GenCon is the second largest gaming convention in the world, with a 2022 attendance level exceeding 50,000 gamers. It is only eclipsed by Essen SPIEL with a reported 91,000 gamers, exhibitors, educators, and fans in attendance in 2021. The U.K. Games Expo takes the number three spot, with 2022 attendance topping 46,000. There may be differences in how attendance numbers are tallied; the reality is that these conventions are massive, professional affairs.
Downtown Indianapolis transforms into a geek mecca with open arms in the days leading up to the convention and throughout. I found everyone from the business owners to uber drivers to be welcoming with open arms. It does help that geeks with fists full of cash, enjoying their games, and not getting too rowdy go a long way in ensuring the locals are welcoming. The 2022 economic impact on the local economy is immense at an estimated $57.4M.
The gaming experience at GenCon is so varied it is nearly impossible to comprehend how vast it is. There were over 15,000 ticketed events at this year’s convention. Not all were games, but the overwhelming majority were. In addition to ticketed events, there are untold and countless opportunities for demo games in and around the vendor hall and satellite vendor areas. To give you an idea of the sprawl of the convention, not only does it take up the entirety of the Indiana Convention Center but also the field of Lucas Oil Stadium and a host of underground meeting rooms. From there, the convention spills over into the connected hotels’ meeting and ballrooms. And when that space is not enough, it again spills over to other nearby hotel meeting rooms and public spaces.
The sights and sounds can be overwhelming for some, but take your time and smell the roses while you are there. If cosplay is your thing, you’ll fit right in. Many partaking in this aspect of the hobby. Even though I am not into cosplay, I have to admit that there were some amazing costumes happening this year.
If shopping is going to be part of your itinerary, there are convention deals to be had if you look for them. Not all publishers and vendors offer convention exclusives and deals, but a good many do. You will need to keep in mind a few things when wandering the vendor hall.
- It is huge!
- Plan a route if you want to visit specific vendors early on day 1.
- It will be crowded, have patience.
- If you intend to buy a lot, make multiple trips to and from the vendor hall.
It is a gaming convention, so chances are you are there to game. Like everything else, this requires some pre-planning. Once you are registered for your games. You need to understand where they are physically located in relationship to the Convention Center (a good reference point) and each other so you can plan a route from one game to the next. Try not to have games that are back to back so that you have time to travel between games, eat a meal, or just take a mental break.
My friends and I, a rather large group of around 10, opted to rent a house through VRBO and found a wonderful place within 3-4 miles of the Convention Center. This was a very affordable option for our large group. Although not within easy walking distance, Uber rides were cheap and easy.
Despite its vast sprawl and massive schedule, GenCon is manageable for those planning ahead. Understanding upfront that you cannot do everything, even with four days, is paramount to having the best possible experience. As a first-time attendee, take it from me, you cannot do everything! Do not even try. You’ll burn yourself out, and you will regret it.
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