this new hybrid sports discipline CS:GO + airsoft?
— Airsoft as a sport is a new discipline. It was invented in Russia. Here we are leaving behind all the other nations. And it was born a while ago in Japan in the 1970s as a type of a recreational activity. Therefore we have the opportunity, the potential and, most importantly, the desire to try something new. So, when we found out about the existence of VR, we decided to give it a shot integrating airsoft into it.
We have found partners, a company which does research&development in VR. At that precise moment they were developing a system for teaching and qualified testing of specialists of deep-sea welding for oil companies. We are talking about sub-millimeter precision. What is it? It is less than a millimeter. That made quite an impression.
Together with this company we decided to proceed to an experiment –to build a real arena according to the rules of street airsoft observing religiously up to the millimeter the optimal location of shelters. Students familiarized themselves with the VR-game, they compete and get a real competitive impulse. It is not just about something interactive, it is also about physical activity, a combination of movement, muscle tension and cognitive work of the brain. All functions of the body get involved and everyone is mobilizing. Having said that, what the players see on the monitor is just that they are moving in a weird fashion across an empty space, then inside the game they see a totally different reality: the shelters, the adversary who is running up from the other side and is shooting. They see how others are shooting glowing balls, the get to see the shot trajectory. So what happens in this case? First, it is a competition. Besides, you will note that one team is located in Irkutsk and the other in Sochi. No one is wasting time on flying. You can either compete or hold joint training sessions. Secondly, it is important that people are being taught different tactics, they have the opportunity to try these different tactics and strategies. Thirdly, they get a feel for the model of the arena where they are to compete at the next tournament. All of this is done on schemes with some approximation, yet people can perceive space information very differently, while here you can cover the whole route by foot. Fourthly, for me as a scholar – and I am a third-year postgraduate student, it is a wealth of scientific research because these devices that players put on their head are scanning encephalographic indicators of the brain. You can determine one reacts and how one can learn or how the coach must structure his practice session. These are very objective data, not just sheer observations, it is something that the figures confirm.
— You mean, the potential of VR-technologies is huge?
— The use of such technologies opens up a new huge prospective for sports and related fields (for example, recreational medicine). Unfortunately, we face skepticism. Believe me, I didn’t believe in it all from the first time – just like all normal people until I trained life on a real arena feeling like a squeezed lemon competing up against top airsoft players. I’m in a good physical shape but it is so physically demanding. That is, we are really dealing with a combination of virtual and real world. It is very promising. Besides, technologies keep developing and improving. For now, players hold in their hands manipulators (during the competitions held at the Russian State University of Physical Culture, Sports Youth and Tourism), but then a copy of real airsoft weapon with sensors inside is already in the making.
— Why VR-airsoft is really cool?
— It is exciting to learn how to communicate using VR. It is a team game, not an individual one. People seek to win together; the result depends on each of them. Why do we take up sports? The main motivation in sports is the desire to win. It is all about ambitions and vanity – in positive terms. Besides here you do something together with your friends, you are learning how to evaluate the situation, to inform whether the adversary is to your right or to your left. These things happen in a moment. And when a team participate in active exchange and joint actions it can rally people together, because friendships can form when we overcome challenges together. Especially in sports. Strange though it may seem, this thing has a very positive impact on the emotional portrait of the players and make them achieve a goal together.
— Students are trying their hand at modern military-tactical double-event – the videogame CS:GO plus airsoft VR. Have you tried personally such a game as the guys did today- i.e. first playing with the game console and then wearing glasses?
— How easy or how hard is it to switch from one discipline to the other?
— A very good question because the difference is huge, indeed. When we play a computer game, we mentally tune up for a specific perception. Fine motor skills come into action as well as the eye muscle. And yet what we see on the screen is useful because we are working in front of a computer and we manage different things. But in the virtual world everything changes, you deal with new dimensions that appear there. During the first seconds you just need to adapt to this new volume. When you put on a helmet, you try to deal with familiar things. You think it will be just like on a monitor. Yet it is not the case. All of a sudden you get all this volume. You look up, you can feel and touch these obstacles, you believe in them. It is a completely different feeling. And it makes one move differently. You saw it – they bend down but no one forces them to. What sport does to you? Sport develops people, and all of this does develop.