The weekend of Feb 16 and 17 may have been nothing more than a recovery weekend from Valentines Day for most; but for those in the Henderson, NV area, it marked the launch of the LVL UP Expo. Self-proclaimed as being a “convention that covers the vast fields of gaming”, the LVL UP Expo brought to Henderson an outlet for all types of gamers, from table-top to arcade, and undoubtedly left its mark at the Henderson Convention Center on Water St.
Walking in to the older-looking convention center for the first time, I felt like I had walked into a broken-down hospital. Drab, brown walls led me down a hallway of doors labeled with event names until I reached the main reception area. It wasn’t until this open space did I feel like I was about to attend an event made for nerds, gamers, and other walks of geek-life. After a warm and enthusiastic greeting from a quartet of LVL UP Expo volunteers and employees, who proceeded to tag me with a wrist band, I walked through a set of double doors into a space that was quite shockingly small.
Being the initial run of the LVL UP Expo, I expected a few hitches to throw things off balance, but I was unprepared for the cramped space that the Henderson Convention Center really allowed. Oddly enough, the minimal amount of room almost added to the ambience to the expo and forced guests to mingle with the various booths. If not for the small quarters, I can almost guarantee my enlightening chat with the Las Vegas branch of N.E.R.O., a Live-Action Roleplaying community, never would have occurred. After a quick rundown of what is commonly known as “LARPing”, I found myself engaged in the troop’s charm, so much so that I still have an inner monologue going as to if I should show up to their next meet.
My experience with N.E.R.O. was not a fluke, either. The rest of the booths, which included staff from Cosmic Comics, the Elite Vegas Paranormal Society, and L33T Ladies, were just as willing to converse with the masses. Product was strewn near and far and came in the form of plastic creations known as Perler Pixel Pals to somewhat pricey, albeit unique, posters for “The Walking Dead” and other nerd-related mediums. In a separate set up for table and card games, guests could pick up any range of table-top fare, including the “Resident Evil” Deck Building Game and an assortment of individual cards for games like “Yu-Gi-Oh!”. On one table, a sextet of young men were engaged in a rousing game of “Metal Gear Solid” Risk, proving that any game can be played in any atmosphere.
Beyond merchandise, guests had the opportunity to sign up for numerous tournaments for games like “Halo 4”, “Super Smash Bros. Melee”, “Mortal Kombat”, “Tekken Tag Tournament 2”, and such card games as “Dungeon & Dragons: First Encounters” and “Yu-Gi-Oh!”. The atmosphere was booming with life as gamers engaged one another in all out brawls to emerge the victor in a setting more public than one’s own home. Whether through partaking in the tournament or simply awaiting for a spot to free up, guests also had the opportunity to jump onto the online multiplayer shoot “Primal Carnage”. Though its current span of coverage is relatively small in comparison to what it deserves, my time in “Primal Carnage’s” arena of human vs. dinosaur battles left me craving more, something most current multiplayer shooters just don’t do. A small chat I had with founder of Lukewarm Media and “Primal Carnage” producer, Aaron Pollack, confirmed that, while “Primal Carnage” will be without a console release, the developer will support its title to the fullest.
The cream of the crop of LVL UP Expo wasn’t the tournaments or the available merchandise, though. It was the sheer level of interactivity between local and out of town influences in the gaming industry. Meet and Greets for the cast of the local production of “Evil Dead The Musical 4D” and the internet radio comedy show “Jim and Them” were good ways to pass the time and get to know the people behind the personas. Indy game developer, Lukewarm Games, also held a panel discussion regarding game development, ensuring that at least some portion of this entertaining event was interestingly education.
What there is to complain about is minimal. As mentioned previously, the event space is somewhat cramped. It was difficult to move in-between booths, and oftentimes I questioned whether or not I should be stepping over the slew of wires on the floor. Booth variety would also be a welcomed plus, as there seemed to be three or four booths selling the Perler Pixel Palls. Other local talents brought to the table merchandise such as white tile painted with gaming’s favorite characters, but overall, there wasn’t a whole lot to browse through.
Ultimately, the crew behind the LVL UP Expo did a fantastic job of bringing gaming to downtown Henderson. The ambiance simply reeked of gaming expo, especially with familiar faces, such as an impressively accurate rendition of an Umbrella Special Forces Soldier (complete with an astounding make-up of Albert Wesker’s signature pistol). From what was experienced and what could be seen, there doesn’t seem to be a reason as to why 2014 shouldn’t see a return of this fantastic set-up.