Waking up at 10 AM on a Saturday is never my idea of a good time. I’d just gotten into Austin, Texas, a mere 10 hours prior and my stomach was still full of lamb enchiladas from Kerbey Lane Cafe and my mind was reeling from the absurdity of watching Premium Rush at four in the morning. But due to botched travel plans, I was already a day late to Rooster Teeth Expo 2013 and had to rearrange a great deal of things for today. It looks like a full work day was ahead of me, so I loaded up my voice recorder, camera, iPad, and notebook and set out.
I stepped into the elevator at the Hilton Austin, the hotel that exists basically right on top of the Austin Convention Center where RTX is being held, and was immediately reminded of what I was doing in the street taco capitol of Texas: two fellows were already in there with their branded bags full of posters and shirts they were hoping to get signed. “Good luck,” I thought, knowing people like Rooster Teeth cofounders Burnie Burns and Gus Sorola would be insanely busy all day.
As soon as I left the air conditioned safety of the Hilton lobby, I immediately regretted wearing pants. Texas, if you don’t know, is hot. Like, “Hey, who left the oven on, open, and full of the devil” kind of hot. For the record, though, it’s not an oven; it’s a giant ball of fire hanging overhead in mild humidity working in concert with thousands upon thousands of people in various states of drunkenness, sweatiness, and general forgot-to-wear-deoderantness all breathing through their mouths. I can still smell the pizza.
The high for the day was 102 degrees, but it seems like the day also wanted to get a head start. I walked down to 2nd and then headed west, knowing there was a mighty fine crêpe place somewhere over on San Jacinto, but it was packed. Looked like everyone else had the same idea as me, so I kept walking and went into the mini mart next door. Loaded up on water, beef jerky, and peanuts, it looked like another traditional press convention diet. My heart swells with regret.
Step one of attending any convention: get your badge. I burst through the doors, and as my vision fades from black to vibrant fluorescence as my sun blindness wanes, my entire field of view is awash with people. Last year was the second year of RTX and my first year covering it and it pulled in a respectable 5,000 people. This year, that number has doubled to 10,000, and they’re aiming for 15,000 next year. It’s still quite small in comparison to the 70,000 of the PAXes and 40,000 of E3, but you wouldn’t know it from the fervor surrounding me. I wade through the masses over to Hall 5, grab my badge, and head over to the show floor.
There, it’s a cacophony of nonsense. There’s a parked bus, branded for the monthly subscription delivery service Loot Crate, and a MakerBot cranking out Companion Cubes. A fellow dressed as Sora from Kingdom Hearts is playing and super tuned into Shadow Warrior in the Devolver Digital floor space (Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number and Luftrausers are also there). Just across the way is Dave Lang of Iron Galaxy Studios yelling something about Divekick and the legality of holding cash games here. And then there was a guy cosplaying as Slender Man who had mastered the move of standing behind people and not saying a god damn thing. Applause and middle fingers to you, sir.
There’s a nice show of indies, though, as Austin-local Minicore Studios is there with a new build of Laika Believes, a favorite of mine from when I went to SXSW earlier this year. A two-man studio called Bluish-Green Productions somehow wandered in all the way from Toronto to show off “tower defense redefined” in their debut game Orbit. Night Light Interactive’s Kickstarted game Whispering Willows from March made a rather fine showing as people came and went in their ghostly adventure game. And then every once in a while you’d hear screams of joy and fear come from The Behemoth booth as people played BattleBlock Theater or the main stage as the Achievement Hunter guys demoed Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag‘s multiplayer.
My pocket, though, is rumbling like an N64 controller. I pull it out and silence the alarm. I was half an hour out from my interview with former Xbox Live Director of Enforcement Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse, so I head upstairs to find the media green room and prepare. Sort of. Find it, I do, but enter I do not. It is full of people sitting, standing, talking, and recording things. I back out the way you would back out of a room full of Clickers and instead opt for the balcony just across the hall.
Opening the door incurs a single thought in my head: “this will be a theme of the day.” Heat hits me like an open oven and my back immediately starts with the sweat-itches. I angle for a metal chair (come on, ACC, what are you thinking) in the shade, sit down, and pull out my notebook. I’ve got questions that I want to refine and research before my interview, but time seems to go from a trot to a sprint when you actually need it on your side and before I know it, I’m talking to Toulouse himself.
He is, of course, an exceedingly amiable man. If you’ve never seen him speak on TV or perform at w00tstock or pal around with the Giant Bomb crew during E3, then just know that he’s friendly, knowledgeable, and just generally cool. He’s also quite talkative, which is always great when you’re conducting an interview. We chatted for about half an hour about RTX becoming “PAX South,” policy development in the next generation, and so much more. (Expect it to hit soon.) But our time is up and he has to head out to another interview, and I have to prepare for another one.
Sitting back down outside my own self-crafted metal-chair hell after grabbing water and granola bars from the media room, I opened my notebook to the next page. It was full of talking points about eSports: traditional games press’ relationship to it, mainstream growth issues, and so on and so on. I’m going over these topics and how they can expand and branch when I get a text. “My autograph signing went super long.” An audible (par for the course when it comes to this sort of thing) was now sending me down from the fourth story, across the street, and into the nearby restaurant Champions.
As I walk in, the hostess greets me, but a quick survey of the scene leads me almost directly to the person I’m looking for: Ryan “Fwiz” Wyatt, head of live and eSports at Machinima. Sitting next to him is Justin “iJustine” Ezarik, whom I’d interviewed last year after the inaugural Women of YouTube panel at RTX (and then met again later that year on a flight to Seattle for PAX Prime). So Wyatt and I talked—more as a conversation than an interview—as the pair ate their lunch and Ezarik met with a random fan and dropped a solid F bomb while playing Animal Cross: New Leaf. After briefly discussing the treachery of Tom Nook, I leave them to eat in peace and so I can head to my next interview.
I head back across the metro rails and into the convention center, clamber up to the media room once more, and wait. Milana Vayntrub and Stevie Nelson of Live Prude Girls, the next guests on my whirlwind tour of back-to-back-to-back chitchats, were currently wrapping up a podcast thing and with just two minutes left until 4:00 PM, I pull out my notebook and review my notes. But when I look up again, they’re gone. Had they forgotten about the interview? Did they remember me from last year and decide to hightail it out of there? Before I can finish perusing my Rolodex of social paranoia, I get a call…from California?
“Hi, it’s Milana Vayntrub from Live Prude Girls.” Oh! “We were scheduled for four o’clock or six o’clock?” Oh.
As they come back into the room, I greet them with a wave as Vayntrub throws out a “oh this guy!” We find a corner and wrangle up three chairs and go to town on some questions. As it turns out, they’ve been very busy as they have a television show in the works. We start discussing it’s format (a mixture of skits and talk show bits, similar to what their YouTube channel looks like now) before they do their trademark thing and inject the interview with absurdity and hilarity. Wyatt had just wandered into to do an interview with another member of the press when the duo began verbally accosting him. They also offered me peanuts and ended the entire ordeal with this choice quote: “Tim, I have to pee.” If you ever get the chance, do talk to these two. It’s a blast.
But now it was time to walk on over to see Richard Garriott of Tablua Rasa/Ultima Online/spaaaaaaaace fame talk about his new studio Portalarium’s freshly Kickstarted RPG Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues. He shows off a lot of the game (two-scale navigational spaces, a language parser-based conversation system, and a neat crafting mechanic) as well as his ability to control a room. Garriott is really good at public speaking, guys. Anyways, the Q&A portion begins and I duck out to catch the end of the Women of YouTube panel.
Sitting up at the front of the room as I sneak in at the back is the aforementioned Ezarik, Vayntrub, and Nelson along with Grace Helbig of Daily Grace, Mamrie Hart of You Deserve a Drink, and Jenni Powell of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I’m just in time for the audience part here, too, and they are just fantastic. The questions are topnotch and the answers right up there with them. I have a feeling a lot of people would be happy if this was just the entirety of the convention.
As the panel ends and people stack up around the six YouTubers for pictures and whatnot, I head out and go back to my hotel room. I’ve now got a Shakespearean amount of words to transcribe from audio to text, notes on games to rewrite for sanity/legibility purposes, and food to find to eat. The sun begins to set and I step out once again onto the streets of downtown Austin. People are filing back into the convention center for the attendee mixer as I force my way past. Gruff and worn, I stand there on the corner as passion and merch flow back into the doors. My day is over, but their night has just begun.
And tomorrow, it begins anew.