Disclosure and Opening Thoughts: In October, I’m a Guest of Honor at High Level Games convention in Atlantic City. This convention is an undertaking of the sort the LARP community has never before seen; it’s bringing together six blockbuster companies to create one massive, high level LARP as well as several other marquee games. It’s a chance for LARPers of far different accessibility levels to get to a blockbuster style game without the 500+ dollar blockbuster LARP price. On top of that, they have a focus on supporting disenfranchised voices in the community and showcasing new/upcoming stars. I was really honored to be asked to be a part of this but, since the beginning, I’ve also heard concerns about the convention throughout the community. So, I asked Josh if he’d do a brief Q&A with me about some of the conventions aims and some of the issues it’s been facing. While nothing is perfect, I wanted to get the information out to the greater community before I see many of you in October.
Ericka: HLG Con is new and different as gaming conventions go, which is confusing a lot of people. What is the ultimate goal of HLG Con?
Josh: Our major focus is on creating and supporting healthy communities in gaming. That’s our mission for High Level Games as a whole, and HLG Con is an extension of those goals.
We want to highlight women, creators of color, and people creating positive and collaborative initiatives in gaming. I’m confused that there is confusion about that, I guess? Otherwise, we are offering a lot of what you’d see at a standard convention, tabletop, panels, card and board games, and larps. We do have a heavy larp focus, because the venue lends itself to really cool larp settings.
But, at the same time we are running an on-demand table-top game space with the goal of having 15-25 tables constantly running games. As well as Magic tournaments, playtests, and other game events that people will enjoy. We’ve got Contessa coming, MAX Energy Games, and our industry guests to run games for us .
Ericka: Why is HLG Con different from other mulitstyle gaming conventions (Cons that include tabletop, board games, and LARP, etc.)?
Josh: We are focused heavily on collaboration, community, and helping people ‘level up’ their gaming. That means we want folks to teach one another how to be better gamers. We want companies to work together to create amazing events, and we want to build bridges. We also want to amplify voices that get drowned out at some cons.
Ericka: How are you trying to affect the greater gaming community with this convention?
Josh: As far as I know, there is only one (maybe two) panels/workshops that are going to only feature white men. We have more women focused and poc focused games and panels than any other Con I can think of. That was intentional, we want folks to realize that this can be done and that it is good for gaming as a whole.
I’d have to double check but we are either close to equal or have more women than men attending the event, both as organizers and as standard attendees. I’ll be honest, we could make this the women and poc gaming convention that focuses on a positive atmosphere for both, I would have feel like I succeeded at one of my goals.
Ericka: How did you find your guests and game runners for this convention?
Josh: High Level Games has been around for a few years as a company and we’ve made a big splash in a lot of ways. We have built relationships with various communities and have focused on expanding our reach into and out of the rpg industry. We targeted guests that would provide perspectives that are often secondary to other conventions. We looked for queer folks, we reached out to friends with great games, and some of our folks came to us. We did our utmost to approve people and events that fit our goals. This convention was built on a lot of sweat and tears, and relationship building.
Ericka: If someone is confused about why they should attend, can you explain a bit more what experience you are going to give gamers for their money?
Josh: The venue is amazing, and for the cost you’re going to have a ton of options at your fingertips. The Pandaemonium ticket is the highest we offer. That is $175 and gets you access to the big event larp happening in the Foundation Room. This game is being run by 6+ studios that people should recognize, all who make amazing games that cost more than this more often than not. That’s two nights of this event, for a total of 9 hours of gaming with a slew of professionals. Plus, you get access to one of the marquee games these companies are running at the event, which are 4 hour focused LARPs, like Speakeasy, Scion:Heroes, 10-32, and Backspin Invitational.
Ericka: There have been concerns that HLG is in a ‘Food Desert,’ other than what bits of food the hotel offers. How accessible are other eating choices? How far is HLG from other businesses in Atlantic City?
Josh: I understand this concern and we hired a safety review team to help us cover this and other issues we might not have identified. There are two drug stores within a half-mile of the venue, and there are 10-15 restaurants within the same distance up and down the boardwalk as well. That said, there a bit of distance between them and the hotel for folks that are disabled or with mobility concerns, and that’s something we want to help with. There are three food places inside the hotel itself and grubhub, Uber eats, and others deliver to the hotel. There are two hotels next to the Showboat and the Hard Rock Cafe should be fully open by the time we run our event. So, there is a lot of options here. We are happy to entertain the idea a communal meal for folks that would like to do one.
Ericka: Rumors are that sales have been struggling after the initial push. Why do you think this is? Is there any chance the convention won’t run due to low sales? Will you run again next year? ?
Josh: Well, sales have been steady, but never huge. This is understandable. This is a first year convention, in a new location, being run by a company that hasn’t done this before. We’ve been connecting with experts, mentors, and supporters throughout the process of building this event and we have learned a lot that makes us confident we are going to have an amazing convention. Our initial estimates were high, but it’s a learning process on how to build this event into something wonderful that meets our goals. There a huge player base in the region and we haven’t tapped into that full market yet.
Our deal with the hotel basically ensures that the event will run no matter what. We’ve met some of our minimum sales targets. But, we have a ton of space for more people and would love to have more folks buy into the convention. The hotel is huge, cool, and we have some awesome events planned that people will love.
We’d like to run this event again next year, and for a long time going forward, if we can get people to see how we are doing things differently and why. We’ve made a big investment into HLG con. I’d love to see that pay off by having a positive impact on people and the industry.
Ericka: How has it been working with so many high profile, blockbuster LARP running companies?
Josh: Great, honestly. It’s not always easy working with diverse teams with different ways of doing things, but this group has done an awesome job of finding ways to collaborate and build with one another. There have continued to be advances and setbacks in the community at large as well, which we rolled with and continued to communicate about constantly and effectively. I have particularly enjoyed working with Ryan Hart and Tara Clapper.
Ericka: Space for panels has been a concern; was this settled and, if so, how will you offer panels and workshops at HLG Con?
Josh: Oh yes, that was an initial concern because there wasn’t a lot of enclosed spaces that worked well for panels in our initial layout arrangement. After talking to the hotel and working out logistics for the various events we realized we had 3-5 spaces that would be great for workshops and panels. We are having quite a few throughout the weekend, including a writing workshop, a few live podcast recordings, and panels from Contessa and others. I’m looking forward to our Guest of honor panel most.
Ericka: If there is one major takeaway you’d want to give the greater gaming world about this convention, what would it be?
Josh: You can do safety, community, and be conscious of people in a positive way and make it work financially. We might not be GenCon, or Origins, but we are setting ourselves a foundation to do better constantly. And, we can have fun and work together while doing it.
(More information about HLG con and tickets can be purchased here: https://hlgcon.com/. Pandaemonium ticket sales end on September 20th so characters can be finalized and factions filled, but other tickets are on sale until the day of the con. I hope to see many of you there!)