PAX South 2016 was my 10th overall PAX and my 2nd time in San Antonio. In the 10 shows I have been to, I have been lucky enough to see how the show has changed as it has expanded. South this year was particularly intriguing to me, since 2015 was San Antonio’s introduction to PAXing, and this was their chance to take what the learned from that and use it in any way.
I’ll start out by saying that even though I go to all of the “domestic” PAXes I do not have a “favorite”. Each show has its own feel, and I think part of that is due to the attitude of each city.
Prime (yes I know they are now calling it West but a “west” has not actually happened yet :p) has a feel that very much fits the city of Seattle. It sprawls in and out of the convention center and takes over a lot of the streets of the city. The businesses around the center embrace the fact that the show is there, and you see bits and pieces of it no matter where you go. Obviously Prime has also been around the longest, so the city has had plenty of shows come and go to know how it works.
East is very much an east coast show. It is all well organized in the BCEC, which is probably the most logically laid out convention center of all three. PAX takes place in the center, and when you walk out of the doors you pretty much leave the show there. Not to mention the location of the BCEC is not the best. More hotels and businesses are moving to that part of the city, but it is still pretty isolated. I have been to every PAXEast since 2011 and still have yet to go see downtown Boston, just because of the difficulty of getting to that part of the city before or after the show.
South is sort of in the middle. It has a more laid back feel to me than East, but it is not as organic with the city as Prime. The convention center in San Antonio has a lot going for it. First of all, its location is STELLAR. Being able to walk to all sorts of hotels and restaurants on the river walk is great, and does allow for a bit more of the feeling that the show is not trapped just within the center since you see cosplay and badges as you walk along the water. However, it is still a much smaller show than its predecessors, which means that most of the business and such don’t know what it is about and so you don’t get that same feeling of the city welcoming you as you get in Seattle.
Being from the mid Atlantic there is something VERY appealing about getting out of the winter to go to San Antonio and get a taste of much milder weather. This year in particular the change in climate was very noticeable, since I left 30+ inches of snow behind for almost a week of 70-80 degree sunshine :p The group I go with to PAX always gets in a little early and stays a bit past the show to make the trip more of a vacation feel and not just a whirlwind con trip, and this year that was well worth it. Spending all day Thursday just enjoying the gorgeous Texas weather and meeting up with PAX friends to enjoy the city was great. Plus, being in the hotel a bit early meant an upgrade to a room with a balcony overlooking the riverwalk!
The show itself had a very different energy than the other two PAXes but it was still just as fun. There was some discussion of the show being “PAX Indie”, “PAX Lite” or “PAX Tabletop” and in some ways I can agree with that sentiment. First of all a lot of the “big guys” chose not to come out this year, despite the success of the inaugural South and the growth in numbers this year. This meant no booths or announcements from companies like Sony, Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft etc. Capcom did have presence, with a booth to show off street fighter and resident evil. AMD and Astro also brought their wares to the expo floor. However the biggest presence was Twitch, which while that is not surprising or even new, since they are clearly tied in with the industry and have been streaming for PAX for years now, it is not the same as having that big game demo on the floor to get excited about. Dreadnought was probably the biggest game presence on the floor, with another playable demo. However, I am a bit worried it may go the way of Firefall, going to lots of PAXes but fizzling when it comes time to actually launch.
The thing that the Expo hall at South does really well is showcase some of the smaller studios and games that can get lost on the bigger floors of East and Prime. There isn’t a need for the same indie “section” at South since the majority of the floor is smaller studios and games.
I got to try out quite a few of these “indie” titles: Deadstar, Epistory, Screencheat, and Bombshell to name a few. It is always rewarding to get to talk to the person who actually coded the game and see just how excited they are to actually get to share it with the community.
There were also a lot of vendors on the floor this year. Those you might expect, like geek chic and We love fine, as well as some like Volante, who sell assassins creed inspired clothing, and some small booths where artists where showing/selling video game art.
Outside of expo the show was as busy as usual. The Tabletop section was hopping, despite having been transplanted to a new location in the center this year to allow for an expanded Expo floor. PC , CFP (console free play) and handheld also were well attended every time I went by. Classic arcade was also well attended and seemed to have more organized events this year, which meant that I could pop in and watch people WAY BETTER than me destroy some of the old classic cabs.
One of the things I love about PAX is how the enforcers help to shape the show. Having the volunteers be fellow gamers and not just hired staff definitely makes the show have more of a feel of “coming home”. Plus how else do you get theater mascots as adorable as Armadillo theatre had?
Overall PAX South was a great weekend, and if you are debating going to a PAX it is definitely one of the easier ones to get to now (at least badges wise). Don’t mistake that for it being any less of a PAX though. It is still growing, but in my opinion it is very much still a PAX and well worth the visit!