PAX Online 2020 – Interview with PAX Australia’s Luke Lancaster

A day after the announcement that PAX Aus 2020 had been cancelled, I sat down to chat with PAX Australia Content Manager at ReedPOP, Luke Lancaster. He tells me it’s been a tumultuous 24-hours with the cancellation of PAX Aus and PAX West and the announcement of PAX Online 2020.

“Yesterday was not a great day,” he says, adding “It was amazing to see the kind of outpouring of support and understanding from the community.

“Then we got to make the big announcement today,” he continues, “and we’re all just incredibly excited to be working on PAX Online.”

PAX Online 2020

At its core, PAX is a community show so it’s no surprise that its decision to cancel this years event was met with an outpouring of love and support. The fans were heartbroken of course. PAX is an event that brings people together and anecdotally, is often the one time in a year that friends are able to see each other in real life.

“We know that more than anything else, what people are feeling right now is a need to connect with one another,” Lancaster says, referring to the social distancing required by COVID-19. “We thought we had the resources and we had the communities to make that happen.”

PAX Aus 2020 and PAX West 2020 have both fallen victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as restrictions ease and daily life returns to some semblance of normality, the risks associated with such large gatherings of people like PAX are simply too serious to ignore. So, ReedPOP, the company responsible for PAX, decided to take the convention online.

While that sounds simple enough, when you get down to the nitty gritty, turning a real-world event into a virtual version of itself is pretty complex. And that’s not all. PAX Online is combining both PAX Aus and PAX West and will be live 24-hours a day for nine days straight. It’s fair to say, something of this scale hasn’t been attempted before.

Before the decision to move PAX into the virtual space this year, Lancaster was at PAX East in Boston in March. “That was the last big event we ran this year,” he tells me, “and even then we realised this [COVID-19] was a global concern. We started looking at contingencies and options. We always say we don’t take these decisions lightly but it got to the point where we all understood that PAX Online is what we have to do this year.”

So what exactly does PAX Online look like? Lancaster lays it out for me;

On a fundamental level, having everyone doing the same thing at the same time is going to inspire that community and PAX mentality. And that vibe.

We’re definitely looking at rolling out a number of different community-led activities, running discussion groups and tournaments, channels around panels, community workshops and even small things to incentivise viewing parties with your friends very much pushing that interpersonal connection on a digital scale.

Having that person to person connection, having that sense of community is the ground up mentality we’re building this with.

And while taking PAX online in 2020 might remove that physical sense of community, Lancaster is confident it will help attract new fans and attendees. As a free, online event running 24-hours a day for nine days, Lancaster is sure that anyone who’s ever been PAX curious, will at least check it out.

An important part of every PAX experience are the smaller, curated community spaces like the Diversity Lounge at PAX Aus. I asked Lancaster how PAX Online will cater to and provide these spaces and he explained that because those spaces are so vital, he and his team are actively working on the best way to translate them to an online space.

“A lot of it is giving a platform to those groups and facilitating a way for them to connect. Whether that rolls out as Discord servers or curated lists of games from relevant developers,” he said. “Whether it’s panel content on Twitch channels, there are a lot of ways we see serving the community on a variety of scales and keeping that very authentic, community-driven feeling.”

PAX Panels are another facet of the yearly event that draws hundreds of fans. It’s one of the most popular things to do at PAX and so, of course, PAX Online is going to have panels. As of right now, PAX Online has three dedicated Twitch channels for panels and Lancaster tells me “if we need more, we can make more.”

Something Lancaster is keen to stress is PAX Online is the best time to apply for a panel. If you’ve been rejected in the past or are nervous your idea won’t be chosen, now is the time to apply anyway.

one message I would love to get inside people’s heads right now is this is the best chance you have to apply because the barrier for you taking part right now is a webcam and an internet connection.

The only prerequisite for panels is they need to be about gaming. Lancaster rolls of some examples; “It could be about 80s board games, it could be critical discussions on gender theory in games that came out in the last three years, it could be pinball tournaments. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s about games.”

As an online show, I asked Lancaster if Enforcers would still play a role. “Absolutely,” he says. “A phrase you’ll hear us use a lot is the Enforcers are the spine of the show. The beating heart of the PAX community.”

While it’s not yet clear how Enforcers will play a role in PAX Online, Lancaster is adamant they will have a role to play. “We are absolutely engaging the entire global Enforcer community in delivering this show.”

When it comes to the nitty-gritty of PAX, the hands-on demos, the tabletop area, partners and the like, Lancaster is unable to reveal much at this point. “Not if I want to keep my skin,” he laughs. “If you do a bit of digging around online events you’ll see there are options for online demo play and we are definitely looking at that technology,” he adds.

For the last few years, PAX Aus has enjoyed a relationship with EB and the EB Expo. How that translates to PAX Aus is still being worked out according to Lancaster. “We have obviously enjoyed a very strong partnership with EB for the past few years.

“That was explicitly with PAX Aus and at this stage, I’m not sure how it factors into PAX Online.”

Despite moving what is traditionally a physical event into a virtual space is a huge task, PAX Online ‘feels’ like it’s heading in the right direction. The emphasis and focus Lancaster and ReedPop have on the community and the idea of games bringing people together is really what PAX is about.

If they can successfully recreate that ‘PAX vibe’ online, PAX Online 2020 is bound to be a tremendous success.

Look forward to nine days of non-stop PAX from September 12 through 20. The entire event is free, however, you will be able to purchase merch at a later date.

You can make your panel submissions here.

Indie devs are encourgaed to get in touch here.

Thanks to Luke Lancaster for his time.

Leo Stevenson
Leo Stevenson
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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