PAX West 2021: Cons Under Covid
By: L. Sahara McGirt (DarthSagaSwag)
This year's Penny Arcade Expo was quite a departure from its norm. With COVID-19 continuing to disrupt our day-to-day lives, most larger gaming companies opted out of hosting booths at the event, leaving the playground open for a toned-down convention comparable to local conventions in much smaller cities than Seattle. Most of the booths were held on a single floor with another floor for open play gaming, True Dungeon taking up some 3rd-floor space at the Sheraton, and theatres for panels about all things gaming.
The largest draw to the event (for those not interested in gaming tournaments or the gaming rooms) was the Tales of Arise demo hosted by Bandai Namco. With Tales of Arise coming out tomorrow, it's no wonder that Bandai wanted to get the game out there for attendees to try the game. The chance at getting a really cool shaker keychain for defeating the boss in the demo made the display all the more popular - at least until they ran out of keychains by the third day of the event. No worries! Bandai offered tumblers on the last day of the even to make up for the lack of keychains.
Most booths consisted of indie games, tabletop games & equipment sellers, a few shops selling plushies & shirts and other nerdy gear, and charities such as our very own Stack Up. While the event was not huge, it still held the charm of being a nexus for nerds from all over to come together and celebrate what they enjoy about gaming and geek culture while also bringing together game devs and other gaming professionals.
On a comforting note, PAX claims that 93% of attendees were vaccinated, with children under vaccination age and persons with medical exceptions making up most of the 7% of unvaccinated attendees. A negative COVID test was required for those attending without vaccinations. Everyone at the event was masked, and the Enforcers did a great job of ensuring that attendees complied with masking rules. Let's hope that means good health for everyone at the event.
Stacking Up at PAX West: We Had Our Own Booth!
For the first time in our years of getting out to these events, Stack Up had a booth at PAX West. As such, we took full advantage of the opportunity to get some Stack Up gear out there and spread the good word of Stack Up. While we are not currently hosting Air Assaults due to the pandemic, our staff had fun anyways as we gathered together for a weekend of working the booth, connecting with veterans and active service members, and gaming industry professionals in attendance.
It was really great to get out there and show what we at Stack Up can do when we are given the opportunity to show up and show out. We hope to be invited back to host a booth at PAX West next year, and hopefully, by then, we'll be showing some Air Assaults a good time again.
Check out a display of our wares and the Stack Up Booth in our TikTok below. If you're feeling generous, give our TikTok a follow as well, we'll follow back up to the first 250 followers!
Back to the Con Again: Two Air Assaults Return to PAX West - As Staff?
My first experience of PAX West was 3 years ago, as an Air Assault. It feels like a decade ago with all that has happened with the world and in my life since that experience. What I remember of PAX West was the near-overwhelming size of the event. Giant booths and displays everywhere screaming for my attention. AAA game developers and publishers such as Bethesda hosting events at local bars and other such locations and a weekend full of parties held after each day of PAX.
Oh, and the Stack Up staff members that showed me a great time and took care of me while I was in such a strange and unfamiliar place, during a really tough time in my life. So much of that weekend felt like a grand adventure and only gave me a taste of the world I so wanted to one day be part of.
While not all Air Assaults end up staying and getting involved with Stack Up, JonsAtWar and I both found ourselves drawn in, though in different ways. Being back at the event that felt like a turning point in my life was almost surreal. PAX West, as I remembered it made this year's event seem so underwhelming in comparison. However, it was still quite a bit to take in with how much the world can change and how much those changes impact everything from ourselves to gaming conventions. I will cut myself off before I wax poetic, but the differences between now and past events and my past self felt vast.
This event was especially different because the Stack Up team has changed over the years with staff members leaving and new staff members joining, such as myself. The best part of working an event like this with Stack Up, at least to me, is that I get to hang out with some of the coolest and often best people I have ever met. While working the convention leaves me exhausted, getting to work with this team towards a common goal feels awesome.
Bonus: Stack Up Rex's PAX West Adventures
Stack Up Rex is the tiny little T-Rex that could. The Stack Up mascot had the best time meeting new people and checking out all of the displays at the event. He stopped by the Guardians Mental Health booth and Geek Therapeutics to get to know them and their programs and take pictures. He hopes they'll work with Stack Up in the future! While he missed getting pictures with the Center for Suicide Awareness and Child's Play Charity, he thinks you all should check them out.
While the rest of Stack Up staff were working the booth, Stack Up Rex got to run around the con floor and have a good time. He tried out as many games as he could, talked to developers (which his assistant insists is a lot of work), and checked out some of the tabletop games available for attendees to play.
PAX West 2021 may not have been the same event as in the past, but it did show that conventions are still viable and not a thing of the past. We can only hope that the future will bring us back to the con floor in full glory next year, though perhaps with some changes for the better.
Keep an eye on the Stack Up blog as we will be posting coverage of some of the games and gear we saw at PAX West soon.