By Aaron Hastings
Capital West News
Salt Lake City has a growing reputation for its Comic Con, but Utah organizers hope to call Salt Lake City home to a Salt Lake Gaming Con in August, joining a number of gaming conventions held all over the world each year.
“We had so much fun at other conventions, and we just want to bring this back to Jake (Williams’) home town,” said Reason Robles, the convention’s marketing manager. “We didn’t go into this to make a lot of money.”
Jake Williams, a Salt Lake City native, is the CEO of Salt Lake Gaming Con. He is also the 2013 world champion of HeroClix, a tabletop strategy game using miniature figures from comic books and movies.
After traveling and competing for two years at gaming conventions nationwide, Williams decided to bring his experiences back to Salt Lake City. As part of this effort, Salt Lake Gaming Con is partnering with the Huntsman Cancer Foundation.
“A big portion of our ticket sales and tournament proceeds will be going to the Huntsman Cancer Foundation,” Williams said.
The convention is scheduled for the weekend of Aug. 8 and will be held at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy.
The convention is expecting more than 25,000 people per day, with donations coming not only from ticket sales but also from gaming tournament admission fees.
“We should have over $100,000 in prizes for tournaments,” Williams said. “A big portion of that will be ‘League of Legends,’ but we should have quite a bit for other games such as ‘Magic: The Gathering.’”
Williams hopes to include as many competitive games as possible, including “Call of Duty,” “Super Smash Brothers” and “Rock Band.”
“Between video games and tabletop games, we should have over 600 games to play,” Williams said. “About one-third of the con will be tabletop games, while the other two-thirds will be video games.”
Many of the gaming tournaments will be run by official vendors and companies, Williams said. “We’ll be making announcements in the next few weeks.”
In addition to gaming tournaments and prizes, the convention will also hold a cosplay contest.
“We can give anyone cash, but people who do cosplay, they like the way it makes them feel,” Williams said. “Our grand prize is a trip to WonderCon 2016 with a professional photographer to take pictures of them cosplaying. Air fare and hotel costs will all be included. We think it’s a way better prize than just a $100 check.”
For Williams and Robles, the convention is about the experience of the attendees.
“We just want everyone to have the opportunity to at least come and see what we have to offer,” Robles said. “We want to get as many people out as we possibly can so they know what this convention is all about.”
The convention staff hopes to separate themselves from other conventions in the area through offering a unique experience.
“We’re really trying to keep it genre-specific. We want to stay in the theme and make sure that we’re not a pop culture convention,” Williams said.
The convention will have some celebrities, but it will focus on industry presenters and game manufacturers, as well as known figures in the gaming community.
“The biggest thing we have going for us is that we aren’t convention guys; we’re entertainers,” Williams said. “It’s not how much we can make; it’s about how we can entertain people for three days straight.”
While Williams has been planning this event for more than two years, his inspiration for Salt Lake Gaming Con came from growing up around video games.
“I started with ‘Mortal Kombat’ and ‘Street Fighter’ in the arcades. You don’t get the same experience as when you are playing on a console,” he said. “A guy walks up to you at random and pops a quarter in, and your heart sinks a little bit, and you wonder, ‘Is he better than me?’ It’s not quite the same in your own house. I miss the arcade feel.”
He wanted to put together a convention to replicate his earlier experiences. “The original vision was, ‘How can we put together the old arcade feel with the convention?’”
According to a study done by Estately Blog in April 2014, Utah is ranked the No. 1 “nerdiest state in the United States,” ranking first in interest categories such as Star Wars, Harry Potter and cosplay. Utah also ranks highly in the Star Trek, comic book and anime categories.
“Salt Lake is a good convention city,” Williams said. “We just want people to experience it.”