Soon as I returned from Gen Con 2016, I began watching the Summer Olympics in Rio, which had started while I was at the convention. Now, as Essen is quickly approaching, I am watching the Summer Paralympics. I am in such awe of the abilities of these athletes from the around the world. They train so hard for these games and then give everything of themselves in front of a global audience. This morning, while reflecting on last night’s opening ceremonies for the Paralympic Games, an analogous reflection came to mind… are Gen Con and Essen the Olympics for Gamers? There are so many parallels between them that it is almost uncanny.
Gen Con and Essen, like the Olympics, are huge global spectacles that people come from all over the world to see and participate in. They have opening ceremonies and traditions to get everyone excited. These events are covered by local and global press, famous personalities attend, and the Internet is full of videos, photos, podcasts, blogs, and ongoing live conversations about the event so those that can’t attend can stay current on what is happening. Events sell out. People are highly opinionated about what was the best. Attendees want autographs of and pictures with their favorite designers and publishers. Awards and Medals are given out to the best of the best. The conventions are huge spectacles of global importance to the gaming community.
Avid gamers, like athletes, put so much effort and preparations into making their convention experiences amazing. Their training includes registration, coordinating with friends, hotel reservations, event registrations, researching game releases, preparing games to play, reading blogs, watching/listening to podcasts, getting physically prepared, packing, and traveling. Then they arrive for the convention and push themselves to their physical and mental limits all for the glorious memories. Most go home exhausted, perhaps even fighting con crud. Yet, all that effort and exhaustion is worth it for that one glorious week out of the year to shine with other international gamers.
And let me give you some behind-the-curtains look at the amazing effort game publishers and freelancers put into preparations for these conventions. They do everything that avid gamers do to attend these events (as they are avid gamers themselves), with two significant additional elements. Long before the convention, they spend months under ever-tightening deadlines editing, polishing, and printing games just in time to get them released at the big convention. Soon as Gen Con was over, I was buried editing and proofreading tabletop game manuals to be released at Essen. It is a tight time table right after Gen Con to when the game manuals and components have to go to the printer to make Essen in time. You have to stay focused and push hard to get these new game released in time. Then after Essen will be a very short break before prep for Origins and Gen Con begins. Then, on top of all the other preparations you do personally for the big game convention, publishers and freelancers who volunteer show up early to spend a couple long days working hard and sweating like crazy while setting up the exhibit hall booths all the gamers enjoy visiting. Each day those publishers and volunteers work long shifts in the booths, on their feet, spending a wonderful day meeting fans, talking about, demoing, and selling games. When the exhibit hall closes each day, they run sessions, meet fans, attend events, and with some luck they play some games late at night. They make it to their hotel late for a short nights sleep then repeat the next day throughout the convention. Then after the avid gamers leave on the final day, the exhibitors and volunteers spend a hard day of work packing up unsold stock, tearing down the booth, loading the trucks, then celebrating with each other another amazing convention.
Conventions are exhilarating and exhausting to participate in. I am not saying we are as amazing as Olympians, but gamers, publishers and freelancers have our own Olympic-level events each year in Gen Con and Essen. What do you think? Is this an accurate comparison?