In the U.S., Penny Arcade Expo has taken on a life of its own, splintering into multiple shows serving American gamers throughout the year. In the UK, the Eurogamer Expo has followed a similar trajectory, going from a relatively modest site held in a brewery to an event that attracted 75,000 attendees in 2014.
This year, EGX is being held in Birmingham, which is about 90 minutes northwest of London, in the cavernous National Exhibition Centre - a massive complex that seemingly dwarfs even the sizable LA Convention Center, home of E3. This is my first visit to EGX; and not knowing what to expect, I was initially struck by how quiet it was around the outside of the convention center. But as I headed up the elevator and through the skyway to Hall 6, I was joined by first a trickle, then a flood of gamers clad in the usual array of Splatoon hats, costumes, and gaming t-shirts. I was half a world away, but in that way, at least, it was like being at home.
The reason USgamer is at the event in the first place, of course, is because Eurogamer is our sister site (the US stands for "U.S." and not "Us," which I hear a lot). The opportunity to meet my cohorts in the UK aside, though, it's been interesting to note the differences and similarities the show has with PAX.
As I've walked around, perhaps the biggest difference I've noticed is its emphasis on the show floor. EGX is centered around a huge exhibition space featuring booths from Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Square Enix, and other large publishers, giving it an E3 vibe, except that the attendees are fans rather than industry professionals. There are board games, retro games, and places to play DotA 2; but because it all takes place on the show floor rather than individual rooms, it's all much more centralized. In that sense, there's less emphasis on just chilling out and playing games - a PAX staple - but it makes up for it with a robust show floor featuring a fighting game area and other stations.
Another way that EGX differs from other events is in the tone of the panels. Rather than centering around promoting upcoming games and podcasts or serving as a kind of fan forum, the talks at EGX bear a great resemblance to what you might find at GDC. Among the guests this weekend are Shuhei Yoshida, Sony Computer Entertainment's president of worldwide studios, who will be giving a talk centered around the launch of the original PlayStation.
There are also more subtle differences. The PEGI 18 rated games - what would be Mature in North American - are blocked off, with guards stationed at the entrance to check IDs. A long line of youngish-looking gamers stood waiting to get in to play Assassin's Creed and Hitman - a reminder that media violence tends to be more regulated in Europe.
Balancing the more professional talks and booths are the sort of fan events you would expect to find at a show like this - board game exhibitions, cosplay, and the opportunity to meet gaming personalities (The Yogscast has a substantial presence at this year's show). It was through one such event - the Virgin Media Hexathlon, which is yet one more reminder that Virgin apparently owns everything over here - that I wound up playing (what else?) FIFA 16.
Virgin's competition caught my eye because it takes up a large portion of the main hall, and because I'm kind of jonesing for FIFA right now, despite the fact that I'm not super fond of what this year's version brings to the table.
Virgin is offering £5,000 to the top player who emerges after four days of competition - a bit like PAX's Omegathon except that you can sign up on the show floor. Among the games on offer were FIFA and Hearthstone, with Destiny: The Taken King, Super Smash Bros., Heroes of the Storm, and a number of other games to come. My first thought was, "Hmm, I'm actually pretty good at most of those games." My second thought was that I'm a Gamer Network employee, which would probably make me ineligible in the unlikely event that I won the prize. I wound up signing up anyway, mostly so that I could get in that game of FIFA.
The opponent the competition organizers picked for me was a kid who couldn't have been older than 15 - an English teen with a Midlands accent so strong that I had only the faintest idea of what he was saying. I have no idea what he made of me, an American lady literally twice his age, except that he asked when we started, "Your first time playing FIFA then?" I told him, no, it wasn't my first time playing FIFA.
He picked Bournemouth - a Cinderella team only just promoted ot the Premier League - and mentioned something about them having a lot of pace. Having prepared myself to pick a top team, I wound up grabbing West Ham and found that they were sans Victor Moses, the rosters having not been updated. Thankfully, I had Dimitri Payet, who is about as overpowered a player as you're going to get at that level.
The first goal went to Bournemouth. My opponent moved the ball pretty well, and he wasn't kidding about the pace. His strikers always seemed to be on the verge of breaking back my back line, stopped only by an offside penalty or a last-second tackle. He was able to score in relatively short order, putting in one from just outside the box and yelling loudly, pumping his fist.
At that point, I was a little worried. He definitely wasn't bad. But the last thing I wanted was to lose to some punk kid from the UK. I wanted to defend the honor of my country and all American soccer fans. I chose to put out of my mind what must have been an absurd scene - a thirtysomething woman deeply immersed in a match against a teenager on the EGX show floor. I'm sure that I've played against plenty of kids younger than him online.
I leveled the score with Andy Carroll around the 30th minute. I managed to break through on a nice run; and Carroll not only managed to bull through a defender without snapping his hamstring, he finished with a nice shot into the corner. My opponent didn't say anything, but at halftime, he turned and shook my hand. "Good game so far."
Andy Carroll scored again a few more minutes to make the score 2-1.
He pressed furiously after that, alternately muttering words I couldn't make out, though I heard "Payet" and "Cherries" more than once (Bournemouth are nicknamed the Cherries). At the 80th minute, he told me that he had his super sub ready, but his secret weapon never made it to the field. Time ran out, and West Ham were the victors. I never got my opponent's reaction, because he almost immediately leapt up and went to play something else.
Am I ashamed for beating up on some kid? Not really. Go America.