Skip to main content

What a game convention afterparty looks like in the age of COVID

“Anything interesting going on?” one post reads.

“What are people doing tonight,” says another. “Where’s the [go-to] bar for PAX,” another user asks.

These questions, found in the Facebook Group PAX West Parties, are to be expected around the Penny Arcade Expo. PAX Parties are the events that happen when the convention floor closes and the demos are all done for the night. They are PAX-affiliated events, put on at bars and clubs in Seattle and sponsored by brands and studios. The interest in these parties is strong on a normal year, but at PAX West 2021, after a lack of in-person events for over a year, it was more than that. Nineteen months of pandemic left people starved for a chance to meet, and let loose.

But the still-looming specter of COVID-19 shrunk the scale of 2021’s PAX, and variety in nighttime parties shrank with it. Where previous Labor Day weekends in Seattle would have presented attendees with a variety of PAX Parties to choose from with venues rented and decorated by video game companies to celebrate their communities, the events calendar for this year was barren. It was with this in mind that I took the train ride from Portland to Seattle and wondered what PAX Parties were going to look like this year.

Who throws a party in a pandemic?

The long line outside of one of the PAX West parties

“We’ve been doing PAX for about four years now … and we still did this, and we’re still doing those.” That’s what Patrick Morgan, Community Manager at New Belgium Brewing for the Voodoo Ranger brand, told me when I asked him about his approach to sponsoring PAX events this year. Voodoo Ranger, I quickly discovered, went against the grain. While other companies weren’t ready to plan social events, Voodoo Ranger was committed to returning, with safety precautions in place. Patrick was kind enough to sit down with me, as I explored the last remaining PAX Parties.

Even if you’re not a beer drinker, if you’re an active member of gaming and geek culture events you’ve probably seen Voodoo Ranger. It’s a brand that has been involved in the gaming convention scene for five years, attending events at PAX, RTX, San Diego Comic-Con, and Dragon-Con to name a few. It was the lone name that dotted the event calendar all through PAX weekend. Sure, there were a few small one-off gatherings here and there, like the 8-bit drag show or the tabletop tournament charity event, but those are largely PAX-adjacent. Voodoo Ranger was in the convention hall, and in venues surrounding the action. I wanted to see what that was about.

But first, I had to ask: how did a brewery get involved in gaming?

“It’s what we do in our free time. We have a LAN room. We call it the Voodoo lounge upstairs in the brewery,” Morgan tells Digital Trends. “We have a [World of Warcraft] raid group that’s been going since vanilla, that plays in our all-staff room”. The team has a semipro Halo player, and semiprofessional cosplayers. “In college, we played Mario Kart, and we drank. And we haven’t stopped doing that. And there’s a lot of people out there who haven’t stopped doing that either. And so we went that route, because it’s a genuine route. That’s who we are as a brewery.”

Meeting up with the community

Merchandise celebrating the community meetup is spread on a table

The gaming credentials of the team at Voodoo Ranger check out. But could they throw a party? On Friday, the start of PAX weekend in Seattle, I decided to find out. This was the night of the Voodoo Ranger Community Meetup. There was no “venue” per se, just an address that didn’t seem to correlate with any known establishment in Seattle. Intrigued, I made the short walk from the convention hall to see what exactly was going on.

The space is best described as a speakeasy. The nondescript door on an unassuming building in Downtown Seattle would have been easy to miss, if not for the pair of Voodoo Ranger flags planted in the ground. Inside, past the greeter/security person, up the staircase, was a surprisingly open space. On one side was a large bar, built from what appeared to be reclaimed wood. To the other was a DJ, preparing for his set. Several couches provided space to sit, while a decorated moose head held watch over the room.

Further inside was a hallway, leading to a large vault door. Behind it was a quiet room, away from the thumping music, with seating for people to spread out. A massive order of burgers and fries from Dick’s Drive-In, a legendary local burger chain, stood piled high on the large center table.

A pile of burgers, from the local food chain Dick's Drive in.

Like many people, I was curious about how COVID-19 safety protocols would factor into the evening.

“…A little extra planning when it comes to safety. So, we have, you know, a different type of security, we have a different like cleaning process, at night and in the day,” Morgan explains. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test had to be shown at the door to gain entry. For most, that meant displaying the black wristbands PAX issued for showing vaccination cards. Masks were mandatory, unless eating or drinking. People were counted coming and going, to keep the venue at a limited capacity.

It seemed to work. Seattle, as a city, has embraced social distancing and masking, and that seemed to extend to the PAX Parties. People wore masks inside and outside the venue. Everyone seemed to take advantage of ample space, and spread out. Each attendee was provided a pair of drink tokens, redeemable at the bar, and raffle tickets. Corsair was partnering with Voodoo Ranger at PAX, and had donated a nice assortment of gear for prizes.

The Community Meetup was open to anyone, but was focused on content creators. According to Morgan, they partner with around 40 individuals, including streamers such as TheOnlyRyann, Nelstar15, and CaptainRoB, who were invited to meet friends and fans at the small gathering.

Conversations were lively, as they tend to be with influencers. The DJ played his set while people danced and mingled. Anyone interested in food or conversation congregated in the vault, discussing PAX, gaming, Twitch, and making more than a few jokes about what’s in the bags labeled “Dick’s.” It was a quality first gathering to start the weekend.

Dancing and a dominatrix

Saturday is, unsurprisingly, the marquee night of PAX Parties. Seattle still has a busy nightlife, so there was plenty of activity around, but the PAX-specific options were still limited. First on my list for the night was another Voodoo Ranger sponsored community meetup, this time for the Queer Women of Esports, for an inclusive, and surprisingly educational, get-together.

When asked what they had in store for Saturday night, Morgan had this to say:

We approach them, we’re like, what do you want? And they’re like, well, we kind of want to make it educational. And we were like, well, can we also kind of make it a party? And they’re like, hell yeah. So they came up with the idea that they would like a dominatrix educator. And so, throughout the night up on the small stage, we have music … you could go up there and talk to a dominatrix and ask questions.

For this event, they returned to the same speakeasy location as the Community Meetup. True to their word, Voodoo Ranger brought in a dominatrix educator. There were talks about safety, consent, and explanation and examples of different restraints. The crowd was welcoming and inclusive, and seemed to have a genuine interest in the discussion.

“So that’s a big aspect for us. Joining up with Queer Women of esports is to make those kinds of things, whether it is a dominatrix, or bondage education, or just that community as a whole. To show that like, no, it’s not something behind the door, like this is normal. And so that was our event last night.”

From there, I made my way a few blocks away to the big party of the evening, the Sonicboombox PAX Afterparty. Voodoo Ranger was sponsoring this event too, but Sonicboombox was in the driver’s seat. Where the other events focused on smaller gatherings and community, this event was all about letting loose.

A mural of bruce lee, painted on the wall of a seattle bar.

The Sonicboombox afterparty was at Spin, an underground ping-pong venue near the convention center. The line stretched down the block, as people waited for doors to open. The small entryway lead directly to a descending staircase, which switched back as I made my way down.

A bathtub full of ping-pong balls greeted me as I reached the bottom of the stairs. Spin is a colorful venue, and surprisingly spacious. The first third of the locale is home to a large bar top (everyone was given a single drink token, then purchased additional beverages), staffed by a team of masked bartenders. A dance floor occupied the center of the space, while the final section is a mix of ping-pong tables, and dining areas.

A group of PAX attendees, dancing the night away.

Spin was the most prototypical PAX Party of the weekend. It began simple enough, as I ate some decent bar food with a stranger who was visiting from Toronto, and a man dressed in full Gears of War armor. Lively ping pong games picked up around us, and I found myself dodging the occasional errant hit from an overenthusiastic Goku.

As Spin reached its COVID-capacity, the action moved on to the dance floor. Groups of people who came together tended to cluster close together, but overall, people seemed to observe some distance between one another, with surprisingly diligent observation of mask guidelines.

People danced in groups, on their own, and in some combination of both. A typical club DJ mix was interspersed with loud sing-alongs to PAX favorites like the Pokémon theme song. At one point the crowd made a large circle for a dance battle between a man in street clothes, and a fully costumed Spider-Man (a clear defeat for Spidey). Between drinks I found myself dancing with my unnamed Gears of War marine, and an unknown person fully covered by a Cthulhu onesie. In other words, it was a typical PAX Party, and seemed to scratch a long unattended itch for so many attendees.

PAX Parties are alive and well

A gears of war cosplayer is taking a picture with two people at PAX West.

PAX is, and always has been, much more than a convention hall full of video games. There’s a special comradery when you bring together so many people, connected by their shared enthusiasm for gaming. A community, known for being largely introverts, has an appetite for gathering and socializing together. That’s true any year, but even more so at the first in-person PAX since 2019.

Putting together these parties required people, organizations, and businesses to take on the challenge of connecting and building community, despite the ongoing pandemic. It’s a carefully managed risk, requiring meticulous planning and a belief that if you build the PAX Party, people will come.

“We want everyone to feel safe, feel comfortable,” says Morgan. “We don’t try to be the big after-party, we just tried to have these like, great little meetups. And it tends to be with small communities or smaller brand partners, or nonprofit organizations. And the success there is literally if they’re happy. We’re always happy because we get to give beer people like beer fairies.”

Editors' Recommendations

Justin Koreis
Justin is a freelance writer with a lifelong love of video games and technology. He loves writing about games, especially…
How to get a pet in Diablo 4
Diablo 4 barbarian

Since it's an always-online experience, you'll never truly be alone in Diablo 4. Between all the other players you can encounter roaming around the world, and the ability to play co-op with friends on any platform, odds are you will never be lacking a companion. Even so, you can't expect someone to keep you company at all times, unless you get yourself a pet. Granted, there's only one pet available at the moment, and it is purely a cosmetic item and won't help you in combat, but is an adorable companion nonetheless. Here's how to get a pet in Diablo 4.

Read more
Apple made it clear: The Vision Pro isn’t the next big video game platform
A man wears Apple Vision Pro.

The cat's finally out of the bag: Apple is entering the AR/VR world in a big way. Revealed during the company's annual WWDC stream, the Apple Vision Pro is an impressive XR headset that can be used for anything from writing emails to watching movies. Apple calls the device the "most advanced personal electronics device ever," and that might be true -- though the jury's out on whether or not it's worth the jaw-dropping $3,500 price tag.

Heading into the long-rumored reveal, there was one use case I was most curious to see: gaming. Video games have long been a crucial selling point for VR headsets, showing off the power and potential of any given device. Just last week, we got our first glimpse at the Meta Quest 3, which was revealed hours before a dedicated Meta Gaming Showcase. Considering how much Apple has been investing in gaming over the past year, I figured we'd get a dedicated block during the Vision Pro reveal that would similarly emphasize the platform as a gaming device.

Read more
Street Fighter 6: how to enroll with every master
The player confronts Ryu in Street Fighter 6 World Tour.

If you want to be the best, you need to learn from the best. Street Fighter 6 lets you put yourself into the action by creating your own custom character who learns the art of fighting from both the iconic world warriors and a host of newcomers while advancing through the World Tour mode. Each master you pledge yourself to will unlock their own unique moves to add to your list of possibilities when customizing your moveset. You might think meeting all the characters would happen naturally through the story, yet you can easily complete the entire mode without encountering most of the masters. Let us give you your first lesson by showing you how to enroll with every master in Street Fighter 6.
How to enroll with every master

Each of the main characters included at the launch of Street Fighter 6 is considered a master, which results in a total of 18 to find. Some you will come across naturally as you play World Tour mode, but most are either hidden or require you to complete certain optional objectives to find. Here's each master and how you can find them to learn their special moves.
You will automatically be enrolled with Luke when you begin World Tour mode in Street Fighter 6. You can find and train with him at any time in Metro City at the warehouse marked on your map.
Chun-Lu is also impossible to miss as you go through the story. Once you get to Chapter 2-1, your objective will be to fund Chun-Li in the Chinatown area of the map. Once you find her there, you can go back to that spot to train with her at any time.
Further on in the story, when you get to Chapter 3-3, your objective will now be able to travel using the World Map to get to Colosseo. Once you arrive, Marisa will be introduced automatically. Just speak with her again afterward to become her student.
The big green beast Blanka can be missed, but only if you don't bother exploring. After you get to Chapter 6-1, Luke will unlock the Ranger's Hut location on the World Map. Not only will you be able to become Blanka's student, but you will also get the Blanka Chan outfit.
Dee Jay
Also available in Chapter 6-1, Dee Jay is found in Bather's Beach. After a battle (regardless of if you win or lose), you will be able to enroll with this master.
Lily is the first tricky master to enroll with. During Chapter 4-1, you need to complete a side mission called "The Spirit Guide" that you can pick up from an NPC in Chinatown named Ana. After completing the quest, Thunderfoot Settlement will be unlocked on the World Map. Go there, speak to a few NPCs, and Lily will arrive in a cutscene. Once it ends, speak to her to enroll as a student.
Cammy also is locked behind a side mission that you can go on during Chapter 7-1. The one in question is called "Special Unit Del-?" in Metro City. Head down to the subway to grab the quest, complete it by clearing out the subway, and unlock access to the stadium area on the west side of the map. Once you take care of all the enemies downtown, you can go back to King Street via the World Map to find and battle Cammy.
Jamie is slightly tricky to find. You need to be in Metro City during the night and go into the Chinatown alley. He will be in the middle of a fight, leading to his intro, after which you can climb up the nearby ladder and onto the roof to speak and train with him.
After a long break, Ken will be the next unmissable master. Once you get to Chapter 8-3, you will get the mission "The Elusive Former National Champ" that sends you to go find Ken at a construction site. After getting the appropriate headgear, you can head to the site and  be introduced to him.
E. Honda
Not long after you encounter Ken, E. Honda will show up in Chapter 8-4 during the "Big in Japan" mission. Simply head to the restaurant to meet up with the famous sumo star.
Ryu can be found next by traveling to Genbu Temple. Just walk up and speak to him to begin training.
Also unmissable, Kimberly will be introduced during Chapter 8-7 during the "High Flying Man" mission. Once the mission is complete, she will be posted up on the roof above your hideout.
Once you've finished Chapter 8-7, you can go learn from Guile by putting on the SiRN lab coat and talking to an NPC at the construction site to get a mission to go to the Carrier Byron Taylor. Go there, fight a bit, and he will jump in to help you out.
Following Chapter 7-3, when the "Extra" sidequest unlocks in Metro City's Beat Square, you will be taken to Fete Foraine automatically. After Manon introduces herself, you can speak to her again to become a student.
The yoga master himself can be found by doing the "Yoga Statue" quest available starting on Chapter 9. Talk to Anik in Bayside Park in Metro City. Complete the quest to unlock Dhalsimer Temple on the World Map, where you can enroll with Dhalsim.
The sidequest for Zangief also spawns when you hit Chapter 9. This time, you need to go to the stadium to find the "Hither and Thither" mission from some wrestlers. Finish up the quest and the Barmaley Steelworks will be added to your map. Zip on over and meet the master grappler.
Not available until much later in Chapter 11-4, you're looking for the "A Hardboiled Adventure" sidequest in Nayshall from Govind in the Bazaar. You will need to wait until Chapter 12 before you can fully finish this quest, but once done, you can ask to study under Juri.
The last master you will find can only be encountered once you've fully finished World Tour mode. Once everything is wrapped up, go to Old Nayshall at night and go to the Suval'hal Arena Entrance. JP will be there waiting by the stairs around back for someone to come asking to train.

Read more