After pressing pause, Midwest Gaming Classic hits are played again
Brace yourself for perfectly blistered fingers and thumbs again because, after a hiatus of more than two years thanks to COVID, the Midwest Gaming Classic is pushing its annual gaming convention.
Starting Friday night and throughout the weekend at the Wisconsin Center, the trade show will once again fill the huge space with games on games as well as the players who love them. This year’s convention features over 250 coin-operated arcade and pinball games – including a few cabinets from a new American pinball game called “Legends of Valhalla” and a Godzilla Stern Pinball favorite – all in free play mode with no shifts required, over 200 console games, from iconic classics to new blockbusters and buried gems, a vinyl jukebox stuffed with iconic video game music, over 50 tabletop games, tournaments galore for all gaming brands, tons of vendors with all kinds of geeky heights on sale and even two Tesla cars that serve as their own arcades with games playing on their dashboards.
Basically, if you’re a fan of games – of all kinds – there’s a section in the Midwest Gaming Classic room waiting for you. (A full list of vendors, events, and game types on display is available on the event website.)
And yet, for co-founder Dan Loosen, the most exciting part of the Midwest Gaming Classic’s comeback isn’t one of the hundreds of games plugged into the walls, strapped to a controller, or battling on a board. It’s not even an afterparty performance by the band Kung Lao and the Scorpions, led by Kung Lao himself (or at least the performer who played it in the sequel to the fighting game “Mortal Kombat”).
It’s the return of those who actually press the boot up and play the games.
“The games are completely secondary to the rest of the show,” Loosen said. “My business partner Gary (Heil) refers to it more than anything else as a social trade fair. It’s a trade fair that shows you how to build a community and have a place where that community can come together.
This attitude makes even more sense when you consider the origins of the Midwest Gaming Classic: a notorious video game flop. In the late ’90s, Loosen and Heil got wind of the Atari Jaguar Festival, a traveling tribute to the most forgotten video game console that only had 50 games in its short run, was reduced in sales by little. nearly every other major console of the time and helped industry icon Atari stop making video game consoles forever. But despite their losing legacy, Loosen and Heil loved the console – and, best of all, found others online who shared their weird affection for Jaguar and wanted to hang out.
“In 1999 (the festival) was in Rochester, Minnesota. It was the first time Gary and I had gone on a trip together – and it was an eye opener to realize that we can love something that is niche and find people. “, recalled Loosen. “There were Atari Jaguars and stuff like that, but there was very little play. It was mostly about going and interacting with those communities in real life.
Two years later, Loosen and Heil offered to host the Atari Jaguar Festival in Milwaukee – the first year of what would turn and evolve into the Midwest Gaming Classic. And while the event has grown monumental – from less than 100 people in 2001 to over 15,000 for its last edition in 2019 – that attitude still fuels the show: it’s less about consoles and cabinets themselves – same as human communities that are formed around them. That’s why the convention has grown from a disappointing 90s console (64-bit though!) To dozens of video game consoles to board games and beyond.
“There is an arcade game called ‘Killer Queen’ which is very popular, and they have their global gathering on our show,” Loosen said. “There’s a hundred people coming for that – and some people might be like, ‘Oh, a hundred people, that’s really not a lot.’ But it’s not just the people who play, it’s seeing in this window of this world a new open and welcoming community.
“We’re trying to be the forum for that for all of these different communities – whether it’s video games or tabletop, arcade or pinball.”
The Midwest Gaming Classic continues to be added to this list every year. One group that Loosen particularly enjoys is the air hockey community, which has regularly brought several of the country’s top players to the show to show off their skills but also to teach their strategies and how people can start getting involved in competitions. This year’s edition will also extend its Dungeons & Dragons footprint and put more emphasis on its Magic the Gathering tournaments with impressive prizes with no entry fees. And all of this is on top of the large number of game collectors, sellers, developers and game fanatics in general all gathered under one roof.
With all of these bands and activity spanning thousands and thousands of square feet, this year’s Midwest Gaming Classic is both a far cry from its little Jaguar loving origins as well as the community spirit that fueled that first event. two decades ago.
“I never thought we would be twenty years old,” Loosen said. “It’s exciting and amazing, and I love that other people have pushed us to keep doing it.”
The Midwest Gaming Classic takes place at the Wisconsin Center on Friday, November 5 from 6 p.m. to midnight; Saturday November 6 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday, November 7 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more ticket information and a full list of expected events, vendors, and games, click here.