QuakeCon, which has spent more than two decades in the Dallas area, is a big deal. It attracts thousands of attendees every year, and in 2017, it is the home of a video game tournament with a $1 million prize pool.
Not bad for a convention that started with a group of less than 50 people in 1996. What began as a small gathering for fans of the first-person action game Quake (created by Dallas-area game developer Id Software) has grown into one of the country's biggest gatherings of video game fans.
While anyone can come to the convention -- for free -- to play games, watch panels, enjoy board games and more, the most notable draw has always been the BYOC: the "Bring Your Own Computer" area. More than 2,000 gamers camp out for what is essentially a four-day video game party.
Walking through the aisles can make for a fascinating people-watching experience. You'll meet the players that come to QuakeCon with their team of serious, competitive friends who play games like Overwatch and Playerunknown's Battlegrounds. You'll meet the people who have spent weeks if not months creating crazy computer cases to show off in a public venue. You'll see the people who are there just to watch Star Wars: The Phantom Menace on a projector while people nearby play Super Smash Bros. on an old TV. And as of recent years, some QuakeCon attendees are just as interested in playing tabletop board and card games as they are the latest first-person shooter.
In short, it's one of the weirdest, yet coolest four-day parties you can attend, provided you really love games.
This year, thousands of hopeful BYOC attendees were turned away, and some of the people who did manage to get tickets attempted to resell them for as much as $1,000. That's a problem, says Id Software's Tim Willits, and it's one they hope to start solving as soon as next year.
Part of that solution involves a change in venue. While QuakeCon was held at the Hilton Anatole from 2010 to 2016, this year marked the event's return to the Gaylord Texan Resort Hotel and Convention Center in Grapevine. QuakeCon has been here before, but not since 2009.
Unfortunately, the BYOC is a bit smaller this year, but Willits says that won't be the case in the future. "We are coming back to Gaylord next year, and the year after, and I think the year after that, and we're going to have even more space. So we're going to expand the BYOC. ... We'll have the entire convention center, so we're going to try to almost double [BYOC seating]." That could allow for a couple thousand more attendees, making an already huge event even bigger.
Granted, that size could bring some additional infrastructure challenges. About an hour after our interview with Willits on Thursday, he could be found running around the BYOC because the internet in the entire convention center had gone down. And when you have thousands of connected gaming computers gathered together, reliable internet and power are essential. (As of this writing, the source of the outage is unconfirmed.)
As far as the venue, though, Willits and his team seem happy with where they've landed. "We really like this place, and we're excited to be back at the Gaylord," he says.
Willits also stresses that you don't need to camp out in the BYOC to enjoy QuakeCon. The folks at Id Software and their parent company, Bethesda, have made an effort to give people who don't have their own PCs something to do at the show. There is a cosplay competition for the first time ever, for example, as well as public computers that anyone can use to play games like Doom. Attendees can also get their hands on some big unreleased games, Wolfenstein II, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider and The Evil Within 2, as well as immerse themselves in virtual-reality demos for upcoming games like Skyrim VR.
But what about Quake, the game that started all of this frenzy in the first place?
This year is actually a big one for Quake, because the newest game in the series, Quake Champions, has just launched in Early Access. What that means is that while the game isn't actually finished, you can buy it and play it with other people, giving fans a brand new Quake game to play for the first time since Quake 4 was released in 2005.
Id Software and Bethesda are making a big push for Champions to be a hit in the fast-growing esports scene. You could argue (and Willits has) that the original Quake was one of the first major competitive games that could be classified as an esport, and the hope is that Champions continues that legacy. An impressive stage sits front-and-center in the QuakeCon exhibit hall, encouraging even the most casual attendees to sit and watch at least a little bit of high-level competitive play.
"Once you fall in love with Quake, you'll love Quake forever," Willits says.
Frankly, QuakeCon's expo hall doesn't offer as much to do as some other gaming events in the country, like PAX, but its zero-dollar price tag is hard to beat, making it a worthwhile trip for many. So far, the Gaylord seems like a good home for the storied gaming convention, and if QuakeCon can really expand as much as its organizers hope, then the best may be yet to come.
QuakeCon's exhibit hall is open until 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26 at the Gaylord Texan Convention Center, 1501 Gaylord Trail, Grapevine. Registration is free.