PAX South 2015
This PAX South 2015 report was written by Brent Allen Thale on January 31, 2015. Please do not use these pictures for any commercial purpose or post them on any web site without written consent from Brent Allen Thale, the copyright holder.
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Penny Arcade is a web comic that has grown into a high-profile irreverent gaming site that has inspired gamers around the world. When the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) stumbled and became less open to gamers, the founders of Penny Arcade stepped up and created their own show called the Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX. The first one is in Seattle over Labor Day each year, and they have subsequently expanded to Boston, Australia, and now Texas with PAX South in San Antonio!
I (Brent Allen Thale) lived in Texas from 1991 to 2004, so I was excited and eager to attend the first ever Penny Arcade Expo in Texas! Fortunately someone at work alerted me to the secret Tweet announcing ticket sales, and I snagged two Three-Day badges for January 23-25, 2015! After making the usual arrangements for hotel (we stayed at the lovely La Mansion del Rio) and air, and deciding to stay an extra day in Austin to visit my parents and enjoy the town, we were ready!
PAX South is held in the spacious Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas. It's right along the beautiful River Walk, a revitalized part of the city that follows a twisting river designed for flood control, which was converted a few decades ago into a lovely shopping and recreation area right in the heart of the city. Most hotels that feed the convention center are along the River Walk, which makes walking to the convention a pleasurable stroll down the river and not taxing at all. Our hotel, the Omni La Mansion del Rio, was about .4 miles from the convention center and an easy walk, although we did make a few wrong turns the first day until we realized there is a loop in the River Walk and it doesn't really follow one straight path.
This was the first year for PAX South, it's the fourth in the expanding Penny Arcade series, and the first in the underserved con market of Texas. We are used to doing the California shows (and Dragon Con in Atlanta) but we have never been to a Texas cosplay show before, so we didn't really know what to expect. PAX is mainly a gaming show, but fans have added their own flavor to the shows by wearing costumes inspired by their favorite games, and that's why we go, to try to take some decent photographs of people in costume. I only printed up one hundred of our custom MOO business cards to hand out, since I figured cosplayers wouldn't have discovered this show yet, but there was plenty of cosplay and we ran out of business cards pretty early on!
Being a new show in a different part of the country, we hoped to see a lot of new cosplay faces at PAX South and we were not disappointed. Almost everyone we shot was completely new to us, and the only people I know we have shot before were the awesome cosplay pair of the Mass Effect Asari/Borderlands group of @SamWitlox and Mae (@Kessel_Run) who we saw at Dragon Con last year. They reprised their Asari commandos and added a new set of Janey Springs and Wilhelm from Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!
It's amazing how popular the game "League of Legends" has become. LoL was the by far the most frequently seen cosplay choice, people seem to love the variety of characters the game has and the ability to "skin" the characters with several different looks, so cosplayers can choose the exact look they want. Frostfire Annie, Brolaf, Emumu, Dryad Soraka, Foxfire Ahri, Mafia Miss Fortune... so many others, if you don't know a cosplay at PAX, League of Legends is a safe guess! Gearbox Software, the makers of "Borderlands", were at PAX and they had a nice cosplay turnout as well. Also the Mario and Zelda series from Nintendo were well-represented.
One thing that was impossible to miss at PAX South was the rise of the video game streamer. Twitch TV had a large booth right at the entrance and featured various personalities playing games and engaging in hijinks on live high-def displayed on monitors around the show. But the most noticeable thing to me is how incredibly popular certain Youtube video game personalities have become, especially Mark Fischbach, better known as "Markiplier", who makes videos inspired by his experiences playing video games, especially scary ones. At BlizzCon 2014, which wasn't even three months ago, he was just hanging out and people could walk up to him and even be featured in his con video (check out our Tobias at 39 seconds in: http://youtu.be/mxPzm7J4YY4), but at PAX South people lined up literally for hours to share a moment and get a photo with someone who has become a major star. One girl, after standing in line to get an artwork she was working on signed by Markiplier, was in a state of rapture and proudly displayed it for us to see. He seems like a nice enough guy and all, but after watching his videos... wut?
Another Markiplier moment: We spotted him walking through a hallway surrounded by fans, and Melissa, who was on a mission to get his autograph for Tobias, chased him across the convention center and cornered him, getting him to agree to sign her con program, but she didn't have a pen! Even Markiplier's calls for "My kingdom for a pen!" produced no results (he still has his kingdom), Melissa was forced to slink away in defeat. However, the story has a happy ending, a pair of local photographers who were working the show were actually shooting one of Youtube's events, and they very courteously got the autograph for Melissa. Woo hoo!
2015 was the first year PAX South was held, and it had the feel of a smaller, more intimate show than some others I've been to. Most of the big game companies didn't attend, so the show had a bit of an indie feel to it, which was kind of neat. We were sometimes able to personally talk to the actual lead engineers on some games who were just hanging out in their booths, showing off their games. There were so many independent mobile games on display, most of which I haven't heard of. "Gigantic" had a big booth and an off-floor demo room, I also noted "Brawlhalla", "Freedom Planet", "Grey Goo", "Elite Dangerous", "Vainglory", "Moonrise"... there were a lot. The biggest name new game I think I saw was Nintendo's "Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask".
Many people come to PAX to see new video games and to get some hands-on time playing, and to meet up with online friends and play head-to-head matches in person. PAX makes this easy with huge gaming rooms, some for console, and Intel sponsored a big PC gaming area. PAX has an ongoing contest featuring "Omeganauts", which are pre-randomly-selected attendees who compete throughout the show playing various video games with a nice prize for the winner. I was randomly selected myself, but had to turn it down, because we're doing this cosplay photography thing, which leaves pretty much no time to actually participate in the show.
PAX isn't just for computer games, they also have a gigantic tabletop gaming area where people play classic games, especially "Magic: The Gathering" which had a big booth right on the edge of "Tabletop HQ". They had hundreds of tables filled with thousands of players all weekend playing all sorts of games, mostly classics but there were a lot of new ones as well that people were trying out.
For the last few conventions, I've been trying to spice up my look by wearing the snazziest, flashiest shoes I can find. They've gotten so many compliments that Melissa felt left out, so now she too is wearing awesome footwear, which has resulted in THE BATTLE OF THE SHOES!!! I expected to skunk her completely with my designer Swear shiny blue velcro high tops and Calvin and Hobbes/Han and Chewy Shoefury specials, but I was only partially right. On Saturday the Swears easily won 5 to 0 (the criteria is someone has to say "I like your shoes!" for one point), Melissa sort of got three votes for her cat montage low-tops, but those were technically sympathy votes that she solicited, and as such don't count. On Sunday I switched to Calvin and Hobbes, but was shocked to not receive one single compliment, and Melissa beat me 3-0 with the cats. How does Han and Chewy on my shoes not score one single point? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE!!!
On Monday we headed up to Austin to visit my parents and enjoy my old hometown, which of course is known as Bat City and is home to the world's largest urban bat colony. We looked at a house near Mansfield Dam that was listed for the exact same price as the house we live in in the Bay Area, but it was so awesome that we drooled over it for a while and shed some tears over how much better Austin's real estate options are compared to San Francisco. For the same price as a junker here, I could get a freaking palace in Austin! Why is life so unfair?
We stayed at the Hampton Inn Lakeway while in Austin, I mention it because they have some rooms with awesome giant jacuzzi tubs in the main room area with really powerful jets that will shoot streams of water across the room! Perfect for massaging those tired feet at the end of a con! For "Scarface" fans, you can recreate that scene where he works out of his hot tub!
So anyway, PAX South was a lot of fun. A BAT Cave salute to all the awesome cosplayers who always have time for another picture! It was just the right amount of crowded, plenty of people, but space to breathe, I enjoyed it.
I think we will try to return next year to be part of the show's tradition
and watch it grow. Well done, Gabe and Tycho!
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