It was back in November that I first heard
about a laser tag tournament fundraiser that was being planned in support of Whitney,
a brave little girl from St. Joseph, MO facing a rare form of brain cancer
known as Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). This captured my attention in
part because cancer has directly impacted my family as well, so causes like
this really resonate with me. Then of course hearing that I could support her
fundraiser while playing laser tag sounded like a wonderful way to help while
enjoying an afternoon of friendly competition. This event was to take place at
Belt Entertainment, a bowling and laser tag center in St. Joseph, MO just outside
of Kansas City and was originally planned for late January. However, the date had
to be changed (due to the success of the Kansas City Chiefs this past football
season), which resulted in it getting rescheduled on a weekend when coincidentally
I was already planning to be traveling through the midwest. This change in date
meant that I’d be able to be there to participate. The Code Yellow Laser Tag
Tournament was jointly held with the Strike Out Cancer Bowling to support the
Fight for Whitney and subsequently the Whitney Kate Wells Memorial Foundation
in memory of Whitney who sadly lost her battle with DIPG at the end of 2019, prior
to the event taking place. The event still moved forward in her honor (named
for yellow which represents the designated support color for DIPG) and it made
a difference by raising about $1000 to be presented to the Whitney Kate Wells
Let me tell you about the event itself. There
were two components to this fundraiser that was organized by two Lafayette High
School business students, Caroline Ruden and Tarrin Deayon and an amazing volunteer
team…please forgive me if I miss any names, but big props to everyone including
Brooke, Lela, Terri and Trina for helping to make this a fantastic and successful
event! While I was spending most of my time in or around the laser tag arena, other
activities were going on simultaneously and they filled half the lanes of the
bowling alley with supporters who turned out to help Strike Out Cancer. I
arrived a bit early as they were setting up the registration table and raffle
items donated by about a dozen local businesses. I was very impressed by how
organized everything was right from the start. As someone who has coordinated
fundraisers in the past, I know that this is no small task. And as someone who
has participated in a wide variety of laser tag events, I can tell you that this
one was exceptionally well done. They even brought in their own monitor to track
the teams and the brackets…they really had their act together!
After checking in and meeting Caroline and
Tarrin (who I had been communicating with by email for the last few weeks) I then
met up with my teammates, Carson and Tyson. The three of us would play together
as Team NYMO (meaning New York/Missouri).
It wasn’t long before the other teams started
to arrive. Although I didn’t know any of the other players at the start, I
could tell that many of them went to the same high school and it appeared that
a few were definitely regulars at this arena. One of them walked by our group
and casually mentioned that he had never been beaten for score or accuracy in
this arena, so I assumed his team (Team MMMM) would be our greatest
competition. We got to see what kind of a challenge we were in for as teams
NYMO, Fortnite and MMMM were facing each other in the first game as we entered
the “Cowboys and Aliens” themed arena.
First, we entered the vesting room and put on the Zone Helios CE packs. I love that we were playing on one of my favorite
systems. Every time I put on one of these vests it reminds me of all the nights
I played with similar gear at FJ.
Then we went in to duke it out in the double
level arena. During the three-team games we played without bases or targets
(because this site only has two bases) so those scores solely reflected player
tags. We played throughout the entire arena starting out on the western themed
And my team played most strategically when we
were tagging from the alien themed upper level.
We took first place in that game which sent us
directly into the next winner’s round. Meanwhile the team in second (MMMM)
moved into the other bracket as Team Fortnite finished the round in third. The
Giraffes beat out the Braxton’s team (who as a result would go up against Fortnite)
so they would be next to face MMMM. After these games we were already into the two
The Giraffes were made up of three high school
girls who I would have loved to see shake things up a bit in their next game
against MMMM, so I tried to sideline coach as best I could by giving them a
couple of tips about taking the bases as this was the first time that the bases
and targets were turned on (they had been reserved for the two team games to
provide even opportunities for points). I suspected that Team MMMM was going to
play hard, but those ladies certainly put up a worthy competition.
When Braxton’s team came out ahead in their
round we were ready to challenge them with a strategy I had suggested and Tyson
sketched it out for us to review on his phone. This involved us collectively rushing
the base together to make sure we all took the points immediately and then holding
positions on the upper level to control three of the ramp access points. The
upper level has good sight lines to each of the bases (except for the corner
where there is a blind spot).
This also afforded us easy access to a lot of
targets to grab additional points while the other team was down. We tried the
strategy against Braxton’s team and took the victory. Zone is largely about two
things…timing and team communication. Although this was a light version of the
game, those two things still apply. My personal shot timing felt spot on during this round and I took the lead on the communication, trying to constantly
let my teammates know where our opponents were in that arena as best I could (especially
considering I didn’t know any of this arena’s reference points). It was a
successful trial run with our strategy and we were ready to execute it again in
the final round as we went up against Team MMMM. Which way do you think this
one will go?
Well, this was a more intense round and Team
MMMM really brought their A game. I appreciate that they were solid competitors
all the way through. However, our game was on point and our strategy was now
practiced once so we knew where we were going and performed even better on this
round leading us to the win.
When the tournament games were completed the
raffle prizes were announced before medals were presented to the top placing laser
tag teams. Congratulations to the Giraffes who took third place.
And to our worthy competitors on Team MMMM for
coming in second place.
And Team NYMO came in first place.
This event was a lot of fun. So much fun in
fact that it really reminded me of my early tag days playing every weekend at
FJ, and that was really very cool to experience again. Big thanks again to
Caroline, Tarrin, Brooke and all who were involved with putting this all
I had a wonderful time and really think this group
of students did an exceptional job with a successful fundraiser for a very
worthy cause. You can watch Tarrin and Caroline talking about the event on the
local KQ2 station.
When the event was officially over and there
were still a few minutes of time reserved in the arena everyone went in for a
free-for-all game just to let loose and have some fun. It was a great time and
I’m so pleased I was able to be part of an event that helped to make a
difference. Although I never had a chance to meet young Whitney, she will not
be forgotten and has clearly touched the hearts of the entire St. Joseph community.
To learn more about the battle against DIPG visit www.defeatdipg.org. Thank you to Belt Entertainment, their staff and all the volunteers.
Because I love visiting laser tag arenas and I
play to appreciate what’s unique and different about each one, I feel somewhat
of a let down when I see the cookie cutter formula that is being adopted by a lot of corporate laser tag operations. I just find it unfortunate when I see the same design
aesthetic repeated in arenas over and over again, knowing that there are so
many ways that a space could be customized to make it special or distinctive.
It’s like fast food…you always know what you are getting, but that doesn’t
always equate to a gourmet experience. So, when I recently played in three identical
arenas nearly back to back over the course of two days I felt compelled to
Let me just say that what I’m about to share
is in no way a criticism of the laser tag equipment, the arena layout or the
overall experience provided at any of the locations I am about to reference. I
actually enjoyed all of that and I don’t want that to get lost in the point
that I’m about to make. This is just about the fact the way sometimes corporate
facilities find one thing they like and repeat it so often in multiple
locations that it loses its uniqueness and the predictability becomes the thing
that you remember more than the individual experience. For example, I recently
played three of the same company’s arena at corporate-style FECs all within less
than a 35 mile radius of each other. Here are selfies I took at each of the
three arenas. The similarities are staggering and an example of the cookie
cutter formula that I am describing.
If I hadn’t played these arenas so close
together I might not have realized just how identical they really are. From the
briefing room, to the design on the walls and right down to the structures
built within the double level map that used the very same floorplan in each
arena (which I know because I stood behind the same corner wall in every single
one) I had three startlingly similar experiences.
Each arena had these walls…
This center structure…
And this triple arch (you can tell it’s a
different arena only because this one happens to still have a few Tron tubes scattered
Why is this even worth mentioning? Well, of
course any business can do whatever it sees fit for its own operation. If you want all
your centers to be indistinguishable from one another and all look alike I
suppose that is your prerogative. But personally, I worry about what this cookie
cutter formula does to the overall health of the laser tag industry. More and
more as large corporate FECs are becoming the norm and stand-alone laser tag facilities
are becoming far less common it seems like we’re starting to slide down a
slippery slope and running the risk everything becoming homogenized, at least
in terms of public perception. And perception is reality in many ways. I think
the general public already thinks all “laser tag is laser tag” and perceive it
as all being the same. You’d be amazed how often I call a site in advance to
inquire about what system they use and even the staff doesn’t know the
difference. Too many times I’ve just been told “ours has a vest with lights on
it”. Now, of course I realize that most people will never have occasion to walk
into enough laser tag sites to notice this kind of thing or if they do maybe it
doesn’t even register to them. But I’d like to think that site owners would want
to take the steps to make their experience at each and every location something
unique, special and memorable. When I walk into an arena for the first time I
want to be pleasantly surprised by what I see, not go in thinking “ah, this
again.” So, while it’s of course the prerogative of a corporate business to
have twenty arenas that all look alike, I’d like to hope that somewhere along
the lines consideration would be given to making the arena a reflection of the
special and unique experience I’m sure they would want their customers to enjoy.
That is what would make me want to seek them out again in the future. And while I’m
certain I’ll play this company’s arenas again somewhere in my travels, for right now
three in a row of the same thing makes me feel like I’ve had my fill of fast
food and now I’m looking for something different.
There’s no better way to close out a full day
of laser tag travels than to play even
more laser tag with good friends. After visiting a few sites around the Kansas
City area I met up with Miranda and Elaine for dinner and we decided to play a
few games at Epic Fun in Lawrenceville, KS. We were treated to some free play
in the arcade while we waited for the final session of Lasertron to start. Elaine
opted to continue her winning streak in the arcade while Miranda and I suited
up for some Tron.
This was Miranda’s very first time playing
Tron, so I gave her an explanation of the standard base game…and then found out
we were going to be starting with a team shield game so none of what I said
really mattered…at least not until the next game of Capture the Arches.
Then those bases came into play again.
We explored the arena and took the base
points. I walked my way through this game, but enjoyed being a disruptor nonetheless.
We finished the night out with a bonus mode
team game playing in spy mode. It was an enjoyable (and fairly typical) night
of Tron tag, but the best part was getting to share it with friends. It’s
always great to see Miranda and Elaine when I’m traveling through the Midwest.
I’m going to share my next day’s experiences a
little bit out of order, but one of the sites I got to play when I passed back
through Kansas City was PowerPlay North.
When I walked in I was a bit surprised to see
the Lazer X sign prominently marking their arena. Was this a former Lazer X
I had assumed that this site would be using
the same brand of laser tag as when I played their sister location a couple of
years ago (formerly in Shawnee, KS). However, here they are using Cyber Blast,
so I switched gears and got ready to check out their space themed arena.
The arena was a decent sized single level, but
with two raised bridges to provide added height and dimension. I liked the
The best part of this stop was getting to play
a quality game against a decent-sized group of college aged players who made it
really worthwhile. It’s always nice to play with a larger group and this was a
good way to fill the in-between time along this trip.
While passing through Kansas City I had an
opportunity for a behind the scenes tour of Survive KC, a unique haunted house
style experience that incorporates iCOMBAT laser tag equipment, which is why I
was interested in checking this out. Located on the top floor of Kansas City’s historic
Union Station, you can purchase a ticket for the experience on the main floor
and then you will go up to the seventh floor that circles all the way around
the grand hall where you can “battle the zombie apocalypse.”
I arrived during a window of time when the zombies were on break, so (full disclosure) I did not go through the complete
experience here. Instead I got a tour of the facility from the manager,
Giselle, in between the public sessions. However, I am familiar with the way
this works as they utilize the iCOMBAT irSMG model tagger and know that the
object of this “game” is a little different. There is special software to track
the results at the end for an individual or team.
This is not what I would call a laser tag
arena. It is far more similar to a haunted house, but the key difference is that
the live performers (and some animatronics) are wearing the irHeadband, making
them targets for the laser tag component that makes this a much more
When a visitor arrives they are given an irSMG
tagger to take with them as they walk through and whenever one of these zombies
jump out to scare them the visitor must try to tag the sensor to “kill” the
zombie or, if they don’t react and the creature gets too close the software
will register a “bite”. Obviously, to succeed you want to tag the most zombies without
letting them “bite” you first. They could potentially jump out from anywhere!
This is not a guided haunt (although it’s
fairly easy to follow the path to the end), so you can take it at your own
pace. There are LOTS of themed rooms throughout the experience ranging from an
infirmary with a ghastly nurse, an array of various horror scenes and my
favorite, the hallway of dolls.
I won’t spoil the surprise by showing you too
many photos here…you’ll have to visit them and see for yourself! However, I
appreciate being given the access to see all that this attraction has to offer.
If I had more time in the area I would have loved to go through it from start
to finish. I always enjoy using the iCOMBAT system and particularly like seeing
the innovation for how it is incorporated into this kind of attraction. However,
the last group through left their results on the monitor if you’d like to check
Many thanks to Levi and the management of
Survive KC for allowing me to visit and I hope next time around I can visit a
little longer and tag some terrors!
I had to go a little out of my way, but it was
absolutely worth the trip to visit Lazer Force Lazer Tag of Osage Beach, MO near
the Lake of the Ozarks. No, that’s not a typo…this is Lazer Force with a Z.
Although they currently run Gen 6 Laserforce equipment at this site, owner Ron Wilson
told me that when he and his wife Debi opened for business 18 years ago they actually
began operating with a different laser tag system and the name is purely coincidental.
At the time when they named the business they had not even heard of the Laserforce
laser tag manufacturer, but liked the name and opted to spell it with a “z” in
order to purchase the corresponding website domain (www.lazerforce.com). It’s something
of a coincidence that about five years they later switched over to using the Laserforce
gear and have been using it ever since.
At one point they operated four stand-alone
laser tag locations, but over time they cut back to just this one facility in Osage
Beach. The 4000 square foot arena really impressed me and is what I would
consider a real “hidden gem”.
Now, it’s not what I would call a “flashy”
arena, meaning it’s not decked out with any decorative theming or props to create
the aesthetic. However, what is far more important is that it’s an excellent maze
with a balanced map and a really great space for a game. To get from the
vesting room to the arena you have to go downstairs.
When you enter the arena you notice that the
walls are painted black, but accented with trimming and paint splatters in
colors that correspond with the bases in three distinct sections.
These colors help with the navigation of the
maze that has plenty of windows, cutouts and open sight lines.
This is seriously one of the best mazes I’ve
played in awhile and Ron told me he constructed the site himself. I asked if
they host tournaments here because this is what I would consider an excellent
arena for competitive play. He told me they don’t, but that’s largely because
of the nature of the region. As I mentioned, this place is a hidden gem nestled
within a premier tourist lake resort area and tucked away in the heart of
Missouri. He told me that during the summer tourist season this region sees about
four million visitors, however the local residents of the area only add up to
around 20,000 people so it is much quieter in the off months and the return
clientele is much different than you would find at an arena located in a city
that is well-populated year-round. So, playing here is really a unique
It’s a homegrown laser tag site, much
different from the huge family entertainment centers popping up all over, and
it feels like both a fresh experience and a nostalgic step back in time all at
once. You definitely get that feel when you walk into their lobby arcade.
If you’re one of the tourists passing through,
you’ll definitely want to take home a souvenir t-shirt.
This slogan doesn’t lie…Lazer Force Lazer Tag is
“real lazer tag, real fun.”