After last year’s in-person convention was canceled due to COVID-19, thousands of tabletop game enthusiasts return to downtown Indianapolis for Gen Con this week. Vendors hope pent-up demand from the past two years encourages purchases.
The halls bustle with attendees playing and purchasing games at what is called the largest tabletop game convention in North America.
Gen Con President David Hoppe said it’s been emotional for him and his team to be back in-person.
“We come here and we get so much energy out of pulling it off, having it go really well,” said Hoppe. “And to have not been able to do that last year, I mean, it was just hard. It was hard to get through the winter and try to fire up again – when things were still really uncertain.”
Last year, organizers moved the event to be entirely virtual. Fans were unable to physically touch and play games in-person that vendors were selling.
Renegade Game Studio President Scott Gaeta said this will be the only event his company attends this year. Prior to the pandemic it would have been seven or eight all over the world.
“Gen Con is kind of a fixture in our industry. It's kind of like one of those things where everybody gets together, whether you’re industry people or, you know, fans and gamers,” said Gaeta. “So the absence of it last year was very much felt by everybody.”
Gaeta said Thursday sales were similar to what they have been at past Gen Con conventions.
Hoppe said this year some new publishers are able to participate that haven’t in the past.
"Some of the bigger publishers chose not to come this year and that's given us an opportunity ... to allow some new smaller publishers and indie publishers in. And they've been real happy to be here," said Hoppe. “We hope we can accommodate them in future years."
At the same time, COVID-19 continues to put a strain on area hospitals. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports ICU beds at non-specialty hospitals within 12 miles of the convention were 64 percent occupied.
The event had almost 70,000 attendees in 2019, the last time it was held in person. This year’s event limits capacity to 50 percent.
Hoppe said his team has been working with the Marion County Health Department to take the necessary precautions.
“We're requiring masks and you can see compliance is 99.9 percent, if not 100,” he said. “We also did some surveying of our attendees and we are showing over 90 percent of our folks are vaccinated.”
Hoppe said there is still a virtual part of the convention. Local game stores are also hosting pop-up events. People who purchased badges for this year but chose not to come were able to roll them over to next year.
The four-day convention runs Sept. 16-19.