In South Florida, conventions centered around video games are nearly unheard of. Every convention that lies within this area of the state usually has either anime or comic books as their main focus with very few exceptions. If you want to go to a gaming convention, your only options are high-profile events such as PAX East in Boston or E3 in Los Angeles. So, upon hearing about the Gamer Comic Expo, many Miamians were excited to see what a convention that actually had “gamer” in the title might entail. While preparing to attend on Saturday, one of the four days that the event spanned across, I was eager to see what was in store for the first gaming convention I had ever been able to go to.
The excitement died before we even entered the convention itself. Arriving at the Miami Airport Convention Center a couple of hours after its doors opened, it seemed unlikely that the venue would still have a long line to enter, but lo and behold the wait reached almost an hour under the hot Florida sun. The line wasn’t the only problem here; the event was severely understaffed with only two security personnel manning the entrance (bag-check included). This only exacerbated the hectic nature of cramming hundreds of people into a small and confusing registration area with even more lines and no staff to direct people towards the correct ones.
When we finally breached the entrance into the event space, we were met with a convention staple: the vendor’s hall. Taking up most of the first floor were booths and stands selling merchandise, whether it be handmade leatherbound journals or Japanese plush toys. Living up to part of its name, there were several comic-book booths selling anything from rare volumes to cheap single issues. However, something I did notice about the vendor’s hall, which would preempt the rest of this experience, was the massive amount of Fortnite merchandise. The widely popular battle royale video game, that can be played on almost any gaming device known to man, had a huge presence at expo. After making our rounds through the vendor’s hall, the lackluster artist’s alley, and the autograph section full of “celebrities” none of us had heard of, Fortnite’s dominance over this convention became extremely obvious.
The main pull to attend Gamer Comic Expo was the event’s Fortnite Tournament, featuring high profile professional Fortnite players that you could compete against to win a $10,000 grand prize (if you pay the $10 entry fee). This all sounds fun, but here lies the problem: this was the only real “gaming” activity in the entire convention. There wasn’t even a gaming room, aside from a small and somewhat sad looking station to play pinball and retro arcade games, where a few couches sat in front of wide screen TV’s playing NBA 2k19. The convention had falsely advertised several other games available to play and compete in during the con, including Dragon Ball Z Fighters and Super Smash Bros. Wii U. Seeing no options to play anything besides paying to play Fortnite, a free-to-play game, was disappointing.
At this point, I had begun to realize that this entire convention was basically a Fortnite tournament in the skin of a convention, trying to cash in on the most popular video game at the moment. After realizing this, I looked around at who made up the rest of the con-goers and saw mostly kids, some looking less than 10 years old, begging their mom’s to pay the entry fee to compete in the Fortnite tournament. A simple cash grab using a popular game can be passable, but when it’s a game like Fortnite where kids make up most of its player base, it felt even more deceitful.
I brought my 14 year old sister and her friend to this convention expecting them to be able to play some of their favorite games together and experience a real gaming convention, a type of event that I’m passionate about, for the first time. While we sat in one of the few rooms being utilized on the second floor, reserved for a voice actor from the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s that never even showed up, I could see the disappointment on their faces clear as day. And, from what I’ve heard from many other con-goers, their feelings are shared by many. For a convention who’s Saturday passes cost $35, much more was expected. Hopefully next year, the Gamer Comic Expo lives up to its name and provides a fuller gaming convention experience to those who have desperately wanted it.
by Jessica Grioua