Despite today’s constant downpour, Saturday at Comicpalooza has been exceptionally more crowded than Friday. Most visitors don’t make day one as it falls on a work and/or school day. Day two and three are what most consider the real conference. The exhibition floor is shoulder to shoulder, bathroom lines are a problem and even the Hilton lobby across the street — yesterday’s secret coffee break location — is packed with cosplay outfits and wet fans escaping the rain.
Disappointingly, attendance at ESPN’s collegiate esports arena is just as scarce as yesterday. I had hoped the start of both the Overwatch and Star Craft II semifinals this morning would turn up the hype in the gorgeous studio arena. Unfortunately the hype I had hoped for is all happening online, in the live ESPN Twitch stream. With 1.5 million views and counting, the first annual Collegiate Esports Championships have been a massive streaming success. Unfortunately that success didn’t translate to physical audience attendance. That could well be due to the nature of the venue.
While comic and gaming fandoms do somewhat intersect, they are far from synonymous. This is, after all, a comic convention first and foremost. The gaming elements of the three day festival are minimal when compared to the larger pop culture and comic elements. Even with ESPN’s massive presence in the third floor gaming exhibition area, attendance in that part of the conference pails in comparison to the crowds in the main comic spaces.
The lack of esports enthusiasm around Comicpalooza, despite the unquestionable success of the online stream, is concerning for those of us more invested in gaming than comics. Still, the ESPN representatives I’ve spoken to feel strongly that Houston is a perfect home for the CEC (more on that in my Houston Press wrap up article coming out Monday morning).
Overall I’m excited to see so much gaming representation at this year’s festival. Including multiple free play lounges, various amateur tournaments, meet and greet events with the Houston Outlaws, and of course the CEC festivities. My disappointment at the turnout is more to do with my own bloated expectations for what I considered to be a watershed moment for Houston esports.
Lessons from yesterday:
After my first day at the conference I went home with a head full of thoughts on the experience. To quickly recap day one, I watched several hours of collegiate Overwatch and Hearthstone, I interviewed the VP of ESPN Events for my Houston Press article, I sat in on a panel about becoming a successful streamer and I wandered the main exhibition floor for a couple hours (all combined). I also chronicled my food and drink intake for this Houston Press story.
During it all I realized a few things. First and foremost, Hearthstone is the most boring spectator game on earth. I mean Christ on a cracker that game is mind-numbing to watch. If you don’t know, Hearthstone is an online 1v1 fantasy and magic based card game. Think Magic the Gathering meets video poker. Having never played the game and being keenly aware of my complete disinterest in card games, I’m not hating on Hearthstone as a title. I’m sure it’s fun to play if you understand and enjoy the game. That said, I have no idea how such a slow paced, boring and unwatchable title is considered a leader in esports. Or why ESPN would include it in their line up for CEC. That’s just my two cents on the matter. If the fans like it who am I to say it doesn’t belong. I just personally hate it.
The second thing I learned is that Friday is the best day to attend Comicpalooza if you hate crowds and are more interested in the shopping aspect of the event. There were practically no crowds on the exhibition floor, bathrooms were mostly empty and the free play console and PC lounges were open all day long. (Today I was kicked off a PC after 30 minutes because their was a line of people waiting to play.)
Finally, I learned that I’m more committed than ever to this crazy pursuit of writing. Whether it’s music, culture, food or gaming, the past few years have afforded me countless incredible opportunities. As a freelance writer I’ve gained access to incredible concerts and events, sat in on studio sessions, attended secret pop up dinners and dined at the best restaurants. Now my journey is moving into an industry I’ve been passionate about since I was in middle school — video games. This latest development is one I’m incredibly excited about, and this weekend has been the motivation I needed to keep pushing.
So here’s to the future, and to one more day of Comicpalooza.