BY DANNY MOGLE // PHOTOS BY SCHUYLER WICK // July/August 2017
Cameron Davis is doing his best to be sneaky. The 10-year-old is crouched behind a stack of barrels. Decked from head to toe in camo gear, he is aiming his rifle (which shoots a harmless beam of lights) and is ready to make a “kill.”
All of a sudden, he sees one of his friends on the opposing team dart between trees. He steps out from behind the barrels and prepares to fire. Before he gets the shot off, sensors on the black vest he is wearing start blinking. Cameron has been “hit.”
He doesn’t seem to care. In fact, he seems to be having the time of his life.
On this afternoon, Cameron is one of 11 people engaged in battle at Zed Crossfire Laser Combat near Tyler, Texas.
Rod and Celeste Robison opened Zed Crossfire earlier this year on three tree-covered acres south of the city.
The last of their blended family of eight children were in college and, with extra time on their hands, they wanted to start a business. They kicked around the idea of a food truck.
“Our daughters said there was nothing for people to do but go to the movies,” says Celeste, sitting at a picnic table near the combat zone. “They suggested we look into laser tag.”
Celeste says when her husband, an anesthesiologist and Army veteran, did an Internet search about laser tag franchises, the first thing that popped up was iCOMBAT.
“I could see us doing something like this,” she remembers.
The iCOMBAT tactical combat system was created in 2012 to give gamers a “live Hollywood experience that fully immerses them in action, drama and excitement,” says company material.
The company promotes the equipment as being the most authentic in appearance, weight and feel.
Each player wears a vest with sensors that light up when they are activated by an infrared light fired from the “rifle” of an opposing player. The equipment is hooked to a computer which tabulates which player racks up the most hits.
The Robisons built a fort-like entrance to the combat zone and cleared much of the brush. Celeste says they kept as many trees possible to preserve the forest setting.
They added team command posts (tents), obstacles for players to hide behind in the combat zone and a central post overlooking the combat zone from which employees monitor the action and provide a tally on hits after each game is over.
So far, Zed Crossfire is attracting those who take reality gaming recreation seriously as well as families who just want something to do together that is safe and fun.
“There are as many adults who love it as the kids,” Celeste says.
Wendy Davis brought her son, Cameron, and five of his buddies to Zed Crossfire to celebrate his birthday.
Wendy says it seemed like the perfect way for six boys to burn off some of their endless supply of energy.
“They all like (combat) video games,” she says. “We thought this was perfect to give them that whole experience.”
The boys march single file to a command post where they receive instructions on how to play. They are joined by five college-age friends and split into two teams.
Once the battle begins, everyone takes off running. The sound of shooting fills the air.
Some seem to be firing constantly at anything that moves. Others strategically take cover and wait for the best moment to strike.
“I’ve been killed,” screams one of the boys. He retreats back to his team’s command post and moments later re-emerges running back into the heat of battle.
He is not aware that Cameron, his enemy in this game, is only yards away crouched behind a stack of barrels.