WASD 2021, expo, video games, Monstrum II

WASD 2022: a round-up

Rezzed was always my favourite expo in the gaming calendar.

Despite its growing reliance in later years on released games or those which had previously appeared at earlier events, nothing could match its atmosphere. There was always a real vibe of support for independent developers and it was a place where everyone came together to celebrate indie gaming.

That explains why I was annoyed when I heard the news about its demise in October 2021. The first EGX expo in two years had just taken place and had turned out to be a rather disappointing experience, with few releases on display, glitching PCs in the exhibition hall and hosts who decided they’d rather stream at home than be there. The organiser’s announcement about their ‘successful in-person event’ and decision to scrap the Rezzed brand in favour of an additional EGX therefore felt like a kick in the teeth.

It didn’t work out well for them though. EGX Birmingham was planned for March 2022 but then cancelled at the end of January because ‘many of their partners and brands were not yet ready to return to live events’ given the ‘current climate and knock-on effects of Omicron’. The organisers are planning to try again this year and revealed that tickets for a London expo in September are due to go on sale on 10 May 2022; but I can see many gamers not rushing to make a booking after being burnt the last time.

Thank goodness then for WASD this month. Billed as being for anyone who plays, makes or studies games, the inaugural event took place at the Tobacco Dock from 07 to 09 April 2022 as part of the London Games Festival (I can only apologise for how delayed this post is). Visitors were promised the opportunity to meet their favourite content creators and hear from developers who’d be presenting their latest projects, so Pete and I booked our tickets and jumped on a train for the opening day.

The highlights

Heading out of the station and towards the venue, we were a little unnerved by how few people seemed to be making their way to the expo. There were none of the crowds we were previously used to seeing at Rezzed and even wondered whether we’d turned up on the wrong date. We needn’t have worried though, because we soon found the rooms on the ground floor of the Tobacco Dock filled with playable titles and free seats. Just the sort of thing you want to experience when you turn up to an event.

We were surprised at how low the number of attendees was. I’ve read online that over 5,000 people visited during the three days and that the Friday and Saturday were busier than the Thursday, so perhaps we simply missed the buzz by going on a weekday. The positive thing about this though was that we didn’t have to wait to play any of the games that caught our eye and, instead of feeling empty, seeing how excited everybody was to be back at a real-world event made it almost feel like that old Rezzed atmosphere.

Pete was keen to try out Monstrum 2 after playing the original title a while back and the Junkfish guys were kind enough to join him for a match. The ship setting and monsters are similar but the gameplay has been given a multiplayer twist, and it’s something we can see ourselves playing with friends on a Friday evening. KeyWe by Stonewheat & Sons also caught his attention when we found it to be a cooperative puzzler featuring kiwi birds, which was more fun and less repetitive than something like Overcooked.

The game which stood out for me was Inscryption by Daniel Mullins Games. It had appeared in my Steam recommendations during the week before but, not usually being a fan of deckbuilding or roguelike titles, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s ‘overwhelmingly positive’ reviews (and an empty seat) were enough to convince me to give it a try at WASD and I ended up playing for around half an hour. It was added to my wishlist straight away thanks to its creepy atmosphere and characters, and I have a feeling I’ll be starting it soon.

The lowlights

WASD 2021, expo, video games, Inscryption

Although the organisers did a good job of filling the ground floor with games, unlike at other expos held at the Tobacco Dock, the basement was empty. I guess this was to be expected seeing as it was their first event and many people still have concerns about COVID, and it’s worth noting that it still felt as though there was far more to do here than at EGX in October. A round of applause for not resorting to large retro gaming areas, gimmicky promotional stands promising competitions or Gang Beasts to fill up space.

One of the things I like most about expos is discovering upcoming titles and the possibility of coming across a hidden gem which doesn’t look like something I’d initially go for. This may have been the case with Inscryption – but it had already been released in full. As with Rezzed during its later years, there were many games which had already been published so it would have been nice to have seen a few more exclusives; perhaps this will change as the popularity of WASD grows.

I think it could be a similar case with visitors. As mentioned above, the lack of attendees there on the first day didn’t adversely affect the atmosphere thanks to their enthusiasm; but it was hard not to miss the buzz of being in a crowd that shares your love for something and I’m hoping more will join next year. The organisers clearly tried to spread the word about the event by reaching out to as many people as possible, but it felt as though there was a greater number of attendees with a ‘content creator’ lanyard than not.

A digression: something I’ve learnt over the years is that I prefer to go to expos as a ‘normal’ visitor. They don’t usually provide you with any worthwhile additional benefits, at least none that you can’t work around not receiving, and there’s less pressure to perform for both you and the developers which makes for a better time all round. And besides, professionalism works better than any pass; the way you present yourself and ask questions reveals far more about you than your ticket ever will (maybe I’ll write about this properly one day.)

The future

Long live WASD. A new event was obviously going to have some teething problems, but these give the organisers something to learn from and the opportunity to improve the expo when it returns in 2023. I’ve noticed that many websites referred to it as ‘the spiritual successor to Rezzed’. On one hand I get where they’re coming from as it was lovely to see such a focus on indie releases, but on the other, I think WASD deserves to be recognised in its own right for what it managed to achieve during what is still a difficult time.

It was a welcome return to real-world events and the lower attendee count this time around made for a gentler reintroduction to gaming expos. I really appreciated the strong focus on keeping people safe with antibacterial wipes and hand sanitiser on every stand, so nobody had to be anxious about who’d been using the controller before them. The sense of excitement displayed by both developers and visitors was so lovely to be around again and in some ways, it kind of felt like coming home.

A message for the EGX organisers: you guys had better watch your backs. After a poor show in October, cancellation in March and scrapping of the Rezzed brand, WASD are hot on your heels after such a good inaugural event. There’s a big chance they’re going to fill your shoes if there are more games on display and attendees in 2023 – and it’s possible I may have found something to replace my favourite expo in the gaming calendar.

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