Walking into Game On Expo Phoenix 2023, a buzz of anticipation lingered in the air. As a longtime fan of retro gaming and a follower of YouTube gaming channels, I was stepping into a world that I had only experienced through my computer screen. The realization that I was going to meet many of my online friends and heroes was an exciting and surreal feeling.
First on my list was John Lester, best known to many as Gamester81, and all around great human being - the man in charge of Game On Expo. Our handshake transformed years of online interaction into a personal connection. And he was just the beginning...
Retro Rick, Gabbo the Giver, PacMan Case, Brett Weiss - the names kept coming, each one bringing a face to a screen name, turning virtual camaraderie into tangible friendship. The lively conversations with Joel from Media Glitch and the crew from Game Junction Podcast made it feel like a family reunion.
My time with Nerdy Nick was particularly special. Our shared passion for gaming transcended digital boundaries, making our face-to-face meeting feel like catching up with an old friend. We even had the opportunity to have dinner together with our families the first day we got there.
Perhaps one of the most unexpected and heartwarming moments was smoothing things out with The Immortal John Hancock. Healing an old rift gave the whole experience a profound depth that I hadn't anticipated. It's funny how even disagreements held onto for years can instantly dissipate when meeting someone face to face and expressing how and why the disagreement occurred in the first place.
A spotlight moment came when Radical Reggie invited me to be on a panel with him and John Hancock. Sitting there, sharing our stories about game collecting, and discussing the ups and downs of being a YouTuber, I felt a sense of validation and pride. It was an acknowledgment of my journey, and the room filled with avid listeners made it all the more special.
Roaming the showroom floor, I was like a kid in a candy store. Games, books, novelty items – the selection was vast and unique. I found myself purchasing a bundle of treasures that would forever remind me of this extraordinary experience, including a sealed copy of 'The Last Story' for Nintendo Wii for $100!
The enormous arcade and pinball lounge, all set to free play, was a nostalgic trip down memory lane, offering a playful escape and plenty of laughs as well.
But the surprise that truly resonated was what happened after the showroom floor closed. Gathered around tables filled with food and drinks, the conversations continued to flow. We shared our retro gaming experiences, favorite games, and funny YouTube stories. It was raw, real, and filled with a sense of community that you can only find among those who share a deep, mutual passion.
Thanks to the friendships and bonds I'd cultivated over the years on YouTube, I found myself receiving an unexpected invitation. Picture this: I'm at a bar, sharing drinks and laughter with none other than Tim Kitzrow, the iconic voice behind NBA Jam. His sense of humor was as vibrant in person as it was in the game, making the experience feel both surreal and intimate. As if that wasn't star-studded enough, joining our little gathering were some of the original Mortal Kombat actors. Their stories and insights took me on a trip down memory lane, reviving the adrenaline of those fierce virtual battles from my youth. And just when I thought the night couldn’t offer any more surprises, I casually bumped into the voice actor responsible for the unforgettable voiceovers in Halo Multiplayer. Every moment felt like I was living in a dream, surrounded by the voices and personalities that shaped so many of my gaming memories.
In the end, Game On Expo Phoenix 2023 was more than just an event; it was a community. It was a bridging of the virtual and real worlds that resulted in new friendships and unforgettable memories. As I look back, I can't help but hope for more such experiences in the near future. The games, the panels, and the shopping were all great, but - not to be too cheesy here - it was the people who made it truly magical.
Here's to hoping for many more such gatherings and endless shared memories!