We had no idea what to expect at Gen Con this year. A few of our staff have gone before as attendees and they told me that the convention was very big, but seeing numbers on paper like 46,000 unique attendees in 2013 isn’t really the same as being there and seeing the actual people. We have been working with Gen Con for 3 years to bring a dedicated PC gaming area to the convention and this year the stars finally aligned.
Gen Con just released their attendance numbers yesterday and their growth continues to explode. Over 56,000 UNIQUE attendees in 2014 and over 181,000 turnstiles. This translates into over 45,000 people per day on average attended the show. This also does not account for the thousands who just walked the halls but did not purchase an event badge. You can read the entire press release here:
The eBash PC eGame Arena was located directly across from the Exhibitor Hall. I have never seen anything like this in my life. I have included a picture of the main hallway outside our room, which was impassable each morning from 9:30 until the Exhibitor Hall opened at 10:00 AM.
Preparation started on Monday morning at 5 AM when I drove to our Evansville store to pick up 21 of the computers we had used for summer camps and brought them back to Terre Haute. I picked up our Uhaul and we loaded the computers into their shipping boxes along with 39 more from the Terre Haute store and 60 monitors, keyboards and mice. Projectors, switches network cables and everything else were loaded and we took off around 7 PM for our Indianapolis store. There we loaded the remaining 20 computers, monitors, keyboards and mice.
Tuesday morning we were at the Convention Center at 11 AM for our noon load-in time. I had to check in at the marshaling yard, something new for me but I feel is standard at large events where there are not enough loading docks for the number of trucks coming in. We were given 1 hour to unload 160+ boxes by hand and with only six people we pulled it off. Shawn then took the Uhaul to the Indy eBash store to meet Fred who was picking up the eBash Mobile trailer full of the racing simulators.
While they were gone five of us took all of the monitors and computers out of their travel boxes and put them onto the tables. When Fred and Shawn returned with the 24 foot mobile trailer we emptied it out and then filled it back up with the empty boxes. Fred then parked the trailer and we all worked until 8 PM when we had to leave. At that point we had the servers online and one table of computers (10). I drove the Uhaul back to Terre Haute (it was $200 less to drive it round-trip instead of one-way) and the others headed back to the hotel.
The next day, Wednesday, we started right at our load-in time of 8 AM and continued to set-up computer stations. The racing simulators were finished quickly that morning and the night before Dustin had created the images for the screens showing the name of our two major partners, Alienware and Razer. We had until 8 PM that evening to get the entire room (60 x 60 or 3600 sq ft) completed. Since we were running short of time the Gen Con folks gave us until 10 PM, but we actually finished around 9. We were able to hit the food trucks outside before they closed at 10.
The next morning we woke at 6 AM and were on the road by 6:30 to arrive at the convention center at 7 AM. We were able to talk our way into the back door and walk through the vendor hall instead of fighting the crowds through the main door. We had about an hour to finish last minute details before our room opened at 8 AM. Immediately we had players waiting at the door for the 8 AM events. We had no idea what was in-store for us the next 4 days.
By 9:30 that morning the hallway outside of our room was impassable. As you can see from the pictures I took the crowd waiting for the Exhibition Hall to open was shoulder-to-shoulder. I have never seen anything like this, and it was the same the next three days as well.
The rest of the first day was a blur, as much of the convention ended up being for me. The way Gen Con handles events is through tickets, which can be bought for a specific event or a player can purchase “generic” tickets and use those to fill spots in events that are still available. Over four days I believe we had around 500 events, because each hour we had 10-11 scheduled during the day and 5-6 each night. Our booth didn’t close until Sunday night and I underestimated how many people would be playing at our stations.
One problem we quickly found out was that the electricians had not put in the proper amount of circuits we purchased. The 20A circuits were $150 each for 4 days and we had specifically requested 18 of them. Instead, they must have thought they knew more than me and put one circuit for two tables of 5 computers each and just ran two extension cords. That first morning we had our first row of computers shut off all at once when a breaker blew. 10 systems at one time, when we were paying for a circuit for every 5 systems. During the weekend we eventually figured out that most of the islands we set-up were wired the same.
The first night I stayed with Dustin until around 3 AM and then left to catch a couple of hours of sleep. Fred and Creed were back to relieve Dustin around 7 AM and one of them drove him back to the hotel because he was so tired. I was back around 8 AM that morning and until 10 it was just Fred, Cred and myself. Matt made it back about 10 so four of us ran the booth until Dustin came back at 5 PM just in time for the League of Legends 1v1 Single Elimination tournament.
Luckily for us Shawn was there all Friday and spent 13 hours reconciling our tickets. As I mentioned we had events going each hour and each event had to have an envelope with a unique ID and an exact count of tickets for that event. It was a madhouse the entire time and I ended up doing tickets all day Saturday and Sunday to keep up. We had to have all of our envelopes turned in before 4 PM on Sunday to get credit with Gen Con.
During the finals of the big 5v5 League of Legends Single Elimination Tournament on Saturday the last championship match finished and not 10 seconds later the circuits tripped for the entire table. We had already been through a few other close call situations with the power but that was probably the biggest. Had that gone out 30 seconds before we would have had to restart the entire match and it could have caused major disputes for the teams.
We had 2,656 gamers play for at least one hour each in the eBash PC eGame Arena. We had an estimated 14,000 walk through our room and watch. I was able to meet staff from both RIOT (League of Legends) and Hi-Rez Studios (Smite) who provided us unique skins to give away. We also are looking at doing on-going events with those companies and others who we met at the show both at our stores and at future conventions.
One of our partners, Alienware, is continuing to support us with gaming systems through the end of the year. We hope to attend another convention in October as well as start up some after-school programs utilizing Minecraft for STEM grant projects as well as PTO fundraisers.
We just finished delivering the equipment back to the stores yesterday and will hopefully have things back to normal by the time our Friday lock-ins start. It was a TON of work and we learned many things this year at Gen Con, but there is no doubt we want to be back next year and hopefully even double or triple our presence.
A special thanks goes out to the people who physically helped at the convention and at the stores moving equipment and running the booth. In no particular order, but starting with the most blind: Matt Pine, Larry Kozlowski, Dustin Dudley, Fred Strohm, Jason McIntosh, Shawn Wells, Zach Rainbolt, Dave O’Neil, John Koen, Ashley Staten, Everett Coleman, Derek Stroot, Heather Thomas, Richard Jeffers, Richard Jeffers’ buddy, Mark Repollet, Dillion Parker, Levi, Ubrcon, Chase Casey, Damij and the many attendees/players at the convention who helped monitor matches and help with set-up.