The Mormon Student Center building on Dalrymple Drive is an unlikely place for a war, but on a sleepy Saturday morning in January, that’s exactly what it got – a Nerf war.
A stone-faced portrait of Jesus watched as the chaos unfolded. Nerf darts flew around the room and people screamed as they sprinted from hiding place to hiding place, all to the soundtrack of heavily modified Nerf blasters blasting round after round.
Sure, it was carnage, but since the darts were made of foam, no one was hurt. The occasion was the Louisiana Blaster League’s monthly indoor Blaster Battle – in effect, all-out Nerf warfare.
Founded in August 2018 by Heath Vizier, the group organizes two tournaments per month, one indoor and one outdoor. It is one of many such groups scattered across the United States, with play being particularly strong on the east and west coasts.
His approach is wonderfully egalitarian. The battles are free to participate and open to people of all ages. Attendees even bring boxes of Nerf blasters for those who don’t have one.
The ever cheerful Noah Billeaud-Lehotsky is one of the band’s board members. He first fell in love with Nerf sports as a child, and as a teenager formed a club at Jesuit High School in New Orleans.
His time in the local Blaster community was interrupted by a stint in the Marines. When he returns from service in January 2022, he finds the local scene in dire need of a boost.
“When I came back there were only about four people in the club,” he said. “He was in bad shape. I thought, ‘Let’s go. ” “
Using some lessons he had learned from his time in the San Diego Blaster community (while stationed there as a Marine), he joined the local Blaster League and, alongside Vizier and other members of the board, he helped rebuild the community.
“COVID has hit the club hard in terms of morale,” he said. “But we’ve given him a pretty tough boost over the last year.”
This push paid off. The club has continued to grow in strength: although attendance varies, around 10 to 20 people show up regularly for meetings.
The game is full of variety. There are dozens of modes (or individual games) you can play. Many Nerf blasters themselves are far from stock – with 3D printing popular in the Blaster community, many blasters from Saturday’s encounter were heavily customized.
Often, members print their weapons the day before a competition and use the next day’s battle to test them.
The sessions themselves are flexible. Although they start around 11am, they don’t end until everyone has had enough.
One of the few limits is on the speed at which the darts are fired, with a limit of 150 feet per second when children are present. To verify this, the band has a Ballistic Precision Chronograph that allows players to check the firing rate of their blaster.
The shots that sting the most are headshots. Although discouraged, they inevitably perform in the heat of the moment, and because of this, participants always wear goggles of one type or another.
Board member Jacob Lewis, who has been with the Blaster League for “almost exactly” a year, said it’s the sport’s flexibility and sense of community that he likes best.
“Compared to other wargaming sports, this has one of the strongest communities,” he said. “It’s also possible to play in almost any environment. Other games require large spaces, but this one can be just about anywhere.”
Lewis said that in games like paintball or airsoft, players can get pretty beaten up, “but in this one you can play for hours and you’ll be fine.”
Saturday’s battle underscored the adaptability of the Blaster League. The group’s indoor events are usually held in a full gym, but since their usual spot has been booked, they’ve hastily moved to the Mormon Student Center building.
It didn’t take much to turn the office space into a battlefield. Tables were removed and tilted to serve as barriers, while players crouched behind walls and ran between desks in the back.
At 11:30 a.m., the floor was littered with brightly colored Nerf darts. Participants rushed in, firing bullets from blasters ranging from heavily customized to ready-made.
As Lewis, who helps choose individual modes to play, was explaining the rules for a particular mode, one member said, “Oh, I’m not sparing anyone.”
A few minutes later, he was lying on the floor, covered in bright orange darts, laughing.
There were lots of smiles. That, Billeaud-Lehotsky said, is pretty much the point.
“We’re building and helping the community, and we’re giving people more fun things to do for free,” he said. “We’re just here to have fun.”