A few months ago, a close friend of mine pointed me in the direction of an event called Summoner's Con, a community-run convention for the insanely popular competitive video game League of Legends. I'm a fairly avid player of the MOBA, so the two of us decided it would be an interesting thing to go to and not too far away from us. So we decided to attend, book the cheapest motel we could find, and made the several hour drive down to Los Angeles. Now, this was actually the first convention I've ever attended. I've been to an eSports event and watched live streams of expos, but never once set foot in any convention of any size. They're either far outside my budget or just sneak up on me and I forget to plan for them. So these impressions stand entirely on their own; I have no frame of reference to know how things may match up to larger conventions. That said, as far as first conventions go, I doubt there could've been a better pick than Summoner's Con, at least for me.
I suppose I should start off with the one actually negative experience we had—the late will call. I imagine if the line had been indoors, or if they had actually addressed the line sometime in the hour between when registration was supposed to start and when it actually did start, it may not have been so bad. But first impressions are everything, and our first impression was waiting for an hour in the Southern California sun without a word about what was going wrong. We later found out it was a human error, namely a single person, and for what it's worth, he was very apologetic. And while this was the first thing that happened, it was also the only purely negative thing that happened (though there were other questionable things). At this point, it almost feels like a nitpick.
Onto the actual convention, it was definitely not the size of more well-known conventions, bringing in what seemed to be a few hundred attendees. However, for a convention about a single video game, it's amazing the breadth of content they were able to showcase, especially without any assistance from Riot Games themselves. There were multiple musical performances, a good variety in panels, few of which overlapped, and special guests ranging from pro players to streamers to voice actors. One of the more interesting things was because it was a smaller convention, focused on the community, those special guests weren't at all hidden behind a wall. In fact on multiple occasions you could just run into them. My friend recounted watching a panel and having Dyrus, a former player on Team Solomid, sit next to him for the duration. When I went outside the convention hall, I quickly ran into The Yordles, a popular League-inspire musical duo, rehearsing for their Sunday concert. While you couldn't necessarily sit down and have a long chat with anyone, it was pretty easy and common to just run into any number of special guests and strike up a short conversation. Is this common at all conventions? I'm guessing not, but it definitely adds a layer of fun to the event. It did make the "Meet Ups" seem superfluous. I mean, why wait an hour to meet someone when you're just as likely to run into them while picking up nachos?
The panels were held back to back, with additional "Challenger" panels held on Saturday. This is the only questionable move—the "Challenger" panels were offered only to people with special passes, where pros would talk about how to play different roles in the game. It's nice in concept, but the turnout for these panels was fairly small, because it meant missing out on the main panels which were far more interesting. And let's face it, there isn't much benefit to listening to someone talk about how to play a game without watching a demonstration or being able to practice it yourself on the spot. The impressions from those who attended seemed to be summarized as "It's more informative to just watch them stream." Fortunately, the main panels were actually helpful, and they had one for nearly every interest in the community, including art, music, eSports, podcasting, streaming, YouTubing, voice acting, and cosplay. All of these were hosted by well-known faces in the community, had a Q&A session, and were casual enough to be entertaining but still able to be serious and get useful information across. And, probably most importantly, they were back to back. You didn't have to miss a single one if you didn't want too, but at the same time, if you don't care about one, that leaves plenty of time to explore Artist Alley or one of the other corners.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend the musical performances, with the exception of the orchestra. But my cohort assures me they were "awesome." Given how personal the rest of the event felt, and the fact that I was able to watch one of the groups rehearse just outside the convention center, I feel like that testimony is trustworthy. And since the orchestra was amazing. The orchestra was led by Emmanuel Lagumbay, with vocals by a well known League of Legends streamer, Nicki Taylor. I am not sure how many conventions bring in an orchestra, but maybe more should, because orchestras are awesome. After the performance, I was able to talk to Taylor and E-Man and found out that the ensemble had only started rehearsing a couple weeks prior to the event, and Taylor had only been asked to join a couple days prior. In fact, there were likely many last minute additions and changes that no one even noticed. The event itself was quite casual, but never seemed unprofessional. That casual atmosphere made it where, when mistakes happened, it just became part of the scenery.
We weren't able to attend all the panels, but all of them had nearly packed houses. The more interesting ones were the streaming and YouTubing panels, the voice acting panels (there were two of those), and, hear me out, the feminism panel. I left that one out intentionally, as when I first saw it on the schedule, I rolled my eyes. It seemed out of place amid what was mostly panels meant to actually teach and inform. Out of sheer curiosity, and expecting the worst, I picked up a seat, and maybe it's because the panelists were likely picked out of whoever was interested on the special guest list, but it wasn't the usual rhetoric. There was no talk about "toxic masculinity," there was no assumption that men are out to get women in gaming or that gaming is bad for women, there were no dubious mentions of certain hashtags and insistence they were the scum of the earth. Instead it was a more genuine conversation about how gaming is truly fun, despite the occasional jerk, how to laugh off stupid comments, and how sexuality in games is fine (some panelists almost celebrated it, and two of the women on the panel gleefully said they liked being able to play sexy characters in League and other games). It was a panel on feminism as if hosted by a normal person's perception of feminism, not by someone who makes a career out of being a feminist, and while I still didn't agree with everything said, I could at least hold respect for the person saying it because it was actually rational. While the panel was still out of place, a piece of me is glad it happened, if for no other reason than to set a different standard that if these are panels that are going to happen, they shouldn't be "You're a bad person" lectures and they shouldn't exist to condemn gamers or men. Also, it was straight-up refreshing to hear someone actually encouraging girls to get into gaming, instead of just scaring them away with horror stories about how the gaming industry is "bad for women." And, I don't know, I guess there's something oddly satisfying about going to a panel about feminism, and hearing one of the panelists say, "Bring on the boobs and butts."
At the end of the day, if this isn't what most conventions are like, it should be. Because taken as a whole, even with the few faults, the convention was fun in a way that can't be duplicated. It didn't feel like, as an attendee, you were just looking in from outside a glass wall. It felt like you were truly participating all the way through. And that's what community conventions should be. A way for the well-known faces to interact with fans, to get to know other players, and learn more about how to get involved in the community and better utilize your talents. There doesn't seem to be a lot of conventions like this for other games, maybe because they don't have communities as large as League of Legends. But it is what most people like want in their community events—a less corporate, less staged kind of convention.
Also, there was cosplay. So much cosplay.
Disclosure: Passes for this writer were provided by the convention. Travel and all other accommodations were covered by the writer.