Gord's Story - #partofthegame
As a university student, Gord Lai was obsessed with the sport of airsoft. He recalls having airsoft literature tucked inside his textbooks while he was studying. Eighteen years ago he decided to start an indoor arena where people could drop in and play the sport. He eagerly saw it as an opportunity not only to provide access to the sport, but to be able to play the sport all of the time and immerse himself in it. He named this arena Xtreme Tactics.
Gord in the Xtreme Tactics proshop - Bill C-21 will prohibit his business entirely, already hurting from COVID-19
Since airsoft’s introduction to the area, Manitoba has maintained a tightly knit and supportive airsoft community. Before Xtreme Tactics, the community relied on private land that was volunteered to host games and events that were organized by passionate community members.
Winter has always been one of Manitoba’s greatest hurdles. Most sports are forced to be seasonal as temperatures often drop below -40 degrees Celcius in the winter months. Airsoft was no exception. In the winter, community-led outdoor games become difficult to host, and are usually spontaneously scheduled during pockets of mild weather.
This is where Gord saw his opportunity. He remembers, “At the time, options were limited for people that wanted to do something in the winter.” At a time when smartphones hadn’t yet become available, and high-speed internet wasn’t in every household, Gord gave Winnipeggers another option.
Xtreme Tactics is comprised of Canada’s oldest indoor airsoft arena and pro-shop. This locally founded and run arena supports the sport within the Manitoba region as a place to play, a place to shop, and a place to have airsoft devices repaired. The arena is 14,000 square feet of winding hallways and dark corners. It’s a venue that excites the senses, promotes movement, and commands your attention.
“I was young at the time. If it flopped, which was statistically likely, I would still have time to start over and keep going,” says Gord. That was 18 years ago, and Xtreme Tactics has been a driving force for Manitoba’s airsoft community ever since.
The business’s importance to the community started to pull Gord away from the sport. “I realize that I am more needed to keep the wheels turning and to manage the operations of the store and arena,” says Gord. But at that same time, the facility had become a pillar for the community: something Gord can truly be proud of. Xtreme Tactics was the most accessible place to play airsoft in Winnipeg. You could host your birthday party there, or show up for a pick-up game on a whim.
Winter is no longer airsoft’s biggest threat in Manitoba, thanks to Gord. Thanks to Canada’s federal government, Bil C-21 is.
With Bill C-21 ‘s redesignation of airsoft guns as prohibited devices, the sport could become impossible to play. Gord understands the gravity of these very real possibilities: “I stand to lose the business.” In times already wrought by pandemic closures, Xtreme Tactics faces its most difficult hurdle: the prohibition of the sport it supports. “I don’t think we can survive. They aren’t giving people in this industry any options…COVID unemployment rates are already through the roof and now they’re just putting more people on unemployment,” says Gord.
Through the years, Gord’s facility has helped to grow the airsoft community. It acts as a public bridge to the other corners of airsoft for people outside the existing community in Manitoba. The arena’s timeslots continued to attract new players who were looking for a place to try out the sport. Xtreme Tactics provides them with a controlled environment where they could safely be introduced.
As Manitobans started to form personal connections to the sport, the stigma faded. “People would say, ‘oh airsoft, my brother plays airsoft,’ or ‘my niece does that.’ And they can form an association to the sport in that way,” reflects Gord, “I’ve never found anything like airsoft where an adult parent can have such an exciting bonding relationship with their teenage child.”
As Gord explains, it goes beyond couples or family members wanting to spend time together. “Airsoft is a unique atmosphere where people from a diverse range of social circles can come together and play as one. They can share the experience of an interest they didn’t know they shared…I see people from all walks of life. You get your professionals who are doctors, lawyers etc. and your normal everyday joe. You get people with socialization issues who don’t have the communications skills that others do. Airsoft is their tool to break that barrier and get comfortable with like-minded individuals.”
Gord says, “The friends and the people I meet through the sport are the most rewarding aspect I take away from the sport. I love to hear people coming out of the arena and not be able to stop talking about the experience they just had in there.”
These shared memories and stories don’t stay at Xtreme Tactics; players take these home and form bonds with other players. Bonds that will last a lifetime. It's all #partofthegame. If C-21 passes, these memories will be all that remains of airsoft.