Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Evolution of Regional Gaming Conventions – Interview with the Founder of Connecticut’s Gamer-Con

On April 1st and 2nd Mohegan Sun will play host to Connecticut’s first-annual Gamer Con.  The event is being produced by the self-proclaimed Johnny Appleseed of Comic Book Culture in Connecticut, Mitch Hallock, who also produces Terrificon in August.

 From PAX to E3, video game conventions are a worldwide phenomenon that brings together the camaraderie and excitement of learning about new video games and meeting their creators with the sheer joy of playing your favorite gams with fellow gamers in real-life tournaments.  

Similar to Comic-Cons, gaming conventions encompass the fun of Cosplaying, shopping at unique vendors and the indescribable milieu of being immersed in Geek Culture.  Smells like plastic.  If you have never been to a gaming convention and would like understand more about it I would highly recommend checking out this piece about the current state of E3 written by Bleeding Cool’s own Patrick Dane.

While gaming conventions on a regional level may not be as prevalent as Comic-Cons at this time, Hallock is of the opinion that will change and they may even become larger than Comic Cons in the near-future… recently, Hallock and I discussed the origin of Gamer-Con and what fans can expect from its first outing.

Shawn Perry: What made you want to start a Video Game Convention?

Mitch Hallock: When I would promote TerrifiCon I noticed a crossover of comic and gaming fans.  In many ways, gamers are more passionate than comic fans. There is this whole subculture of EA Sports of kids playing games for hundreds of thousands ofdollars. They have their own Major League Gaming just like the NHL and NBA. It’s the new thing man. You could have the next Tiger Woods sitting next to  you. The Barclays Center in Brooklyn just sold 17,000 seats for ESL One in October and in Japan gaming culture is even bigger. They’ve embraced gaming culture, they have what I call ‘extreme fandom’ and in the future I think there is going to be your typical cons and then there will be ‘extreme cons,’ a new concept of conventions where you live and breathe your passions. That’s where we’re going and that was the evolution of Gamer Con: at the last Terrificon we had a room dedicated to gaming and it was one of our most popular spots and I knew it was going to have legs. There is already ConnectiCon [a successful convention that has heavily emphasized gaming culture for years held annually in nearby Hartford] and I think there is demand for more in this market.
SP: What is it about gaming that attracts such fascination?

MH: Anybody can be a superstar at it. You didn’t have to jump the highest or run the fastest…if you could just play well enough you could be the Michael Jordan of Donkey Kong or the Wayne Gretzky of Galaga. When they brought arcades home and then made it online it brought it to another level and now some six-year-old kid could be kicking your ass in Battlefront. Everybody likes the fact they can immerse themselves into a whole other world. I played a game yesterday on the VR and it was a haunted amusement park game and I was jumping out of my skin with a creepy clown jumping out of the corner at me.  I’m screaming “Oh My God” and my kids are running downstairs to see what is going on! It’s fun!

SP: What is Gamer Con going to be like?

MH: As you walk in we have that massive ballroom and half of that is going to be devoted to a massive competition featuring Gears of War, Super Smash Brothers, Street Fighter V…you will have the option to play with your friends for no money or you can join the competition for a nominal fee and there will be cash prizes over $2000 bucks! The other half of the convention center will feature artists and vendors selling t-shirts, vintage video games, action figures and all the things you see at a ‘normal con.’ Then out in the lobby area we are going to have our giant Arcade games like DDR and if that wasn’t enough we are going to have folks that are into card games like Yugioh, Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon and they will be able to play traditional card games. Really anything that you can play I am going to have a table set-up for that.  Hopefully it’s a big event with a big turnout and we can do this maybe once a year in addition to Terrificon.

SP: How much is it going cost?

MH: It’s only $15 to get in and if you want to enter some of the tournaments you have to pay a nominal fee. Kids 8 and under are free.

SP: Do you think there’s any chance that Gamer Con could become bigger than Terrificon?

MH:  Yes. There comes a point where those high-priced movie star autographs are going to become beyond people’s reach. You can’t spend $400 to go to these things and get an autograph. God bless you if you can but there comes a point when people say ‘I have had enough.’ There’s always going to be Comic-Cons but I do think down the road you are going to see gaming conventions become the next big thing. I mean, you have Youtube channels of gamers that have millions of followers. I want to be the guy that brings both those things together, something for the comic fans and the gaming fans.

SP: Do you think there’s a big crossover between gaming culture and comic book culture?

MH: Yes, anything about playing the hero and escaping to another world is just using your imagination and having a little help. It is a tangible outlet for your imaginations. I deal with the comic book writers and artists who create the comic book visually and this is just another extension of that same fantasy just a different form. It’s the same with sports fandom; I was surprised a couple years ago when I first heard that people were watching video games for money and that you could watch video games on TV. My son was like ‘you watch sports with people playing how is this any different?’ These days they are just looking for that competitive spirit and passion. I think they finally came up with a way to tap in to the meat-and-potatoes sports guy. They are becoming nerds and they don’t even know it.

There are plenty of tickets still available to Gamer Con that can be purchased here.