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Returning to Mission Control at Laser Zone Canton

This past weekend I was delighted to have a most unusual and nostalgic experience at a laser tag location that has only just recently opened. Laser Zone Canton in Ohio is doing something that no other laser tag site in the country is currently doing…they opened for business operating with former Laser Quest equipment!

When I arrived I was greeted at Mission Control by manager Liz Lyon and staff members including her daughter, Kelly, who showed me around to see that so much of this new business was exactly as I remembered it when it was LQ Canton.

So many great game memories felt like they could happen here all over again.

They had both a party group and walk-in players for the first game of the day and we took our activators into the briefing room where the iconic LQ players’ code is still posted for players to recite.

Then we moved on to the vesting room.

I put the pack over my head and used my “surfboard” to activate the phaser.

And when the game began I was transported to another point in time, so pleased to be able to traverse this arena once again, phaser in hand.

For any former LQ player this will be a blast from the past, but for Laser Zone Canton owner, Steve Norch, it is the beginning of a new and exciting business venture.

I had the chance to speak with Mr. Norch to get a firsthand account of how he became the only operator in North America to currently be using the former Laser Quest laser tag equipment for an active business.

Norch is a businessman with several businesses to his name, but he only started considering opening a laser tag center when connections with friends led to a realtor presenting him with the prospect of purchasing whatever was left behind by Laser Quest as a turnkey business opportunity.

When Laser Quest vacated the Canton, OH property mid-lease, the contents of the property defaulted to the landlord and he took possession of everything left in his building, which included all the Laser Quest packs and other items left behind.

“It wasn’t like the place was ‘shut down’ so I went in and got ‘the vibe’” Norch explained of the first time he saw everything. Manager Liz Lyon told me “It was left as if they had just left the night before and never came back. All of Key Quest was left and even filing cabinets and papers.”

Norch used to casually play at LQ Canton. He told me “I used to play there and take my kids there.” When he decided to open it as his own business (not in any way affiliated with Laser Quest) the decision was a quick one. He made an offer to the landlord somewhere in late February to early March of 2021, recalling he wanted to get the keys in order to be in there in time to celebrate his son’s birthday with laser tag prior to their soft opening to the public which happened on May 13th.

But how would he get all the old LQ gear working again? He did not receive assistance with this from Versent Corp., but rather his brother is a computer professional with the experience to reverse engineer the software that he found in the locked system.

I asked him why he stuck with the LQ gear rather than go with one of the other manufacturers. He told me he googled laser tag equipment and decided not to spend the thousands of dollars necessary to obtain a new system. Part of that was as a result of feedback he told me he got from another manufacturer. Norch said (without telling me which manufacturer he was quoting) that the representative for one laser tag system told him “I can’t make something as robust as what you already have.”

I asked Norch if the response to the Laser Quest equipment would impact whether he might eventually switch to newer equipment from another manufacturer and he told me it will be a business decision when he gets to that point. He also pointed out that he understood the LQ Canton location to have been a profitable store (though it eventually split some market share with the former LQ Akron) so “if it’s working and the business is doing well, why re-invent the wheel?”

Norch acquired enough backup parts from another closed LQ location that he believes he has enough parts to keep the gear going for quite awhile.

Then there is the LQ heritage to consider, of which he is only just starting to become aware. “I never realized the legacy Laser Quest has until this past week,” he said in response to the people (like me) coming in and the following that LQ has within it’s player community. Laser Zone even hired several former LQ employees to be part of their team. He told me it’s very much like a family.

I wondered if Norch had plans to promote the fact that he has LQ equipment in the building and he told me that his understanding was (in light of current LQ circumstances) that it would be best for him to not actively use the term “Laser Quest” on anything. He says “I’m not promoting it as that, just so nobody comes calling. It’s not worth the risk to put it on a sign.” And the entry sign has in fact been changed.

Norch says “I got rid of the words ‘Laser Quest’ everywhere and even blacked out their QR code on the corner of the printed scoresheets” that Laser Zone uses.

He has done his own branding and the lobby is decorated with beautiful banners with brand new photography featuring family and friends according to Lyon.

Meanwhile the briefing room, vesting room and arena have been left just as they were. If you play at Laser Zone Canton it feels EXACTLY like it’s previous incarnation, which was such a surreal experience for me. It feels like so many wonderful game experiences from before the pandemic and before all the Laser Quest locations in North America were shut down.

I wondered how Norch felt about launching a new laser tag business during such an unusual time in history. He notes that with an 8000 square foot arena and “the whole idea of your game is to stay away from other people” while playing that he felt comfortable moving forward with the new business venture.

So with a new business underway and an official grand opening this week Steve Norch and Laser Zone Canton have captured the attention of the former LQ community for sure. For anyone who thought their days of playing a beloved game of LQ were behind them, I would highly recommend making a road trip and paying a visit to Laser Zone Canton for an experience that (at this moment) you literally cannot have anywhere else!

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