It’s 12.48pm and I’m sitting on the matted red carpet of the 3rd floor in the Convention Centre Dublin. I’m here for GamerCon, the premier gaming event of the year. In the few hours I’ve been here I’ve done a turn of the floors to get my surroundings and that’s it! Outside in a misty Dublin afternoon, thousands of eager gamers are queuing and soaking all with the anticipation of meeting their favourite YouTubers, playing some video games and spending their money. GamerCon has promised Irish gamers a lot but has it delivered?
There’s a queue for everything! That’s to be expected! Huge events like these draw every type of gamer – the casual, the hardcore, the young and the old and the reluctant mammies and daddies. GamerCon boasted a whopping estimate of 24,000 attendees across the weekend. It was a huge number. With any new event, there’s an expectation that there will be a few hiccups. Those are easily forgiven and quickly forgotten after the convention shuts it’s doors and people take home some happy memories.
Outside a queue of kids, parents and gamers has coiled it’s way around the convention centre and the surrounding block. Inside people are queuing to use the lifts and escalators, queuing for bathrooms and queuing for games. Queuing to buy things and queuing for events. There are queues of people on every floor. I haven’t touched a video game since I got in!
Having attended events equal to and bigger than GamerCon in the past – queuing isn’t a new thing for me. I waited for over 6 hours to get less than 60 seconds with Melissa McBride at Walker Stalker Con. I waited for over three hours to play a few minutes of Final Fantasy XV at GamesCom last year. The difference here is that those event organisers not only anticipated their numbers, they planned for them! There were big numbers BUT there were adequate setups to handle them all. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case for GamerCon.
There are things to do; just not enough.
To my left nearly 100 people are queuing for overpriced coffee and snack food; I’m starving and in caffeine withdrawals. On the red carpet where I’ve propped myself against a wall, three young gamers have dropped themselves down beside me. They’re disappointed! A girl cosplaying as Ellie from The Last of Us can’t help but draw comparison to the now retired Eirtakon event. ‘It’s not the same… it’s too big’, her friend mourns the money he spent but is grateful he didn’t splurge on a VIP ticket, he glares at a fluffy white plushie he bought wondering just what it is he’d spent his money on.
The Irish convention scene has evolved pretty slowly. Don’t let anyone tell you that this is all new and there’s been an explosion of conventions and expos in the country. Us geeks have always been here and we’ve always organised our gatherings. Humble fan events sequestered away in hotel conference rooms, small pubs and meeting rooms. I should know! I’ve been attending them since I was a kid and I’ve even organised one. The convention scene in Ireland as it is now owes it’s surge in growth to the hungry absorption of geek culture into mainstream pop culture. We’re all geeks and that’s great! Big events like MCM Comic Con, Dublin Comic Con and now GamerCon have risen up to meet these broad audiences and their demands.
As with everything in life there are good things and bad things to be taken from this tidal wave of popularity. Our community has grown and the next generation of geeks will inherit more than the last. Bigger guests and companies will pay more attention to the Irish community and bring with them more opportunities. However with growth comes change and the nature of Irish conventions has changed. Smaller fan events may feel a shadow has been cast over them while the larger events fight the stigma of being ‘for profit’. To date though the game of tug-of-war hasn’t started and the community has been spoiled for choice with a shaky balance.
Flash forward 48 hours and there has been a flurry of backlash against the GamerCon event. Those turned away, those who got in and wound up queuing again and all those ultimately let down by the experience. GamerCon and it’s organisers have held their hands up but for the majority it isn’t enough! Refunds are coming but it isn’t enough. There are lessons to be learned here for all sides not just the GamerCon team. If GamerCon returns, and I genuinely hope it does, it will need to re-evaluate itself. Take the event apart and find it’s niche. It won’t be easy and it will need to prove itself twice as much but the event has potential.
It’s important to note though that this isn’t where the convention season begins and ends! Far from it!
The Irish convention scene is a trove of amazing events. They aren’t all the same! They aren’t all conventions or expos. Heated battles at Celtic Throwdown and the electrifying matches of G-Series, the friendly halls of AkumaKon in NUIG to the grand presence of OctoCon in the Camden Court, the colossal stage of Dublin Comic Con to the excited chatter at the Geek-Mart.
There are dozens and dozens of events all over this island!
They cater to all tastes.
They welcome all interests.
You only need to show up!
[Editorial note – I’d stated GamerCon was aiming to attract double the attendance of DCC. An organiser from DCC has pointed out they received 20K visitors last year – the previous statement has been removed]