Thousands of people return for a lively gaming convention

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Gen Con is a weekend paradise for gamers, anime and manga enthusiasts, artists, authors, and just about anyone interested in well-designed world building, fantasy, and creativity.

Beyond the noise and chatter of hundreds of games and players atop the convention, Baltimore native Cait May was seated. Hidden at the back of a vast room filled with video game companies offering everything from comics and plush to dice and live gaming, was the Art Fair and Authors’ Alley. May’s booth, Cait May Illustration, was neatly tucked away at the end of a long line of artist tables.

Shimmering key chains, stickers, buttons and magnets lined her table and whimsical, colorful artwork was pinned to the walls behind her as she chatted animatedly with guests and passers-by about her graphic novel titled “Another Kind” and the Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting she wrote called “Dust.”

Gen Con at IndyGen Con returns to downtown Indianapolis this week

This isn’t May’s first Gen Con, although it’s only her second year with a table. Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, she said she mainly deals in D&D-inspired fan art and original fantasy works, but offers her “Dust” campaign to guests for free.

“If you wanted to throw a game into this world,” May said, “these are the gods, places, factions, and things that inspire you for a D&D game.”

The world’s largest tabletop gaming convention returned this week, drawing tens of thousands of fans to downtown Indianapolis.

Beyond the cozy and relaxed corner of the art exhibit, the Indiana Convention Center‘s exhibit hall was buzzing with activity. Whether it was registering for live tournaments, attending game demos, shopping at various vendor booths, or browsing the stage for the next best game, everyone was on a mission.

Many attendees creatively adorned niche costumes featuring characters from a range of beloved media. However, most came dressed comfortably, walking around the convention center in ripped jeans and a t-shirt, fandom-patterned dresses with flower crowns, elf ears and colorful wigs.

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Changes to this year’s event include masks, proof of vaccination

This year’s event required proof of COVID-19 vaccination and masks for all attendees. Most seemed to follow the guidelines.

Shortly after the doors opened, the line for the vaccine check station wrapped around the convention center lobby, but it moved quickly.

Expected attendance for this year was between 60,000 and 65,000, according to Visit Indy senior vice president Chris Gahl, as Gen Con dates back to pre-pandemic attendance of around 70,000 in 2019. The convention was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, organizers held a series of free online events.

Gen Con Indy 2022 looked set to achieve that goal on Thursday.

A second-floor view of Cardhalla from Gen Con Indy 2022, made of trading cards and games.

Most of the 500+ booths and exhibit halls seemed to be in constant flow, and some popular spots – the “My Hero Academia” and “Pokémon” trading card games, the Gen Con merchandise booth and miscellaneous custom dice and card sleeves. stands – had consistent lines.

“You’re only here if you’re a super fan”

Ellyn Lowery and Rachael Shoulders came to Indy from North Carolina and Kentucky, respectively, just for the convention.

Now a three-year tradition, Lowery said she thought last year’s festival was “quieter” because people were still skeptical that so many others would attend during the pandemic.

“Just seeing that there are still a lot of people interested in the convention is pretty cool,” Lowery said. “Even with the state of things, people just want to play games and enjoy other people’s company.”

It’s the 12th for David Blanchard, vice president of business development at GPI, a game manufacturing company that has produced several games for customers now on sale at the convention.

Blanchard expected to see significantly fewer people, but said he was glad to see that the turnout appeared to be of pre-pandemic size.

“It feels like everyone is in such a good mood because you’re only here if you’re a super fan,” Blanchard said. “So everyone’s here for the same reason, and it’s just good vibes.”

Blanchard’s colleague Al Ullman, GPI’s project coordinator, had never attended Gen Con before, but said that for people working in the game development industry, it’s like a toy store. in the sense that it allows them to see things they wouldn’t necessarily see.

“There’s a lot of stuff that we wouldn’t necessarily have been exposed to without coming here in the first place,” Ullman said. “So it’s always fun to see how other people’s brains work creatively.”

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Rob DenBleyker, co-creator of the popular webcomic “Cyanide and Happiness” and its card game “Joking Hazard,” said the energy of the convention seems to return to what he saw at his first Gen Con in 2017.

“Other than the masks, it’s really the same thing,” DenBleyker said. “He’s back in full force.”

DenBleyker came from Dallas for his first Gen Con in three years.

In October, DenBleyker will release “Master Dater,” a party-loving card game in which players create their own “Cyanide and Happiness” characters and attempt to sell their qualities to the player judge, who works on fake site settings. Dating web.

“At other conventions, you sell stuff and then you go back to your hotel room,” he said. “But here, half your time is for sitting with friends and seeing what they’ve been working on. When doing business is this fun, it’s just awesome.

Cosplayers return to Gen Con

Left to right: Mark Cummings as Poseidon, Dane Artman as Zeus, Caleb Gulledge as Ares, John Cummings as Hades and Marc Groppi as Hermes at Gen Con Indy 2022.

At the end of the first day, five costumed Greek gods – Zeus, Aries, Poseidon, Hades and Hermes – walked through the crowded exhibit hall. Hundreds of attendees opted to cosplay throughout the convention, with the popular costume contest not expected to begin until Saturday.

Mount Olympus is apparently located in Michigan, where the five friends set out from.

“It’s hard to find something for five people,” said Mark Cummings, dressed as Poseidon.

Cummings was at his fourth Gen Con, having first visited in 2017.

Hermes, as expected, was the last chosen deity.

“We kind of asked him who he saw himself to be, and he said Hermes, and we’re like good, that’s what we thought too,” said Caleb Gulledge, the Ares.

Marc Groppi, decked out in his helmet and winged sandals, said he didn’t mind.

Gen Con offers more than games

But tabletop games aren’t Gen Con’s only draw. In fact, local and national artists from other mediums, such as authors, illustrators, and designers, have set up shop to sell sci-fi, fantasy, and adventure works.

Indianapolis-based painter Matthew Huntley sells prints from his art collections titled "watchful lioness" in the Indiana Convention Center exhibit hall in Indianapolis on August 4, 2022.

One such artist is Indianapolis-based painter Matt Huntley, who showcased his Vigilant Lioness project in the con’s art fair section. The series of paintings tastefully depicts giant, strong women, usually in sportswear.

Huntley said the inspiration for the work came from his childhood, when traditional masculinity in the household led to a disconnect between him and a loved one. Fusing these feelings with what he saw growing up, like “Powerpuff Girls” and “Godzilla” allowed him to create unique paintings.

Now in his second year at Gen Con, seeing the people he respects in the industry reaffirms his artistic endeavors.

“It’s really cool to be in a space where I see people whose work I grew up loving, and I’m here now, which is really weird,” Huntley said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, we’re the same,’ in a way.”

Another vendor outside of the typical table game niche is JW Troemner, a German-born, Indy-based author.

JW Troemner, German-born and now Indianapolis-based author of the Urban Dragon series, at his booth at Gen Con in the Indiana Convention Center's exhibit hall in Indianapolis on August 4, 2022.

Troemner’s first published series was the three-book “Urban Dragon” series, which begins in Indianapolis and features the city’s skyline on its first book cover.

She also sells homemade bags, masks and pronoun badges at her booth, incorporating visual merchandise to entice more attendees to stop and browse.

Last year was her first at the convention, and she said it was a good introduction given the robustness of the 2022 crowd.

But the more people there are, the more opportunities there are to bond.

“I love having these conversations with people coming and going, and we’ll see something that we have in common, a common fandom or something,” Troemner said, “or I’ll see someone’s shirt. or her bag, and the conversations that occur are so fantastic.

Gen Con runs Thursday through Sunday, and single-day tickets are always available at gencon.com.

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Rory Appleton is the pop culture reporter at IndyStar. Reach him at 317-552-9044 and [email protected], or follow him on Twitter at @RoryDoesPhonics.

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