They say you should never meet your heroes. I’m not sure what they say when some of those heroes broadcast half of their daily lives for everyone to see, but I still like them well enough. And it feels like I’ve met them.
July 5 marked the beginning of RTX 2013, and I was packed into the Austin Convention Center with 8,000 other lucky souls for the occasion. While the convention could hold the interest of most gamers, it doesn’t really carry the same spirit as conventions focused solely on games. RTX gives Rooster Teeth and Achievement Hunter fans the opportunity to physically stand shoulder to shoulder with others who love the exploits of some of the earliest dabblers in online video–and to possibly even meet the creators.
While there were opportunities to see the talent behind the two companies doing what they do best, most of the show’s panels will be posted online for all to see. The crowd went crazy for these events, but the questions people asked at them are revealing: What do I need to do to get a job with you guys? What’s it like when you are off camera? Gavin, do you want to get coffee later?
From enormous, constant lines for signatures and photos to fans shouting catchphrases accumulated throughout hundreds of hours of video, adoration is always on display. The most attended panels were live versions of the RT podcast and a freeform Achievement Hunter panel, where the core members of each group really just acted as always while fans cheered them on; it’s not a typical convention. While part of PAX‘s appeal may involve getting to see Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins in person, the show really thrives on giving the convention to the gaming community. Early PAX goers were drawn to its creators’ nerd credentials and expert humor, but the convention has since turned into a gargantuan affair loved by fans of both Penny Arcade and gaming at large. RTX, on the other hand, thrives on personality and seeing the crew interacting with fans and each other.
This was on my mind as I lined up early on Sunday morning, trying to be one of the first people into the convention hall. While I was almost at the front of our line, hundreds gathered nearby before 6 a.m. to participate in a video being filmed outside (a collaboration between Slow Mo Guys and Freddie Wong that involved a lot of water balloons, coming soon). Before the main floor opened we were allowed to start queuing for autographs from Rooster Teeth staffers; I immediately got in line for Gus Sorola and was fourth from the front. If you think I’m weird for getting in line to get in line, you’re not alone. I knew that most of the people in line with me had been fans for much longer than I, as my primary exposure was to the podcast in August 2012. They could have been watching Red vs. Blue for over a decade.
The reason I can remember when I began listening to the podcast, almost to the day, is honestly painful. About a week after I first downloaded it–in fact while I was listening to an old episode one afternoon–I received a phone call and learned one of my best friends had died. He was someone I spoke to practically every day, went to college with, gamed with constantly, and he was a very kind soul. It was sudden, and we were all crushed. Playing video games felt wrong for a while. Having fun at all didn’t feel right. Spending time with the rest of my college friends helped, but when I was alone or driving across Minnesota the podcast probably kept me sane. Being able to laugh that hard, even if it made me feel guilty, was a tremendous relief.
When my turn came to have Gus sign something, I told him we’d run into each other in a relatively calm corner of the convention the day before and snapped a group photo, so I didn’t need a signature or anything. I told him why the podcast meant a lot to me (abbreviated, for the sake of the crowd), he thanked me, and we shook hands. It only took a handful of seconds, and it felt pretty great. As a delivery mechanism, the internet fools us into feeling like we know people when, in reality, they have no idea who we are. It may be harmful for some, since it creates the illusion of knowing someone so well. But as a strange turnaround, if I am any indication, online entertainers directly touch the inner lives of thousands without ever really knowing the positive influence they may have. Past media have had a similar effect, but never in a way where participants have access to so many hours of material and been able to access it at any time, completely of their own choosing. Some people would call my experience with the podcast escapism; they would be wrong. Instead, listening to the podcast and hearing its members joke around reminds me of the way it feels to be with my circle of friends. It gave me a way to remember that life is actually pretty funny, usually.
This year RTX more than doubled in attendance compared to 2012, and some panels had lines forming hours before they began. It’s not hard to imagine attendees getting cranky at the sheer amount of people and waiting involved, but for the most part they seemed happy to be there. Jokes about lines for lines happened, but not in poor spirits. The reason, in my opinion, is that the show isn’t really about being constantly entertained; it’s about being a part of a greater community. One of the best (and most stereotyped) aspects of nerd culture is unabashedly enjoying things, and it feels great to be around people to share that with. They seem to be doing well as a company, but almost all of what Rooster Teeth and Achievement Hunter post online can be seen for free. I’m sure they sell a lot of t-shirts and DVDs, but they make a lot of people laugh who never give them a cent. It’s a strange, wonderful kind of sorcery that’s hard to reproduce offline.
I had a great time, but the highlight I’ll remember is directly thanking someone who, through no direct intention on his part, made my life a little less shitty.