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Community Spotlight: Winter GameFest 2021 & Running Virtual Events

In February, the Sixth College Technology Committee at UC San Diego held their 16th Annual Winter GameFest event! This was a virtual event dedicated to bringing together the UCSD and San Diego community through gaming and competition, and is also a longtime partner with CollegeWear, Inc.!

This was the first ever year Winter GameFest ran exclusively virtually, thus presenting itself brand new challenges and innovations the team faced. While the landscape of virtual events may be reaching its end soon, we wanted to sit down with the two primary organizers of the event – Kevin Traw and Yen Nguyen – and learned about what the process was like running an all-online event for nearly 500 virtual attendees, and how you can learn from their experience!

Tell me a bit about yourself!

Kevin: I’m a 3rd year student at UCSD studying computer engineering, interested in technology, and of course, gaming!  At Sixth College Technology Committee (abbreviated SCTC), I am one of 2 directors with Yen and serve as the Sixth College Student Council facing director. I myself had joined the club my freshman year through my first quarter TA. My duties include interfacing with the student council, coordinating budgets, and coordinating the assistant directors to ensure they are getting the support they needed. Outside of SCTC, I’m in the gaming club Triton Splatoon and also in the process of starting a course on video game consoles at UCSD!

Yen: Hi! I’m a soon-to-be 3rd year at UCSD and a bioengineering-biosystems major and a general linguistics minor. I first started as a Winter GameFest volunteer before becoming a general member, to assistant director, and now director. I share the same responsibilities as Kevin, though I also supervise the tournament organizations ide and moderated our various Twitch live streams throughout the event. I also am a part of Warren’s Commission of Warren Spirit, because I’m actually not a Sixth student, but a Warren one!

Raffle items given to attendees at the event, including a custom shirt, button, mousepad, stickers, and face mask!

Kevin: Winter GameFest (abbreviated WGF) is one of Sixth College’s longest running traditions, serving as one of the oldest student-run gaming conventions on campus, as well as serving as a technology gaming expo!

Yen: WGF helps bring the community together through video games and video game tournaments! There’s events from cosplay contests, free-play, arcade machines, giveaways, and more! This year, we are hosting it virtually, but still keeping the charm and appeal of our event alive through our many virtual events!

What was it like adapting Winter GameFest into this new virtual environment?

Kevin: Many of our normal amenities and activities, such as free-play computers, the arcade, and some games for tournaments, had to be changed or cut to fit the online format. We moved the entire event to the massively popular Discord platform – an online server platform that was an effective virtual space for our attendees. We used the server to host tournaments, create pages for artists to sell their work, used roles and tags to connect attendees with similar game interests, and connected other platforms like Twitch and ZOom to stream tournaments and guest speaker events.

Yen: One good call we had with this virtual WGF was going from a weekend event to a 3-4 weekend event, to prevent burnout and screen exposure for both our attendees and our members helping run the event. It made our event more accessible and flexible for others who may not have time to join if it was just one weekend – especially those who are attending from different time zones. On the organizational side, it was crucial making sure we had a member present and moderating the various online platforms we hosted at all times in case people ever had questions or concerns.

What were some aspects of the virtual event you enjoyed?

Yen: While the event being online was a challenge, it was really fun to be able to interact with others who wouldn’t have been able to attend this event if it were in-person, such as students who attend other schools. I had friends from Cal State Long Beach, UC Berkeley, and more attend and experience something that normally is hard to experience if you aren’t already located in San Diego. Bringing more people together was nice!

Kevin: For me, a lot of tournaments had higher viewership than normal! Before this event, our tournaments were more of a secluded experience, often not streamed and at most just projected on a projector with a small audience. But we had higher engagement with tournament spectators that we wouldn’t have been able to achieve normally, making the tournaments even more high-stakes!

Our virtual artist alley also had more engagement as well! Some artists got very creative with the virtual space by using their new platform to answer questions and have fun art-related activities that attendees could interact with and watch – something that you can’t really do easily if you had a physical booth at the event.

A graphic showing some of the gaming competitions showcased and streamed during the event

 

What were some highlights from this year’s event?

Kevin: My favorite moments were our 2 guest speaker events: David J. Peterson – a “conlanger” who’s written fictional languages for Thor, Doctor Strange, and Game of Thrones, and Geoffrey Zatkin, a game designer who’s founded the VR game studio Experiment7. Not only did our attendees enjoy listening to them and asking questions, but they were overall great people to work with! WE actually recorded these virtual panels for everyone to watch whenever they wanted on our YouTube page.

Yen: The DJ’ing club on campus – DVC (Deejays and Vinylphiles) partnered with us to do some music streams! The DJs had some good vibes and good music, which was always fun to tune into during the event. Plus, getting to know the artists and viewing their work was fun, as they were all SUPER nice!

A screencap of one of the slides during Geoffrey Zatkin’s panel, showcasing some of the games/studios he’s worked with or had been heavily influenced by in his career

 

What are some valuable lessons you learned from running this virtual event, and how do you plan on bringing those lessons in future WGF events, virtual or in-person?

Both: Time management, easily.

Kevin: We had to delay the event a couple weeks because we didn’t pace ourselves effectively. Marking, promotion, and setting up all the servers took longer than expected – we definitely wished we had frontloaded those tasks first and finalized them as soon as possible.

Yen: We had to acknowledge that this was the first ever time this event was done virtually, so we had to realize things will go wrong no matter what. No amount of planning could predict every outcome, so we had to make sure we were acknowledging that rather than being upset at ourselves. After all, sometimes we get time zones messed up, a player can’t get reached, or (worst of all) the internet goes out. Messing up is just part of the process, and we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves!

Kevin: Also! Speaking of time zones – email is not an ideal form of communication in these scenarios. People will always take longer to respond to those. We’re definitely going to embrace platforms like Discord to communicate in the future since it’s SO much faster.

Gameplay from the Valorant tournament, the first time the game has been featured at Winter GameFest

 

WGF is a team effort, how was that experience like?

Kevin: Right! SCTC is divided into 3 “squads” (that’s what we like to call them): Marketing, Sponsorship, and Logistics, each with their own director. Yen and I oversee all of them, but the assistant directors focus on their own squads.We had to restructure how we all met virtually when planning the event, as some members were in different time zones. But ultimately, we are one group, so there’s bound to be crossover, and that at the end of the day this event would be nothing without the collective efforts of our assistant directors, our members, and our advisors.

Yen: We owe a lot to our members, because we all kept each other in check throughout this whole experience! I’m glad that we were able to bring people together during these times.

What is your advice for other student leaders out there planning virtual events?

Kevin: Utilize your network! You can post your events on your own socials fine, but what’s even more powerful is asking your friends to spread the word. Tell your members to spread it to their friends, and keep it going from there on out. Definitely also give them a pre-written blurb or the information of the event in a short, condensed message so that anybody can easily copy and paste it to share with somebody else.

Yen: Also, with a virtual event, ORGANIZE YOUR INFORMATION! Whether you have a Facebook event page, a website, or a Discord server, make sure all that information is easy to understand and organized neatly. Putting effort in how you present that information can make a big difference.

Lastly, enjoy yourself! At the end of the day, it’s an event! It’ll most likely be something you’re passionate about and something you want to do. Don’t stress, take pride in your event, and enjoy the festivities; you should be allowed to enjoy your own event after all! Don’t stress on being perfect – just be happy with what you can do!

Gameplay from the Splatoon 2 tournament, one of the many games that were streamed on Twitch

 

Thank you so much for telling us all about your experience running a virtual event! Where can we find you if people have any questions?

Kevin: Despite what I said about emails earlier, you can still contact mine at ktraw@ucsd.edu! I would happy to answer any questions about running virtual events – or events in general!

Yen: Same here! You can email me at ytnguyen@ucsd.edu! We hope to see you at Winter GameFest 2022 – hopefully in person!

 

Thank you so much to Kevin and Yen for taking the time to share with us their experience organizing and running the very first virtual Winter GameFest!

Hosting an event yourself – virtual or in person? Head on over to custom.collegewearinc.com to start shopping for amazing custom products, packages, and more for you next event!

 

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