This past weekend was the first ever Game On Expo, a three day event celebrating retro video games at the Mesa Convention Center. If you’ve been following me on Twitter or have visited the site regularly in the past few weeks, then you know I was really excited for this event. Arizona has another retro event, Zapcon, however that is geared toward the arcade scene. We had another gaming event, Devastation, however that event has become extinct and I never had the chance to attend. Game On Expo was my first chance at a true console gaming convention and for it being its first year, I was pleased with it.
First thing first, hats off to John “gamester81” Lester who organized Game On Expo. The event had a ton of sponsors and I saw marketing everywhere for it. I’ve only attended a few events at the Mesa Convention Center and this was by far the most attendees I’ve seen at an event held there. The main portion of the event was the exhibit hall which was filled with vendors, artists, and interactive booths. Just off of the exhibit hall was the gaming area which consisted of about 15 or so arcade cabinets and a dozen consoles from various eras in gaming. Game On Expo also had a cosplay hallway which featured cosplayers and local costuming groups eager to take a photo with you. At one point on Saturday, most of them were moved out of the hallway and relocated to the back of the facility because of the uncomfortable high temperature of the hallway. Speaking of the back of the facility, it housed two panel rooms, one theater, two table top gaming rooms, and a small television setup with a different console each hour.
The weekend also featured panels that were hosted by industry professionals and popular YouTube hosts. I attended 5 panels on Saturday that covered various topics such as the “Power Glove” discussed by The Gaming Historian as well as a Q&A from Pat the NES Punk. The highlight of the panels for me was The Completionist panel by Jirard Khalil. If you followed my live tweets during the panel then you know how awesome I thought it is was. The majority of the panel Jirard gave random attendees of the panel a chance to play the yet to be released Mario Maker for Wii U. Jirard had designed his own Mario level that was pretty crazy and the audience loved it. As I mentioned in my tweets, the room was going nuts the further someone progressed through the level. In my highlights of 2015, that moment is on my list without question.
Some of thing things we take for granted at established conventions that can be an issue for newer cons never really manifested. Registration seemed to run smooth, I didn’t hear one complaint from attendees about registration. The things that did happen were minor such as the line being capped for the Smash Bros tournament. The show was clearly not aware of how many people who want to enter, having to turn away 20-30 attendees. Equipment setup before almost every panel I attended was a problem, most of the panels started late because the staff didn’t have the correct equipment on hand for the panelists. The last small issue I had is of no fault of Game On Expo but of the Mesa Convention Center. From what I’ve been told more than once, the facility does not allow food trucks on the premise for events but one small café charging almost $6 for a low quality burger wasn’t cutting it. The event could have benefited from food trucks being available.
Would I recommend the event to someone? Yes, but it isn’t a simple as that. Just because you enjoy going to comic conventions doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy Game On Expo. You’ve got to have an appreciation for video games and the culture it has created to truly enjoy the event. If you’re going for cosplay, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re going to buy art, you’ll probably be disappointed. If you’re going because you wish you still had your SNES and that copy of Yoshi’s Island or to find a few Sega Saturn titles on top of your favorite YouTuber who will will be hosting a panel? Yes, you’ll love it. I expect Game On Expo to return next year and to stay in Mesa Convention Center at least two more years. I could see this show easily out growing the facility but that’s nothing to worry about just yet.
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