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 attendance.
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 new equipment!
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 accessories…
…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 play ZTAG.
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 forward.
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.
Comments or Questions?
Websites: www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com and www.photonforever.com