The IAAPA Experience
When I arrived in Orlando for IAAPA 2023 I headed directly to the Orange County Convention Center looking forward to several days of activity out on the trade show floor, visiting with laser tag manufacturers and checking out their latest innovations. As expected, the IAAPA experience provided all of that and more!
I interviewed each of the laser tag manufacturers in attendance over the course of my three days in Florida and their interviews will all be included in an upcoming episode of the Laser Unfocused Tag Talk podcast. Until then, I’m excited to be able to share an overview of my personal experience and what I saw being showcased. Get ready to see the IAAPA trade show here from my perspective.
Where even to begin? Since I knew I would be getting lots of steps in as I ventured up and down the trade show floor over the next three days, maybe I should begin with the latest developments from Laserforce. I spoke with Laserforce Chief Operating Officer, Rohan Kelly about their new fitness tracking feature that counts steps taken, feet traveled and calories burned.
Rohan was kind enough to personally show me the feature that will make tracking my laser tag 5K challenges much easier when I’m in the arena (i.e. no need to worry if I forget to start my Fitbit!), so I was glad to see this feature in action.
Additionally, Laserforce has added some premium voice options that can be unlocked like achievements if you want to hear a particular character-inspired voice giving you in-game feedback.
Ok, now I’m ready to get those steps in as I continued on to visit with the Men In Black over at the Laser Blast booth.
Laser Blast President Mike Ewald and founder Tim Ewald brought a really fun theme to their booth while showcasing both their Cyber Blast phasers and gear as well as their new product, Putt Mania. Mike talked to me about enhancing the phaser with a new protective piece they call their "crash zone" rubber tips for better durability.
Tim showed me the look and styling of the phaser with this new addition.
And then Mike took some time out to challenge me in a game of Putt Mania, showing me how many of their laser tag scoring features are now being incorporated into mini-golf including assigning a code name to the ball.
And the technology tracks the strokes and progress of the player throughout the game. The hole lights up when I successfully complete my putt.
And at the end you see player scores and activity tracked on a screen…no more cheating with a tiny pencil and paper scorecard!
When I made my way over to Zone Laser Tag I saw them giving a new look to many of their arena features and I was excited to try them out! Readers of this blog know I’m “all about that base”, so I started by checking out the bright new colors and streamlined style and shape of the Zone video base.
These video bases are enhanced with better IR receivers and more mini-games, but that wasn’t the only base to get a facelift. The previous garrison-style bases have been revamped into this new triangular base flashing in brilliant rainbow colors.
I tagged the base while President of Zone USA, Simon Willetts looks on.
And I also got a first look at the new Power Play incorporation with the pick-up pad. Ok, first I had to tag a few of the new targets to earn a power-up.
Then I saw my power-up choices on the new screen, aiming my phaser upwards while standing on the pad.
I learned more about the features while interviewing Zone’s Senior Vice President, Erik Guthrie.
And later on I got an international perspective from Zone’s Chief Sales Officer, Grant Collins.
Battle Company was on my radar next as Brian Sytkowski, director of sales, showed me the production version of the new Alternator tagger that I had been looking forward to seeing.
Brian gave me a tutorial and I had a chance to try it for myself.
Delta Strike gave me an update on some of their new features for the Genesis gear.
I chatted with Shane Zimmerman, vice president of sales, about their new redemption feature that integrates with some of the really popular card systems operators are using so that you can earn prize rewards while playing Delta Strike.
After chatting a bit about some of my recent tag experiences I felt like I learned quite a bit about the way the system works. Then Shane showed me something new that they were showcasing.
Verse Immersive is not a laser tag product, but an augmented reality headset that lets you walk through unique visual experiences while still allowing you to see the real world around you. As I was walking towards the mushroom trees during my “Wonderland” style experience (stopping to pet an invisible rabbit in the middle of the trade show aisle) I found myself face to face with one of my radio clients who happened to be attending the show as well. How cool that I could stay inside my virtual AR experience while simultaneously pausing for a real world interaction to stop and say hello to Dave.
When I proceeded to visit Netronic I had a chance to experience some virtual reality combined with the familiar feel of their laser tag equipment. I chatted with LaserTag.Net (Netronic) co-founder Michael Obod about their newest innovations.
He showed me the new Netronic base targets that flashed multicolor lights and are a big step forward from the previous base version.
I have played using their tagger, so the feel of the gear is familiar to me, but I got a whole new experience using that same tagger in virtual reality as I tried Netronic’s Vion VR.
My experience included tagging giant spiders, sand snakes and flying dinosaurs using the Falcon tagger. Check it out!
When I proceeded to see what was new with iCOMBAT it was great to chat with COO, Ziad Dergham and VP of Operations, Brandon Mijokovic about their software updates as well as their expansion in the international markets.
We compared the vest and sash sensor options and I got a first look at the new Hunter class option that has been added to the Invictus model.
Brandon gave me some insight into what this feature can do.
Meanwhile Elite Laser Tag was showcasing some new hardware accessories.
Elite CEOs Ed and Dana Gainer showed me their new tower accessory that can be used in a variety of game formats.
Ed showed me how the level of difficulty can be adjusted by twisting the height of the cover piece to various levels around the sensor.
I picked up a green Elite tagger (I like their bright colorful options) and smiled to see my tagger was codenamed “Gecko”.
I got to tag against an opponent to see which of us could change the color of the tower to our own team color.
This has lots of applications for domination-style games and more. And the results can be tracked on a new scoreboard that has what I consider to be an important option.
While I realize that most tactical laser tag uses “K/D” terminology, I appreciated seeing that Elite has provided the option for scoring to be titled “Win/Loss” instead. Some may think this is just a matter of semantics, but I believe the terminology used in laser tag matters and I prefer the friendlier wording to appear on a screen, so it was nice to see that they give operators that choice.
LASERTRON was showcasing their new LTX3 phaser at the show and I got a tour of the features from owner Jim Kessler.
This phaser has lots of features. The ones I like the most are the dual red and green beams, which Kessler explained can match to your team color or, in cases like spy mode, make the beam color correlate accordingly. The visible health meter on the side of the phaser will be an interesting way for players to see additional information on an opponent during the game. The touch screen on the back offers a clear breakdown of the relevant information that LASERTRON players would expect.
There is a radical scope built in if you choose to use it and a flashlight…because, why not?
They also have a new holster for the phaser on the rack which makes a lot more sense than the older way of just draping the phaser across the top. The heft of the new phaser necessitates this practical approach, which I like.
And while LASERTRON’s story began with laser tag, they have branched out into other attractions, offering axe throwing and this year the addition of Crazy Darts, which won them an IAAPA brass ring first place for Best New Product. Congratulations!
Lazer Runner continues to showcase their revamped phaser design, which I have experienced at a variety of locations.
I greeted Paul Savard, but this time around I got a perspective from another voice from the company when I had the chance to interview Shannon Carriere, service manager and sales, about the Gen 4 phasers and their enthusiasm about featuring Lazer Runner at IAAPA.
When I visited the Outback Laser Tag booth I also heard a fresh perspective as at this show the gear was being shown by Bear, a mobile operator who uses the equipment at his own family business.
He talked enthusiastically about the taggers and showed me a change in the hardware design. This new triangular grip may look like a small change, but it helps to make the tagger more ergonomic, which of course can make a difference when you are in the middle of an intense game.
He also showed me some of the variety of tagger body styles and colors.
ZTAG has made great strides since I first interviewed Stan Liu, co-founder of ZTAG, back in 2019.
They offer a unique laser tag variation that I consider to be “proximity laser tag”. The key differences with their product line are related to the equipment itself, which is a palm-size square unit that does not require a phaser.
Also, this is a game where scoring and interaction requires you to have closer proximity to another player or game accessory, within about three feet or so.
Stan showed me the new Z-stations, which can be used as either stationary or mobile checkpoints for features or challenges within the game.
What I like the most is the addition of the chest holster for the gear which makes it both hands-free and more similar in style to a traditional laser tag pack, while maintaining it’s unique characteristics.
A new product, the Gel Blaster Nexus, features some laser tag-like elements with a significant difference and an additional twist. Steve Starobinsky, senior vice president for Gel Blaster in charge of trends and new markets, calls it a spacial gaming console.
He explained that the unique vest does hit detection and hit attribution as the IR signal simultaneously tracks with a gel projectile they call a “gellet”. My personal experience playing a demo game at their booth was that it has similarities to laser tag with the methods of scoring, digital “reloads”, bases and targets, but the physical projectile makes it a completely different experience.
The prototype vests feature arm covers, a subtle camo pattern and a substantial tagging unit.
You absolutely must wear a protective face cover.
The pinwheel-style targets can be tagged for power-ups during the game and are the same style that you will find at your home base, so once you are tagged out you must return to your base and stand in front of this element to “reload” and return to the game.
The IR tracking allows for the scoreboard to reflect specific player results because the point attribution aligns with what the physical projectile has hit. The mask is essential for protection because those projectiles are fast and furiously coming at you. There is a light sting when they hit your arm and I could feel them pinging off my mask, so there is more of a real-life reaction when you are hit. Because of this I will not call this laser tag, but will simply say that laser tag-like elements allow for the scoring capabilities to take the Gel Blaster experience to a different level with their new Nexus.
There was one other product of note that, although it isn’t laser tag itself, could be a cool asset to a laser tag arena. The Froggy’s Fog Blaster was no doubt one of the coolest things I saw on the floor and another Brass Ring new product award winner.
Erik Guthrie commented on his interest in this gadget for his own laser tag facility.
As for me? I’m going to let this video answer the question when people ask me to explain exactly what it is that I do at these trade shows…
This overview is specifically focused on showcasing the laser tag innovations I saw, but IAAPA is so much more. In my upcoming podcast I will also have comments from arena designers, facility operators and more, including the latest innovations with Limitless VR as shared by Kimberly Schilling, one of the owners of Creative Works.
You’ll hear about the new micro-arena concept as shared by Lathan Gareiss, owner of ARC Studios.
Larry Kirchner of Blacklight Attractions will share his thoughts on arena trends.
And Ryan McQuillan, one of the owners of What To Post, will share thoughts on social media options for laser tag operators.
So be sure to check out the Laser Unfocused Tag Talk podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and YouTube.
For me, the IAAPA experience is also about the connection with the industry community. I loved attending the parties where I mingled with laser tag operators, dinner catching up with friends and even comparing “IAAPAcures” with other enthusiasts.
So as you can see, IAAPA 2023 was an amazing opportunity to stay connected with the community, innovators and leaders of the laser tag industry and I am so delighted to share all the positivity I see happening across the wide world of laser tag!
Comments or Questions?