Next Level VGC: The GTA’s Up-and-Coming Con!
Last weekend I had the privilege of attending the Next Level Video Game Convention in Mississauga, Ontario. Next Level is one of Canada’s newest gaming conventions, and while it is certainly on the smaller end of the scale, I believe the staff at Next Level used this to their utmost advantage. Instead of being packed into a convention hall like sardines, I had actual room to move around at Next Level VGC and never felt rushed or in someone else’s way. This combined with the wide array of features offered to make for a refreshing experience.
This also allowed for a more intimate setting for one of my favourite parts of my time at Next Level: Meeting with game developers. I love a good indie game, so having the opportunity to chat with indie developers and see their projects (both finished and in-progress) was an absolute pleasure. You can feel the passion they have for their game immediately, and it was quite enjoyable to learn the different processes and inspirations behind each individual game. I also may or may not have gotten a little too into one game and let my competitive side out, but that is a story for a different day.
Radio Violence by indie developer No Sleep Software is a fast-paced party game that plays like a real-time version of Risk. Learn more at nosleep.io
Interspersed with the developer booths were the usual vendors you might expect to see at any other gaming convention. From retro games and geeky accessories to cosplay tailors and replica swords, Next Level VGC offered a fitting microcosm of the vendor options many of us are accustomed to seeing at conventions. While I usually steer clear of the vendor aisles whenever possible (I seriously cannot fit any more geek merch into my home), I was glad I took the time to peruse the wares of the vendors at Next Level, some of whom were offering very neat and unique goods.
Just beyond the vendors was a huge table that was lined with televisions and game consoles ranging from Duck Hunt to Smash Bros Melee. Behind that table was a slew of arcade games that seriously brought out my nostalgic side. All of these games were provided by Game On Entertainment Services (GOES), who did a fantastic job and also cater parties in the GTA! Check them out here. While I couldn’t resist a little Smash Bros. action, my one regret of the day is not getting in a game or two on the Street Fighter II arcade machine. I might have to boot up the old SNES later, but I digress.
Got to kick it old-school with some Super Smash Bros. Melee on an old CRT screen thanks to GOES.
After enjoying my fill of nostalgia and posing for some epically nerdy photo booth pictures with my girlfriend (which was hosted for FREE by Next Level VGC, a very nice touch), I made my way to the Rocket League free play section as I had missed the $5,000 drop-in tournaments for both Rocket League and Fortnite. The freeplay setups for both RL and Fortnite were set up well and organized nicely. The staff at these stations, and in fact throughout the entire event, were nothing but spectacular. They were always friendly, very knowledgeable and approachable and each one seemed to be genuinely enjoying what they were doing. My hat goes off to every member of the Next Level VGC staff.
The Rocket League Freeplay zone that I had to be physically dragged away from.
Once my girlfriend had pried me away from Rocket League (is anything more outrageously entertaining than car soccer?) my eyes fell upon a high-production stage with teams competing in Gears of War and Black Ops tournaments. Complete with caster desk, this was a scene straight out of one of hundreds of professional e-sports twitch streams I have watched.
I can only compare watching e-sports in person for the first time to the difference between watching an NHL game live for the first time. The atmosphere amplifies the experience tenfold and I found it very entertaining to watch more of the player reactions and interactions than just what we are limited to on-camera. Both Gears and Black Ops tournaments also boasted $20,000 prize pools!
The E-sports tournament stage at Next Level had a very impressive production quality. Congrats to the winners of the $20,000 prize pools!
Alright, here it is. I have saved the best for last. The VR experience hosted by Levelup Reality was hands down the best part of my life until now. Ok, well that might be an exaggeration, but not by much. As someone who reviews games, you might think it odd to know that until Next Level VGC, I had not even donned a VR headset once before in my life. The 2hr+ wait times at cons and the cost of the individual setup had succeeded in preventing me from trying out this fantastic technology.
After a 10 minute wait in line at Next Level (only 10 minutes – I KNOW) I had the chance to play beat sabre (I loved DDR/Guitar Hero/Rock Band) and I fell in love instantly. The staff did a great job making sure I was safe and comfortable (I lost myself in the room a couple times and they returned me to centre). The HTC Vive system that they used surprised me at how intuitive its controls were and how quickly your eyes and body adapted to the VR experience. I also felt like I was given plenty of time to enjoy the game and really get a good feel for the system, where I know I have seen people shuffled off very quickly at other venues. Just another major plus for Next Level VGC and the environment it created. And thanks to Levelup Reality and the HTC VIVE, I know what’s going on my holiday wishlist!
Bonus Footage: Actual real-life me looking like a fool and having the time of my life with the Levelup Reality VR setup.
All in all, I had a simply great day. My girlfriend and I both agreed that we genuinely preferred the atmosphere and approach that Next Level took to a gaming convention than the likes of Fan Expo or Comic Con. As someone who would rather spend 30 minutes chatting with a game developer than in line to spend $50+ on a celebrity’s autograph, Next Level VGC was right up my alley. If you are someone who shows up to a convention to learn or see something new and immerse yourself in geek culture rather than use it as a shopping mall, you too will find great value in Next Level.
I want to extend my sincerest thanks to the team at Next Level for their invitation and their hospitality and I would like to congratulate them on a wonderful event. Can’t wait to see you all next year!
For more information on the Next Level Video Game Convention and how you can get involved as a gamer, vendor or educator, visit: https://www.nextlevelvgc.com/.
PS. My apologies to anyone who was at Next Level that I failed to mention, I was having so much fun I actually ended up running out of time and not getting to experience everything. There’s always next year!