RTX 2014: Better with Friends

RTX 2014: In which our heroes braved the Austin heat for laughs, games, and a reminder that the fans are what make this industry great.

There’s a lot to be said for community in the world of gaming.  By and large, video games are a shared experience; some of the best memories come not from the games we play, but the people we play them with.  After many years of attending various conventions within the industry, no one show has reinforced this belief in me like RTX.  Last weekend’s RTX convention, held at the peak of the Austin, Texas summer, held true to the RoosterTeeth tradition of putting the people above the games.

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Up and Coming

Much like its parent company, RTX has grown at a staggering pace.  What started in 2011 as a gathering of around 500 community members outside the company’s south Austin office quickly expanded to a 30,000-person takeover of the Austin Convention Center.  Along the way, the show has seen a few notable exclusives, such as exclusive gameplay demos of Halo 4 and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, as well as an impressive lineup of YouTube celebrities like Freddie Wong and the Game Grumps.

Still, the exhibit hall offerings are fairly small in comparison to industry titans like the Penny Arcade Expo or E3’s yearly trailer carnival, and much of the draw for fans is still the RoosterTeeth crew and their video lineup.  To the public, this might seem the mark of a niche convention, and I suppose there’s truth in that, though RoosterTeeth has worked hard to expand the show’s appeal every year with bigger exhibitors and more diverse panels.  Look a bit closer, and you begin to realize that RTX, at it’s core, is more about gamers than games.  Moreover, it rests at the headwaters where, to quote the show’s old byline, “gaming meets the internet.”

A First Time for Everything

2014 was a year of firsts for the show in many respects.  The Friday of the show marked the official setting of an Indiegogo funding record, set by RoosterTeeth’s film project Lazer Team.  The show brought the first gameplay demo for 343’s upcoming Halo 2 Anniversary, and a first look at an upcoming game based on RoosterTeeth’s own RWBY series.

It also marks the first time the Austin Convention Center forced an evacuation, after the alarm sounded Friday night around the time the exhibit hall closed.  Watching 5,000 people flood the empty streets without warning is a sight, but not so impressive as the lack of incident during the evacuation.  Several sources confirmed both attendees’ and emergency responders’ high praise for the convention staff’s performance during the emergency.  Official word on the incident centered around a bomb threat and a suspicious package, but details are a little scarce.

Small Town Charm

One of the biggest deviations I’ve always noticed about RTX is how little big budget marketing the show brought to bear.  Over the past few years, many of the larger industry conferences have felt less like a celebration of games and more like a weekend-long advertisement.  PAX still retains a bit of the small-show charm with it’s late night game sessions and thoughtful panel lineup, but this year’s E3 presentation suggested that we may all be better off staying home and watching Twitch streams.  I don’t need to trek halfway across the country just to say I was 4 feet from Major Nelson while he pretended the Kinect never happened, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to watch an entire ballroom work together to prank one unsuspecting YouTube star.

RTX ditches the fanfare nearly altogether, or more accurately just leaves it up to the fans themselves.  Even the heavy hitters in attendance, like Respawn’s Titanfall and 343’s Halo 2 Anniversary, were little more than a few kiosks to try the game and a small showcase of merchandise.  No massive plaster statues or flashing lights filling the space made by sprawling booths; just a few devs answering questions and people enjoying the games.

Community Spotlight

Outside the doors of the convention hall, the community has always taken upon itself to create a place for people to meet up and have fun.  The RT SideQuest group started as a small collaboration of locals showing people around Austin, but has grown to become an event in it’s own right, to the point of selling tickets to keep the numbers manageable. SideQuest is a great way for out-of-towners to see some of the best the Austin nightlife has to offer, but more importantly, the group has allowed fans to give back as a part of the experience.  

The past several years have seen introduced a charity auction to the SideQuest activities, which offers RoosterTeeth and gaming industry memorabilia with proceeds benefiting Child’s Play.  Most important to note is RoosterTeeth’s separation from this; SideQuest is completely organized and managed by fans.  More than anything, this is a prime example of just how much RoosterTeeth has inspired their fans to come together.

A Challenger Appears

The Penny Arcade Expo will be bringing it’s yearly juggernaut to the southwest region next January with PAX South.  Held in the somewhat larger convention center in neighboring San Antonio, the show has the potential to eclipse RTX and Quakecon as the largest gaming conference in the region.  Penny Arcade’s own Robert Khoo confirmed in an RTX 2012 panel that the company has considered bringing PAX to the region for some time, but expressed concern about overshadowing RoosterTeeth’s show.  While we can only wait to see what kind of impact PAX will have on the Texas gaming crowd, RTX 2014 has reminded me that even with bigger conventions making a move on the southwest, fans of gaming and internet culture always have a place in Austin.

All photos from rtxevent.com photo stream.

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