PAX East. This is not a review (it is a little bit), it’s part of the Coaching for Geeks Convention Survival Guide, to help you get the most from any convention. Going to a con? Want to contribute? Email robin at coachingforgeeks dot com.
PAX East is a beast.
A giant gaming convention taking place over 4 days, in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Centre (BCEC).
Filling the convention floor and taking up multiple rooms for talks, games, presentations, shows, jam space, retro consoles, the diversity lounge, plus the floorspace given over to just playing some Just Dance, handhelds, or Jackbox games… PAX East is really is a beast.
With our PAX East Convention Survival Guide, it’s a manageable beast. Mostly.
The History of PAX East
Penny Arcade Expo, as it was once known, began in 2004 in Bellevue, Washington – borne from Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik’s (of webcomic Penny Arcade fame – that’s why it’s PAX) desire to put on a show for the gamers. There were general geek conventions and expos, the likes of E3, but what about the gamers?
PAX was to be for the gamers (suck it PS4’s ad campaign and motto) and it kept on growing in size.
PAX East was announced in 2008 and demand was there from the get-go with pre-registration numbers promising to exceed any previous PAX.
In 2010 Penny Arcade formed a business relationship with Reed Exhibitions (AKA ReedPOP) to handle running the events which were doubling in size annually and needed bigger, better venues, without losing sight of what made PAX so beloved. And on March 26th 2010, the John B Hynes Memorial Convention Centre played host to the first PAX East.
From 2011 onwards PAX East has been held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Centre (BCEC).
In 2018 the Thursday was added to the event, taking PAX East up from 3 to 4 days.
Promising a safe space for gamers of all kinds, PAX East is a hulking yet intimate gaming show, featuring a huge bustling show floor, with numerous theatres and rooms offering smaller, quieter, activities, panels, and more.
The PAX brand now includes PAX West (the original), PAX East, PAX Australia, PAX South, and PAX Unplugged for the tabletoppers.
Where is PAX East held?
PAX East has been held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC), Boston, MA since 2011.
In a re-developed area of South Boston, the Seaport District, it’s easily accessible by public transport though there is a 10-15 minute walk from the nearest MBTA subway station.
The convention centre is big, with a hotel connected, multiple floors, and plenty of rooms for content away from the show floor.
The area continues to be developed with hotels, eateries, and wine stores springing up in a once-industrial zone.
Car parking is available on a first-come first-served basis and if full there’s off-site parking too. Parking rates are $20 for regular-sized vehicles and $40 for oversized vehicles.
PAX East Ticket Prices and Expo Hall Hours
2019 ticket prices and opening hours for PAX East were:
- THURSDAY ONLY $63.75
- FRIDAY ONLY $63.75
- SATURDAY ONLY $63.75
- SUNDAY ONLY $63.75
- BYOC + $35
- THU 3/28 10AM – 12AM
- FRI 3/29 10AM – 12AM
- SAT 3/30 10AM – 12AM
- SUN 3/31 10AM – 7PM
EXPO HALL HOURS
- THU 3/28 10AM – 6PM
- FRI 3/29 10AM – 6PM
- SAT 3/30 10AM – 6PM
- SUN 3/31 10AM – 6PM
There’s plenty happening after the expo hall closes and you can easily spend all 4 days at the show.
Is there an App?
There sure is and it’s a must. With maps, schedules, floorplans, exhibitors, and more, the PAX app is really great! Make sure you add the latest event to it so you don’t have a panic about booking the wrong dates for your hotel and flights like I did…
Be sure to update it over the weekend too as panels and events may change. The enforcers are great at updating signage as this info becomes available, but you don’t want to wander up to a theatre to find the panel you REALLY wanted to attend is just finishing.
You’ll also find info on line length, shuttle bus routes, safety and security, plus PAX XP and Pinny Arcade – more on these later.
PAX East: Food and Drink
You can take food and soft drinks into the show, many people filling a rucksack with everything they need for the day. This will slow you down on entry, but with the food situation in the BCEC it’s a really smart move.
The food is not great. The food is expensive. If you want hot dogs, pretzels, $8 salads, and long lines at peak times then go ahead.
There are also some food trucks on the Lawn on D, but you may have to get in a queue to get back in.
A few eateries are also nearby, with hotels and a couple of restaurants knowing they have a relatively captive market. If you’re willing to walk a little way further you’ll find more options, but taking your own will be the lowest cost and quickest way to get something decent inside you.
Note that PAX East is a dry convention with the BCEC bars all closing for the event. There is a very well-stocked wine store out over the other side of the Lawn on D.
Also, note that this is a Pepsi venue and you’ll struggle to find a Coke for neither love nor money.
Drinking fountains are available around the venue.
Cashpoints are available in the lobby of the BCEC, with Santander and Bank of American ATMs in short walking distance. It’s always worth having some cash on you but all vendors seem to take cards.
Crowds and Queues (aka lines)
Thursday is an absolute joy.
Friday is busy but easily manageable.
Saturday is not.
Sunday is the aftermath.
If you are able, I strongly recommend attending on Thursday. You’ll get time with many more games, the panels will have room to turn up shortly before they begin, the lines to get in will be relatively short.
Saturday will mean queuing. It’s a world of difference and while the buzz is palpable, you’ll get bumped and barged and be in line for up to a couple of hours if you really want to play the big titles.
Getting into the building will also mean standing in line for up to an hour.
PAX East Quiet Spaces
Even on the busiest days, there are plenty of quiet spaces to get away from it all. The brilliant Take This run AFK Rooms staffed by trained mental health care practitioners. They offer a quiet space that won’t be used for other purposes by attendees and can offer education, resources, and a listening ear to convention attendees.
Elsewhere the various theatres can provide some downtime, there are plenty of places to sit down, and the upper floors have plenty of quieter nooks where you can sprawl on the floor.
PAX East Cosplay
While there’s no formal cosplay stage or masquerade, many attendees dress up for PAX East. There are rules for cosplay weaponry at PAX East including peace bonding your weapon and orange tips.
There will likely be some panels or workshops, and informal meetups.
OK here’s where it falls apart a bit. You WILL queue up for the toilets. There are lots of bathrooms, but each one seems to have few cubicles, or stalls for our US chums.
I’ve never seen so many men queue for a cubicle, and if you’re waiting for a urinal it’s worth asking, as they may be available.
Ladies, the queue situation is similar for you too.
Non-gendered restrooms are available near the Diversity Lounge and these have many stalls.
Boston is pretty cold around this time of year. There may be snow, rain, and sun in one day. You’ll need to wrap up warm, which means…
Swathes of the con centre are given over to cloakrooms. Expect to stand in line for a while if checking or collecting at peak times. You can leave bags.
Bring cash. It’s about $3 per item. Ideally, bring plenty of singles so you don’t cause a delay while they break a larger note.
Expect to wait longer on Sunday with people stowing their luggage.
REMEMBER WHICH CLOAKROOM YOU USED EACH DAY. There are a LOT of them.
Phone charging is available near the handheld area. We always recommend taking your own power bank to avoid the stress of being out of contact or having to leave your phone with someone.
Where to get help
PAX East has a battalion of Enforcers to help run the show. They are super friendly and knowledgeable and will do what they can to help you. IF they can’t help you – they may be busy with a room or event – they will find someone to help.
The app enables you to report any problems you encounter.
Security guards also roam the halls.
The PAX-Centric Bits
What the hell is…
Pin Badges! They’re a big thing at PAX and so they partner with various exhibitors to create pin badges for the event. You can trade pins with various people including some Enforcers and staff.
Much more info is available at the Pinny Arcade site.
Your badge entitles you to an adventure! More of a scavenger hunt that encourages you to explore the venue and unlock parts of a story, PAX XP has you finding terminals and scanning your badge to earn points, unlock the story, and possibly win prizes.
Your badge can also be used at some vendors to book demo slots and enter prize draws.
Everyone whos attending all 4 days can sign up to be a potential Omeganaut. With fabulous prizes on offer, the Omegathon is an elimination tournament across console, PC, and tabletop games. Culminating in a live grand final, which could be anything from Battleship to GoldenEye 007, 20 Omeganauts enter at the start of PAX East and only one can leave (they don’t kill them, they’re just eliminated from the contest).
…The Diversity Lounge?
The gaming community is a wonderfully diverse place and the Diversity Lounge is meant as a celebration of that. Whether you count yourself among the under-represented or just want to learn a little more about your friends, the Diversity Lounge is well worth a visit. Check out our interview with PAX Diversity Lounge Manager Kyle.
The PAX East: Treasure and Trash!
There’s so much to do
The venue is open till midnight with a vast tabletop library, panels, and all sorts of things going on.
The commitment to providing a place where everyone is welcome – it’s a really friendly place.
FOMO – there’s too much to do!
Some of the panels are the same panels that have been running for 4 years. Some of the panels are about the guests rather than the topic they’re there to talk about.
Food. Oh, the food is really bad and expensive.
Robin Bates – big fan of the beast that is PAX East