Jason Speaks: PAX South In San Antonio And How The Hell We Got To This Point

So, let’s start with the introductions. I’m Jason Danforth, the technology adviser to the Warlocks crew. My job under the current regime is to develop kick-ass technical solutions for the Warlocks gamerspace and help grow our community through feats of epic awesomeness engineering. But enough about me. More on all that another day…

I’m here to speak on a subject that is very near and dear to me: PAX South, coming this winter to San Antonio, Texas.

What Is PAX And Why Am I Under This Rock?

The Penny Arcade Expo. A convention brought forth from the æther and made manifest by the creators of Penny Arcade, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, and their genius business manager Robert Khoo.

Mike, Jerry, and Robert were sitting around a table drinking Jerry’s homebrew (yeah, bet you didn’t know), and the three lamented that there was no dedicated gaming convention. Oh yes, the industry had E3, but only the credentialed media, VIPs, and second cousins of Gamestop managers could get in. Even then, E3 isn’t heavy on playing the games, opting instead for fishing hype-heavy puff pieces out of the media and big reveals out of the established hardware companies and their developers. Meanwhile, Germany has Gamescom, but I only know enough German to pronounce beer styles correctly and occasionally make fun of Germans. Japan has the Tokyo Games Show, but I only know the bits and pieces of Japanese I pick up from anime. (“Choto mate kudasai! You didn’t tell me where the bathroom is!”)

Even then, PA had more in mind. They wanted to see an all-inclusive celebration of all that is gaming. Sprawling auditoriums full of consoles, dank LAN-caves filled with the glorious PC-gaming Master Race, and room after room of table-top gamers. On top of all that, throw in a sea of beanbag chairs for handheld gaming, two nights of game-music tribute bands and nerdcore concerts, and a grueling anything-goes gaming competition known as the Omegathon. All the pieces were set, and PAX was inaugurated.

I’ve been to PAX Prime in Seattle for many years now, first in 2008, though the show actually began in 2004. I found I was late to a great party. Since then, PAX has expanded several times. In 2010, Boston played host to the first PAX East, which has grown into an event easily on par with the original. 2011 saw the first PAX Dev, a PAX-branded trade-exclusive show running just before PAX Prime where the development, marketing, and publishing sides of the industry could come together and talk a few days before the deafening roar of PAX Prime set in. And then, this past year saw the first running of PAX Australia, or “PAX Aus”, in Melbourne, Australia. During my time at PAX, I got to rub elbows with industry professionals, meet tons of friends, drink my ass off at the various community events, and participate in the top secret PAX Prank group. Then, in 2012, I got the call that changed my gaming life. I had been selected as an Omeganaut, one of the participants in the Omegathon with a chance to win a trip to Japan for the Tokyo Games Show. But more on that another day…

PAX Goes South

Let’s jump forward to the more recent past. On April 2nd, 2014, just to emphasize the not-april-fools of the situation, Robert Khoo shared this image.

Owly Images

A trained eye could pick out that aside from the three obvious clocks for the known PAXes, the fourth clock was set for the Central timezone. (Well, that or Nepal…) The PAX community was immediately abuzz with speculation about where the fourth PAX would be held. The veteran Omeganauts put our heads together in our secret Legion of Doom-esque hideout. Most of us agreed that a southern PAX would make the most sense, given the geographic distribution of the other two shows, and decided Texas was probably our best bet. Ignoring my mild but unrealistic hope for a “PAX Hou”, we next considered Austin, a great place for being a little different. We knew Rooster Teeth had their own convention: RTX and there was brief discussion that PAX might merge or co-locate with RTX. Furthermore, Austin already played host to SXSW, a huge logistical undertaking. However, we quickly identified RTX as being in July, which even we Texans can barely stand, and SXSW only works because it’s so spread around Austin. The final nails in that coffin were various reports that the Austin convention center district was ill-equipped for such a dense show as PAX.  From there, we talked ourselves north to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, going further into the weeds.

Meanwhile, Khoo was eyeing the San Antonio area. When PA finally announced the news at PAX East, we realized we completely missed the mark. And then we started digging. While some reasons are obvious, some people I’ve spoken with do other trade conventions, and they say San Antonio is offering incentives to bring conventions, business, and other economic opportunities to the city. San Antonio is clearly a powerful force in Texas tourism, but what about the rest of the country. Do they know of the beautiful Riverwalk? Did they forget the Alamo? For that matter, do they care about the lone star state that flew under six flags (or the roller coasters that fly above them)? Meanwhile, Khoo claims this is the last major expansion of PAX simply because they don’t have the capacity to run more than four conventions, so he clearly didn’t take the choice lightly.

Last Words

So, this brings me to what I’m looking for as PAX South plays out: Do San Antonio’s and Penny Arcade’s purposes align? The gamer culture certainly embraces Seattle, a hub of technology and of the very spirit of gaming. I’ve only been to Prime, so I can’t say how Boston aligns, but the show seems to do well enough. Does the PAX community care about the wealth of culture in San Antonio? Does San Antonio care for an all-consuming locust horde of gamers from all over the world? And finally, could it be that PAX needs nothing more than a suitable location and all this culture and amenability is ultimately irrelevant? I do have my hopes, since San Antonio is a beautiful place, but only time will tell. For now, PAX South is embryonic. What will emerge nine months from now is anyone’s guess.

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