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Megazone magnetises Rovaniemi kids

12 May 2019, 18:52

  DF Report by Ben Espinola

Press Release Photo.

Megazone Rovaniemi, located in the basement of Riintenkulma Shopping Center, in a just few years of operation has become a popular place for children’s birthday parties, school trips, company retreats and team-building events.

It has also become home to an emerging competitive and professional team-based game representing a convergence of e-sports and traditional sports.

This game, laser tag, has its origin in the video game culture and science-fiction franchises of the 1980s.

Originally marketed as a toy that children could play outside, the game today offers a wide variety of indoor and outdoor variations, with indoor versions being popular worldwide as a form of both entertainment and competition. Players are equipped with a gun that shoots harmless infrared and laser beams and vests that register when a player is hit, said the Megazone authority.

Megazone is a global laser tag franchise founded in Australia and has locations throughout Finland and many countries in other parts the world, sometimes under different names.

The Rovaniemi location is managed by Ari Hietala, who describes himself as a third generation entrepreneur and competitive laser tag player. He operates the business mostly on his own with the help of his cousin.

Megazone Rovaniemi opened in January 2015 in a space that used to be a storage area for the mall above. It is the first and only business of its kind in Rovaniemi.

Inside is a 300 square meter arena full of ramps, walls and battle stations, all under black lights and smoke produced by smoke machines that allow players to see the lasers. There is also a party room, an arcade and a snack bar.

Hietala says, “Our busiest month is May. Schools get out and many have a get-together party. Saturday is our busiest day because it is the day people tend to have the most free time.”

Groups can rent the space for private events and while there are open games for walk-in players, the majority of players book in groups.

The biggest source of revenue for Megazone is group events, but it is also a hub for the growing competitive laser tag scene where teams from all around the world come to compete. Hietala says that Megazone hosts several tournaments a year with anywhere from 70 to 100 players coming to Rovaniemi to participate.

The competitive laser tag community is tightly knit and rapidly growing. “Four years ago, there were no teams from France, Italy and Germany coming to Finland for competition. Now there is no such thing as a non-international tournament,” Hietala says, adding that even for the Finnish national tournaments, the top teams from Sweden often come to play.

The version of the game played by competitive players is vastly different from that played by casual players. There are, in fact, many different versions of competitive games, all with very different rules and styles of play.

Hietala says that he is one of the few franchise managers who is also a player. He says, “This is a passion for me. I want to make laser tag known throughout the world as competitive sport and e-sport.”

E-sports is a broad category of different leagues of competitive and often professional video-game players. In the past 10 years, this industry has become popular with both competitors and spectators, with millions of people watching the games that stream online. The world’s best players and teams are often sponsored by companies and are able to make a comfortable living as professional players.

Laser tag has yet to reach this level of popularity and, according to Hietala, the best teams in the world are not yet able to quit their day jobs. However, Hietala hopes that this is beginning to change. He says that the Finnish e-sports organization has approached the laser tag community and they have begun discussing potential projects together.

Meanwhile, Hietala has set up a series of cameras in the arena and is working on attracting a viewing audience for competitions he plans to stream online.

Megazone is home to a core of local laser tag enthusiasts who play every Sunday night from 18-21. Hietala says that anyone is welcome and that the first month is free, but he warns, “At first, you will get destroyed, but you will learn.”

Regulars usually buy a monthly pass, but more casual players can walk in anytime and play just a few games. Either way, Megazone has become a center of community, for both serious players and people looking for a fun and engaging activity to bond over and enjoy.