This weekend, myself and a band of brave warriors from the Invision Game Community war camp set out on an epic expedition to the NEC in Birmingham to brave the hordes of fans descending on the UK’s biggest video games festival; Insomnia 62.
There was a palpable enthusiasm from the moment we entered the car park at the venue, with admirers from every angle of gaming bouncing their way towards the entrance doors. From an opening show that the teens these days would undoubtedly describe as “lit” to the sheer scale of the festival floor itself, there was indeed plenty to be excited for at I62. These were my highlights this year…
- That opening show though…
So, this is not my first jaunt into the Insomnia hype, but man oh man was I not expecting the welcome that awaited us upon our arrival. Tactically placed at the entrance to the event, the grand opening of each day of the event was impressive to say the least. A huge stage and impressive lighting rig meant that the lengthy queues of festival-goers were kept entertained in the build up to the doors being unlocked. Kudos to the organisers and the folks who kept the crowds pumped while they waited. And of course, Faithless blasted through the speakers the moment the flood gates were opened, too.
- Fortnite was EVERYWHERE.
At this year’s event, you could not turn a corner without Fortnite being forced in your face like a guided rocket plummeting towards you from the pinnacle of Tilted Towers. This revelation delighted fans of one of the biggest games on the market right now, and it certainly drew a lot of attention from gamers young and old. Naturally, the moment a Victory Royale hit the screens, the crowd went wild too. Nothing better than showing off your prowess in the Internet’s favourite game in front of a live crowd, eh! Clearly, the exhibitors thought so too.
- VR tried to steal the show, again.
Year upon year, our VR technology and software alike see massive improvements, keeping the now established play style fresh and exciting for gamers. For a long time now, VR has had a prominent presence at Insomnia and other gaming events, and fans never cease to bring their interest in return. PlayStation VR, in particular, was a big player at I62, showcasing a number of their new and established titles in a bid to win over some new players to the platform. Combined with their recent, healthy price drop on PSVR starter kits, the marketing push at Insomnia was clear. That being said, from what I observed, the move was paying off with some success.
- League and BELONG.
Tournaments were a big deal at Insomnia this year, with some of the world’s top players competing on some stages whilst skilled fans who fancied the challenge were able to enter and compete on others. Strategically placed next to a bulk of the food options at the event, we spent some time watching some impressive examples of League of Legends games, which kept ourselves and a multitude of VERY enthusiastic fans entertained. Meanwhile, in a different corner of the show floor, BELONG was welcoming players of FIFA, Rocket League and other hit titles to sign-up and compete for smaller but worthwhile prizes and glory in daily mini-tournaments. It was great to see a bit of healthy competition pumping up players throughout the event and encouraging people to try out the competitive scene.
- Cosplayers dressed to impress.
Whether you partake in the activity or simply appreciate the art as an onlooker, Cosplay is always an impressive highlight at Insomnia and this year was no exception. This time around, Cosplayers had a much larger and more active area of the show floor in which to prepare, share and buy and sell their wares. This warmer reception at the event brought in some more impressive examples of costumed gaming fans than ever, with players going all-out to show what their passion is all about. Fingers crossed, the organisers will continue to support the ever-growing hobby into the future, too.
- YouTubers delighted the young’uns.
YouTube isn’t just for the kids. I enjoy the works of most, if not all of, the high-profile content creators at this years show myself, but when it comes to queueing up for photographs and merch, it is the gaming youth who truly take the most from the meet and greet experience. To them, these people are my generations Hollywood superstars, and for good reasons. You have to admire the time and effort that these folks go to in order to delight their incredible masses of fans. If I were a younger man with more time and the patience to wait in line, I too would be lining up to say hello. Nevertheless, the joy that fans were getting out of the experience was pleasing to see, as ever.
- Nintendo brought the hype.
If one single stand could be said to have “won” the event on the show floor, it had to be Nintendo’s. They didn’t have a tonne of new and upcoming games to show off, nor did they have the most striking of exhibits, but they were certainly the most popular brand to sink your teeth into on the day. All of their biggest Switch titles were on show, from Splatoon 2 to Mario Kart to Minecraft, and whether people had played before or not they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying it. Fantastic staff hyped up regular events on the mini stage too, including tournaments and giveaways, and the Nintendo zone never looked quiet for a moment. Everyone there was happy, friendly and having a good time. There was even a giant costumed Mario on-site too, much to the delight of more Instagram-happy gamers at the show.
- Retro was BIG.
Insomnia’s Retro Zone always manages to achieve at least two things; it is hugely popular, and it makes me feel old. Ignoring for a moment the fact that the PS2 and GameCube are apparently “retro” systems not (sad face), the Retro Zone appeared to be one of the most popular areas at the show. Perhaps most significantly, this seemed to be where most of the “family” experiences were being enjoyed, with parents introducing their children to their favourite games of old. It is always fantastic to spend a little time drooling over the games of days gone by on those HUGE, box-like TVs we all used to have in our bedrooms. The arcade and pinball machines were absolutely fabulous to behold this year too. All of that being said, however, I did have a big old groan at the Xbox 360s in the over 18s area of the Retro Zone. Since when is CoD4 retro now?!
- Tabletop Zone.
Full disclosure; I am a big fan of tabletop gaming. That might explain why the Tabletop Zone, then, makes it so far up my list. However, it was not just me who was enjoying the growth of the Tabletop Zone at the festival this year, with many fans enjoying the change of pace and scenery as they made their way around the show floor. Some of the most popular modern board games were on show at the event, with welcoming, dedicated staff being more than happy to teach onlookers how to play. In a world where modern board gaming is often overlooked, it was fantastic to see the hobby being so successful and popular at Insomnia this year. A big shout out to Asmodee who truly stole this part of the show, too.
Indie! Yeah! The Indie Zone is always fantastic at any gaming event. It is the best place to meet the creators of video games first hand and share in their passion projects alongside them. They are always welcoming and willing to talk and share ideas, and it truly reminds you that, as gamers, we are all part of a community. This year, the Indie Zone seemed busier than ever. Flocks of fans kept the area consistently rammed, but developers ensured that no matter how many people wanted to see their game there was always room for one more. The most enticing games in the Indie Zone this year were 80s arcade management simulators, with a couple of similar, inspired titles showing different approaches to the genre. All of the developers at the show, on the whole, appeared to be having a great time sharing their creations with fans first-hand. Let’s hope that enthusiasm never dies down!
- The Call of Duty World Championships.
For obvious reasons, this was the big highlight at Insomnia 62. That is, for players over the age of 18 in any case. Separated from the main show floor in a hall that was strikingly impressive in its own right, the CoD World Championship was as grand and epic a show as you might expect. An impressive show rig and setup, complete with professional casters and fancy visuals, made the tournament more than just some gaming; it was an experience. Top teams including Optic Gaming and FaZe to name but a couple competed to the absolute joy and pleasure of avid fans, putting on an event worthy of ticketing in its own right. Considering its inclusion in the price of entrance to Insomnia this year, the CoD World Championship represented outstanding value for money for fans of one of the world’s biggest franchises. That was one hell of a show.
These were just a few of the things to do at Insomnia 62 this year. What’s more, you can look forward to seeing much of this and more at Insomnia 63 in just a few months. Keep an eye out for more information ahead of the show this August. You might even see us there, too.