6:45 pm: The Expo officially opens Friday evening at 4pm, but knowing that I’d be there all weekend, I end up heading downtown late. The commute downtown is not so bad, and my arrival at Union Station (I take the GO Bus from the suburbs) is not unlike any other day. As I make my way towards the Convention Centre, however, the streets became livelier with crowds of costumed pedestrians. 8 pm: Since I am lucky enough to land a media pass, I enter the Expo through the InterContinental with no hassle or need to line up. 8:10 pm: If walking into the InterContinental was easy enough, walking into the Expo is startling and, I must admit, a tad scary. The place is packed, and everywhere I look there are people dressed up – some recognizably, but most not. I am instantly caught up in a tide of people, unsure of where to go. To be honest, in these first moments I feel like I had entered something much bigger than me – something way out of my league that I didn’t rightfully belong to or understand. I wasn’t a hardcore fan of anything – did I belong at the FanExpo?
8:20 pm: After cowering in the corner for a bit, I decide to grow myself a pair and search for the Nerd Girl Pinups booth. Located on the first floor, just beyond the apparent hangout place for Stormtroopers, I find both Nerd Girl Pinups and Yarn of Despair. I chat briefly with Sally Christensen (owner of Yarn of Despair) and John Torres (owner of Odin’s Beard) and they encourage me to check the place out a bit more.
8:25 pm: If I was shocked by the volume of the first floors, I am completely mind blown at the volume of the second floor. The upper floor is a maze of booths selling and promoting merchandise a. I wander about for a good 15 minutes before deciding I’ve seen everything I need to see (or want to see, in that crowd!) and head out of the convention centre.
8:40 pm: I decide a hot dog is the best thing to take the edge off of my shell shocked reception to the Fan Expo. I chat with the hot dog vendor, who knows even less about the Fan Expo than I do. This makes me feel better, as though I am not the completely oblivious tourist I feel like I am, and I explain what the Expo is, how long it’s going on for, and what to expect in the next couple of days. Soon after my snack, I get in touch with Jesse Scoble and we decide to meet up at the Yarn of Despair booth before heading over to the Questys – the official FanExpo after party and awards show.
9 pm: As the first day of the Fan Expo is wrapping up, I meet Sally, John and Jesse at the Yarn of Despair booth. Together, we commute over to the Annex Wreckroom, where the Questys is being held. Heading over to the Questys involves walking to Union, picking up the subway, transferring at St. George to the Bloor line, and heading over to Bathurst Station. The commute is tiresome and long. Hopefully the Questys will be hosted in a more convenient location next year, as the commute proved to be a bit of an aversion to some Expo goers.
9:40pm: We arrive at the Wreckroom, but have arrived too late to catch Allan Turner’s skit as a stand-up zombie clown named Miller. Unfortunately, since the Expo didn’t close until 9 and the Questys started at 8:30, much of the attendees come late and miss the opening acts. We watch the Word Burgler rap, Naked Dave and Nerd Girl Pinups perform burlesque dances, and Katherine Curtis and Ed the Sock hand out awards. The Questys, advertised as the Razzles for comic books, is understandably a bit spotty since it is the first of its kind thrown for the FanExpo, but it is amusing nonetheless. Until now, I am trying to figure out if it was amusing in a disturbing or a good way, but it was definitely something. I’m definitely glad I attended and encourage people to check it out next year too.
11 pm: After some late night pizza, I hitch a ride home with my sister and her friend. My sister’s friend asks where I had been that night. When I tell her that I’ve come from the Expo, she responds with, “Ah, that is why you’re dressed up like… a superhero.” My sister’s friend gestures at my outfit, which is one that I wear on a regular basis. The comment is somewhat off-putting since I don’t aim to look like a costumed hero regularly, but at least I didn’t stand out at the
10am: The Expo opens at 10am on Sunday, but my main target for the day doesn’t begin until later – the Writers and Producers panel at 12pm. As a result, I wake up a tad late and make it to the GO Station later in the morning in markedly less cosplay-like clothes.
11am: As always, the GO bus is slightly late, but I don’t worry too much since they generally boot it over to Union in time. Unfortunately, the crowds on this bus seem thicker than usual, and once we hit Unionville Station I know why: crowds of costumed riders board the bus and we are stuck with standing room only. I luckily catch a seat, but get the sweaty armpits of at least two Expo-bound visitors in my face. To add to the discomfort, the highway is a parking lot, and the GO Bus makes an unusual detour through suburban streets on its way to Union Station. I am amazed by the crowds, but am more preoccupied by the fact that I am now late for the panel.
12:10pm: I am shocked by the crowds as I approach the Convention Centre. The building’s exterior is literally swarmed by visitors waiting to get in and the crowd inside leaves only enough room to shuffle step by step to your destination. Luckily I bypass the line through the InterContinental. By the time I reach the door of the Writers and Producers panel, I encounter a long line that winds around the corner of the hallway. I ask the last person in line what the wait is for, and he informs me that everyone is waiting for the Writers and Producers panel, which is starting late. I am relieved at having made it on time, and take a break to “Check In” on Four Squares, earning the “Swarm” badge – over 50 people are checked in at the same event! Not surprising considering the volume of the place.
Within 5 minutes, a FanExpo representative emerges from the room and asks if any solo attendees are standing in line. I raise my hand and am ushered into the room, where I am surprised to see that the Writers and Producers panel is already underway! Unfortunately, the others in line did not seem to be aware of this and I’m confused by the Expo’s organization.
Relieved to have made it inside, I scramble to get my tape recorder to catch the last bit of the panel. The Writers and Producers panel, organized and moderated by Jesse Scoble, hosts experts from across the field to discuss the art of writing in today’s video game industry. The room is packed and the audience seems interested and eager to know more about the industry and how to break into the industry themselves.
1pm: When the panel is over, the audience swarms the panellists – especially the Ubisoft representative. I head over to the front of the room too and meet up with Jesse and panellist Joseph Ganetakos, who is a Creative Lead at Ganz, Inc. I snap a quick photo of the panel before set up for the next workshop begins.
1:30pm: Jesse, Joseph and I join a mob around the escalators to go to the second floor. Security is only letting one or two people go up every minute or so, and the mob is unordered and messy. There are no lines – only a crush of people trying to get to the front. Luckily, with Jesse and Joseph’s all-access passes as an Expo moderator and guest, we manage to push through the crowd within 5 minutes. The express treatment is awesome. Looking back from the escalator, I am amazed at the crowd. There are literally at least a hundred people waiting to get upstairs, sardined one behind the other as security blocks the steps.
1:50pm: The second floor isn’t much better, and Jesse tries to coach Joseph and I on the art of the shove and shuffle. We try to catch a glimpse of all the merchandise, but it’s difficult in the stifling space. The most notable independent seller I find is Sick on Sin – a cute clothing and accessories business run by Jennifer Krebsz.
Within 10 minutes, Jesse receives a call from Allan (previously mentioned here as the zombie clown, Miller), who’s having trouble getting in. The lines outside are ridiculously long and it feels like at least 35 to 40 degrees on the sidewalk. To add to visitors’ frustration, there are at least four lines outside with a wait time of at least two to three hours each. Even worse, no one knows which line is for the washroom, the ticket stand, or the entrance. Rumours have it that that even exhibitors who went out for lunch are being denied re-entry to the Expo, leaving some booths unmanned because of disorganization. Jesse helps Allan out, instructing him where to go and who to ask for. Allan is able to get in on Jesse’s guest pass within a half hour – a vast improvement from the three hour wait he would have had otherwise.
2:30pm: After touring the second floor, Joseph, Jesse and I are famished but afraid to exit the building. We decide to eat at the InterContinental’s restaurant, where we meet one of Joseph’s buddies. His buddy has a deluxe pass, but complains that he too had to wait for at least two hours to get his pass and enter the building. There is evidently something wrong with the Expo’s organization. Indeed, shortly after the FanExpo is over, the Expo’s president releases an online apology for the mess.
3:30pm: After lunch, Jesse and I venture out of the building and head to a nearby Tim Hortons so I can interview him. The interview with Jesse will appear in C&G Monthly’s upcoming issue, so be sure to keep an eye out for it! All I can say is: It is awesome.
4:30pm: After our interview, Jesse makes the brave decision to head back to the Expo. Heading back, the streets are packed with a mix of Expo attendees, ballgame fans (there’s a Jays game on that afternoon) and Buskerfest visitors (the Buskerfest is going on just down the street). The streets are sporting a unique mix of artists trying to appeal to all audiences by selling anime-style baseball portraits.
9:30pm: In the end, I do not return to the FanExpo. Instead, I spend my evening hunting for a library, eating dinner at Jack Asstors, and checking out the Buskerfest with a friend. As night falls, I head straight over to the Gamin’ with the Girls event in the Charlotte Room, which has a better turnout than the Questys.
10pm: By 10pm, the Gamin’ with the Girls event is packed and bumping. Rockband is set up and various board games are spread out on the pool tables. People are playing Clue, Dungeons and Dragons, and Hearts. The Hand Eye Society also has a couple of screens set up featuring the work of independent game makers in Toronto. The atmosphere is relaxed and it’s easier to network in the bar, where you don’t have to worry about peeling your face off the back of someone else’s neck. It’s fun to meet other writers and gamers, some who have come from all across Canada for the Expo.
12pm: By the time I leave, I am faint with exhaustion.
The Expo continues on Sunday from 11am to 6pm, and trust me, there’s a lot of stuff I want to see. The State of the Local Game Industry panel is on, for example, as well as the anime movies Mai Mai Marble and Tokyo Marble Chocolate screening at Yonge and Dundas’s AMC. When I wake up though, my whole body feels like it’s been run over by an 18-wheeler. Perhaps it’s because I don’t go out much, or because I don’t generally stand for 12 hours a day, or I don’t generally get squished by multiple people all at once, or smell so many different body odours. I’m not sure. I miss the final day of the Fan Expo.
I heard the Local Game Industry panel was great though, and Yarn of Despair sold completely out of stock.
With that being said, I will be sure to visit the Fan Expo next year. I’ll just try to work out before hand. Next time, I’ll be ready for it! I’m sure it’ll be even more awesome the second time around!