Surviving PAX


PAX Championship Belt

With three events in its schedule (Prime, East, and Australia), the Penny Arcade Expo is almost at this point where the din of it on Reddit and the internets is hard to ignore. Having been to two PAX events the past two years (it is absolutely a yearly trip for me from this point on), a sort of Lonely Planet guide on how to survive one of the biggest gamer events of the year has always been on my to-do list.

Having some time between other projects, I thought I’d take a few minutes to write up a guide to gear and how best to handle PAX. While all of my experiences with the expo have occurred in Boston, MA, I’ve got a feeling that many of the points can be applied to all PAX events.

Packing

  • Pack comfy, dependable shoes. If you’re going to be taking a new pair of shoes, make sure you wear them for a week before you go to PAX. Besides breathing, your #2 activity at PAX will be walking and you want to be as comfy as possible. Blisters aren’t your friend.
  • Similarly, consider buying a new multi-pack of socks and sticking them in your suitcase. If you’re like me, fresh socks are as comfy as a pair of jeans out of the dryer and knowing that every morning you’ve got good shoes and cozy socks is a great way to start your day.
  • Pack light clothing and dress in layers. Consider risking being cold on the trip from your hotel to the show wearing light clothing so that you can be comfy inside. There’s a popular story that the Mall of America doesn’t run a heating system: that the patrons of the mall heat the place themselves. Think of PAX in the same way. It might be a bit chilly on the way there but you’ll be warm once you get there.
  • A lot of people’s first instinct is to pack a large backpack to carry laptops, tablets, chargers, cameras, and of their loot. In my experience, this is foolish. Carrying all that weight will net you tired shoulders and maybe a sweaty back. Additionally, you may find it difficult to make your way through the crowds without bumping into others. Personally, I carry a Swiss Army shoulder sling with me at PAX. Not only is it small enough to stay out of the way, but it also forces me to reconsider the stuff I carry with me on the show floor. For example, instead of a bulky camera, I carry an iPhone charger and instead of a laptop, I carry my Nexus 7. Both not only weigh less, but also fits better into the sling and helps me stay nimble as I wander around.
  • Pack all of your medication. Might seem like a “of course” thing, but even if you don’t think you’ll need it (I sometimes take meds for my back), bring it. Being caught without meds (especially in a different country) isn’t ideal.
  • If you’re travelling from out of the country, don’t forget to pack your passport. Leave and lock your house with the passport and your PAX tickets in your hand. And if you’re travelling with others, don’t let them leave their house or the meetup spot without showing you their passes too. Getting to the border after a 3 hour drive only to find you forgot your Saturday pass or you somehow left your passport in a rest stop 100 miles back will not make for a happy trip.

This robot loves fruit.

Getting and protecting your sweet loot

  • There are always bags or containers for sale or to just grab from some booths. Feel free to pick one up or buy one for your gear. I’d also consider bringing a cloth bag that you can roll up and put in your backpack/sling for quick deployment. Skipping a line for a bag so you can explore more of the show, FTW!
  • If you have access to one, consider bringing one of those expandable plastic tubes that artists carry artwork in. This will almost certainly eliminate the eventual crushing that’ll happen to all the awesome posters you pick up at the show (my Ducktales Remastered one has a slight crease in it that makes me sad to look at).  The tubes are relatively small and can be used to carry smaller things too. There are also models with shoulder straps which makes them easier to carry. If you get an expandable one you can keep your pack small until you need it.
  • Shop smart. Be mindful of the different types of loot for sale at the show. If an item is common, like a board game or a stuffy or a tee-shirt, hold off on picking those up. Shop around and then come back to the vendor with the best price (I’d spend no more than 3 hours on these deliberations though, because lots of people want to buy the loot being sold on the floor). For unique items however, I recommend that you get in line as soon as you can and get your shop on. Behemoth merch is only sold in one spot so you can’t haggle on price. At The Behemoth booth I managed to pick up a Necromancer statue (and in not pausing on price, I got Tom Fulp to sign it too!). Sadly, I paused for a day and completely blanked and missed out on picking up a Vault 101 hoodie at the Bethesda booth.

PAX East specific notes

  • There are two types of food vendors at the BCEC: the floor crew and the actual cafeteria crew. The floor food (typically found near the open tabletop area) should be avoided at all costs and for that reason – it’s crazy expensive. We’re talking a small burger and a can of pop for $15. You could get 2 McDonald’s Big Mac combos for the same price. The food upstairs in the cafeteria however, is a decent price and the quality is excellent. Try the stir fry and the salad bars (this one is outside in the hallway). It’s plenty of food and the people are really nice. In the cafeteria, there are plenty of places to sit (even at rush hour, you can usually get a seat after a 10min wait), even for a group of four.
  • To get more of an advantage when eating, consider adjusting your eating schedule to 30 or 45mins later than when others eat (try 1:15 instead of 12:30). That way, when it’s time to hit the canteen for lunch or dinner, there won’t be as many people in line (unless everyone reads this).

Other assorted tips

  • If you’re coming from out of town, do yourself a flavour and buy a transit pass if it makes sense to do so. They’re cheap and the transit is really efficient. Just remember to put your pass somewhere safe – I lost mine on the first day and had to buy another one. I think I threw it out with some receipts.
  • Eat. This may seem like a dumb one, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the show and realize you haven’t eaten in six hours or had any water recently. I’m particularly bad at this one. At the very least, make sure you have a water bottle and you keep it filled.
  • Talk to everyone you meet. Everyone at PAX wants to meet gamers to hang out with. You’re not at a show where you might find someone else who might like Mario Kart. If you’re in line for a panel, get out your 3DS or a couple of Magic: the Gathering starter decks and ask someone you don’t know if they want to play. If you can include others in the activity, even better. Encouraging groups of people who don’t know each other to play together is what PAX is all about. Be the PAX.
  • At GamesDay, we take business cards to give to people and businesses that we meet but one thing I want to do next year is make them more personalized to each team member. For show attendees, I’d consider making up personal cards to hand out to folks you meet so they don’t have to write out your email address over and over. Include things like friend codes, gamertags, Steam IDs, and your Twitter account to make connecting post-show easier.
  • Appreciate, respect, and utilize the services of the Enforcers. They are the only red shirts you can rely on time after time. In all the Enforcers I’ve ever met, I’ve never felt put off by any of them. Ask for directions or for ideas on what to see next. Not only are they there to help you, the things they can help you with are eye-opening. Last year I had one enforcer offer me her iPhone charge cable after overhearing when I lamented to another person about my low battery (the ONE TIME I forgot my charge cable).

Hearthstone Congrats screen

If you have any PAX tips, please post them in the comments. I’d love to turn this into a superguide for folks attending the show!