If you’re reading this, you might be contemplating about possible locales for your nerdy pilgrimages (sometimes called conventions or colloquially referred to as “cons”) for the upcoming year. Such journeys are often marred by many uncertainties such as location, time period, monetary investment, and securing a place to rest your weary eyes from time to time. Sometimes, you may have the fortune to live locally to some of these large gatherings of like-minded, fandom-loving human beings, but even then, there are many factors to consider, and unfortunately, you cannot make it all of them. The fact is, there are too many cons happening within a year for you to ever be in all of them. Sometimes, they are happening in the same weekend, or within a week of each other. How long before your preverbal credit card becomes a smoldering heap of plastic after that last card swipe?
Worry not. While there are plenty of cons to discuss, each with their wonders and experiences, I’m going to be covering the grand-daddy of all major conventions – Gen Con.
I had the pleasure and honor to participate as a member of the press during August 2018. It was also my first time visiting Indianapolis and experiencing Gen Con as a whole. Badge registration for Gen Con 2019 starts on Sunday, January 13th. I will share my experiences at the convention along with any tips and tricks from my years going to different cons.
Gen Con Basics
The first thing you should always check is WHEN and WHERE the convention is behind held. Historically, Gen Con is held the first weekend of August, starting general admission on Thursday and many of the exhibits ending on Sunday. Using the available space of the Indiana Convention Center (ICC) and the surrounding buildings, nearly the entire downtown area was a dedicated hub of nerds congregating for some of the best days of gaming possible.
As I stated, attendee badge registration starts on January 13th, and you can find the pricing and details on Gen Con’s page here. You will also need to great a login, which is necessary for you to register for events. The average attendance in Gen Con numbers over 50,000 people and the staff utilize an event ticket system for prospective attendants to secure spots in their desired activities. Space is limited, and event registration begins promptly in May. For Artists and Vendors, however, your deadline for submissions is sometime in November-December, with a notice sent out at the end of December to early January. The expansion of convention events and programs into the Lucas Oil Stadium was well received from myself and other con-goers, it opened up a lot more space to play games with since the Games Library was situated in the heart of the building, with the meeting rooms used to host various panels. I was often inside the Lucas Oil Stadium often for the many publisher panels and workshops I attended.
Don’t worry about finding something to do or attending, there are over 10,000 events to choose from, and if you’re like me, you will realize that you can’t fit everything into your schedule. I highly recommend having a spreadsheet to help block out your times for your events. It makes it easier when you want to register or consider registering for one. While the event registration system was useful for telling me of any conflicts, I wish it would have presented a visual layout of my events. If you register for your events early enough, you can have the tickets sent with your badge if you also to have it shipped to your home (I highly recommend this feature, I’ll explain later). If you miss the cutoff for mailed badge/ticket delivery, you will have to pick these up during at the convention hall itself at the Will Call service.
Your Stay & Parking
You’ve decided to attend Gen Con, but you’ll need to secure travel and a place to stay during your gaming adventures. If you plan on staying in a hotel in a relatively close distance to the Convention Center, you can apply for the Gen Con housing program. Some colleagues and friends of mine used this feature, and it had a varying amount of success of location since it’s a lottery. You can find the comprehensive list of hotels with their relative distances to the con here.
Alternatively, you can use services such as Airbnb to find homesteads, apartments, and rooms available as a crowd-sharing living method. I found a few places that were within a short 10-15 minute drive to the downtown area.
One thing to consider when selecting your hotel: remember the circle. I-465 encircles Indianapolis, which creates two regions of the city I dubbed as “inner Indy” and “outer Indy.” If you are outside of this encirclement, you will need to use the highway to make the most expedient travel to the convention center (which is located in the southwest corner of the city center). Your best bet for travel time and convenience is to remain within the circle closest to the city center, as a lot of the gaps between the center and I-465 are residential areas.
My advice, regardless of how you choose to stay in Indianapolis: book your rooms early. The longer you wait, the higher the prices will inflate due to the demand and shortage of available space. I was very fortunate to find a place to stay in Indianapolis almost three months before the convention. By that point, most of the hotel rooms in the surrounding 5-8 miles from the downtown area were costing anywhere from $500-$1200 per night, with most of the outlying hotels being at least 13-22 miles from the city center.
Regarding parking, there are several parking garages adjacent to the convention center, along with a mall parking garage available nearby. The prices are not abhorrent, but space is limited. There are a few parking lots available as well that have at least one attendant present. If you have events early in the morning, I heavily suggest coming sooner. There are events and workshops are early as 8 AM usually, so you will find people walking through the halls around 7 AM easy, I was one of them.
If you do live a considerable distance away, there is public transportation from the city of Indianapolis. But if you wish for a more direct route, Uber and Lyft are indeed choices for you. Though they will factor into your overall costs, so keep those numbers in mind.
Gen Con is one of the most anticipated conventions annually, there is a sizable police presence in the surrounding campus area of the con, and plenty of staff within arms reach on a daily basis. I felt reassured and welcoming of an experience. There are also brochures and guidebooks accessible in the most trafficked hubs, and one of my first suggestions is to always survey the lay of the land. Find the buildings, rooms, and halls where your events are located if you can reach the convention early. If you’re only there for a single day, Gen Con will have an accessible map for all the venues across the different buildings on their website. I used it often since I had to travel light.
In regards to badge pick-up at the convention itself, be warned that there is going to be a line on Wednesday and Thursday of Gen Con, and Saturdays are notorious for last minute badge purchases. If you can secure your badges early, opt for them to be mailed to your home. It’ll be the most stress-free thing you can do for yourself during this experience. As for events, you can also do that, but perhaps you find out about events after the mail order deadline but before the con, or during the convention itself. There is a dedicated booth for will call just for event tickets. Thankfully, that line has posed a problem in the past, and even in my personal experience, the staff was expedient and accommodating. But it’s wise to still arrive early so you can acquire your event tickets. These tickets are essential for your event planners and panels that you will be attending, the better the attendance, the more likely this panel or event will happen again. So support the people who are taking time out to educate, teach, and discuss the games you love.
You should also keep an update on your events, as their locations and times are subject to change. The online resource on Gen Con’s website was a fantastic tool to help me reach my destinations. Though I will admit, I did have two room changes happen on me from my initial registration to the actual event day themselves. It definitely had an impact on my ability to speed walk through the ICC to the Lucas Oil Stadium in less than 10 minutes.
The exhibit hall was one showroom to all the beautiful games, merchants, and vendors; and I was in heaven. Booth after booth of iconic brands, publishers, and even some familiar faces can be found in Gen Con. I’ve made some excellent connections and incredible experiences. The Exhibit Hall closes at 6 PM, so make sure to stop by your favorite booths and vendors early. In some cases, items are limited in quantity, and you may be out of luck once it sells out. I distinctly recall the Villainous board game by Wonder Forge being sold out by Saturday, and I was fortunate to secure my copy on Thursday.
Remember to stay hydrated. Dehydration is always a concern at conventions, and I don’t mean drink liquids overflowing with high fructose corn syrup – drink water. Hand sanitizers are your saving grace against any illness you could potentially contract in a convention. The facilities at the ICC were the perfect shape, and I want to thank those hardworking people for their dedication. Lastly, many people have social anxiety, and thankfully, there are many quiet rooms and hallways dedicated for anyone to just remove themselves from the abundance of energy in a crowded space. The press room was provided for us to relax and unwind from the immense lifeforce that permeated throughout Gen Con. Though I will admit I have experience in conventions of this size and magnitude from my professional background, it’s still a lot to take in for anyone honestly. Take your breaks often and make sure to put your needs first.
When the dust settles, and you return to your homes, I hope you will have made some unforgettable experiences and forged new friendships along the way. The beautiful part about any convention will always be the fact that it’s the gathering of many people who love something just as much as you and making that connection. I will admit that I made many personal and professional relationships during my experience at Gen Con 2018, with the profound hope to make another return again to Indianapolis to see familiar faces and meet new ones. This community is woven by the love and affection for this hobby, it is through that connection that I regularly see many talks among themselves, and sometimes they even meet for the first time.