When the creators of the annual Game On Expo launched the event in 2015, it was a bit of a gamble. The Valley hadn’t hosted a video game-specific convention for years, and Game On organizers like co-founder John Lester weren’t certain it would be a success.
Their gamble paid off, however, and Game On Expo has proven to be a hit. So much so that they’ll stage its fifth edition this weekend.
“When you start any new event, there’s always a level of risk involved,” Lester says. “Everything worked out, and we’re just very lucky that Game On Expo took off and found an audience.”
But the expo’s creators also have had some bad luck. This year’s event, which runs from August 9 to 11 at the Phoenix Convention Center’s South Building, will happen only days after President Donald Trump and other Republican politicians alleged that violent video games are among of the reasons for deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
“It certainly is bad timing,” Lester says. “But, really, violent video games aren’t what we’re about. The games at the expo are very diverse and family-friendly. We’ll have Mortal Kombat 11, but that’s a very small portion of the games that will be there.”
Like many others, Lester doesn’t buy the argument that violent video games are linked to real-life violence, a claim that’s been made for decades with little, if any, data to support it.
“People have been saying that about video games going back to the early ’90s with stuff like Night Trap or the original Mortal Kombat. So that’s nothing new,” Lester says. “People just like to point fingers without any real facts involved. Millions and millions of people play games these days all over the world. If video games did cause violence, I’d think there’d be way more proof of it happening.”
Lil Mario gets his game on at last year’s expo.
Even so, Lester says that Game On Expo has had security measures in place the last few years to prevent any sort of violence. Attendees will undergo bag checks, pat-downs, and screenings with a metal detector before entry. Officers from the Phoenix Police Department will also be present.
“We’re just trying to put on a fun, safe, and family-friendly event,” Lester says.
And those families, just like everyone else in attendance at Game On Expo 2019, will have plenty of things to do. The three-day event will feature an enormous amount of retro and modern console systems, arcade games, and pinball machines to play. There are even areas devoted to tabletop, board, and role-playing games.
“Since the beginning, we wanted all types of gamers to come and hang out and just enjoy gaming, whether you’re hardcore or casual,” Lester says.
The expo will also feature programming and activities like auctions, a slew of tournaments and competitions, vendors, panels, Q&A sessions, and appearances by special guests like game creators and voice actors.
“Content-wise, this year is certainly bigger than it’s ever been before. We’ve got three stages for [e-sports] as opposed to just one last year,” Lester says. “We’ve more tournaments, more panels, more event rooms, more guests … more of everything. So there’s certainly a lot more to do this year than in all the previous years combined, to be honest.”
If you’d like to know what else awaits you at Game On Expo, here’s our guide to the event with everything you need to know, player.
When and where is the event? Game On Expo 2019 takes place from Friday, August 9, to Sunday, August 11, at the Phoenix Convention Center’s South Building, 33 South Third Street. Hours are 1 to 10 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday.
What’s the location like? Free-play gaming, e=sports action, the vendor areas, and various competitions will be located in the South Building’s main hall. Meanwhile, Game On Expo’s various panels, programming events, and activities will occur inside various rooms adjacent to the hall.
How much does it cost? Adult admission is $25 on Friday, $32.50 on Saturday, and $27.50 on Sunday. A full event pass is $47.50. Kids ages 3 to 12 are $10 for the whole weekend, and children under 2 are free.
Are there age limits? Nope. Game On Expo is a totally family-friendly event open to all ages.
What’s the best way to get there? Light rail. There are stations on either side of the convention center (one’s Third and Washington streets for westbound trains and the other is at Third and Jefferson streets for eastbound trains). Fares are $2 per ride or $4 for the whole day.
What if I’m driving? Take the Seventh Street exit off either Interstate 17 or I-10 and go either north or south, respectively. Then, head west on Washington Street for four blocks to get to the convention center.
Where can I park? Street parking is available for $1 to $1.50 per hour between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. each day. You can use the ParkMobile app to reserve and pay for a spot in advance. Several nearby parking garages and surface lots are…