Blackline Simulations: Immersive Action

10 mins read

I got to thinking this past week about training. Shocker, right? Operational readiness, as far as I can muster, is comprised of the physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual skills that we actively practice in preparation for field operations. It’s the promise that we make – we’re ready. Blackline Simulations is an organization that has a unique take on skill development that I believe is worth review.

Now, I’m going to tread lightly here on a wavering line. The worlds of tactical training, fitness and mindset development are rife with A-Type people and rightly so. Many folks have ‘best’ in mind when discussing objectives for training. I think, though, that there’s enough room for ‘different’ to be on the table, too. For example, the US Army’s approach to maintaining readiness via video gaming. Or, the way we see companies like Rogue Methods injecting traditional combatives into full-on skirmishes for weapon retention.

There’s more than one way to hit the mark. If you don’t think that’s accurate, this article isn’t for you.

Yes. Actual helicopter insertion reps.

Enter: Blackline Simulations.

I’ve known Sean Arbuthnot of Blackline Simulations for a handful of years now. We first met each other via local airsoft events back when I was in college. Yes – that airsoft. The sometimes cringe, sometimes serious sport where players fling plastic pellets at each other out of real-looking replicas. At that time, Sean was hosting events catered to a small derivative of players interested in building and playing Vietnam-era loadouts. He has since been busy putting together Blackline, a company that prides itself on providing “the most immersive espionage and tactical experiences in Canada.”

On the surface, Blackline hits with obvious effort toward great media. That probably stems from Sean’s eye for photography and design. But, beyond the shadowbannable graphics, Blackline offers a sincere opportunity to practice endurance, communication and leadership to just about anybody that can pull together enough kit to participate.

I sent over a few questions for Sean to help flesh out some of my talking points here, so I’ll let him introduce Blackline in his own words;

Blackline Simulations is a blend between a Jason Bourne movie and an escape room. We immerse our players in a world of espionage missions and military special operations that take place in the real world around you. We’re focused on producing the most realistic, engaging, suspenseful, and intense events, blending cold war spycraft with modern stories, and real skills training. There’s a need in airsoft military simulation space, as well as the civilian one, to go beyond capture the flag and simple puzzles that people encounter. We’re aiming to provide them with an opportunity to acquire new capabilities and put them to use in the most authentic scenarios we can generate.

Sean Arbuthnot, Blackline Simulations

Airsoft: A vehicle for training.

This is a topic that other creators have touched on. I remember watching T.REX ARMS discuss how airsoft can assist with real-world firearms manipulation and nomenclature, but his argument reaches past that; problem solving, target identification and navigating terrain are a few of the other skillsets that can be actively developed through companies like Blackline.

If there’s one thing that we get on about over here, it’s this. Skills are perishable and the responsibility for maintaining proficiency falls directly and specifically on you. Participating in simulations like those provided by Blackline would allow you to not only sharpen those skills like movement and communication, but to do so in your gear with a live enemy presence that actually shoots back.

A commenter on the video above says it best; “Imagine being a boxer and not sparring cause it’s ‘not real.'”

Simulating the wider span.

I recognize that other ‘milsim’ opportunities are out there, but I’ve been following Blackline for a while and there’s some specific elements of what they’re doing that set them clearly apart.

What is really setting us apart from other airsoft events and experiences out there is our depth and intensity. While some airsoft events may have a break for lunch or ask you to capture a folder with ‘INTEL’ written on it, we run our operations in a persistent non-permissive environment. We ask people to learn new (or hone existing) skills such as weapon handling, situational awareness, analytics, surveillance and covert entry. Then we put those skills to the test with real problems to solve. ie How do we get this surveillance device into the subjects home? How do we rescue this hostage? Teams have to do real work to find, assess, plan, and execute missions. Some missions start months in advance to ensure people have the skills and gather the target information to make the mission a success. The missions are pass/fail experiences, so you’ll be putting all of these capabilities to test for ‘real’.

Sean Arbuthnot, Blackline Simulations

Read into that. Workup. OSINT. This is well beyond the realm of the Saturday-morning skirmishes at your local paintball field. There’s a real-world tie in. Or, a focus on bringing enough realism to the field that I honestly believe this could be used as a proxy for training.

You may believe that your fitness level matches well to running and gunning. You may trust that your coordination and cognitive abilities are geared for split-second decision making.

Unless you test that, you don’t know.

It’s important to note that this goes beyond the ‘flat range’ weapons skills or situational awareness skills people normally develop, because our events employ a real opposing force. They’re one that is smart enough to avoid your simple tricks, and is happy to shoot back when their own objectives are at risk. The VIP you’re trying to capture isn’t going to stick around for a fight if they know they’re under threat. We do our absolute best to remove any imaginary elements from Blackline events. We want to suspend your disbelief as much as possible so that you react in authentic ways, and force you to use your skills. A reactive enemy force absolutely REQUIRES you create contingency plans to deal with more than a simple outcome.

Sean Arbuthnot, Blackline Simulations

Not real, not fake. Sparring.

Imagine spending five years learning Jiu Jitsu. In one club, the participants learn technique and prepare for interactions with violence by way of discussion. They debate the best ways to defeat the make-believe opponents and verbalize what they would do. In the next club, they train the same techniques and apply them on the mats. They grapple each other to A/B test the best ways to control a non-compliant attacker.

Which one is better prepared for a fight?

Sure, the boxer needs bag work and a trainer to hit the mits with. That’s your live-fire. Airsoft, simunitions and UTM is the sparring that allows you to get used to being in the fight itself.

Blackline Simulations is a Canadian organization that is offering unique, challenging opportunities to test yourself against a simulated environment. Sean is adamant that his events don’t try to paste on a veneer that rivals the real deal, but, if you are adjacent to the tactical community and you are not actively participating in milsim, you’re missing out – period.

To learn more about Blackline Simulations and see what they’re cooking up, click here; Blackline Simulations.

Bill Dungey is a volunteer firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is focused on fitness, mindset development and finding training opportunities to help the fire service make things better.

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