By Isaac Smith
Twitch is just over 4 years old. Were it a human being, it would be walking, spouting nonsense, and giving you lip about eating vegetables.
Instead, it’s renting out one of the larger convention halls in downtown San Francisco and cramming an obscene number of people into it. It’s getting Triple-A devs to buy booth slots, booking some of the most famous people in the gaming community, and throwing a party hosted by Darude, Pegboard Nerds and Monstercat (all giants of the EDM scene).
To put it even more in the mind-boggling perspective it deserves, PAX (Penny Arcade Expo, for those of you who have never played video games newer than Burger Time) debuted when Penny Arcade was 6 years old, and TwitchCon garnered more than twice the number of attendees as the inaugural year of now what is one of gaming’s most heavily attended conventions.
The scope of the thing is enormous for its first year out of the gate. But let’s talk about content.
There were 3 floors. There was the entrance floor, where there were huge displays and booths from indie devs, triple-A studios, gear and accessory manufacturers, and a meet-and-greet with the hottest Twitch streamers from across the board. They also had a “free play” area with board games that stayed pretty quiet (thankfully, as it was a nice place to sit and chill when the environment got overpowering), and a merch stand.
Second floor was mainly geared towards streamers. There was a 3D cam that could act as a green screen for streamers without the need for setup. There were microphone salespeople, streaming software providers, content metric analysis people, talent scouts (no joke), and a whole bunch of others. Needless to say, as someone who doesn’t stream, this wasn’t engaging for me, but it was interesting to see how much business has sprung up around streaming. There was also an old-school arcade set up (where I got to play on an original Tempest cabinet, something I’ve waited basically my whole life to do), as well as two huge LANs, one with rotating games for anyone to play (including Rocket League, CS: GO, and the new MOBA-ish FPS Paladins), while the other had an ongoing H1Z1 battle royale. There were also two panel auditoriums where they had rotating panelists from different parts of the gaming community as a whole.
The third floor was a VIP lounge, a beer garden with a DJ, and a gaming art gallery. Awesome.
Okay, so, you probably know the answer already, but we need to talk about whether or not it was good.
Blizzard heavily pushed Legacy Of The Void, their final(?) expansion pack for Starcraft II. Alienware had a truck that was rigged with a bunch of screamin’ fast gaming computers surrounding the trailer. Berzerk Studios and Lachhh (creators of Berzerk Ball and Frantic Frigates and owners of the most metal intro animation ever) are working on a new game called “Just Shapes and Beats.” It’s a bullet hell/dodger with local multiplayer, and an awesome soundtrack from various music producers around the world. It plays and feels great. Jotun, a game coming out tomorrow, felt massive, glorious and very, very hard. I cannot dig the art style enough. It is unique, fluid, and nothing short of masterful. There was a game only one copyright infringement away from being Megaman X9 (called appropriately “Mighty No. 9”), being developed by Comcept and published by Deep Silver (of Saints Row fame). There was even an interesting mobile game that may get a review sometime later, but will as yet remain nameless.
There were also some duds, of course. Subaeria, a self-proclaimed “roguelike action puzzler,” really failed to impress. It tried much too hard to be atmospheric, while letting the player interact with pretty much everything but walls (allowing for chaos when stacks of blocks or boxes would fall in hapazard places). The camera angles were disconcerting and difficult to deal with, and the game itself felt really clunky. It was as if there were a bunch of good game design elements that got together in the wrong order to create something that doesn’t really function.
There was also a zombie-themed card game. It was unclear what exactly the game was about, but it was rather abundantly clear that its creator was excellent at stage makeup, photoshop and creating large, convincing gun props. The main poster for the game featured a photo of a Japanese girl with a katana, and was designed to look like a movie poster. All other posters and fliers also featured live models, so I honestly have no idea if this is a video game, card game, Netflix series or a Michael Bay movie.
Okay, enough about the games. The panels were great! I got to see some of the people who put together Games Done Quick, a speedrunning charity I wrote about here. There were also tons of other panelists I think would have been cool to see, but didn’t get to because of time restraints. It was a nice touch!
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, however. Even though it was their first convention, I was kind of disappointed at the organizational screwups that happened during Twitchcon. There was a QR scavenger hunt with a prize for finding all 8 QR codes scattered around the hall. They ran out of prizes halfway through the 2nd day. The line at the merch stand was full literally the entire day. Computers in the LAN party were freezing left and right, and there wasn’t anyone to spare to perform any kind of maintenance. With that many towers in one place, you need someone on deck to make sure they all keep running. There was an app designed specifically for the convention, but it was difficult to navigate and a bit buggy. If 10,000 people are going to use that technology, make sure it works.
But the thing that I’m disappointed about the most (and perhaps I shouldn’t have had the expectation in the first place) was that there wasn’t a lot of Twitch stuff. Other than the curious purple hue to just about everything, the only other Twitch-centered parts of the convention were the merch stand and the streamer meet-and-greet. It didn’t seem to celebrate streaming as much as it seemed to celebrate gaming as a whole. I am all for celebrating gaming, but I think those of us who are Twitch fans really wanted something that had more to do with the specific facet of gaming that is online streaming, and the brand that is Twitch. That’s why the merch line was so huge: we didn’t need the same teaser for Legacy of the Void that’s at BlizzCon. It would have been better had the focus remained more on Twitch, and I definitely would have spent more of this review praising them had they done that, instead of praising the games that they brought to the table.
In the end of it all, the convention was a great experience, and I know that the things I disliked about it are mainly problems that’ll be fixed next year, now that they have an event like this under their belt. I still love Twitch, I love what they do, and I’m glad to have gotten together with a lot of other people who felt the same way to play some games and have fun.