To begin with, for those few people who aren't aware:
"A [fully automatic weapon] continuously fires rounds as long as the trigger is pressed and held and there is ammunition in the magazine."
Full auto has had a serious presence in stock class for as long as stock class has existed. In that time it has gained supporters and detractors and has created some myths and misguided ideas of its use. So has its counterpart, semi-automatic fire; and of course, the alternative to both of those which (for primaries) is pump-action. At the same time, the proper use of full auto is a skill, to a greater degree than using semi-auto.
Warning: This will be a long and imageless post.
Section 1: The Myths
Myth 1: Spray And Pray?
Full auto is often associated by laypeople and many shooters (of all types, nerf not being excepted) with unskilled, wasteful, ineffective tactics; "spray and pray". Accuracy by volume. Projectile spam. Whatever you want to call it. You can often hear full auto itself described as inefficient and prone to cause high ammo consumption and some will steer everyone toward semi-auto on the basis that "Full auto is dumb and wasteful".
The truth is, full auto itself is a control strategy. Full auto versus semi-auto is like two cars with engines that are identical in performance aside from having very different throttle response. Semi and full are just two different ways the weapon reacts to operator inputs.
That is not to say that full auto is not prone to facilitate or allow wasteful firing when used improperly - but full auto is not necessarily tied to ammunition waste, lower hit ratios, spray and pray tactics, or uncontrollability of the system.
Myth 2: Controllability
"Full auto is way too uncontrollable", the complaint goes. You can find it repeated all over the NIC by semi advocates.
What is meant?
One, that common cyclic ROF (which can range from 300 to 1000RPM) are difficult for a human to control precisely leading to inefficient ammo use. This is true to a limited extent at higher rates of fire, and with some operators who are not good at controlling full auto - but something like 600RPM is not a problem to the average human. Proper technique can tame full auto to a large extent.
Two, is a carry-over of this statement from firearms. Nerf guns, like airsoft and paintball guns, do not have significant recoil and keeping them on target during automatic fire is not a major problem. That is one less issue we have to worry about versus any real-steel debate of full auto you may have encountered.
Myth 3: Semi (or even pump!) can do anything full can do... better?
A common statement by semi adherents is that semi-auto gives "sufficient" volume of fire, "better controllability" and "less ammo waste". As above, these are fallacies, but the argument that semi-auto has a lower skill requirement and is less prone to misuse still stands.
So what then of the semi proponents' minimization of full auto advantages?
You are not going to get the same instantaneous rate of fire out of a semi in combat as you are a full auto. Many full-autos in stock class nerf have cyclic rates of 400-750RPM, or around 5 to 12 rounds per second. You aren't going to get more than 3-5rps out of a semi while being useful.
What usually follows is an assertion that more than a scant few rounds per second is useless, or unnecessary. However, high instantaneous ROF is one of the huge advantages for full auto.
You also, strangely enough, are going to have less control and less accuracy when firing a semi quickly, as will be described later.
Section 2: The Advantages
High instantaneous rate of fire
By "instantaneous", I refer to ROF at a point in time - not an average ROF during a fight, but the maximum ROF achieved at any moment. For full auto, this is the cyclic rate.
High IROF - independent from the total number of rounds fired - can increase hit ratios for many engagements. In stock class nerf, opponents dodging and predicting incoming shots are issues for the shooter. A single round may be easy to avoid. Several rounds a substantial fraction of a second apart are just several single incoming rounds. However, several rounds in rapid succession are equivalent to those rounds arriving simultaneously, which makes dodging much less effective.
Also, let's move away from "videogame accuracy" (hit ratios). That is a poor way to define ammo efficiency. You fire ammo to achieve a target effect, do you not? Whether ammo is being used efficiently is best measured by the "work" (arbitrary construct) it does, not by only tagging players which is a subset. Suppressive fire is such a consideration. Many players of the non-tactical side of things seem to discourage or forget about suppression. Full auto and high IROF are superior to lower for forcing enemies down and back and keeping them off their guns and not returning fire. Whether individual, unit-level, force-on-force or HvZ, there are plenty of times you need to suppress, and if you do it, do it effectively.
Full auto opens up more opportunities to get eliminations. With the synergistic effect of multiple rounds fired quickly to combat dodges, and the mathematics of multiple projectile hit probabilities (i.e. a bit of "accuracy by volume"), you can extend engagement ranges and beat back the barriers of ballistics and ammo consistency - which we all know, all too well, in stock class with our low-velocity and inaccurate ammo. High IROF, and by extension full auto, can allow you to shoot people who are otherwise out-of-reach given those troubles. Then there are cases in which you have a very limited window of time to shoot at an enemy player and you must fire a large number of darts quickly to have any chance of a hit.
Finally, another case of a further capability, there is always a place for high ROF as a means of guaranteeing a hit. Sometimes you don't need a 90% chance of a hit, you need a hit, and you need it NOW, so you want every bit of insurance you can get. Close-quarters emergency defense is a major application. High value targets (like an enemy 2 feet from your flag, or that NPC you need to take out to win the game) are another.
Overshooting is usually a DBAD move, but sometimes lighting up a player avoids confusion in a chaotic situation.
An advantage I don't encounter myself is present in games with multiple health points and no invincibility period between hits - you simply need to shoot a player multiple times to get them out. This is biased toward any means of getting multiple rounds on a target quickly.
Full auto makes firing rapidly much easier than semi or pump. When high ROF is needed, it is right there without any effort. In emergencies, this is advisable. Generally, the benefits of higher ROF are more likely to be realized with full auto, whereas semi tends to reduce players' IROF well below the mechanical capability of the gun.
The firearms wisdom is actually inverted for nerf - full auto is a great way to keep point of aim more consistent at high rates of fire. This is because effects related to the trigger and operator movements dominate, and recoil is mostly absent.
A semi, or especially a pump, shooting rapidly is not going to shoot smoothly at all. Pulling the trigger multiple times per second (or worse, slamfiring!) is going to impact point of aim and accuracy no matter how good you are, versus a full auto that can virtually sit still while letting off 10+ rps.
Section 3: Proper Use
Generally, try to keep bursts less than 7 rounds long - most are 3-5 rounds.
An old rule of thumb is that the longest non-emergency burst lasts as long as it takes to quickly say "Die motherfucker die". This might be used for suppression or area fire. Anything longer than a "die motherfucker die" that isn't fired in an emergency or other abnormal situation, is an uncontrolled clamp-down in my book.
The "emergency or abnormal situation" is just that. You are about to get tagged? Emergency. Wall of enemies charging? Emergency. Playing open field or speedball game? Abnormal situation, mag dumps may happen here. Otherwise, if you are not in imminent danger and there is not some substantial reason to lay on the trigger for more than a reasonable burst length, stay the hell off it!
A final "burst" length is a single shot. Many full-auto nerf guns currently in existence lack selective fire - so you are the selective fire; and if you ask me, I don't want selective fire because the versatility of properly used full auto is superior in the nerf context. Anyway, unless you are one of the few nerf selective fire users, you will be firing single darts using a full-auto-only gun like a basic electromechanical RS perhaps a majority of the time in some games. Be able to fire a single shot, and don't discount doing so "because you have full auto". Note that Swarmfires and Vulcans are difficult as they lack cycle control and tend not to reliably fire single rounds - but your common rifles, especially the Rapidstrike, can do it easily at any cyclic ROF setting.
You will hear about "trigger control" a lot. There are two factors with full auto that can really burn you.
- The amount of trigger time per even a substantial quantity of ammo is surprisingly low. This is the real world, not action movie land with unlimited ammo. At 10 rps, your average mag is empty in 2 seconds.
- Under pressure, the instincts of many players given full auto are to clamp down on the trigger or otherwise fire wildly.
What I find is that there are two types of people picking up a full auto gun.
One, like me and the CO of the 501st, are the naturals, for which "time slows down" when firing full auto. You know that mag is two seconds long, and because of that, two seconds of trigger pulling feel like an eternity - and fine control over the number of rounds fired is effortless. In fact, a player of this type can waste ammo much more easily with semi-auto, since the unit of control is now trigger pulls rather than trigger time, and it is much easier to lose track of normal-time pulls than it is to lose track of the number of rounds fired while in full-auto hypertime.
The other type is the type for which time keeps going anyway and for which semi-auto pulls are the natural unit of weapon control, and can easily flatten their mag on auto when the adrenaline hits. It is these second types who need to worry about ammo consumption and focus most on training the use of full auto.
All players, however, should be wary of misusing full auto under pressure. Start out learning how to shoot bursts of arbitrary length, down to and including single shots. Then do it engaging multiple targets, then under pressure. Take it on the field. Play thunderdome with some career zombies or have a 1v1 skirmish with a good player. "Remember, short, controlled bursts" - think of Aliens. Direct that tension away from your trigger finger.
A good player will be able to use single shots even in close-in, high-pressure fights.
Yes, full auto has the potential to increase ammo consumption - whether that represents an inefficiency, an artifact of opening up more engagements in which to shoot, or the more likely case, both. You do want to stay aware of whether your loadouts are adequate.
High cyclic rates of fire place increased demands on magazines and ammo quality. Keeping control of these is essential to avoid malfunctions. Semi-auto and especially pump can forgive many sins with mags and ammo that will raise hell on auto.
Full auto is a useful tool on the field, and a fun and rewarding one to use. It can certainly offer the opportunity to be more effective - but be aware of the potential for abuse, remember that it has drawbacks (possibly higher ammo consumption, learning curve, and ammo/mag sensitivity) and know whether it fits you as a player. I am by far the best with full auto versus semi or pump, have been playing and advocating it since 2010, and find it an indispensable utility. I waste more ammo and hit less with semi. This may not represent your experience. However, be sure to give it a fair shot, and separate opinions, technical shortcomings, myths, and roles. Full auto has plenty of all of the above out there.
Good luck, and have fun!