We’re Taking the Panel to Isengard

Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX, is a convention I’ve always heard was amazing but never had any interest in attending. I loved the Penny Arcade comics in college, and reading about the experiences people had. But never though I’d make an effort to attend one. That’s when Dave from Arcadia National Bar in Maine asked Andrea and me to talk on a panel at PAXEast. It was called “Beer, Booze, and Board Games” and was about bar owers that have opened a successful geek bar. We were joined by Anthony and Lynn Nilles from 42 Lounge in Milwaukee.

If I could sum up PAXEast for those that don’t want to read the full story, I was both overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time. That’s probably the best description I can give. Let me elaborate.
PAXEast is primarily about video games. Contrast this to GenCon that’s primarily table top based. So you walk into the expo hall and are instantly assaulted by giant screens, rows of gaming PC’s, cosplay babes straight from League of Legends, and the basement funk you’d come to expect from a gaming convention. On Friday Andrea and I toured the convention floor to hit a few notable booths and get our bearings. I have to say picking up our badges was probably the easiest of any con. They had a good amount of staff for Will Call and even customer service was great. We started at Think Geek, headed over to Gunnar, and did some wandering of the table top area. I realized after about an hour that this show is mostly demo’s for upcoming games, geeks will wait hours in line to get 5 minutes at a game, and then you can usually get the demo at home about a week later. But, it was cool to see the games in action just by standing back and watching others play.
Table Top being my passion, I spent most of my time in this area. It made up maybe 1/6th of the entire convention floor, and almost seemed like an after thought. Granted, you can cram a ton more table top into a small are than video games. Twitch and Bioware alone took up a significant amount of floor space. I was very happy with the amount of indie table top developers there. It reminded me of my first few Gen Cons. So many people were there with home printed decks, hand made game pieces, etc just trying to get you to play their demo and back them on Kickstarter. They’re table top area was also open until midnight each night making it easy to gather with friends and do some gaming.
Another thing I noticed, and LOVED, was the amount of amateur costumes I saw. It was so refreshing to see people make their favorite character come alive with cardboard, foam, and sharpies. There were some amazing pro-level costumes, but it was great to see these didn’t dominate.
So now on to why we were there. The geek bar panel. I have to say this was an awesome experience. I’ve been able to talk on panels before, regarding everything from rockets to costumes. But this is the first time I was able to talk about beer, and a business I helped create. The energy was amazing, and the room was packed. So much so we were able to spend about an hour after talking with folks that couldn’t make it in. I would love to do this again and it was just such a great feeling meeting people that wanted to do this themselves.
If I learned one thing about PAX it’s that Twtich streamers are king. I’ve met some pretty big names in the geek world and I have never seen lines so long as I have for someone that just streams themselves playing video games. Girls of all ages were going ape shit for a guy with a Minecraft sword, to the point where they had to wrap the lines around buildings or erect impromptu ropes in front of the convention hall. There were also a fair amount of cosplayers at the convention, but they weren’t the spot light. I don’t recall any long autograph lines, special ads, or craziness. Most in attendance were working booths like Nintendo and Xbox and kept things pretty down to Earth. I actually loved this because Andrea and I were able to go up to some of our cosplay friends, take a picture, and spend a few minutes to catch up.
I do have to say I had a lot of fun meeting new people, and from those people I met I feel like is where PAX truly shines. Sure, you get to see the newest and shiniest games. But you also get to meet people IRL you’ve only ever talked to online. We spent just about every night doing something from a Poke’mon Pub Crawl and Karaoke with the other geek bar owners, to sitting in the hotel bar with friends we’d just met on twitter that day.
So people asked me all weekend if I would ever do PAX again. I have to say that unless I’m invited back, I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to attend. Being in Florida it’s a long haul to any of the PAX conventions, and we have MegaCon, GenCon, and possibly a nerd cruise to fill up 2015. But, if there’s every a call for another geek bar panel I’d absolutely scrape together the means to visit again.

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Markus is the co-owner of the Cloak & Blaster gaming pub in Orlando, FL. He's a former personal trainer and Space Shuttle Engineer. He's currently married to the lovely Geek Fit Girl.

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