Experiencing Gameacon During Covid: Cosplay, Competition & Eclectic Vendors

By Susan Beaver Thompson ~ At 60, I’m busier than ever. Besides being a freelance writer, I’m also the Chief Marketing Officer for Changing Vegas, LLC, an indie game development company in Las Vegas. Last month, after much planning, we attended the Gameacon 2021 ESports Event in Rancho Mirage, California. Little did we know it would be the most eclectic convention ever…

With Covid cases growing in Nevada, Arizona, and California, the Agua Caliente Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage instituted a mask mandate the day before we arrived for the show. The temperature outside was also 109 degrees. These factors made it a challenge to set up our booth. It was like a scene out of a comedy gone wrong, with a bunch of sweat-drenched, masked characters assembling their wares. Nevertheless, overnight, we cooled off, took a dip in the pool, and were ready to go when Gameacon opened on Saturday morning, August 14.

“It was like a scene out of a comedy gone wrong, with a bunch of sweat-drenched, masked characters assembling their wares.”

Around 10 am, attendees started trickling in. Yes, there were the nerdy tweens and teens there to play in the tournaments and try out some new indie games. But, there were also families like the Ramirez’s, who brought their three kids, stopping at our booth and others along the way, just excited to be out of the house at a gaming convention.

Our Asteroid Arena! booth at Gameacon.

The Step and Repeat was located kitty-corner from our booth; it was fun to see everyone pausing to snap a selfie or group photo. We even got in on the action!

Cosplayers at the Step and Repeat.

The booth next to ours was “manned” by a half dozen cosplay women.  

As a Baby Boomer, I fully admit, I’d never seen cosplay before, and really didn’t know what it was. My son, Dave, the CEO of our company, and a Millennial, explained the phenomenon to me as I tried not to stare in disbelief!

The Wacky World of Cosplay

Cosplay stands for “costume play.” It’s when people, usually attractive women, role-play characters live at a convention, party, parade, or special event. Especially within the gaming community, it’s become extremely popular, as “players” compete for who can look most like the characters that appear in top video games. Think Mario and Luigi. Some of the largest cosplay events across the world include Comic-Con, Gamescon, PAX East/West, and Sakura-Con. Often, cos-players stay on the road, attending cosplay events, some becoming celebrities.

According to “A Brief History of Cosplay,” the roots of cosplay descend from Victorian parlour parties, Renaissance faires, war reenactments, and of course, Halloween. Movies, such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, also have dedicated, dress-up devotees.

The SuperHeroes Unlimited booth next to ours.

Some of the cosplay groups at Gameacon included Sapphire Nova Cosplay, Unicorn Princess Cosplay, AlinaMasquerade, BlaiseStar Cosplay, and BananaCake Cosplay. Many of these cosplay businesses do well, as they rely on interesting business models to make money.

For example, SuperHeroes Unlimited, one of the exhibitors, creates custom costumes from scratch. You just call them, send a photo of what you’d like and they’ll design a costume for you, down to the tiniest detail, including belts, jewelry, shows, and props.

Smash Tournament at Gameacon.

At 10:45 am on Saturday morning, the Smash Tournament – sponsored by Conflux Gaming – began with a $850 prize pool. Super Smash Bros. is a crossover fighting game series published by Nintendo, featuring characters from various Nintendo franchises. At Gameacon, there were large screens set up in front, with gaming stations spread across the floor. Dozens of spectators watched as players battled it out. In the end, Andrik got first, El titi got second, and Trizzle came in third. (There was also a bring-your-own-deck Magic tournament on Sunday morning.)

Pro VR and Whim Independent Studios were at the show. Pro VR offers single-player and multi-player VR experiences, featuring popular AAA titles and Ubisoft Escape games. Their station was smack dab in the middle of the action.

Whim Indie demos their new game, Spellbinders.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Whim CEO Grover Wimberly IV was there showcasing Spellbearers, “a top-down, 2D, cooperative, Twin Stick Shooter” indie game, now open for pre-orders.

Other indie games created by Whim include Corpse Castle, Selatria, ANTics, and Dastardly Dairy Debacle.  

Our game, Asteroid Arena!, was also featured. It’s a 4-player, competitive CCG free-for-all with 8 alien factions, which we’re creating to be The Official ESport of Las Vegas.

Dave shows Connor how to play Asteroid Arena at our Gameacon booth.

Asteroid Arena! draws gameplay elements from many of the most popular video games, including Magic, WoW, Legends of Runeterra, Dungeons & Dragons, and arcade and vintage games, such as Chutes & Ladders. It’s a board game now; our next step is a demo on Steam.

“Asteroid Arena! draws gameplay elements from many of the most popular video games, including Magic, WoW, Legends of Runeterra, Dungeons & Dragons, and arcade and vintage games, such as Chutes & Ladders.”

Proselytizing the ESports Revolution

What amazed me the most were all of the service professionals that support the gaming and esports industry, whether they’re media celebrities, voice actors, or bloggers. In 2020, global revenues from esports grew 15.7% in the middle of the economic crisis. It’s estimated that there are 26.6 million monthly esports viewers in 2021, up 11.4% from 2020 (Insider Intelligence).

With the rise of esports it’s becoming more common for people to make their living off of video games and esports, like many poker players did in Las Vegas during the 1990s. Some travel around proselytizing the growing esports revolution. They remind me of ESports groupies.

At Gameacon, we also met the flamboyant Jeffrey Weiss of Esports Circus, out of Burbank, California. Backed by investors in the technology, engineering, and broadcasting fields, Esports Circus is a “mobile STEM venue that produces events all over the country focused on supporting the collegiate and amateur esports communities.”

Here, I am with Jeff Weiss of ESports Circus.

Looking much like the traveling salesman Dorothy meets in the Wizard of Oz, Jeff calls himself the Ringmaster. Pure and simple, he’s an attention magnet. My son, Dave, appeared on his podcast and I snapped a photo of us.

Like many Millennials, Dave grew up watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; the lunchbox he carried his first day of kindergarten even bore the show’s name. All these years later, we were happy to see Veronica “Ash” Turner, the voice of April O’Neil (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Ash Ketchum (Pokemon), and Sailor Pluto (Sailor Moon) at Gameacon; as well as Gerald Van Rykan, a newcomer to voice acting; and a number of video gaming bloggers, including iAmDjGamer.

The GiGi Rockets booth at Gameacon.

In looking for science fiction fine art for our upcoming Asteroid Arena! NFT Collection, we also met Gia Soisoongnoen, a talented Las Vegas freelance artist who goes by the name Gigi Rockets. Gia was selling prints of her awesome, uber-colorful, pop culture creations. We’ll be talking business soon!

Leaders Within the ESports Industry

Even though attendance on Sunday morning, August 15 waned a bit, there were a number of excellent gaming and Esports speakers on closing day:

Chun-Kai (CK) Wang – Co-Founder & CEO of Kooapps

Kooapps has developed over 30 gaming titles with 200MM downloads, including Snake.io and Pictoword. Prior to Kooapps, CK was a research engineer at Microsoft Research where he built machine learning systems.

Keith Waggoner – Owner & Founder of ButtonSmasher

Keith Waggoner.

A former US Navy and private military contractor, Keith is an innovator within the gaming industry. His most recent blockbuster project is ButtonSmasher LLC, a revolutionary new platform filling in the gaps between users, industry, developers, and real aggregated results. ButtonSmasher was launched at E3 Los Angeles and has already been featured in Forbes. Keith is also from Las Vegas.

Dr. Ryan Terao – ESports and Clinical Psychologist Dr. Terao of PsychSensei LLC is a licensed clinical psychologist, working in the ESports industry as an ESport psychologist, mental performance coach, and ESport program developer. Within the ESports industry, Dr. Terao has experience of working in titles such as League of Legends, Rainbow 6 Siege, and Valorant.

Roderick Alemania – Co-Founder & CEO of ReadyUp

Roderick Alemania leads ReadyUp, a B2B SaaS platform that enables content creators and event organizers to activate large communities as content distribution partners via a distributed network of widgets. An accomplished entrepreneur, Roderick has been at the forefront of industry-transforming technology throughout his career.

My son, Dave Thompson, the CEO of Changing Vegas LLC, and a 10-year high-limit poker, craps and blackjack dealer and instructor in Las Vegas, also spoke on “How Your Indie Game Can Spark Economic Development”.

Dave giving his talk on how indie video games can spearhead economic development.

He shared our experience launching Asteroid Arena! – with the help of the City of Las Vegas, the SBDC, UNLV’s Department of Economic Development, and the Black Fire Innovation Center.

The Black Fire Innovation Center in Las Vegas.

All in all, it was a worthwhile show for us, granted that the real value of attending industry events lies in the quality of follow up. I figure, the show’s really not over until you make those calls, send those emails, set those meetings, create content, and follow others you met on social media!

Many kudos to Ari and Ben Fox, the producers of Gameacon, for boldly hosting the event during Covid when many other gaming conventions have gone virtual!

The Fox brothers will now turn their attention to Las Vegas, hosting the Casino Esports Conference (CEC) on October 7-8, 2021 at Alexis Park.

“In its fourth year, the CEC is a two-day, hands-on event, connecting the ESports and video gaming industries to the casino, cinema, and collegiate worlds.”

In its fourth year, the CEC is a two-day, hands-on event, connecting the ESports and video gaming industries to the casino, cinema, and collegiate worlds. Many of the top players in the U.S. and Nevada Esports industry will be there, including casino and gaming executives, and ESports betting regulatory professionals.

Until our next event, I’ll sign off for now. Have an awesome day!

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