La. Blaster League hosts Nerf wars open to all | Entertainment/Life

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 stony-faced portrait of Jesus looked on as chaos unfolded. Nerf darts flew around the room and people shouted as they sprinted from one hiding place to another, all to the soundtrack of heavily modified Nerf blasters popping off round after round. 

Sure, it was carnage, but since the darts were made of foam nobody was hurt. The occasion was the Louisiana Blaster League’s monthly indoor Blaster Battle — in effect, an all-out Nerf war.

Founded in August 2018 by Heath Vizier, the group hosts two tournaments a month, one indoor and one outdoor. It’s one of many such groups scattered across the United States, with the game particularly strong on both the East and West coasts.

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A small collection of Nerf blasters and darts sit on a table in the ‘armory’ during the Louisiana Blaster League’s indoor Blaster Battle at the Mormon Student Center in Baton Rouge, La., on Saturday, January 14, 2023.

Its approach is wonderfully egalitarian. Battles are free to participate in and open to people of all ages. Participants even brings boxes of Nerf blasters for those who don’t have their own. 

The ever-cheerful Noah Billeaud-Lehotsky is one of the group’s board members. He first fell in love with Nerf sports as a kid 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 returned from his service in January 2022, he found the local scene sorely in need of a boost.

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Aidyn Bakker aims at opposing players during a round of the Louisiana Blaster League’s indoor Blaster Battle at the Mormon Student Center in Baton Rouge, La., on Saturday, January 14, 2023.

“When I came back, there were only about four people in the club,” he said. “It was in bad shape. I thought, ‘Let’s get this going.’ “

Using some lessons he’d learned from his time in San Diego’s Blaster community (while stationed there as a Marine), he joined the local Blaster League and, alongside with Vizier and other board members, he helped build the community back up.

“COVID hit the club hard when it came to morale,” he said. “But we’ve been giving it a pretty hard push for the past year.”

That push has paid off. The club has steadily grown in strength: While attendance varies, roughly 10 to 20 people regularly show up to the meets.

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Jacob Lewis demonstrates how to use the chronograph to determine the feet-per-second speed of a dart coming out of a blaster during the Louisiana Blaster League’s indoor Blaster Battle at the Mormon Student Center in Baton Rouge, La., on Saturday, January 14, 2023. The Louisiana Blaster League limits the feet-per-second speed of any blasters used during its games to around 100 feet-per-second when young participants, below the age of 14, are present at their games.

The game is full of variety. There are dozens of modes (or individual games) that can be played. Many of the Nerf blasters themselves are far from stock — with 3D printing popular in the Blaster community, many of the blasters at Saturday’s meet were heavily customized.

Often, members print their guns the night before a meet and use the following day’s battle to test them out.

The sessions themselves are flexible. Though they start around 11 a.m., they only finish when everyone’s had enough.

One of the few limits is on the speed the darts are fired at, with a 150 feet per second limit when kids are present. To check this, the group has a Ballistic Precision Chronograph that allows players to check their blaster’s firing speed. 

The hits that sting the most are headshots. Though discouraged, they inevitably happen in the heat of battle, and because of this, participants always put on protective eyewear of one kind or another.

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Andrew Clark, right, and Trenton Davis, left, reload foam darts into magazines between rounds of the Louisiana Blaster League’s indoor Blaster Battle at the Mormon Student Center in Baton Rouge, La., on Saturday, January 14, 2023.

Board member Jacob Lewis, who’s been part of the Blaster League for “almost exactly” a year, said it was the sport’s flexibility and sense of community he liked best.

“Compared to other wargame sports, this has one of the strongest communities,” he said. “There’s also an ability to play in almost any environment. Other games require wide 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 underlined the Blaster League’s adaptability. The group’s indoor events usually take place in a full gym, but since their regular spot was booked, they hurriedly relocated to the Mormon Student Center building.

It didn’t take much to turn the office space into a battlefield. Tables were pulled out and tipped up to use as barriers, while players crouched behind walls and ran between offices out back.

By 11.30 a.m., the floor was strewn with brightly colored Nerf darts. Participants scurried around, firing off rounds from blasters that ranged from heavily customized to off the shelf.

As Lewis, who helps pick the individual modes to be played, explained the rules of one particular mode, one member piped up with a bold “Oh, I ain’t sparing nobody.”

Minutes later, he was sprawled on the ground, covered in bright orange darts, laughing.

There were plenty 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.”

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