Every six months, the Moose Jaw Gamer’s Association’s biannual GAX (gamer’s expo) gets bigger.
The MJGA is anticipating their Winter GAX in February will be their biggest yet, but a month from the start of the weekend event, they still have no way of knowing for sure.
For the first time they’ve offered pre-registration and despite offering a draw for a $50 gift card multiple outlets of the winner’s choice -- depending on their interests -- the pre-registration has failed to take off.
“It just makes it so hard to plan when you have no idea how many people are coming,” said Kristian Sjoberg from the Moose Jaw Gamer’s Association. “We don’t expect 100 per cent of people to pre-register, but if we could get 50 or 75 per cent to pre-register it gives you a ballpark.”
Winter GAX runs Feb. 1-3 at St. Joseph’s Church and participants can register to play either internet-connected LAN (local area network) games or board games. The event runs from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. on the Friday, from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday. “It’s basically 48 hours with a little nap in between,” Sjoberg said.
The Winter GAX has always out-drawn the Summer GAX, but the 2018 summer event drew a record crowd of 83 people, which has organizers expecting a big crowd for Winter GAX. To help gauge numbers they offered a reduced price of $25 for the LAN games and $15 for board games for anyone who registered by Jan. 18. The price for the LAN games goes back up to $30 after the early deadline. “Board games are picking up in popularity,” Sjoberg said. “We used to be about 75-25 for internet games to board games. Now we’re probably closer to 60 board games and 40 per cent internet games.” Sjoberg said that Overwatch and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds are both popular titles with the LAN crowd, while GAX offers a great chance for board game aficionados to try something new. “We’ve got a couple of guys, Jacob Hart and Kevin Acorn, who have a few hundred board games, and they have a list and they post it on our Facebook page for people to look at and if there are any of them that they want to try, these guys will bring it down and teach them how to play it. There’s hundreds and hundreds of board games that we have access to,” said Sjoberg who added that group games like One Night Ultimate Werewolf have been popular in the past.
“Usually there is someone who will put on a Dungeons & Dragons or a Pathfinder campaign for the weekend.”
As the crowds grow, Sjoberg would love to see the event expand and branch out while still staying true to its mandate to be a weekend about gaming.
“We’re hoping to expand a little more this year and get a little more into the cosplay,” he said. “Last year Kevin came down with a Reinhardt costume from Overwatch. It was a big, huge blue warrior with a giant hammer and took pictures with people. It was pretty cool.
“We’re trying to get into that a little bit to try to get more people into it.”
One thing that will never change is the GAX commitment to charity. Every year the proceeds from the event are donated to a local charity. Sjoberg is also the president of the local branch of the SaskTel Pioneers. The Pioneers and SaskTel head office both sponsor one GAX a year -- Sjoberg points out that they applied to SaskTel the same as any other charity would -- and SaskTel is going to match the donations that they make from the proceeds of this Winter GAX. SaskTel Pioneers have a literacy initiative and Sjoberg is hoping that each school division will get a healthy donation later this year from the event.
“Last year we gave $1,250 to Hunger in Moose Jaw,” Sjoberg said. “This isn’t a profit gaming expo, this is entirely non-profit. We cover our costs for the internet and the hall. Family Pizza is now a major sponsor and they donate all of the pizzas and Moosenet Computer Services do all of the networking for us for free. “Without those two sponsors, we wouldn’t be able to (make the donation). It’s a free pizza party on Saturday, it’s $600-700 worth of pizza he donates.”
He said that the charity component is important to the gamers and gives them an outlet to enjoy a hobby in a way that they’re comfortable.
“They want to give back, but they don’t want to talk to people,” Sjoberg said of some of the introverted gamers. “We want every single dollar from these gaming expos to go back to Moose Jaw. That’s our prime mandate.”
The first GAX was held in 2010 and while it continues to grow, Sjoberg has a far grander vision of what it could be as the popularity of gaming continues to grow. “Basically, our dream is for it to be the Comic-Con of the north and have 20,000 people descend on Moose Jaw and play board games, video games and cosplay,” Sjoberg said. “That’s our dream -- mine and Jess Hallswoth, who is our president -- to take over the Exhibition Grounds and Mosaic Place and it’s just gaming for three days straight. And every penny that goes above our costs goes back to charities in Moose Jaw.”
“We want every single dollar from these gaming expos to go back to Moose Jaw. That’s our prime mandate.” -Kristian Sjoberg
The Moose Jaw Gamer’s Association will host their Winter GAX from Feb. 1-3 at St. Joseph’s Church.