GameOn Expo 2023: Finding New Ways to Upgrade the Original

For anyone who plays video games, you might recall how some have a type of ‘upgrade’ system; where you can take lesser items or equipment and convert them into something greater. Or even in the case of some titles the whole thing gets “enhanced” or “remade”, which is essentially the entire game getting upgraded through sound, graphics, mechanics, something to make the original even more epic. Now, keeping that in mind, of all the conventions currently held in the Downtown Phoenix area at the convention center, if you asked someone which would be the best for video games/gamers, they would probably say hands-down that it’s GameOn Expo. This year saw the convention getting a major upgrade, even announcing its plans for the following year as it started the current one; but more on that further into this article.

The con has only been around since 2015, the first couple of years originally in the Mesa Convention Center before the growing attendance warranted moving to Phoenix in 2017. Held in the Convention Center South building since then (with exception to 2020-21 in which it was cancelled due to the pandemic), this convention has seen a massive growth in all it encompasses; including everything you would expect from a great event: video games, role-playing/tabletop games, artwork, collectibles of all types and rarities, panels covering a wide range of topics, celebrity guests/voice actors, epic tournaments (some with amazing prizes and trophies), and of course tons of cosplay seen from recognized guests, non-profit organizations, and attendees alike. When the convention returned after the pandemic in 2022, it actually saw a 50 percent increase in attendance from 2019, a strong indicator that the convention had no plans of slowing down in its growth.

This year contained even more upgrades than the previous year, utilizing the convention center space to great effect and efficiency with everything that was crammed inside it. The number of celebrities alone that attended the event was insane; legendary greats such as Bruce Thomas (Master Chief), Christopher Judge (Kratos), Robbie Daymond (Tuxedo Mask), Kyle Hebert (Ryu, Gohan), Nolan North (Nathan Drake), and at least 11 others who have covered some epic roles in acting and/or voice acting.

With so many guests there’s always the possibility that some might not be able to attend last-minute due to scheduling conflicts, but the convention had this covered! Two more epic voice actors (Brittney Karbowski – Black Star/Wendy Marvell and Adam McArthur – Yuji Itadori) were literally announced during the convention to stand in for two others who had to cancel and added to the roster of amazing talent ready to greet attendees seamlessly.

The arcade also saw an expansion this year compared to the previous one; aside from the various pinball tables and classic arcade cabinets (some of which were for sale at the event), this year also contained various imported arcade games like ‘Pump It Up: 2023 Edition’ and ‘Dance Dance Revolution: Ace 20th Anniversary Edition’, all of which were well maintained and saw a constant stream of attendees playing them over the entire weekend.

In between the arcade, the tournament/retro console gaming area, and the virtual reality gaming space (as previously mentioned, there was a lot to experience within the confines of the convention center!), there were a number of awesome cosplayers and cosplay groups also expanded on from the year previous, even bringing in some from outside the local community such as Dan Cattell Art (famous for his pixelated optical illusion costumes, some of which you’ve probably seen in many a YouTube or TikTok video).

Guests aside, there were also a ton of amazing and creative cosplays from attendees over the weekend from all eras, genres, and walks of life. Regardless of age, it was refreshing to see so many people in one space showing their love of so many fandoms.

This was also reflected in the number of panels held during the convention, which varied from game shows like “Guess The Video Game Music” and “Nintendo Trivia”, to informational ones about 3D printing/modeling and techniques for improving streaming/streaming hardware, to epic celebrity guest panels from awesome games and anime such as “God of War: Ragnarök” (Christopher Judge and Ryan Hurst) and “Re:Zero” (Sean Chiplock, Ryan Bartley, and Brianna Knickerbocker). Combined with Altered Combat laser tag and the Cosplay Contest, there was no shortage of things to see and interact with at any time during the event. Given the record attendance over the weekend, you’d think that the organizers would be due for another upgrade…and upgrading they are!

rom the very beginning of the event, it was clearly posted in the main entry all weekend long advertising NEXT year’s GameOn Expo; being held on March 15th to the 17th at the Phoenix Convention Center North building, and already announcing epic guests like Roger Craig Smith (Sonic the Hedgehog) and Patricia Summersett (Princess Zelda). Even though it’s such a short time away (just under 7 months from now!), it’ll be exciting to see just how many other ways the convention will ‘upgrade’ in the coming year.

Until next time, ja ne tomodachi!

-Last Samurai