Heading to a convention, I glance at the program and there it is one of the last pages: this convention has a gaming room off to the side of the main exhibit halls and panel rooms. Recently I got a chance to talk to the masterminds behind some of those game rooms when Ken Beasley and Ben Hernandez sat down to tell me all about the workings of setting up a game room, and everything that goes on before and behind the scenes of a convention.
Ken is the chief marketing officer for Nexus Gaming Alliance. He picked up his first controller when he was three years old, and has been hooked ever since. He met co-founder and CEO Jason Taylor when they were both members of the Random Battle Group, which was a LARPing group at conventions that just created battles without the extra storyline. Ken has been working for and volunteering at various conventions since 2009, and was the manager of guest relations for Bakka Con (now Soccer Con).
Ben, who goes by Zube, joined the team in 2011. He has been a professional gamer for about eight years. His first game was Master Blaster for an MS DOS computer when he was four years old. From there he mostly played computer games until as a teenager he got a Playstation and Twisted Metal 2. I was surprised that a professional gamer would make the jump to the convention circuit, but he pointed out that professional gamers are always travelling, so for him the transition was a simple one.
Nexus Gaming Alliance was started six years ago by good friends Jason Taylor, Ken Beasley, and Javier Guevara. The men had worked together at a similar company for a couple of years before breaking off and forming the NGA. Currently, they run with a staff of four managers, six staff members, and forty two volunteers who help with set up and running tournaments and contests at about thirty conventions all over the United States.
Typically, a game room includes a plethora of current consoles, as well as any vintage console that the convention specifically requests. When I asked what types of vintage consoles a convention staff might request, Ken laughed and said that the most common was probably original Segas (NGA owns six), but that they had often gotten their hands on other consoles specifically for certain conventions that requested them. I was completely blown away by the sheer number of gaming machines that NGA keeps on hand. At the moment, in addition to the six Segas, the company has twenty four X-Box 360s and eighteen PS3s. For their September setup at Anime USA in Washington DC, NGA will provide over twenty arcade games in addition to other consoles. In a typical convention game room, the Playstations have the fighter games and X-Box has shooters. Wiis are almost always Smash Bros, but Ken said he likes to sneak in Mario Bros or Mario Kart.
Not only does Nexus Gaming Alliance set up the game rooms at conventions, but they also have their own conventions every year. Cutie Mark Con and Nerd Pow! (which used to be A&G Ohio) are both run by the NGA crew.
If there is one thing that really impressed me about Ken, Zube, and the rest of the guys at NGA, it is that they are incredibly flexible. I started my interview with them expecting to talk primarily about setting up a game room, and while we did talk quite a bit about that, they had a lot to say about other aspects of conventions as well.
My first introduction to Ken, Zube, and Jason Taylor was actually at panels about the history of console gaming, and Ken mentioned that this is only one of an entire series of gaming panels that they have been preparing, and are very excited about. Paneling isn’t their only deviation from the game room, however. The staff members also are qualified as event planners, caterers, often are security, guest relations staff, and medical staff for conventions such as NYCC. Ken told me with a completely straight face that he’s even worked a porn convention called Nudes A’Poppin’. Jason is a licensed electrician and Ken is certified as an official Mold Inspector. Clearly, these guys are ready to do whatever the convention needs of them.
Zube was enthusiastic about the future of NGA. He clearly loves the panels that he’s been running recently, and also mentioned that the team is beginning to enter the field of video game design. Ultimately, this is a versatile group of really dedicated gamers that want to share their love of gaming with convention goers everywhere. Nexus Gaming Alliance will be at ScrewAttack in Dallas July 11-13, and Anime Nebraskon in Omaha, October 31-November 2.