Jason Smith had a successful business in Carbondale. His electronic cigarette store, 618 Vape, had grown over seven years and served a loyal group of customers. Yet, Smith didn’t like what he saw coming.
“The FDA and their regulations, they are really going be cracking down on the e-juice manufacturers and there’s lawsuits and litigation and things like that on the horizon,” he said. “The Vape industry was going in a direction that I just didn’t want.”
In reality, Smith was looking for a change, too, but he had virtually no idea what to do next.
Then he realized the answer was right there: virtual reality.
“I wanted to come up with something for Carbondale that no one else was doing; something that was totally different; something for the whole family and something people will go to do and spend time together,” he said.
With that, Smith moved out the vaping supplies and equipment from his location at the corner of Grand and Wall Streets and remodeled his facility into an arena for virtual reality gaming: Epic 360 VR.
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“It is a virtual reality arena,” Smith explained. “It’s for two to six players who can work through escape rooms virtually or play laser tag.”
Smith explained that the arena is a 600 square-foot open floor where participants wearing virtual reality headsets and holding gaming controllers are free to move and interact with the games and other players they see in their personal screens. Two attendants are on hand to make sure players stay safe and do not run into each other.
Before playing, clients go through a brief orientation and are fitted for the headset.
“When you come in, you are basically coming into an adventure – something you have never done before,” he said.
The same was true for him. Smith admits he had never tried virtual reality prior to opening Epic 360 VR.
“I had never put one of the headsets before,” Smith admits. “Once we made sure everything was built out and functioning properly – it was like three days before we opened – I put one on for the first time. It was amazing. When you try it, you’ll see that it is super cool.”
Smith said two to six players can compete at once and choose to play virtual laser tag or work together in an escape room scenario. Participants can even compete with other players around the world.
“Everything’s wireless and you can just roam around. It’s not like playing at home, you get to walk through the entire arena and there’s nothing to trip on or run into,” he said.
Players wear a virtual reality headset and hold controllers that allow them to interact with the game.
“You can pick up objects, you can move objects around, you can turn them over and even share them with other players,” Smith explained.
A variety of escape room scenarios are available and Smith said vendors bring out new games regularly. He said virtual reality experiences at Epic 360 VR are in the $20-$25 range for a 30 minute session.
A special laser tag tournament Saturday evening will crown the Southern Illinois champion. He said the event, which begins at 8 p.m., is open to all players.
Smith said reaction to the new venture has been great and he is enjoying the reality of virtual reality.
“This is a great experience,” he said. “We have people come in and we get to see them playing and working together; they’re bonding and coming together. I’m proud of that.”