Other than the pre-con jitters of devs unsure what to expect or how things would ultimately go, you wouldn’t know that ExileCon 2019 was Path of Exile’s first fan convention. The one-day event came off like a seasoned endeavor, bursting with announcements, panels, streams, interviews, hands-on gameplay stations, and even a custom-tailored interactive ExileCon trading card game for players to get hooked on. There was also a mini museum of art to peruse, autographs to acquire, swag to be had, and a merch shop full of goodies players could get.
And that’s how you make announcements!
From a fan perspective, will all the travel and expense be worth it? That’s ultimately an individual decision, but I feel that Grinding Gear Games was anything but stingy on its plans for fans. ExileCon was a production — and a production done well at that. It all started with an appearance from Einhar to get the crowd excited. As one of my favorite characters — and from my favorite league — I loved getting to see Einhar in the flesh. He definitely brought some fun to the start of the con. Amusingly, it seemed as if many fans weren’t quite sure what to make of things when this hunter hit the stage, but they quickly got in the PoE spirit. (No audience was harmed in the filming of the intro, despite the nasty look of that crossbow.)
And then the reveals started and the ruckus of the crowd continued to build. Players already knew that a multitude of announcements were going to happen, from 3.9 and its league to the mega-expansion 4.0 (which we now know is Path of Exile 2). But GGG didn’t stop there. After dumping a load of info on the audience, complete with trailers and footage, devs also slipped in a humorous little blurb about the upcoming mobile version of the game in what first appeared to be a prank but turned out to be real. Next up, almost like an afterthought, came the Mac version announcement. Many more panels and interviews followed the keynote, keeping inquiring minds busy learning tidbits of all the new PoE goodness coming.
I have to say, in an environment where mobile announcements don’t seem to go especially well lately, Grinding Gear Games pulled it off perfectly. Give the fans a ton of what they want, then also offer them another way to play. It was a well-executed segue. If this isn’t an example of the studio watching, learning, and listening to fans, I don’t know what is.
Crazy for cards
I am going to say one of the things that was both most unexpected and most impressive was the Path of Exile card game that GGG set up for the attendees. I learned that Carl de Visser created the game, through he was unable to be there in person to see the fruits of all his labors. Congratulations on a stellar idea and thank you so much for your work!
What happened was all attendees received the beginning of a deck, a few cards and a sleeve. Devs were then dressed in T-shirts that denoted them as a specific mob, with everything from low-level zombies to guardians and ultimately Wilson as the Shaper. Players used the cards to battle the dev mobs, with equipment losing durability but gaining a random new card with each defeat. There was a crafting station to upgrade items if you had the right currency cards. Everywhere you went there were crowds congregated to trade, buy, and sell cards with each other. The con Discord even got its own trading channel. Players fought, traded, and worked their way up to the maps in the atlas until they could confront the Shaper. People were going nuts over the game, many ignoring everything else on display in their pursuit of wins. And Wilson said was surprised at how fast players were moving through the difficulty levels on their way to face him.
I personally only had the chance to battle a few mobs (I was there chiefly to work, after all!), but I really enjoyed the game. I might have a larger collection of cards now thanks to the generosity of others, and I’ve taken some pictures of various dev mob shirts that I hope to make into cards as well and make a more complete game. (Apparently asking to take pictures of the chests of everyone I met wasn’t nearly as weird as awkward as it should’ve been because they’d been asked the same all day!)
I did ask GGG if the studio would consider using the graphics to make the mob cards and sell them as post-con loots. I am sure that I am not the only one who wants them! I totally want to make a more playable version of the game to share with friends and family.
Wandering Wraeclast for real
If ever there was a time I could wander Wraeclast for myself (minus dodging blood-thirsty mobs), this was it. The ambiance of the event was suitably dark like PoE, with a reaper to greet fans in front of a tree filled with hanging severed heads. Twisted trees sprouted elsewhere as well, and tangled roots held potential PoE 2 players back until it was their turn. The atlas stood proud, waiting for players to enter maps. And then there was the cosplay.
Einhar wasn’t the only one dressed for the occasion. While a large selection of fans were sporting Path of Exile shirts or rare hoodies from an old supporter pack, some fans went even further and did the game proud with wonderful cosplay. Thanks to each and every one of them for their work and for bringing more Wraeclast to life for the rest of us.
A successful day
One of my very favorite parts of attending new cons is watching the reactions of the devs from just before the event starts until everything wraps up. Understandably, they start off nervous. But I already knew something they don’t yet: They were about to be rock stars. When fans get to meet up with their game-creator idols, there is excitement, as we’ve seen from so many other MMO conventions for other games and studios, from Square Enix and Digital Extremes to CCP Games and even Blizzard. Wilson remarked a bit incredulously how he had trouble moving from one room to the next to meet with us because he kept being stopped and asked for pictures and autographs. Devs who never thought they could ever be on stage felt so welcomed and appreciated that they joined in and shared their knowledge to plenty of cheers. At the end of the day, the line for Wilson’s and Technical Director Jonathan Rogers’ autographs kept growing; every time I thought I saw the end, more popped in. Welcome to the limelight of fan adoration!
Toward the end of con, I asked a few of the developers how they felt it went. The consensus was it was really fun. Many were up for a repeat. Let’s hope they do do it again! I’d better start saving now.