Everything You Need to Know About Game On Expo 2018

Mass Effect cosplayers at last year's Game On Expo.EXPAND
Mass Effect cosplayers at last year's Game On Expo.
Benjamin Leatherman
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Esports are absolutely enormous right now. Competitive gaming is phenomenally popular with millions of pro gamers around the world playing titles like Fortnite, League of Legends, and Overwatch for fame, glory, and massive amounts of money.

Needless to say, any modern gaming event will want to feature plenty of esports action to stay relevant these days.

The organizers of the annual Game On Expo in downtown Phoenix are readily aware of this fact. Hence the reason why they’ll have esports tournaments and other content during this year’s event, which takes place from Friday, August 10, to Sunday, August 12, at the Phoenix Convention Center.

“We’re definitely going to have a lot of esports stuff this year,” says John Lester, co-founder of Game On Expo. “Last year we had a little bit of it with tournaments and such, but this year we're really embracing it.”

Hence all the tournaments for Fortnite, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition that will happen at Game On Expo 2018, as well as panels focusing on getting into esports as a career.

An enormous stage in the main hall featuring a 10-by-10-foot screen will host esports battles through the weekend and thousands of dollars in cash prizes will be awarded to winners of each competition.

There will be more to do at the expo than just getting pwned by Fortnite pros, however. The three-day event will also offer the chance to play a variety of classic and modern consoles, as well as arcade and pinball machines, tabletop games, collectible card games, and even pachinko.

"Since we first launched Game On Expo in 2015, we wanted the event to appeal to all kinds of gamers and not just the die-hards,” Lester says. “There's plenty of both retro and plenty of modern stuff, too. We’re just trying to give space to casual players of every age.”

Esports action at last year's Game On Action.EXPAND
Esports action at last year's Game On Action.
Benjamin Leatherman

They’ve been successful so far. Game On Expo attracted an estimated 10,000 people and Lester is expecting even more this year, especially since they’ve more than doubled the size of the event from 50,000 square feet to approximately 120,000 square feet.

“When you go to E3 or Penny Arcade Expo, and we’ve got nothing against those events, but unless you're a die-hard gamer, then you might feel uncomfortable since it's all new games coming out and the lines are super-long,” Lester says. “We want the expo to be an alternative to those events.”

What else can you expect at this year’s expo besides games on games on games? Check out extensive guide to this year’s event with everything you need to know.

Dates and Times: Game On Expo runs from Friday, August 10, to Saturday, August 12. Hours are from noon to 9 p.m. on Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday; and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Attendees who purchase the Level Up VIP package can get in an hour earlier each day.

Location: The Phoenix Convention Center’s South Building, 33 South Third Street, will host the expo. Free-play gaming and esports action will happen in the building’s main hall while various panels, programming events, and activities will occur inside various rooms adjacent to the hall.

Prices: Daily admission is $25 for Friday, $35 for Saturday, and $30 for Sunday. A full event pass covering the whole weekend is $55. The Level Up VIP package is $75 and includes early bird access to the event, exclusive posters and swag, and other perks.

Age Limits: Game On Expo is a family-friendly event open to all ages. Kids 2 and under can attend for free while admission for children ages 3 to 10 is $10 per day.

Attendees of last year's Game On Expo.EXPAND
Attendees of last year's Game On Expo.
Benjamin Leatherman

Getting There: Taking the light rail is much more more convenient than finding and paying for parking. There are stations located on either side of the convention center’s South Building (eastbound is located on Jefferson Street, while the westbound one is along Washington Street). It's $2 for a single ride, $4 for an all-day pass.

If you need to make like Outrun and drive to the event, take the Seventh Street exit off either Interstate 17 and 10 and go either north or south, respectively. Then, head west on Washington Street for four blocks to get to the convention center.

Parking: More than 1,000 metered street spaces are available around downtown Phoenix. Rates are $1 to $1.50 per hour each day between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. (The Parkmobile app will allow you to reserve a spot and pay for it in advance.) If you’d rather not hunt for spaces, downtown parking garages are always an option and will cost you between $10 and $50 per day to park depending on the particular structure.

Special Guests: The actors and actresses behind several prominent video game characters are scheduled to appear at this year’s expo. To wit: Jennifer Hale, who played Commander Shepard in the first three Mass Effect games, and Steve Downes, the voice of Master Chief from Halo, will both be at the event to sign autographs and participate in Q&A sessions. Other notable voice talents appearing will include Far Cry 5’s Greg Bryk, Troy Baker from The Last of Us, Overwatch’s Jonny Cruz, and Carlos Ferro from the Gears of War series.

A variety of famous YouTube personalities and Twitch streamers like Pat Contri, Jirard “The Completionist” Khalil, Wood Hawker, and Andre Meadows will also be at Game On Expo 2018. They’ll each have a booth in the vendor area and will conduct various panels throughout the weekend.

Several martial artists and actors from the original Mortal Kombat games will have booths, including Anthony Marquez (Kung Lao), Elizabeth Malecki (Sonya Blade), Richard Divizio (Kano), and Daniel Pesina (Johnny Cage, Sub Zero). You might even catch them partying at downtown Phoenix’s Cobra Arcade Bar like they did one night during last year’s event.

If you’d like to learn about how to get into creating video games, designers like Brian F. Colin (Rampage, Xenophobe) and Eric Wile (EverQuest) will be on hand to give attendees an inside look at the gaming industry.

One of the many consoles set up at the expo.EXPAND
One of the many consoles set up at the expo.
Benjamin Leatherman

Modern and Indie Gaming: Lester says that close to 100 tables featuring the latest gaming consoles – including from the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One – and high-end PC gaming rigs will be set up throughout the event.

Phoenix-based indie game incubator Game Colab will also showcase the work of local burgeoning developers.

Classic and Arcade Gaming: Three panel rooms will be devoted to the consoles of yesteryear. Naturally, that means Nintendo Entertainment Systems will be in abundance, as well as more than a few Sega Genesis, Super Nintendos, Atari Jaguars, and original PlayStations. Several dozen arcade and pinball machines will be arranged in rows in the main hall, each set to free play mode.

Tabletop and Card Gaming: Lester says there will be 30 large round tables set up in the main hall offering open play with more than 300 games to choose from, including favorites like Settlers of Catan, Unlock the Room, Darkrock Ventures, Fire of Eidolon, and Mystic Vale. A weekend-long Dungeons & Dragons tournament will also be conducted.

Meanwhile, local gaming shop Amazing Discoveries will have an entire room devoted to collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, Dragon Ball Super, and Yu-Gi-Oh! “The card stuff has grown 10 times bigger this year,” Lester says.

A family of gamers at last year's expo.EXPAND
A family of gamers at last year's expo.
Benjamin Leatherman

Tournaments and Competitions: The expo will have extensive esports arenas devoted to Fortnite, Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition, Super Smash Bros., Rivals of Aether, and Dragon Ball FighterZ all weekend long. Buy-ins are $10 per player per game. First place finishers will get 50 percent of the pot, while second place finishers get 30 percent and those in third place will receive 20 percent. (Full details can be found here.)

There will also be a separate Fortnite tournament with a $1,000 cash prize.

Meanwhile, the Retro World Championships will take place with competitors playing a combination of Genesis games like Thunder Force III, Strider, Outrun, and NBA Jam. A local qualifier for the Tetris World Championships will also happen at the expo, with the winners earning a berth at the finals in Portland, Oregon, from October 22 to 23.

All tournaments with the exception of the esports competitions will be free to enter.

Panels and Programming: Various panels, discussions, and Q&A sessions will be conducted by many of the special guests throughout the weekend in the five rooms located just off the main hall. Subjects will include everything from retro game hunting and using streaming services like Twitch to how to become a pro voice actor. The full schedule can be found here.

Vendors: Lester says that around 130 vendors will be available at this year’s expo, ranging from local used game stores to companies like Microsoft. As is the norm for any geek event, there will be an artist alley featuring a lineup of local creatives.

Live Music: A side stage in the main hall will host sets on both Friday and Saturday night by local artists and bands inspired by gaming, ranging from NES cover group Minibosses and chiptune artist Kawaii Robot Shark to rapper Mega Ran. Super MadNES, 8bit0, Sergio and the Holograms, Mercurius FM, and Bit Mortis will also perform.

A local cosplayer as a character from Space Channel 5. EXPAND
A local cosplayer as a character from Space Channel 5.
Benjamin Leatherman

Cosplay: If you’ve got a gaming-inspired costume (and are willing to brave the heat), get dressed up and wear it out to the expo. You might even win some cash.

Any sort of costuming is encouraged at the event, whether you’re rocking some enormous armor made from cardboard and foam to something you threw together at the last minute.

Attendees who go all out will want to attend the cosplay contest on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in room 164. A total of $500 in cash prizes will be split between the best three entries.

Keep in mind, however, that there will be certain prop restrictions at the event just like at last year’s expo.

As such, attendees won’t be able to bring in prop guns, anything resembling a firearm, or any bladed metal or wooden weapons (such as axes or daggers). Blunt weapons like bats or clubs made from hard plastic, wood, or metal are also banned, as are whips, metal chains, paddles, and spikes.

Security will also conduct weapon and bag checks at the entrance of the main hall.

Pre-Party: A special screening of filmmaker Joe Granato's homebrew NES gaming documentary The 8-Bit Heroes will take place at FilmBar on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. He'll stick around for a post-screening Q&A session and demonstration of his games. Tickets are $10.

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