Would Dropshotting Work in Real Life?

By Ian Stokes on at

Dropshotting – you might not know it by name but, if you’ve played an online shooter in the past two decades, you will almost certainly have run into the ubiquitous shooter tactic. And after being killed by some dropshotting punk for the umpteenth time, I got to thinking… how can this kid live with himself? Once I’d chilled out, I got to thinking some more – does dropshotting work in real life? If not, why not? Now, if you’re sat there wondering “what the hell’s a dropshot?”, well don’t Google it – all you’ll find is fishing articles about a complicated angling technique.

Dropshotting in video games is the practice of dropping to a prone position while shooting during a close-quarters firefight. This 'drops' you out of the opponent’s line of fire, while still allowing you to pump them full of lead on your way down to the ground. It’s a particularly irritating tactic to counter, as your downwards vision is always obscured by your gun, muzzle flash, and recoil. These factors combine with natural reaction times to leave you (OK, me) shooting at where the enemy was, while they casually lounge on the ground drilling your gut full of bullets.

For as long as it has been a tactic, players have argued about dropshotting. Some see it as a cheap trick while others insist that it’s part of the skill ceiling. I’m not here to join the debate (though for the record it’s cheap-as-chips bullshit). Instead, let’s talk realism. Call of Duty Modern Warfare, Battlefield V, Rainbow Six Siege* – these are some of the most popular shooters on the market and dropshotting has been common practice in all of them, but just how realistic is it? Surely this nonsense wouldn’t fly in the real world, would it?

(*Ubisoft did patch dropshotting out of Rainbow Six Siege in April 2018, but the tactic was prevalent for years prior to this.)

Well, who better to settle the dropshotting debate once and for all than someone who knows both video games and real guns? Enter Dan ‘Leif’ Rosenthal, a former infantryman and recon scout in the US Army with an impressive service record. “I served in the 53rd Infantry Brigade with 3/124th Infantry and 1/153rd Cavalry (RSTA). In Iraq we were attached to and fought with 3rd Infantry Division, 1st Armored Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, and 5th and 19th Special Forces Groups.”

Rosenthal’s credentials in the games industry are equally impressive as he’s currently serving as a producer at Bethesda Games Studios Austin, working on Fallout 76. He’s also a bit of a shooter buff, telling me he “played a tonne of Counter-strike” and even ended up working on the hugely popular Half Life mod Firearms. Add to this some serious time clocked in Battlefield 2, ARMA 3, and Destiny and it’s fair to say that Dan knows more about warfare than you or me, real or virtual.

“Dropshotting was a huge part of Battlefield 2, though we called it ‘dolphin diving’ back then,” Rosenthal explains. Dolphin diving is a variation on dropshotting that requires the player to jump before hitting the prone command, leaping into the air before falling flat to the ground, all while aiming down sights and firing.

When we started to talk about dropshotting as a real-world idea, however, Rosenthal quickly shut the idea down: “It has no place in the land of real-world infantry tactics.” The main issue with dropshotting is that soldiers are trained to put their safeties on when advancing and dropping to prone: “There should never be a time where you’re putting your weapon on fire, let alone trying to actually fire it, without having positive control of your body motion. That’s just a recipe to accidentally shoot a friendly. You certainly couldn’t aim; you’d likely bust your face open on your weapon’s stock and sights.”

The sentiment is shared by Brandon, who'd prefer us not to use his surname, a former US Army Infantryman who served between 2006 – 2010: “Dropshotting is not something to be used in actual combat. One of the most important rules of engagement is not to fire until you actually have the target lined up in your sights. You don’t just pop off rounds for the sake of it if you don’t know exactly what you’re shooting at.”

Another blow for dropshotting from the professionals, but why is this the case? Isn't there even some semblance of logic in diving for cover and opening fire? Another former serviceman, a US Army Officer with a background in manoeuvre warfare who goes by the Twitter handle CombatCavScout, covered that for us nicely: “Dropshotting is gaming bullshit that has basically zero bearing on real-world close combat gunfights. Dropping to the ground as soon as you see an enemy is going to screw up your aim and take away any ability to move.”

Well that's me told.

A lot of the difference between real-world and video game combat tactics come from controls and viewpoints. In a shooter like Call of Duty, you can drop to prone while aiming down your scope and rotate your view 180 degrees in a matter of seconds – which just isn’t possible in the real world.

“In a close fight, you stay on your feet, or maybe take a knee if you’ve got some cover. It’s hard to aim up from your belly, which is what you’re doing if you’re prone and aiming at a target ten feet away,” explains CombatCavScout.

Brandon expands on this, explaining that soldiers almost always stay on their feet in close quarters engagements: “It’s easier to get on the move again from a kneeling position. All the gear on makes it more difficult to get back up from the prone position.” And just in case you were in any doubt, Rosenthal adds: “Going to the ground makes you an obstacle to your teammates, you’re at much greater risk of catching a stray round, and you’re still not going to hit anything.”

It’s not all bad news for dropshotting fans, however, as Rosenthal tells me that there is a manoeuvre which shares some “superficial” similarities with dropshotting. “When we’re moving in the open under fire, we’re taught to do ‘bounding’ movements. You start from the prone, get to your feet, rush forward for 3-5 seconds, go prone again, and then prepare to cover your teammates' bound. This minimises the amount of time you’re exposed to the enemy.”

But while the actions are similar to dropshotting, bounding is only used at long range as a way of closing distance while maintaining cover for your teammates. Beyond that, all three servicemen that I spoke to made it clear that between the weapons, armour, and other gear, soldiers are carrying far too much bulk to perform firefighting gymnastics. As Brandon says, “you aren’t exactly a ballerina wearing [your gear], movements in combat have to be very deliberate.”

So: definitive proof that dropshotting is ludicrous gaming nonsense that has no place in realistic military shooters. A huge thanks to Dan Rosenthal, Brandon, and CombatCavScout for taking the time to speak on this vital issue. Developers, please feel free to remove dropshotting from your games and leave a small thank you in the credits. Also, retroactively ban everyone who ever killed me by dropshotting.

Right, now who can I talk to round here about quick scoping?


Header image credit: Maxim Potkin on Unsplash