I attended my first online game convention – A look at Renegade Con: Virtual

This past weekend I took some time to take part in Renegade Con: Virtual an online tabletop game convention put on by Renegade Game Studios.

I had my doubts about how much an online game con could feel like a real con but was very impressed with my experience with this virtual con last weekend. It really did have some of the feel of a physical game convention.

What exactly is Renegade Con: Virtual, an online game convention?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic that is still rampant the world over, pretty much all physical game conventions have been cancelled for 2020. In their place, a number of companies are launching and hosting digital only online game conventions. This past weekend there was one of these new online cons: Renegade Con Virtual. It was put on by Renegade Game Studios and ran last Friday to Sunday, June 5th to 7th.

Renegade Con online included pretty much all of the things you would expect at a normal, physical, game convention. There was an online store, which also had some con exclusive promos, multiple game tournaments, demo rooms where you could try Renegade Game Studio games, interviews, workshops, panels, and even a lobby where gamers could meet up and chat. 

This was a 100% free event (assuming you didn’t do any online game shopping). You could sign up for tickets for the con and for various events. Despite the fact that I didn’t really see a good reason to do so for my sake, I “bought” a ticket so that Renegade would know I attended, get my name and include me on emails about the event. Getting tickets was also required to participate in tournaments and having a ticket guaranteed you a spot in online games. Without a ticket, you had to go to a virtual waiting room and “get in line” for an open table. 

Discord and streaming services replaced the convention hall for Renegade Con: Virtual

The main hub for Renegade Game Studios‘ online con was a private Discord server. It was used to organize pretty much everything. It was a place for attendees to gather, for Renegade to get the word out about upcoming events, a place to watch for news, and it was where you found the waiting rooms for the demos and scheduled events.  

There were rooms set up in Discord for each of Renegade’s main game lines, both board games and RPGs. There were rooms for each of the demo games, rooms where various RPGs were being run, a room for people with questions, and more. 

I was surprised to see how many people were using these rooms to just hang out and chat. I stopped in the North Sea Series chat room and found a bunch of people excitedly talking about what’s next for this series, discussing their favourite games in the series and more. 

Personally, at the start of the convention, I created a new Tabletop Bellhop Discord account, logged in and then just left Discord open all weekend. I would jump in there after panels or interviews ended and see what was going on. I also used it to join in and watch an RPG session and interact with other Renegade fans. Despite being digital this very much felt like hanging out with fellow gamers at a real game convention.

For the various workshops, interviews, and panels, Renegade Game Studios made full use of social media and their various streaming services. All of the workshops were done on their Twitch channel. The panels and interviews were shown live on YouTube. I think I saw interviews on both streaming services. I know Facebook Live was used for some things as well. I didn’t personally watch anything there, but I think it was just being used to share the other streams to the Facebook audience. 

For each of these streams, they had someone behind the scenes that was moderating the chatroom and feeding snippets and questions from the chat to the various moderators and interviewers. This worked well because the hosts and guests weren’t getting distracted by the chatroom and could stick to whatever topic they were covering.

There were a number of board game demos available at Renegade Con: Virtual

One of my favourite things to do at a game convention is to try out new games.  I love getting to try before I buy and a number of my game purchases over the years have been due to the fact that I got to try out a game at a con. I was very pleased to see that Renegade Con did indeed offer game demos.

During the con, they were doing demos of Warps Edge, Succulent, Space Battle Lunchtime and the Search for Planet X. Each of these had one or more demo rooms on Discord and each had a waiting room. You had the option to buy a free ticket for a time slot, which guaranteed you a spot at the game of your choice or you could go to any of the waiting rooms and ask for a spot in a specific game. 

Once you got into the game you had access to a private table using Tabletopia. Tabletopia is one of many virtual tabletop systems out there and one that happens to be free to use and only requires you to have a web browser to do it.

I learned over the course of the convention that Renegade had partnered with Tabletopia in order to make this convention happen. The demo games being run at this online convention were created specifically for the convention and will be available to play at all future online cons that Renegade takes part in this year, including Gen Con Online and the newly announced BGG/Dice Tower online convention. 

I am sad to say that I personally did not actually take part in any of the demos. I did hear from other people in various chatrooms that the waiting room system worked very well and that long wait times were not a problem. I did hear many people complain about the learning curve on Tabletopia, which Renegade addressed by releasing a number of tutorial videos on YouTube. 

You could also play a variety of Renegade Game Studios RPGs at this online game convention

In addition to being able to try out some of their board games, Renegade Game Studios also had a number of games masters on hand running some of their most popular RPGs. 

These RPG events also featured waiting rooms on Discord as well as a public chat room for each game, but the actual RPGs sessions were run over Roll20. Now unlike the board game events, this did require you to download and install Roll20, but again Renegade produced a number of tutorial videos that walked you through getting things going. 

By using Roll20, Renegade was able to run their games using official rules modules that included maps, character sheets, dice rollers, etc. designed specifically for their games. 

The games on offer included Altered Carbon, Icarus, Kids on Bikes, Junior Braves, Outbreak Undead, Overlight, Teens in Space, Wardlings and the very hot and just announced Kids on Brooms.

Again I’m sad to say I didn’t actually play in any online RPG sessions at the con, but I did jump into an Altered Carbon to watch for a bit and was very impressed by what I saw. 

Renegade Con: Virtual featured a number of workshops, panels and interviews

One of the things I love to do at a game convention, in addition to trying new games, is to sit in on various panels and interviews featuring gaming industry professionals. There was no shortage of this at Renegade Con Online.

I spent most of the weekend at my computer working and while I was working I had both YouTube and Twitch open to the Renegade Game Studios streams as I took part in a large number of workshops, panels and interviews.

First off I have to say that I was very impressed by the quality of all of these online events. Both the quality of the presentation, the technical side of things, as well as the quality of the topics and speakers involved. There was an amazingly diverse and talented group of people talking at this convention.

What I didn’t like about these panels and workshops was that many of these overlapped time slots. While that did give me the feeling of being at a real convention because I could not do all the things I wanted to do, I personally found it frustrating to be in a panel listening to Banana Chan talk about writing big adventures and getting a notice that the panel on getting your kids into gaming was starting. On a positive note all of these interviews, panels, and workshops will be be released on video on demand by Renegade Games in the coming weeks, so I can catch up on anything I missed.

For me, one of the most enjoyable panels of the entire convention was Concept to Cardboard moderated by Mandi Hutchinson featuring Kwanchai Moriya, The Mico, Eric HIbbeler, and Anita Osburn. This panel discussed creating art in board games. What was most shocking to me about this panel was that two of the artists, including The Mico, aren’t actually board gamers in any way. I mention The Mico specifically here because he was the highlight of the panel. If you ever get a chance to see an interview with this amazing artist I strongly recommend it, he was both hilarious and informative.

Another excellent panel I attended was for Renegade’s Power Rangers Heroes of the Grid. This panel spent a lot of time talking about what went into making the game and where it’s going, including a lot of talk about what it was like working with both Saban and Hasbro. Now, I don’t even own this game but the huge amount of sausage making information was very fascinating. This was hosted by Teri Litorko and featured Jonathan Ying, Dan Bojanowski, and graphic designer Jeanne Torres.

I also watched an interview with Jonathan Gilmore and checked out a fantastic panel about designing unique RPGs with Victoria Rogers, Spenser Starke, Doug Levandowski, Clio Yun-Su Davis, and Christopher De La Rosa. I spent some time watching Teri Litorco paint The Red Ranger in one of many painting workshops she ran over the weekend. There were so many amazing panels and discussions to take part in.

The most useful panel to me personally was Behind the Scenes of Game Development. This was hosted by Sara Erikson and featured Dan Bojanowski, Matt Riddle, Ben Pinchback, Paul Dennen, and Shem Phillips. This panel really opened my eyes to the line between game designing and development and it was fascinating to see what the Renegade Game Studios process is for getting a game from pitch to the table.

My final thoughts on my first online game convention

When I first started seeing a number of online game conventions being announced, after the cancellations of physical conventions started to happen, I was extremely skeptical. I didn’t think that an online convention would really work. Sure people can play some games online but I can and do already do that now all the time. I didn’t think an online con would feel like a real con and I’m very happy to say that Renegades‘ online convention last weekend proved me wrong.

I had a great time virtually attending all kinds of events this past weekend at Renegade Con: Virtual.  I had fun checking out the various games, hitting up some panels, shopping in the online store (until I learned they didn’t ship to Canada), chatting with fellow gamers, and more.

What surprised me the most during my time at Renegade Con, was running into con friends. I hadn’t expected to bump into someone I know in a chatroom while watching a panel, and that happened a couple of times this past weekend. I ended up meeting a couple of old friends from online and even a con friend who I had met at Origins a few years back. Most of these interactions were just us recognizing each other and saying hi, but I also ended up chatting with one friend during a panel only to end up continuing the interaction on Facebook after the con ended for the day. That was a total surprise. 

At this point, I can say that I’m a total convert. I have now attended and had a great time at an online game convention. What this means for me is that I am now really looking forward to taking part in future online gaming conventions. 

I know they won’t hold a candle to a physical con, and yes I am going to miss getting away from my mom and the kids for a couple of weeks this year, but I am really looking forward to sitting in on some more panels, attending workshops and maybe this time actually playing some online con games.

For everyone else, let my experience here be a learning experience for you. Don’t discredit these online game conventions. Take the time to check them out and take part. While they aren’t ever going to replace the real thing, it’s surprising how much of an actual con experience you can have at a virtual gaming convention.

Renegade Con: Virtual by the numbers

Since writing this article Renegade Game Studios has done a con wrap up post of their own where they shared some numbers I think are worth repeating here.

  • Over 2000 attendees (I think this number may be way higher as it’s only counting people who bought tickets, you didn’t actually need to have bought a ticket to take part in many of the events).
  • 14 panels and interviews.
  • 24 hours of game demos.
  • 12 interactive workshops.
  • 24 celebrity guests running RPGs.
  • 5 tournament winners.

I also talked about Renegade Con: Virtual during our live show

During the final segment of our last podcast recording, I talked all about my experiences at Renegade Con: Virtual. Check it out:

Have you attended any virtual game conventions? What did you think? Did you have as good a time as I did at Renegade Con Virtual? Let us know in the comments.

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