This year, I got the chance to visit Insomnia 62 Gaming Festival at Birmingham’s NEC. I expected a run-of-the-mill convention, but turns out I tumbled down the rabbit hole into a nerd’s cornucopia of video games and geek culture.
Let’s take it from the top, shall we? You get some clearly labelled zones surrounding key areas of geek fandom - from cosplay to tabletop games, indie to retro, VR to CubeCraft, and all the way to eSports.
Being a retro variety streamer myself (sneaky Emotion Engineer PlayStation 2 twitch channel plug - I want more friends), I naturally spent a lot of my first hour in the retro zone. Boy oh boy, it didn’t disappoint. Alongside managing to grab myself a copy of Herdy Gerdy (if you don’t know what that is, you really should), I jumped on plenty of old school games from Super Monkey Ball to Contra.
Just next door to this zone, I stumbled upon an area dedicated to cosplay. My closest interaction to this dedicated expression of sheer fandom for your favourite characters through tirelessly recreating their outfits has been limited to the occasional bout of fancy dress at the local EmCon and seeing the more mind-blowing cosplay on Comic-Con live streams.
Well, lucky for you, Insomnia don’t do things by halves - dedicating a full section of their show to this art form, bringing people out with some of the best cosplay I’ve ever seen and providing tutorials for anyone who wishes to take part.
This included a terrifyingly faithful recreation of Freddy Fazbear, which was quick to give me nightmare flashbacks of the first time I played five nights!
Next up, the Indie zone - a corridor of creativity. It’s all fine and good having giant Nintendo & Sony stands, but indie creators are the backbone of the gaming world. The level of variety, quality and (most importantly) creativity was nothing short of awe-inspiring. I particularly loved the fast-paced manic action of dungeon fighter Deflection Dimension.
But then, everything changed…
That is when I descended the stairs into a darkened area, illuminated only by a vast number of computer screens - the LAN hall has a strange energy to it. Why strange? Because initial perceptions are deceiving. At first, you’d be right in thinking this is nothing but a big hall of people playing competitive multiplayer games against one another in near-silence - except for the occasional expletive-filled outburst if a plan goes wrong.
But then you explore - watch the games unfold, listen to the quiet team tactics shared between players and see the moments shared between these groups, it feels weird to become engaged and enthralled by this quietly potent atmosphere.
However, the intensity was yet to be turned up to its maximum. I had never experienced an eSports tournament in real-life, with my experience being (much like most of the world’s video game community) limited to Twitch streams. But yet, here I was - in a quiet section of the NEC, watching an Overwatch tournament in person and being transported back to the same level of excitement felt watching my first Nottingham Forest game at the age of 8.
Put simply, if you enjoy video games in any capacity, the competitive stage is an experience you absolutely need to have. The level of competitive talent makes for some incredible reaction plays and the unscripted drama that makes sports so good in the first place.
Also, a shout-out to the plenty more events that I didn’t get the chance to attend - a pro-wrestling show, Call of Duty World Championships, plenty more YouTuber meet & greets, and the world-famous pub quiz.
When all was said and done, I sat back down in my car with a smile on my face and a picture with Mario on my Instagram. It’s always fun to go to a convention, but it’s rare you attend one with a real personality. Insomnia is a convention with heart - a celebration of all things gamer geek that you really have to check out!
I am the Founder and Editor-in-chief of New Rising Media. You can follow me on Twitter @MrJasonEngland.