Two professional athletes — Wynton Bernard, a center fielder for the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A minor league team, and his brother, former Seattle Seahawks’ defensive back Walter Bernard — have teamed up to open America’s first-ever Escape Room Sports in their hometown of McCandless.
The 6,000-square-foot facility, located at 9795 Perry Highway, will offer three separate and unique game experiences: a baseball-themed escape room; a multi-player virtual-reality escape room; and a top archery battle arena.
The Bernard brothers always loved the Escape Room concept, which is an increasingly popular team-based game in which participants are locked in a room for up to 60 minutes and challenged to solve a mystery, using clues hidden within a series of interactive puzzles and riddles that reward keys to unlock doors, unravel the mystery, and allow participants to “escape.”
“We love escape rooms and we love sports. That got us wondering why there were no sports-themed escape rooms,” said Wynton, 27, who lives in McCandless during the off-season. “We got the idea to start one in 2016 and thought, ‘What better place to open it than in Pittsburgh, the City of Champions?’”
Wynton and Walter created each of the mystery’s story lines. It can take them several months to develop just one.
But it is their sports-themed atmosphere and technology-driven gadgetry that make their Escape Rooms unique and ground-breaking.
In the baseball escape room, the story line centers around a concept titled “Mystery at the Plate.”
“We’ve incorporated immersive technology and special detailed props,” Wynton explained. “One of the rooms is an actual locker room. We also have a real pitcher’s mound, home plate, bats, gloves and full scoreboard. We’ve created an authentic baseball atmosphere.”
While the focus is on team-building and fun, Wynton said the competition can get stiff.
“People can get really competitive. We put them on a stopwatch to see who the fastest teams are. We plan to start posting a leader board on our website. Right now, the winners only get bragging rights, but in the future, we hope to give prizes,” he said.
The multi-player virtual-reality escape room accommodates up to six participants. Each is given a hand-held controller and virtual-reality goggles. The players work as a team to solve a mystery as they sit in chairs and let the virtual-reality technology take them to new places and adventures.
The cost is $29 per player.
The third game room is the top archery battle arena in which teams compete 3-on-3 in a shoot-out using bows and foam-tipped arrows. The 75-minute time slot includes a 15-minute target practice session and five games. It costs $25 per player.
“It’s like paintball without the bruises. You feel like you’re on a stealth mission. It’s a real adrenalin rush,” Wynton said. “The other day, we had a group of six middle-age ladies come in to play. They put in some hip-hop music and had a blast.”
“As a teenager in Wexford, there really isn’t much to do, but Escape Room Sports offers lots of new and exciting activities,” said Jeremy Ruppert, 18 of McCandless.
Escape Room Sports opened its doors June 6, but the official grand opening will be July 11, and special giveaways will include baseballs autographed by professional baseball players and coupons for discounted and free games at the facility.
“Escape Room Sports is not only about solving the mystery and escaping within 60 minutes,” Wynton said. “These games are all about the experience, working and bonding as a team. It’s perfect for families, friends, and sports teams. They’re great as a date night or a family night. It’s all about having fun doing something new and unique.”
Laurie Rees is a Tribune-Review contributor.