One of the newer additions to the show is PAX Arena, and this was the first time that they had the section named as such at an East. Last year they had some stage space in the queue room, but this year there were 4 dedicated ESports stages as part of the expo floor. Riot had one, which was the League of Legends college tournament. Geico had a stage, which had a variety of stuff including Hearthstone. There was also a street fighter stage, which had a tournament going all weekend and a few interesting exhibition matches.
The only stage I really spent time at was the Overwatch stage. They had set up a section for PC freeplay of Overwatch, and had a weekend long tournament as well. Plus it was where they held Overwatch for the Watch, which was a grudge match between Gabe and Tycho over the watch that has been appearing in the strip for something like 15 years. The match was on Saturday, and I had to park on the floor near the stage but I had great seats and it was definitely a fun way to get to see more of the game.
The only thing I was not a fan of in the arena was some of the blatant non-gaming advertising that has started to show up there. First of all the introduction of “Geico Gaming”. They have had a stage at a few PAXes now, but I really don’t know what insurance has to do with games. They had t-shirt giveaways and plush geckos which brought people (including me) to their space, but it still felt like it was a bit forced.
The other advertising was Totinos pizza rolls. They set up a bucking bronco style couch, which they had people competing on throughout the weekend. This also felt like forced advertising to me, and really felt like it was playing on the stereotypes that go with gaming (the couch/basement dweller negative stereotype) which I was not a fan of either. It felt too much like lip-service and I found that I actively avoided that part of the floor.
Overall I feel like the addition of the Arena is a neat way to incorporate ESports and the growing popularity of spectator gaming into the show. The Arena was definitely well attended, so I am sure that it is there to stay, but I kind of hope without the blatant advertising.