Reno-area entrepreneurs break into escape room boom

Sean Amezcua, left, and Dominique Amezcua stand in the lobby of their new business venture, Deadline Escape Rooms, on Aug. 20, 2021. The couple opened the escape room facility in South Reno in March of this year.

Sean Amezcua, left, and Dominique Amezcua stand in the lobby of their new business venture, Deadline Escape Rooms, on Aug. 20, 2021. The couple opened the escape room facility in South Reno in March of this year. Photo by Kaleb Roedel.

Kidnapped and locked in your deranged neighbor’s basement or stuck in a spooky Victorian castle is usually the stuff of nightmares. A growing number of entrepreneurs, though, are catering to customers willing to pay to escape these types of situations for fun.

Escape rooms are adventure games in which teams of friends, family or colleagues work together to explore closed spaces where they must find clues and solve puzzles to escape a simulated danger before time runs out.

Originating in Japan, escape rooms have taken off in recent years across the U.S. In 2014, there were about 24 escape room companies in America, according to Room Escape Artist, which tracks data and reports on the escape room industry.

Seven years later, that number has grown to more than 2,250 — nine of which are now established in Reno-Sparks.

One of the newest businesses locally is Deadline Escape Rooms, which opened in March at 7111 S. Virginia St.

Owners Sean and Dominique Amezcua launched their venture with one room, “Dead Silence,” — in which players attempt to escape the locked basement of a serial killer — and quickly saw their customer numbers grow.

“Times now are a little scary starting a business, but business has been, thankfully, amazing,” Sean said. “And we haven’t done any advertising yet. The community is spreading the word.”

To keep up with demand, in early July, they opened a second room, “Witch Doctor,” which tasks players, stuck in a dimly lit shack, with helping a Voodoo Priestess get out a bind.

Since opening the second room, Deadline’s profits have more than doubled — and they don’t expect sales to slow anytime soon.

“You’re trying to escape the room, but it’s also an escape from reality,” Dominique said. “Because you get transported into a completely different space. It’s a lot like a movie where you’re immersed in the story, and you don’t have to worry about the normal world for an hour and just do something fun with your friends and your family again. I think people are really enjoying that.”


Reality, after all, has been especially challenging for Northern Nevadans to escape these days. This summer has been filled with scorching temperatures, overwhelming wildfire smoke, and rising cases of the COVID Delta variant, leaving many with few entertainment options that don’t involve screens.

Lacy Blume, left, and Mark Blume stand inside their escape room facility, Keystone Escape Games, on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBW


Mark Blume, who co-owns Keystone Escape Games at 1350 Stardust St. with his wife, Lacy, said demand has steadily grown all year as vaccines rolled out and the economy reopened.  On average, Blume said the business sees anywhere from 80 to 120 customers a week.

“We definitely have felt people wanting to get out,” said Blume, who opened his business in October 2019. “We’ve had a bunch of people say, ‘well, we couldn’t go to the lake’ or ‘we couldn’t do this or that because of the smoke,’ and so they came here.

“Because it’s a private thing — it’s not like going to a concert — they can just come with their friends or family.”


Most escape rooms in the U.S. are mom-and-pop operations, like Keystone Escape Games and Deadline Escape Rooms.

From chains to smaller outfits, the format is similar. Groups of about two to eight people play an hour-long game that could include evading a serial killer or, in the case of the room at Keystone Escape Games, being honorary vampires searching for the stolen blood of the original vampire.

Once one puzzle in the room is solved, a clue unlocks the next challenge. Hidden doors often reveal new spaces such as secret passageways as the game proceeds.

The outcome is not guaranteed. If players get stuck, escape room staff provide extra hints that are built into the game. Blume said about 10% to 15% of the groups complete their “Blood of the Original” room without any additional hints.

The Amezcuas said well-designed games typically draw on many types of knowledge, so all players have a chance to contribute to cracking a room’s code.

The door to Deadline Escape Rooms’ “Dead Silence” room, in which players attempt to escape the locked basement of a serial killer. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBW


“On a humanistic level, I think a lot of people like to feel smart,” Sean said. “I think it’s really awesome for people to be able to experience something that makes them feel smart. And it also makes them feel like they’re discovering something for the first time, regardless if hundreds of teams played before them.”


Successful escape room entrepreneurs have relevant backgrounds and the ability to learn a variety of new skills, like accounting, game design and set building.

At Deadline Escape Rooms, Sean Amezcua draws on his past as a documentary filmmaker and videographer while Dominique uses her background in studio art and graphic design to help storyboard and create their rooms.

“The idea of story making has always been something that I’ve been really passionate about, and, for Dominique, she is a super creative hands-on artist,” Sean said. “So, this is really a good outlet for both of our creative passions. That’s what got us interested in this.”

Innovation is crucial to hooking repeat customers, especially as more companies enter the market. Some add new rooms, switch games more frequently or use more elaborate props to increase the immersive quality of the experience.

And entrepreneurs find they must be handy, too. Both the Amezcuas and the Blumes design, decorate and custom-build each room and all props by hand. Because of the rising popularity, Blume said he’s hired four part-time employees to help run games and build out their second room, a medieval-themed game they hope to open by the end of the year.

“It’s not very financially prudent, but we just didn’t have time to do all the building ourselves,” he said.

The Amezcuas, meanwhile, don’t have a timeline for when they will add more rooms. In all, they plan to create five rooms in their roughly 4,000-square-foot facility. They said it takes two to three months to build an entirely new room.

“We’ve actually been so busy with customers, we haven’t had a lot of time to work on them,” Dominique Amezcua said. “But, it’s a good problem to have.”


To date, there are nine escape room companies in Reno-Sparks. Blume feels that amount is already “a little saturated” for a market the size of Northern Nevada. For a comparison, Las Vegas has about 20 such facilities, according to Room Escape Artist.

Blume, though, said as more “good” escape rooms pop up in Reno, the region could become an escape room destination for travelers and vacationers.

“We hear a lot of people coming in and they say that when they travel, they always try to do them,” he said. “It’s now one of those things people do when they go places, similar to a food tour.”
The Amezcuas agree.

“Escape rooms are all symbiotic,” Sean said. “Because if you go and play an escape room somewhere in Reno and you don’t have a really great experience, odds are, you’ll be like, ‘OK, maybe all escape rooms are like that here, I don’t want to do another one.’ We need other escape rooms to be great for us to be successful.”


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment