I spent three wonderful days in Orlando
attending this year’s IAAPA Expo conference and trade show where my time was
spent seeing the latest in laser tag, visiting with friends and interviewing
some of the founders and key players from the major laser tag manufacturers in
This year I was not simply there for the
enjoyment of seeing all the latest innovations that they were introducing at
the show, but also to record some history and stories about how each of these
laser tag companies began and the origins of their systems. There was so much
great information and historical perspective offered which will be incorporated
into a video series I am producing for the Laser Tag Museum. Keep your eyes
open for these interviews to be shared in the near future, both here and as new
content for the museum’s website (www.lasertagmuseum.com).
Meanwhile, let me share some of the other highlights I experienced at the show.
Last year I was particularly excited to check
out the new Zone Helios 2, so this year the introduction of the interactive
video bases was an exciting addition to build on that, which I really enjoyed
getting to try out for myself as they made their North American debut at IAAPA.
At the show I got to experiment with how these video bases could use animated graphics
to react to events in the game and become an even more integral part of the
experience by depicting the imagery to match the game scenario. For example,
watch how during a game of Kaboom the goal of obtaining a key by tagging three
targets in a row is shown on the screen and how once the tagging sequence is
completed you can see the results of the “unlocking” with that key.
After the show I made a trip out to Largo, FL
to try these bases “out in the wild” at Xtreme Fun Center which that very week became
the first site in the United States to install them. You know how I love to be
there for a laser tag first!
Next, I took a look at something new from
Delta Strike. There was buzz about the new Delta Strike Genesis stepping things
up this year and I think they really accomplished that. I got a chance to chat
with founder and CEO or Delta Strike International, Doug Willems about the new
system, which was recognized with the IAAPA Brass Ring second place accolades
in the area of Best New Product Concept.
One of the Delta Strike reps gave me a thorough
overview of the Genesis packs that include some attractive new features
including the colorful rainbow lights on a vest style pack, the selfie camera
on the phaser and a starburst effect around the beam.
I really like the feel of tagging with this
Laserforce was also unveiling some new features
for their Gen 8 equipment. I visited with a few friends at the booth, met some
new faces like Jason Wallace and had a great time talking with Maree Harris who
is not only the only female laser tag installer in the world, but she is also
the longest running female laser tag operator in the world!
Together we took a look at the new live events
feature that shows in-game activity in real time right on the phaser screen.
Here’s a better perspective of what the player
sees as the game is happening.
As a frequent Laserforce player I know this
will be very interesting to see implemented in real games.
Getting to chat with a few laser tag founders
was a particular highlight for me this year. I really appreciate that LASERTRON
founder Jim Kessler took some time to do an interview with me first thing in
the morning on the final day of the show.
What I found most interesting about talking
with Jim is his unique perspective about the industry. The full interview is
one of many that I look forward to sharing soon.
I also enjoyed learning firsthand about the
history of Laser Blast from founder Tim Ewald and his son, Laser Blast Sales
Director Mike Ewald.
It’s really fascinating to be able to meet the
minds behind the games that I have enjoyed so many hours playing. One of my (reasonably)
local sites operates with Cyber Blast, so I do get to play it with some regularity.
However, so far I have only encountered the projection theme targets like this
once while visiting another arena, so it fun to be able to get a chance to try
it out here.
How about a look at something new in the
tactical world? I’d like to thank my friends at iCOMBAT for again arranging my
access to this show. I looked forward to seeing what was new at their booth and
they definitely had something pretty cool to show me…
While iCOMBAT features several product lines in
different styles, I think they are probably best known for their realistic
looking tactical laser tag. I thought when they introduced the irShotgun that
was impressive, but this year they took it up a notch with the irSAW style tagger.
It’s a very cool (and heavy) addition to the Gen 3 line that is intended to be
used in a defensive role, such as guarding the respawn area.
If you want to talk about getting some exercise
let me tell you, walking the tradeshow floor will do it. This is a HUGE event
and I certainly got in my paces going from the iCOMBAT booth in one corner all
the way down to the Laser Storm booth in the far opposite corner!
Laser Storm is a brand making a comeback and
co-owners Gord Armstrong and Bill McChesney are passionate about the game which
is very apparent from talking with them both.
Laser Storm as a company has had some ups and
downs, but ultimately with the enthusiasm these new owners have for keeping
this game alive I am excited to see where Laser Storm goes. They have a long
history with loyal players and can claim the longest continuously running
national laser tag tournament in the U.S. And while Laser Storm is known for
being the gear with the headset and remote control-style phaser they are
offering some options with shoulder style sensors that add a different flavor.
There are a few systems that I have had
limited experience with so I looked forward to learning more about them at this
show. Adventure Sports HQ is one such system that I have only played a few
times. Founder Derek Petit gave me a really nice background on the company and
I respect that he also gave credit to the innovators whose work made the
outdoor laser tag industry possible.
A few notable people who Petit gave a nod to
include George Carter III who is of course the grandfather to the entire laser
tag industry, but also some less familiar names of note including David Bodger
who he credits with inventing the lens assembly for outdoor laser tag and Phil
Higgins of the former Spartan FX of England who he says developed the
technology for the individual boards.
Another system I have only experienced once
before is Steradian, so it was great to get to chat with Kevin McDonald who has
been with Steradian Technologies from the very beginning and Amy Baker who has
been involved for the past 15 years.
And for the second time in my life I got to
play some Steradian against Kevin right there at the show.
I was intrigued to see that they incorporated
LED targets for what I had considered to be basically a tactical/outdoor game
system. However they showed me that this system was all about bringing the indoors
to the outdoors and that they have plenty of accessories to make that happen.
Then there was one company that I have never had
the chance to play at all (though I’m hoping to be able to very soon in NY) and
this was Laserwar. This Russian-based company was started by CEO Sergey Tereschenkov
and his twin brother, Business Director Alexey Tereschenkov. I really enjoyed
learning about the system from Alexey.
I had the chance to try a short game against
the master himself. :)
I also learned about some of the additional
…and got a demonstration of the durability of
their product line.
I look forward to having an opportunity to
play using the Laserwar Cybertaq system very soon!
There was also a unique product being
showcased by a new company that I only first learned about at this show. ZTAG
promotes themselves as “Laser Tag Without Guns” (or phasers as most prefer to
say). This company has only been around for the past five years and was showing
for the first time at IAAPA this year. I had a chance to interview co-founder
Stan Liu who, along with his business partner Quan Gan, has a different take on
how to play tag. He told me that ZTAG means tag for generation Z.
This system utilizes
IR technology, but is played differently from traditional laser tag and is not
intended to take its place, but rather to offer another option that might be find
greater acceptance in schools, churches and more due to its appearance and versatility.
The game is contained within an armband unit that identifies the player’s role,
points, energy and health status.
Here is my first experience learning how to
I know of at least one buyer at the show who
intends to open a traditional laser tag site, but saw the value of a system
like this as being an entry opportunity for making connections with schools for
promoting his business. This definitely makes you rethink the possibilities for
using traditional technology, but re-working it in new and innovative ways.
ZTAG may not be competing in the same pool as some of the larger manufacturers,
but as a new player in the industry they are certainly one to watch going
For me, IAAPA 2019 was an incredibly busy time
talking with the laser tag manufacturers over the course of three very full
days, but that’s exactly what made it so worthwhile. I came back with so much
knowledge, history and above all else great interviews which I’m really excited
to be able to share with you soon. I want to offer my sincere thanks to all the
industry leaders who took the time to talk with me and provide some great
insight into the rich history that has led to the vibrant, flourishing laser
tag industry that we enjoy today.