What a game convention afterparty looks like in the age of COVID

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“Is something interesting going on?” reads a post.

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“What are people doing tonight,” says another. “Where from [go-to] Bar for PAX,” another user asks.

These questions, found in the Facebook group Pax West Parties, are expected to pop up around Penny Arcade Expo. PAX parties are events that happen when the convention floor is closed and demos are held for the night. They are PAX-affiliated events, held in bars and clubs in Seattle and sponsored by brands and studios. Interest at these parties is strong in a normal year, but at PAX West 2021, after a lack of in-person events for more than a year, it was more than that. Nineteen months of the pandemic left people starving for a chance to meet and be released.

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But the still-emerging specter of COVID-19 shrank the scale of 2021’s PAX, and diversity at night’s parties shrank with it. Where attendees last Labor Day weekend in Seattle would have been presented with a variety of PAX parties in which they could choose from venues rented and decorated by video game companies to celebrate their communities, for this year The event calendar was barren. With that in mind, I took the train ride from Portland to Seattle and wondered what PAX parties would look like this year.

Who throws a party in a pandemic?

Long line outside one of the PAX West parties

“We’ve been doing PAX for almost four years… and we still did it, and we’re still doing the same thing.” This is what Patrick Morgan, community manager at New Belgium Brewing, has to say voodoo ranger brand, told me when I asked him about his vision of sponsoring PACS events this year. Voodoo Ranger, I quickly found out, went against the grain. While other companies were unwilling to plan social events, Voodoo Ranger was committed to returning with safety precautions in place. Patrick was kind enough to sit down with me as I explored the last remaining PAX parties.

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Even if you’re not a beer drinker, if you’re an active member of gaming and geek culture events, you’ve probably seen Voodoo Ranger. It is a brand that has been involved in the gaming convention scene for five years, attending events at PAX, RTX, San Diego Comic-Con and Dragon-Con, to name a few. It was this name alone that made the event calendar prominent during the entire PAX weekend. Sure, there were a few small solo gatherings here and there, like an 8-bit drag show or a tabletop tournament charity event, but they’re largely PAX-adjacent. Voodoo Ranger was in the conference hall and in the locations around the action. I wanted to see what it was.

But first, I had to ask: How did the brewery get involved in gaming?

“That’s what we do in our spare time. We have a LAN room. We call it the Voodoo Lounge in the brewery,” Morgan tells Nerdshala. “we have a [World of Warcraft] The Red Group that has been going on since Vanilla, which plays in all of our staff rooms. The team consists of a semipro Helo player and a semi-professional cosplayer. “In college, we played Mario Kart, and we drank. And we haven’t stopped doing that. And there’s a lot of people out there who haven’t stopped doing that. And so we went that route, because it’s a real route. That’s what we are as a brewery.”

meeting with the community

Merchandise spread on a table celebrating a community meetup

Check out the team’s gaming credentials at Voodoo Ranger. But can they throw a party? On Friday, the start of PAX weekend in Seattle, I decided to find out. It was the night of the Voodoo Ranger Community Meetup. There was no “venue”, just an address that did not belong to any known establishment in Seattle. Out of curiosity, I walked a short distance from the convention hall to see what was really going on.

The space is best described as speakeasy. The nondescript door on a simple building in downtown Seattle would have been easy to miss, if not for the pair of Voodoo Ranger flags planted in the ground. Inside, in front of the greeter/security person, at the top of the ladder, was a surprisingly open space. On one side was a large bar, made from reclaimed wood. The other had a DJ, who was preparing for his set. Multiple sofas provide a place to sit, while a decorated moose head overlooks the room.

Further inside there was a hallway leading to the door of a large vault. Behind it was a quiet room, away from thumping music, in which there was room for people to sit. A giant order of burgers and fries from Dix ​​Drive-In, a well-known local burger chain, stood high on the large center table.

A plethora of burgers from local food chain Dix Drive.

Like many, I was curious how the COVID-19 safety protocols would work in the evening.

“… a little extra planning in terms of security. So, we have, you know, a different type of security, we have a different kind of cleaning process night and day,” explains Morgan. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test had to be shown at the door. For most, this meant displaying a black wristband PAX issued to show a vaccination card. Masks were mandatory until eating or drinking. Limited capacity to the venue But the movement of people was counted to keep it.

It started working. Seattle, as a city, has adopted social distancing and masking, and that seems to have expanded to PACS parties. People were wearing masks inside and outside the venue. Everyone seemed to take advantage of enough space, and spread. Each attendee was provided with a pair of drink tokens, which can be redeemed at the bar, and raffle tickets. Corsair was partnering with Voodoo Ranger at PAX, and had donated a nice assortment of gear for the awards.

The community meetup was open to anyone, but focused on content creators. According to Morgan, they partner with about 40 individuals, including streamers like TheOnlyRyann, Nelstar15, and CaptainRoB, who were invited to meet friends and fans at the small gathering.

The conversation was as lively as they are with influencers. The DJ played his set while the people danced and mingled. Anyone interested in food or conversation gathers at the vault, packs, gaming, discussing Twitch, and making a few jokes about what’s in a bag labeled “Dicks.” It was a quality first gathering to start the weekend.

Dance and a Dominatrix

Saturday is, unsurprisingly, the marquee night of PAX parties. Seattle still has a busy nightlife, so there was plenty of activity all around, but PAX-specific options were still limited. First on my list for the night was another Voodoo Ranger-sponsored community meeting, this time for Queer Women of Esports, an inclusive and surprisingly educational, get-together.

When asked what he had for Saturday night, Morgan had this to say:

We approach them, we’re like, What do you want? And they’re like, well, we want to make this educational. And we were like, well, can we even make it a party? And they’re like, hell yeah. So the idea came to his mind that he wanted a Dominatrix teacher. And so, on the little stage overnight, we have music… you can go over there and talk to a Dominatrix and ask questions.

For the event, they returned to the same speakeasy space as a community meetup. True to his word, the Voodoo Ranger brought in a Dominatrix teacher. There were talks about safety, consent and explanation and examples of various restrictions. The crowd was welcoming and inclusive, and there seemed to be genuine interest in the discussion.

“So that’s a big aspect for us. To be associated with Queer Women of Esports is to create those kinds of things, whether it’s a dominatrix, or bond education, or that community as a whole. To show that or not “It’s nothing behind the door, it’s normal. And so was our schedule last night.”

From there, I made my way just a short distance away for the big party of the evening, the Sonicboombox Packs Afterparty. Voodoo Ranger was also sponsoring the event, but the Sonicboombox was in the driver’s seat. Where other events focused on small gatherings and community, this event was all about relaxation.

A mural by Bruce Lee painted on the wall of a Seattle bar.

Sonicboombox was in the afterparty spin off, an underground ping-pong venue near the convention center. As people waited for the doors to open, the line stretched down the block. The short entrance leads directly to a descending stairway, which it returned as soon as I went down.

A bathtub full of ping-pong balls greeted me as I reached the bottom of the stairs. Spin is a colorful venue, and surprisingly spacious. The first third of the locale is home to a large bar top (everyone was given a drink token, then additional beverages were purchased), staffed by a team of masked bartenders. A dance floor occupies the center of the space, while the final section is a mix of ping-pong tables and dining areas.

A group of PAX attendees are dancing the night away.

Spin was the most prototypical Pax party of the weekend. It started out quite simply, as I had some nice bar dinner with a stranger coming from Toronto, and a man wearing full gears of battle armor. Lively ping pong games picked up around us, and I found myself dodging the occasional foul hit from an overzealous Goku.

As the spin reached its COVID-potential, the action took to the dance floor. Groups of people coming together tended to come closer to each other, but overall, people seemed to observe some distance between each other, surprisingly diligently following the mask guidelines.

People danced in groups, on their own and in combination with both. A typical club DJ mix was mixed with a Pokemon theme song such as Pax’s favorite singing aloud. At one point the crowd formed a large circle for a dance battle between a man in street clothes and a fully dressed Spider-Man (an obvious defeat for Spidey). Between drinks I found myself dancing with my unnamed Gears of War Marines, and an unidentified man completely covered in a Cthulhu hiccup. In other words, it was a typical Pax party, and seemed to scratch a long unattainable itch for so many attendees.

Pax parties are alive and well

A Gears of War cosplayer taking a picture with two people at PAX West.

PAX is, and always is…

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