After attending nearly every Kingdom-Con since its inception in 2009, gamer Rick Westbrock described his hometown gaming convention in terms of its laid-back atmosphere.
“It always felt like it was just a giant, extended ‘Game Day at Ross’ Place,’” he said.
The Ross that Westbrock refers to? Kingdom-Con founder Ross Thompson, who talked about the convention as it reached its 10th anniversary.
“Kingdom-Con is a reunion of friends,” Thompson said. “It is a place where friends old and new come together to play games, share good times and reminisce in the good times we’ve had and the new ones we make.”
Over 1,300 gamers from around the country are expected to hit the tabletops in San Diego this weekend for the Kingdom-Con: 10th Anniversary Edition. From miniatures gaming and various tournaments to open board gaming, painting classes, and a small vendor hall, attendees have plenty to do at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
It’s a somewhat bittersweet occasion, though. Just as the con has reached its 10th event, Thompson announced it would also be the final Kingdom-Con.
“I don’t want to burn out and resent the thing we’ve all worked to build. When I started Kingdom-Con I was just getting into the industry, the convention was still growing and I hadn’t filled all my available time in the day with hobbies, projects and other things,” he said. “I would hate to get to a place where I hate or feel trapped by the convention. Going out on top and at the 10-year mark seems like a good way to go.”
From the beginning, gaming has been the focus at Kingdom-Con. Even with its growth over the years, players have embraced its relaxed vibe. Regular attendee Luis Martinez attributed the con’s friendly culture to the Kingdom-Con staff. “Ross and crew had a jovial aura that made the con more genuine,” he said.
“This was something we hoped to achieve during the show, but it’s not like that is something you can bottle up and make happen by magic,” Thompson said. “It’s the people that really made this happen and, of course, being in San Diego. Our convention, while having major tournaments and serious gaming, just has a nice vibe to it. The people make that and it’s through that environment that the convention has been able to flourish and grow into a fun home to play games.”
It’s this welcoming nature that eventually led Martinez to explore games he normally didn’t play.
“Kingdom-con was my first con,” he said. “I was deep in the grasp of Warmachine fever. Our local community in the wilds of North County San Diego showed up to represent our meta in the tournaments. Tourney-wise I didn’t place all that well, but I did get introduced to a game called Tok Tok Woodman. I had a blast playing a dexterity game I never knew existed until then.”
“We knew that Kingdom-Con was about gaming and bringing people together, but there was always a larger push for more vendors and larger events,” Thompson said, “but because of space, we had to keep the vendors limited. … sometimes you just have to go with the space your venue gives you.”
Westbrook thought about how event grew every year, eventually filling all of the space at the hotel, and how the people made it so special.
“One of my favorite things every year is getting to see Ross and congratulate him on another great show. I guess that might be the saddest part of Kingdom-Con ending is that I may not get to see that smiling mug much in the future,” he said. “Well, being able to drink beer all weekend while gaming will definitely be missed also. The hotel staff were always cool about it and really friendly in general.”
Thompson reflected on the highlights of the con, from the “first real big Drunk Quest tournament we had, which felt like a crazy mix of tabletop with Animal House” to the “amazing staff that comes together to help put the convention on.”
He credited the staff with making the con such a success year after year, after realizing that he couldn’t do everything all by himself.
“My friends had to almost force me to have help; I was so set on doing it all by myself the first few years,” he said, “but once I was able to work with my friends who became the continuing staff for the show we were really able to blossom into the special place we have made.”
“While we can have game nights at our house or go play at a game store, it’s that convention experience that people look forward to,” he said. “We had plenty of times when the convention could have fallen apart, but the drive that we all had to want to make this work is what kept it together. I am forever thankful at all the people who came year after year to play games at this event.”
Even with the con wrapping up its decade-long run this weekend, Thompson sees a bright future ahead for San Diego gaming.
“It’s been great to be able to be this place where people can come to play games over the last 10 years,” he said. “I’m already looking at putting together a one-day event for unpublished games, and I’d like to explore the opportunities around more larger one-day events. I am sad about ending Kingdom-Con, it has been such a huge part of not just mine, but a lot of people’s lives, but this will open the door to many new opportunities. Looking forward to see where that leads.”
Kingdom-Con takes place April 11-14 at the Crowne Valley Plaza in San Diego, California. Visit the official website for more information.