The laser tag park in Fireball Mountain allows players to live out their Fortnite fantasies in the jungle

Emily Ambrose loves to play laser tag in her basement and backyard with her brother Colin. So when her mother, Jenny, suggested having her ninth birthday party at Fireball Mountain, a laser-tagging facility in Wrightstown, Burlington County, Emily was excited.

“I loved collaborating with other people,” Emily said of her party last week with 11 friends. “I invited people who are very athletic and love to play.”

Putting on their gear, Emily’s group played Capture the Flag in the castle and town, two of the park’s 30 unique structures that also include World War I-style trenches and two-story platforms. Although they haven’t been involved in any of Fireball Mountain’s video game-related missions, this is an area of ​​the park that attracts the attention of clients ranging from college students to corporate executives on a team building mission.

Always a fan of video games, Fireball Mountain president and general manager Robert Peppard recognized a natural connection between those games and laser tag. Recently added laser tag games designed to mimic popular video games, including Call of dutyAnd battlefieldAnd It is an electronic game, to give players a chance to act out those missions. Although the park is unrelated to any video game company, the missions are similar to those in popular games but not close enough to raise copyright concerns, he said.

“Last year, we completed an acre and a half field, with 30 buildings, streets, underground tunnels and a two-story platform,” said Peppard, who opened the park in 2012. Call of duty which are very similar to it and we have established a series of unique missions in that region.”

Games are experiencing a prolonged recovery that has accelerated during the pandemic, especially among young people. The global gaming market will reach an estimated $268.8 billion annually in 2025, up from $178 billion in 2021, according to Statista, a provider of market and consumer data. North America is set to remain the highest paying gaming market worldwide.

This trend is one reason why video gamers in Philadelphia call their place – a 35,000-square-foot campus with public space for 780 people called Nerd Street Gamers, which offers video game courses. It officially opened last year at 401 N. Broad St.

The Fireball argument about this trend appears to be new. “The idea of ​​providing consumers with gaming experiences that might be similar to their experiences in home gaming can be worthwhile, because now they can experience it for themselves,” said Jerry Merola, managing partner at Amusement Entertainment Management in East Brunswick, NJ. , which advises family entertainment centers. “This is a rather unique strategy.”

“We have an entire generation of consumers who have grown up on gaming,” Merola added. “That’s what the consumer likes to do today.”

Fireball Mountain may be well positioned to incorporate laser tag video games because unlike most laser tagging facilities indoors, Fireball Mountain is exclusively outdoors, located on 15 acres among Burlington County farms and woods, not far from Joint Base McGuire- Dix – Lakehurst Military Base. Peppard promotes his facility’s “effort” to get the player off the couch and physically engage in the activity.

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“We underestimate the idea of ​​the gun,” Peppard said, given recent shootings in Buffalo and elsewhere. “Actually, there are missions we run [like Capture the Flag] You don’t even need to fire the laser program because the target might not. It’s all about working with the team on a common goal [while] Having fun all the time. “

This exercise item has been a big draw for Reverend Doug Cornelius of First Presbyterian Church at Hamilton Square in Hamilton NJ, who has moved his youth group to Fireball Mountain about six times.

“It’s a great opportunity to get our guys in church outside, play in a team together and have fun,” he said. “The guys have always loved it, it’s a good outdoor exercise and a positive personal experience in dealing with others.”

His group of 9 kids aged 12-18, as well as three captains aged 40-45, enjoyed playing Capture the Flag and Find the Escort VIP. Cornelius said that children sometimes use strategies they learned by playing video games.

The game works by pitting teams against each other and giving players specific instructions depending on the game. Some of the options in Fireball Mountain include Team Elimination, Domination, and Counter Strike.

Players are provided with equipment that includes a Lycra cap with sensors and a laser tag unit, complete with ropes, and instructions on how to use it. You can wear whatever you want but they rent camouflage suits and jackets and sell camouflage shirts if you want to wear the part.

Advances in technology have allowed more possibilities within the laser tag. Colored infrared lights, which can now move up to 1,000 feet, have replaced the red and white lasers that gave the game its name in the mid-1980s. Equipment is getting lighter, and WiFi enables real-time goal-scoring that can tell which players have been hit, by whom, and how many times they tag other players.

When players hit, it makes a sound that identifies the type of hit. For example, a groan-type sound means someone is injured but they are still in the game. But if players hear the phrase “Medic, medic, man is coming down,” and see their lights flash and their LED screen says “Game Over,” they’re out. But this is not the end of the fun. Depending on the game, there is a short break and then the participant can play again.

Fireball Mountain added jello about a year and a half ago, similar to paintball but without those spherical capsules full of pigment. Unlike a laser tag that shoots a beam of infrared light, the gun in a jello tag shoots a small ball of gelatin.

“When you hit the paintball at 250 or 300 miles per hour, it’s going to leave a mark,” Peppard said. “It will also leave a stain on your clothing, which jello won’t. In the jello tag, the range is only 60 feet but is perfect for the Combat Village” of 30 buildings.

The game has become so popular that a second field is being created and will be ready next month, just to fulfill orders. When the game debuted in 2020, about 30 players signed up in the first month. This month they are expecting 300 players and once the new field is complete, they are expecting more than double that number.

Pepperard was a US Navy veteran in submarine service from 1982 to 1986 and graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1990 with a major in Operations Management. He spent most of his career focusing on IT in the pharmaceutical industry, which helped him envision new ways to play the laser tag as technology improved.

Although Peppard did not share specific numbers, his company’s revenue fell by about 65% during the pandemic years in 2020 and 2021. Even as conditions began to improve, he struggled to find workers, and his company’s revenue fell to about eight employees from 14 in 2019. He has The company’s ranks have since rebounded to 20 employees, and revenue is up about 30% compared to 2019.

“We’ve had those two hit years, but they’ve allowed us to finish off the town’s second story, which people really love,” said Peppard, whose property holding company owns the site. This was an important part of our strategy. When we do surveys, people especially like the diversity of fields.”

The park’s largest client base includes summer camps, birthday parties, youth groups, and corporate team building. Their biggest competitors are places like the nearby Six Flags, along with the Shore’s bowling alleys and water parks. Their only close competitor is iPlay America in Freehold, and it’s all inside. Fireball can also provide mobile services, laser tag battlefield setup, jello tag, foam ball and dodgeball arrow ball at nearby locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

At the park, Fireball charges $35 per person, with group rates as low as $20.50 for groups of 100 or more, and somewhere in between for smaller groups depending on size. Sessions are 2 hours long, including half an hour for registration, preparation, orientation, and instruction.

Peppard has no plans to create additional parks, but is constantly looking to improve Fireball Mountain.

“I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years,” he said. “I love what I have and I tweak and improve it.”

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