PAX access was provided by Multiplayer United.
The day has come. PAX has finally hit our shores, and it may not even matter that most of the information coming out of the expo has already been covered in earlier events. For many, the chance to share in some gaming culture with thousands of like-minded individuals in an atmosphere that is genuinely inviting is excitement enough.
I caught a 6am flight on Saturday to head down to Melbourne from Sydney. I stumbled into my hotel, checked in my bag and grabbed a bite to eat before preparing to head for the showgrounds. It was cold, cloudy and overcast, and weather forecasts warned of storms and periods of rain. “I really should’ve worn better gear” kept repeating in my mind as I pounded pavement in my cloth sneakers.
The express train I caught was already filled with people, and they poured out in a flood, overwhelming the handful of security personnel at the gate. Inside the entrance hall, the line was already hundreds deep. At the media booth, a young Asian woman with thick-framed glasses and a neko hood handed me my pass with a smile. I was in.
Jaytee, head of Multiplayer United who also happened to be an old high school buddy, met me in the Queue Hall. He and his crew were running the PC freeplay area on the other side of the grounds. A green and gold PAX scarf was wrapped around his neck to ward off the Melbourne winter morning. He looked alert, edgy. Judging from the amount of people in the entrance hall at this early hour, I could only imagine how busy it had been in his area.
“How’s it going so far?” I asked.
He cracked a wry smile. “There’s two more days of this.”
The event was split into a series of halls, all connected via a canvas-covered arterial pathway. As the day went on, attendees filled the passageway. Excited junior highschoolers and families rubbed shoulders with cosplayers and solo attendees who studied schedules intently.
I was led to the PC freeplay area. Hundreds of machines were lined in rows, each stuffed with impressive hardware and linked to the outside world. The BYO PC area was at the other end of the hall for the dedicated LANners.
Even at this early hour, there were a few rows of dedicated gamers getting into a few rounds of LoL, and the rest were getting ready for a Doom tourney. I opted to jump into a couple of CS:GO and TF2 servers, and if it were up to me, I would’ve been comfortable staying there all day.
The Big Top was where gaming of all forms collided. Of course, games aren’t simply limited to the type you see on the screen, and PAX was eager to underscore that point. Giant versions of Jenga and Connect 4 were available for people to walk up and get started. Tables were set up everywhere to accommodate for games of all kinds. Board games of all kinds were in abundance, from Carcassonne to Catan, and thankfully not a single Monopoly session was in sight. Card games were plentiful as well, and I was pleased to see more than one session of Munchkin in full swing. Of course, there were several Magic: The Gathering sessions underway, and staff were on hand to teach newcomers the ropes.
For those who prefer something a bit more animated, there were several console stations set up, with a comprehensive library of titles for users to borrow from. Friends engaged in sessions of Injustice, Street Fighter IV, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 and Super Smash Bros.
To my delight, there was a section dedicated entirely to retro consoles. Each table showed a steady progression of our favourite pastime, all the way through to the most recent generation. It was heartwarming to see some mature gamers relive their glory days, and share their experiences with youngsters.
The beanbag area wasn’t too far off, and it served as a place for attendees to wind down, lay down their loot, and break out the handhelds for some public matchups.
The main event, however, was in the expo hall. The entrance was deceptively low key, and it was only when I ventured deeper into the hall that I realised just how much content there was.
Of course, the big corporates had booths dedicated to showing off their latest wares. Companies like Sennheiser, Audio-Technica and Turtle Beach were eager to show off their latest audio equipment, while other companies like MSI and Intel had representation too.
Riot Games and Wargaming commanded large areas of floor space: artists from League of Legends were designing characters on the fly, while a faceoff between two pro-teams in World of Tanks was breathlessly commentated to a packed audience, who were far more excited than I anticipated. There was still room for a laser tag arena, as well as a play area for some Johann Sebastian Joust.
I was pleased to see some Aussie indie talent out there too, and it was great to see them get lots of attention. Keep an eye out for Burden and Black Annex.
It was clear, however, that the main enemy of the attendees wasn’t the weather, or dealing with unpleasant people (everyone was actually incredibly cool and eager to chat), or even the prices.
It was capacity.
I learned the hard way that in order to get a slim chance of actually getting into one of these events, I had to queue well in advance. People jumped into queues as soon as they were available, and halls reached capacity hours before events were scheduled to start there. I joined the line for a “Gamer Rage and Gamer Entitlement” panel well in advance, and I was told that I was the the absolute last person to be admitted to this event. The Enforcer for the event had to tell several people that, despite arriving more than an hour early for the event, they would probably not be allowed into the session.
People took the situation in stride, but it was no less frustrating. 40,000 people attended this show: how could organisers possibly accommodate seating for each and every panel? On the flip side, waiting for two hours to see a one hour panel is cutting it fine. The size and scope of PAX was measurable, and yet it still exceeded expectations.
The EB Games expo has flash and Supanova has character, but PAX has soul. It’s not an event to see which companies and brands can scream the loudest for your attention. It’s not just an opportunity to be around the things you know and love, but to learn about new things too. The people that go there are passionate and genuine.
PAX is where games and gaming culture can be celebrated, rather than simply sold to the masses. It’s where gamers can be in their element.
Let’s just hope we can get some bigger conference halls next year.