If you're on Facebook at all, you might have recently seen an event titled 'The Best Nerf War In History'. It has a meagre description, and a few photos of the old military fort at Sydney's Middle Head — although the combination is enticing for anyone with an active imagination. We spoke to the organisers to see how an event that was never meant to happen ended up with over 9000 people keen.
The Best Nerf War In History was originally a much more humble event slated for late 2014, one that organiser Kieran Sparksman dreamed up after hearing of plans to demolish parts of Middle Head's historic structures to make way for a nursing home.
A Nerf enthusiast, he thought that running an event out at the old bunker would be a great way to draw attention to this issue over at Middle Head. Eventually a combination of politics, logistical issues and a lack of interest stalled the planned Nerf war indefinitely, and Kieran set the Facebook event for a vague time in the future, out of sight and out of mind.
This year, as that arbitrary date approached, the event was picked up on by someone who shared it back to a couple of Australian Nerf enthusiast groups (even though a note in the event had politely asked people not to share it) and within four days it had more than 1000 people confirmed to attend and over 7000 interested in the event.
Kieran suddenly found himself with more than 8000 Nerf-wielding Facebookers hungry to take part in the best Nerf war in history — and this time he has a much better chance of making it happen.
In the past two years since the idea for the event was first thought up, a lot has happened in the world of Nerf. The organisers of large-scale events now have insurance and ABNs and all that boring stuff that — lets face it — is really important when you want to get thousands of people together to shoot each other with foam bullets. Last year, the zombie survival event Zedtown went professional, hosting over 800 people for an event at Sydney's Showgrounds as part of a continuing expansion.
Zedtown's organiser, Dave Harmon, is also the one who will be helping Kieran to run his unintentionally viral event — and make sure it actually happens this time. As to why it went so viral, Kieran has a few ideas. He puts it down to the evocativeness of the images of Middle Head, as well as the appeal of a more realistic event — where many current Nerf wars have an undeniably fantastical element to them. "We have a lot of COD players interested," he says, "who would want to experience modern warfare, or a historically-inspired event."
More than just the die-hard Nerf enthusiasts, Dave always makes sure that the events are accessible to anyone who wants to join, whether you have a huge collection or you've just gone down to Kmart to pick up your first ever bit of Nerf gear. Internally modified guns are disallowed, meaning that you won't need to armour up or get professional kit in order to be a part of the battle.
Dave and Zedtown are also able to bring something else to the table for a big Nerf event, an element that makes it easier to track real numbers. Zedtown uses a mobile app to track kills and players, organise people into teams and hand out missions and juicy bits of story, for more than your regular Nerf experience. Dave definitely thinks he could use something similar for the Best Nerf War In History, saying that he likes to run his events a bit like a "live action video game".
With Sydney's historic Middle Head forts as the backdrop, it may just feel like a video game, though it isn't yet certain that the event will be at this location at all. Middle Head falls under the jurisdiction of NSW National Parks, who understandably may not be keen on the idea of thousands of Nerf warriors stomping through their park.
Damaging local flora is one of the big concerns, and Kieran has thought up of a few creative solutions to this problem, including running the event after burn offs and getting the participants to help with reseeding the area. "We even considered firing Nerf bullets that held a small package of native seeds, but logistically it just isn't feasible," Kieran explains.
Aside from the National Parks' concerns, Middle Head might just not be big enough for all the people who are interested in this event. The location has held up to 500 for other events — though they were mostly theatre or art related, not simulated warfare on this scale. Even if it outgrows its original home, however, the Best Nerf War In History will still go ahead.
"We've got a lot of real interest for this type of event." Zedtown organiser Dave Harmon tells me. One of Zedtown's earlier events sold 650 tickets in a matter of minutes, and it didn't have anywhere near the viral reach of this one. While they're aiming to be as big as possible, Kieran estimates that around 1000 attendees can be expected to follow through and participate, whereas Dave is a little more ambitious, reaching for counts of 2000.
There's even talk of a world record attempt. One record attempt for the largest Nerf battle in the States is sitting at 1600 tickets sold, and with its huge numbers it wouldn't be crazy to think that this event could just beat it.
While it's always hard to estimate final numbers from Facebook events (anyone who has tried to organise something over Facebook can probably relate), Dave is sure about one thing — the interest for this kind of event in Australia is big enough that we could very well have a record-breaking Nerf battle on our hands. All the organisers have to do is keep that viral interest up until the event comes to fruition.