“The Midwest Gaming Classic is a trade show, but we’re really a social trade show. It’s less about finding out about products, and more about coming to the show and finding people.”
So says Dan Loosen, co-organizer of the Midwest Gaming Classic. Over the course of nearly 20 years, MGC has stayed true to that people-first ethos and put on an approachable-yet-robust video game convention, giving the Milwaukee area a place to geek out over old consoles, new consoles, and everything in between. But, as anyone who has attended MGC in recent years knows, the convention was getting too big for its longtime home at the Brookfield Sheraton.
“It was no secret that the show had blown out the walls of the Sheraton,” Loosen says. “We had to construct a giant tent just to fit it there.”
Enter the Wisconsin Center, where the Midwest Gaming Classic will set up shop for the first time April 13-15. (Tickets are available here.) It’s a long-in-the-works move that gives MGC a much larger footprint (and one in downtown Milwaukee, to boot), but one Loosen says won’t change its homegrown nature.
“This past year, the Wisconsin Center came to us with a really solid proposal,” he says. “They came to our show last year and spent the time walking around and figuring out how we could fit everything we had into their space in a way that would not make us lose the identity that we’ve built up, while still allowing us to expand.
“There are a lot of companies that work with us,” Loosen continues, “but for the most part, those companies are not with us because they’re paying us a ton of money to be there. We are people who are coming together to share our stories. Having the ability to make sure that the people who represent smaller groups can still do that at a place like the Wisconsin Center is critical for us.”
So what will one find at this year’s Classic? Along with the usual throng of vendors, tons of free-to-play pinball and arcade games, oodles of old and new home consoles, indie games, cosplay, and a sizable cast of special guests (including everyone from Svengoolie and various video game pioneers to Milwaukee’s own Rob Wieland), a few new events will make appearances:
Live bands have always been a part of MGC, but this year, the music component is especially strong. Here’s the (mostly acoustic) lineup:
Saturday, April 14
6 p.m. — Mechanical Life Vein
4:45 p.m. — Arcade Mode
3:30 p.m. — Tigernite (acoustic set)
2:15 p.m. — Faux Fiction (acoustic set)
1 p.m. — Myles Coyne (acoustic set)
11:45 a.m. — Moth Light
10:30 a.m. — Alicia Renee
Sunday, April 15
4 p.m. — Subspace
2:30 p.m. — Zac Shipley
1 p.m. — Kid Yuki And The Otakus
2. Midwest Air Hockey Championship
Like music and most everything else at MGC, air hockey is a feature that’s getting upgraded for 2018. “Now that we have space, instead of having just one or two air hockey tables, we can have a little bit more,” Loosen says. “But what if we got a couple more and then we did a regional qualifier for the world tournament? Air hockey has huge tournaments just like everything else does.”
Making the prospect of watching some of the world’s best air hockey players go at it even more appealing, two play-in tournaments will be held Friday night and Saturday morning, with the full tournament (featuring pros alongside the winners of the previous tournaments) set for Saturday night. “We have the ability to present this in a really positive way,” Loosen says.
3. KingPin Kiddie Ride Menagerie
The Midwest Gaming Classic has always prided itself on being family-friendly, but this year goes a step further with a “Kiddie Ride Menagerie” from Wisconsin company KingPin. Remember those quarter-powered horses and rocket ships outside grocery stores. MGC will have a bunch of them.
“KingPin is one of the major game providers of the Wisconsin Dells area,” Loosen says. “They would hold on to old kiddie rides, just because they thought they were cool and kind of funny. When they would get a new one they would put [an old one] on a shelf in a warehouse. So there’s kind of a funny collection they have. The discussion [with MGC] turned to, ‘Maybe we can put together ten or eleven of these rides.’ That’s turned into twenty-six.
“With us being very family-friendly, its a perfect fit for our show,” Loosen adds. “Kids absolutely adore them.”
4. After Parties
For the first time, MGC will keep the action going with an official after-party. Theme drinks, karaoke, and much more are planned for the night of April 14 at the Hilton Empire Ballroom. Tickets to that party are already sold out, though two more after-parties will be held at The Garcade in Menomonee Falls, and Bounce Milwaukee in Bay View.
For Loosen and others, it all comes back to one thing: people. “Before this show started, arcades were disappearing,” he says, “and places that I could go and meet other people who had hobbies like me were disappearing. I remember feeling like my favorite hobbies were going to be something that went more underground. I really enjoyed playing video games, but I enjoyed the social component just as much. I was concerned that that camaraderie would go away.
“My favorite part of the show is that I get to take my kids around and have them within that camaraderie. It’s not just sharing it with my kids. It’s sharing it with everybody.”