Battlefield Hong Kong: meet the airsoft soldiers taking wargames to the next level

An increasing number of Hongkongers are taking part in simulated military combat games here and abroad, with local gun makers among the world leaders

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 August, 2017, 7:58am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 August, 2017, 10:22am

The four young men in Hong Kong Special Ops Fireteam had detached from their second company comrades-in-arms. Instead of being deployed to Point Richard like their 2,000 Yellow Forces fellow-combatants, Fireteam were sent to ambush the enemy base.

Armed with Type 97 assault rifles, team leader Erich Tong, Justin Lau, Derek Mui and Lawrence Tang advanced with stealth into the Boston base camp in Moscow.

Mayhem ensued as the Fireteam fighters confronted an enemy contingent marching out of base. The four Hongkongers caused chaos with their assault, but when no communications were forthcoming from the battleground, their commanders deployed more than 100 troops, backed by drones, to search for Fireteam.

However, the Hong Kong fighters had made a quick getaway, splitting into pairs and picking off enemy fighters on their way back to safe ground.

At the end of the battle, the Hong Kong team had taken down 21 enemy soldiers of the Blue Forces. Mission accomplished, as the team emphatically maintained Hong Kong’s reputation as skilled special duty operatives.

Of course, no one was really killed and the weapons used were not actual Type 97s commonly used by the People’s Liberation Army.

Watch: Armoured War in Moscow

They were airsoft replicas, but the thrill of simulating a war scenario was real for the four Hongkongers and the 4,000 other participants in the popular biennial Russian wargames event Armored War – which is attracting more combatants every year.

Hong Kong’s standing in the global wargames landscape goes beyond the skills of their players, the city is also one of the world’s leading suppliers of airsoft guns, which are officially classified as toys and are therefore legal.

“Hong Kong produces some of the best airsoft guns in the world,” said Lau, who also hosts his own international wargames event in Hong Kong.

“Unlike Taiwanese and Chinese producers who usually copy Japanese ‘90s models, Hong Kong manufacturers are more creative and the guns look authentic and are comparable to the Japanese grand masters of the past.

“Today, wargames has spread to Europe, especially Russia, and Hong Kong airsoft products are visible worldwide.”

Weapons produced by Hong Kong companies include AK47, M4A1, the Israeli TAR-21 and British L85 and SLR. Instead of real bullets, the airsoft guns fire plastic pellets propelled by electricity or compressed gas.

According to Lau, Hong Kong’s interest in wargames stems from 1990s’ John Woo-type action movies featuring Chow Yun-fat and Leslie Cheung.

After the 2007 CEPA trade agreement between the mainland and Hong Kong, the airsoft gun industry in Hong Kong grew in line with demand in the city and abroad.

Watch: Wargames in Hong Kong

Wargames is now considered a sport by its practitioners although there is still a long way to go in terms of gaining recognition.

Without a true global governing body, it is left to individuals and groups to form their own jurisdictions and regional associations.

Lau said wargames is an evolution of paintball, except venues are much larger and realistic, often using natural terrain to mimic the war theatre.

The Moscow wargames venue was equivalent to the size of Kowloon and involved more than 4,000 participants – including members of the PLA – who had enough room to use of tanks and other armoured vehicles as well as drones.

In addition, participants kit themselves out in camouflage battle dress, vests, boots and other military accessories.

Games are essentially between two teams who must try to overwhelm their opponents. When a participant is shot in the body or equipment, he or she is out of the game. Games are also objective-based or involve military simulations for advanced players.

In June, Lau’s Day Army wargames company organised one of the biggest events of the year in Hong Kong in which 152 local participants re-enacted the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day June 6, 1944 in Yuen Long.

“We’re trying to build a community,” said Lau. “We typically get together with ‘the enemy’ after games to exchange GoPro videos.

“We focus on improving game judging by outlining simple missions for beginners and use innovations such as drones in the battlefield to make it more exciting.

“The biggest challenge in Hong Kong is still the lack of land. Often, it is not enough to cater to big groups such as ours.”

However, because of the land shortage, Lau says Hong Kong wargames organisers are among the world leaders when it comes to designing indoor battlefields.

The largest indoor venue in Hong Kong is Impact Force in Diamond Hill, which covers 35,000 square feet and offers various scenarios such as Amazon Jungle, The Lost City, Maze Runner and Unimagined Region.

Rugged areas in Sai Kung , Tuen Mun and Yuen Long are also used.

Lau says it costs up to HK$2,000 to buy a full kit of assault rifle, battle dress, vest and safety mask.

“It is quite inexpensive,” he says. “It’s still very affordable for many adult men and women in the city. The indoor venues are fairly convenient.

“Indoor venues are especially iconic in Hong Kong because, with the land problems, club managers are able to design the most sophisticated indoor game zones.”

Student Yireh Cheng is a wargames enthusiast who has been playing for several years.

“I fell in love with weapons since I was six years old watching TV shows about the US military,” he said.

“So I started to play airsoft because I believe that is the most optimum way to allow myself to be like a soldier.”

Thomas Cheung, a caregiver at a home for the elderly, said his interest in wargames stems purely from his love of guns.

“I like wargames because of the typical boyhood aspiration to play with guns,” said Cheung.