PlayExpo & EGL 8 Thoughts

Last weekend thousands of gamers descended upon Manchester to visit PlayExpo, held at Event City in Manchester (around the corner from Trafford Centre). This post will detail my thoughts on the event as a whole and how I think things could be improved going forward.

I went to PlayExpo in the expectation of meeting the EGL guys that I’ve been speaking with over the last 18 months and to get first hand experience of how their LAN events are managed. I came away with so much more. I met loads of fantastic people over the weekend, I had a great time playing some of the unreleased games being demonstrated and I found myself getting genuinely invested (along with the rest of the crowd) in the matches on the main stage.

For those who don’t know, PlayExpo is a brand new video gaming expo incorporating events catered for four distinct areas of gaming: re.play, now.play, pro.play (EGL 8) and cos.play. This was a smart move by the organisers of the expo as it encouraged the visitors to explore the other parts of the event that they may not have come to see individually.

For example, as I’ve already explained my primary reason for going to PlayExpo was for EGL 8, however I found that I really enjoyed exploring the now.gamer area and playing some of the games that will be released over the coming months.

First Impressions

My only other experience of being at a gaming event / LAN was at XL2 which was over 4 years ago (and was tiny in comparison) so I came to PlayExpo not knowing what to expect. Unfortunately the first impressions weren’t very good. I arrived at the event to find a very long queue of people waiting patiently to get in.

The communication between the queue and the organizers left a lot to be desired. There were people (already registered or volunteers like myself) who were queuing who didn’t know that they were allowed to walk straight in through another door. However I’m sure this issue would be improved upon with any future events at Event City. The unexpected delay of letting people into the event resulted in tournament registrations needing to be postponed for a short while.

However once I had gotten into the event my initial impressions were instantly forgotten. The size and scale of the event took me by complete surprise. I was lucky enough to skip the majority of the queue which meant that I was able to take a long look around whilst the staff were still setting up.

Re.Play

There’s not a lot I can say about the Re.Play area as I didn’t get the chance to explore their area. However being the primary organizers of PlayExpo they had a huge amount of floorspace and with that a very impressive collection of arcade machines, classic video games and consoles ranging from the Dreamcast, to the Sega Mega drives and I believe I even saw a Sinclair Spectrum (I can only hope that Dizzy was playable).

There’s not many events where you can go down memory lane, perusing the games from your childhood. I’m sure this would have been a huge pull for those older gamers. And by having the other parts of the event it also allowed the younger gamers to browse the area and see how games used to play and look 15-20 years ago.

Now.Play

There weren’t a large number of exhibitors but considering this was their first attempt at organising an expo it was a real coup for them to get Microsoft, Nintendo, EA, Konami and 2K Games all providing playable games at the event. If they would have been able to get  Activision demoing Black Ops 2 then it would have been icing on the cake. However it was not to be.

Electronic Arts

EA showed a lot of support for the event by providing no fewer than three playable games – Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Need for Speed: Most Wanted and FIFA 13. With Medal of Honor and Need for Speed’s impending release this was a great opportunity for EA to give gamers a chance to try out the games and encourage a few more sales.

EA’s Need for Speed area was by far the most impressive amongst all of the exhibitors. Having not heard much about NFS: MW I assumed it was going to be a simulation racer however it felt like a more mature Burnout (which is by no means a bad thing). If the upcoming gaming season wasn’t so packed then I’d have been heavily tempted to pick up a copy when the game hits the stores next week. If you enjoyed previous Burnout games then I would seriously recommend making the purchase.

Nintendo

Nintendo were showing off their upcoming console, the poorly named Wii U. They were provided with a large area in the middle of the event and made full use of what they were given with plenty of games and staff crammed in. Players were allowed a generous 15 minutes game-time, resulting in very long queues with expected waiting times of well over an hour.

I joined the queue on Sunday afternoon and after a long wait (and a chat with an overly excited Nintendo guy), I was rewarded with a session on the atmospheric looking Zombi U. I’m sure this would be an enjoyable game to play at home, late in the evening, however due to the noise at the event the atmosphere was lost in an instant.

I think this game would have worked better if it was in an enclosed area like EA’s Need for Speed. The controls of the game were rather cumbersome and the use of the controller screen felt forced rather than an extension of the game.

Konami

Konami’s main attraction at PlayExpo was Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Having not seen much of the game since Platinum Games took over development I wasn’t sure how much it would have changed from the original direction. Whilst it played like a typical game from Platinum Games (Bayonetta, Vanquish) it also had the distinct DNA of a Metal Gear game. It was clear that the two companies had been working close together to ensure that the game could still be recognised as belonging to the Metal Gear family.

I couldn’t personally work out the controls but I’m sure like with Bayonetta that once you pick them up, you’ll be able to kick butt in no time. Throughout the weekend Konami were handing out some very cool looking Metal Gear Rising posters and I was lucky enough to get my hands on one (just by asking!). Hopefully we’ll see more free goodies provided by other exhibitors at future PlayExpos.

Halo 4

Microsoft showcasing Halo 4′s multi-player at PlayExpo was a late addition for the event, so as a result it was a low-key affair with a 12 console setup pitching players against one another. From what I saw of the area it looked incredibly popular throughout both days, with several players going straight back into the queue after completing their games.

Meeting Graham Boyd AKA AceyBongos (Social Marketing Manager, Xbox EMEA) was a particular highlight of the event and I look forward to meeting him at many more events in the future. He and the rest of the Microsoft team kept the Halo 4 area running incredibly smooth throughout the whole weekend.

Due to Graham’s increasing interest in the competitive community and a growing relationship with the EGL management they managed to secure the first ever European competitive Halo 4 match which was streamed live on Twitch to thousands of gamers.

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay to watch it live but watching the recording the next day was great as it highlighted how the competitive players approached the game. Competitive gaming has been becoming much more mainstream over the last few years and as a result game developers are now starting to get advice from the competitive gaming communities on how their games should work.

A key example of this is Mike Rufail aka Hastr0 who has been acting as eSports advisor for Treyarch on their upcoming Call of Duty game: Black Ops 2. I didn’t get to meet Mike as he was constantly surrounded by other people throughout the weekend but it is fantastic to see key members of the competitive community becoming involved with the direction that games are taking. This can only be a good thing for the future of competitive gaming.

EGL 8 – Fifa

Leading up to the event I decided to enter the FIFA 13 – 1 vs 1 tournament, partially as a laugh and also to help show support for one of the smaller games at the event. (even though I’m awful at Fifa). I was expecting to play a single game, get absolutely dominated and then move on to the rest of the event. However to ensure that everyone got value for money (£10 entry per player) the organizers decided to put the entrants into groups of five with everyone playing each other twice.

6 hours later and having lost every single game (except for a win by default), I had been well and truly humiliated by much superior players. I was hoping to steal a few points over the course of the day, however every shooting opportunity that came my way ended up being shot into the crowd or against the woodwork.

Even though I was being thrashed I actually really enjoyed myself, it was great watching the other players playing, hearing the banter etc. The SweetPatch.tv (on behalf of EGL) guys running the FIFA 13 tournament (Dave Wittser, Aubs Morrison and Nigel Morrison ) were really easy to get along with and I’m looking forward to meeting all of them at future events. Their website (were they run online tournaments and leagues) has been up and running for over 10 years so it was great to be able to talk to them about how they run it (considering my history with GameBattles and  ConsoleGaming).

EGL 8 – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

This tournament was an opportunity for EGL to write the final chapter for competitive Modern Warfare 3 and what an ending it turned out to be. Over 80 teams signed up for the tournament, showing just how popular Call of Duty currently is for the competitive scene. Teams came to the event from all over the world, with several of the top American teams making the journey over.

The last few UK EGL events have been dominated by the US teams, specifically Optic Gaming who had prior to this event won both EGL 5 and EGL 7 and had never lost a match on MW3 at LAN. They went into this event as the early favourites and their early form suggested they would soon be celebrating a hat-trick of EGL victories.

However, in a thrilling (post-midnight) finale, the European team TCM Gaming managed to beat Optic Gaming 6-4, having recovered from a loss against Optic Gaming earlier in the tournament (double elimination). TCM Gaming which consists of Mad Cat, Joshh, Rich and Flux took home the grand prize of £3,600.

The tournament went smoothly throughout the weekend thanks to the hard work from the Call of Duty admins – Nick Mitchell (ex ConsoleGaming staff member) and Alex ‘Razor’ McBride and also the core EGL staff – Dan Kynaston, Joshua Nino, Chris Mellow, Glen Elliott and Mike Bembenek.

Additionally the commentators did a great job on the main stage, keeping the matches exciting (although they switched between commentators a little too often for my liking) for both the gamers at the event and those listening on the stream. Unfortunately, after watching the recordings it seems that the atmosphere from the event couldn’t be heard on the stream which was a shame as the audience were really pumped at times. Hopefully this can be addressed at future events.

EGL 8 – Other Tournaments

As well as the above events EGL 8 also featured team tournaments on Halo: Reach, Gears of War 3 on the Xbox 360 and Modern Warfare 3 on the Playstation 3. I’ve not gone into detail about these tournaments as I didn’t have any time to check these areas out. I’m glad to see that these games are still featuring at EGL and hopefully Halo 4′s release will mean an even bigger area and attendance for Halo at EGL 9.

Summary / Going Forward

The increased footfall of the event (compared to previous EGL events) lead to many more spectators for the EGL matches. As a result they have hopefully created a good first impression of the competitive scene for these gamers and possibly convinced them to come to future EGL events.

From a personal viewpoint I would love to see expo’s continue to feature at EGL events in the future as I believe these events worked extremely well together. However this would be dependant on venue size and cost amongst many other factors. Next year EGL will be making the transition to three day events which should result in less delays for the tournaments and hopefully give them opportunity to run a couple of extra side events such as a Call of Duty FFA.

EGL 9 will take place over the Easter holidays (30th March to 1st April, 2013). I am currently working with EGL to provide the players and teams with something to do between now and then. This will be going live soon. I’m not sure yet if I’ll be going to EGL 9, at least not until a venue gets announced (hopefully not Blackpool).  Though, as my involvement with EGL increases, I will be looking to become more involved with the Call of Duty communities so that I can get to know even more people next time around.

The Good:

  • Meeting lots of fantastic people
  • The overall organisation of the event – especially the tournaments
  • The professionalism of the setup, ranging from the admins to the commentators and to the media/technical team
  • The improved attendance
  • The expo – especially the Halo 4 area

The Bad:

  • Entrance to the event could have been handled better
  • Delays in the tournaments – this will be helped by the three day events next year
  • The Chip Barms were rubbish – though I could easily overlook this!

The Ugly:

A big congratulations to all the staff involved with the organisation of the event and a thank you to everyone who attended for making it such a great event.

The credit for most of the photographs belong to European Gaming League with the Fifa photograph belonging to Sweetpatch.tv.

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