Younger readers may not be aware of this, but there was a time in American culture when it was not cool to like games. Video games, board games, role-playing games – all were considered the purview of nerds and geeks.
And to be clear, nerds and geeks weren’t cool, either.
All that has changed in recent years, with the ascendancy of nerd culture and its attendant enthusiasms, like comic books, science fiction movies and 20-sided dice. Games are cool now, too, and for Triangle gamers, this is going to be the coolest weekend of the year.
The Playthrough gaming convention in Raleigh this weekend is a two-day celebration of gaming culture. Drop by the Raleigh Convention Center on Saturday or Sunday, and you’ll find thousands of local gamers digging into their favorite video games and tabletop games, along with tournaments, prizes, demos, exhibitors, presentations and panels.
Playthrough, in its third year in Raleigh, is designed to be both a professional conference for game designers, and a 48-hour gathering-of-the-tribes for local gaming fans, said Playthrough co-founder Tim Howell.
“Playthough is a two-day gaming convention that’s equal parts video games and board games,” Howell said.
For Howell and the other convention organizers, planning the event has been a labor of love.
“Basically, its just myself and my two associates – my brother and my close friend from high school,” he said. “We’ve been in the event management business for years doing other, less-fun conventions. We just thought maybe we could do something that’s more to our taste. We’ve all been big gamers ever since we could hold a controller.”
Based in New York, Howell and the other co-founders decided to translate their professional expertise into a gamer convention. But why Raleigh?
“We wanted to do it in New York at first, but it’s just not feasible out here,” Howell said. “We thought: Where is the greatest potential? Where is a place that has a great gamer community, where people are making games, that has a good growth potential? It basically came down to two cities – Austin, Texas, and Raleigh.”
The Triangle is now home to dozens of game companies, from small indie outfits to big industry players like Epic Games and Red Storm in Cary, according to the latest listings at the International Game Developers Association (IDGA).
“Also, you’ve got a lot of high-end schools down there teaching game development courses,” Howell said. “So not only do you have these big game developers down there, you have a ton of these small indie studios trying to make a name for themselves.”
Those interested in the professional end of gaming will find plenty to keep them occupied this weekend. Presentations and panel discussions on the convention main stage include titles like “Becoming a Publisher,” “World Building for a Sci-Fi Universe” and “How to Start a YouTube Gaming Channel.”
The convention’s main exhibition hall, meanwhile, will feature booths from more than a dozen local game studios. Indie developers will offer hands-on demos of their latest games and products.
Of course, all work and no play is a terrible way to run a gaming convention. As such, Playthrough has teamed with local game presenters and e-sports leagues to run demos and tournaments throughout the weekend.
For competitive video game fans, Carolina Games Summit is hosting rolling tournaments featuring popular titles including “Overwatch,” “Halo 5” and “Call of Duty.”
Gaming rigs, both console and PC, will be provided by show sponsor Alienware, a subsidiary of the computer manufacturer Dell, which also has an office in Research Triangle Park.
On the analog end of things, board game fans can sign up for tournaments featuring perennial favorites like “Ticket to Ride” and “Settlers of Catan.” Those hooked on the hopelessly addictive card game “Magic: The Gathering” can sign up for tournament play hosted by East Coast Gaming.
Playthrough will also host a Grand Tournament, in which 16 random contestants will compete in a two-day elimination contest featuring multiple gaming challenges. For this year’s festivities, event planners are also designing a brand new escape room game – a kind of live-action adventure game where players are locked in a themed area and must solve a series of puzzles to “escape” the game.
“This year’s room is themed around the Netflix show ‘Stranger Things,’” Howell said. “Escape from The Upside Down.”
Howell said he expects this year’s convention to be significantly bigger than the first two, in terms of convention floor activity and overall attendance.
“The first year we had around 1,000 people come, and last year we almost tripled that,” Howell said. “This year we expect around 4,000 to 5,000 people to come to the show.”
Howell said he hopes to make Playthrough an annual event in Raleigh, which he sees as an fast-growing regional locus for gaming.
“That whole area is really bursting at the seams,” he said. “We consider it the East Coast gaming home of the United States.”
In the end, though, remotely planning a large game convention requires more than entrepreneurial spirit, Howell said. It really does have to be a labor of love.
“Games bring people together, and it’s just something we’re super passionate about,” he said. “We’ve spent all our free time trying to put it together.”
What: Playthrough Gaming Convention
When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Feb. 17; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Feb. 18
Where: Raleigh Convention Center, 500 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh