PAX South 2019: Covering the Launch Weekend of Ace Combat 7
Updated: Nov 10, 2021
The third weekend of January 2019 was undoubtedly an important weekend for the Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown but also featured a landmark event for the Ace Combat series as a whole. This summary of event coverage is the first of a set of articles about PAX South 2019 as covered by Project Lighthouse (this is the name of the organization that preceded Skyward Flight Media).
The initial plan was to send a single representative to observe, record and later write an article about PAX South 2019 from January 18th to January 20th, 2019. Our focus would be on everything related to Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown. A few days before the event, others from the Ace Combat online community were confirmed to also be attending. The result of this was Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza joining up with Ace Combat Fan (Ace Combat-focused YouTuber), F22Coleman (USAF Aircraft Maintenance Officer, Long-time Ace Combat fan) and Zetec (the head of r/AceCombat) to collaborate on event coverage and meet with new and returning fans of the series.
Attendance of Kazutoki Kono
It goes without saying that any event attended by the Brand Director of the Ace Combat series is important. Having Kazutoki Kono attend PAX South on the weekend of Ace Combat 7's launch was huge. In comparison to other PAX conventions in the United States of America, PAX South is still relatively new. For this reason, along with the small window of travel before the event for Kono-san, no one was expecting him to attend before the announcement was made days before the convention doors opened. Especially not on the launch weekend of the latest main series release of the series.
While at PAX South, Kono-san had casual interactions with the attendees, performed an interview with Ace Combat Fan and had an on-stage presentation before watching AC7 played live in an eSports style event. His two autograph sessions on Friday and Saturday were entertaining. As he signed merchandise presented to him by fans, he used his own personal cellphone to snap photos, autographed everything from postcards to video game consoles and saluted in photos with fans. He was very engaged with the event from start to finish. Fans expressed their own gratitude by presenting him with gifts. He also took the time to try a staple Texan fast food chain.
The AC7 Booth
In the landscape of PAX South 2019, the Ace Combat 7 booth was eye-catching in the mass of booths on the PAX floor. With a wall-sized banner as its background, the blue and white booth presented three clusters of PlayStation 4 game consoles. Eight player battle royale and virtual reality experiences we offered. Bandai Namco Entertainment USA staff and other attendants wearing flight suits consistently interacted with attendees as they came to the booth. It didn't matter if they were waiting for a chance to play or looked on from outside with curiosity, the staff there was courteous and always on standby to answer questions.
The booth was also a meeting spot for new, returning and veteran Ace Combat fans. While there they discussed the current game and all facets of Ace Combat as a whole while networking with one another. Of note were long-time fans taking the time to teach new players quick tips to make their first flights with the Ace Combat series more enjoyable. Throughout the weekend three grand prizes for the individual that put up the highest score on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were available. These top scorers would win a PlayStation VR bundle that included two games, the PS VR headset, and a PlayStation camera. Winners would have their achievement commemorated with a photo of themselves with the grand prize and staff at the booth. Competition for this grand prize was quietly fierce with a handful of particularly skilled players regularly walking by to see if their score was outdone.
On Friday, January 18th, 2019, PAX attendees who won their battle royale matches at the Ace Combat 7 booth were registered to compete in the Air Force Ace Combat 7 Open Competition on the PAX Arena stage. A select few of them would later participate in an event on the same stage that was a landmark event for the public outlook of Ace Combat as a whole.
Once in a Lifetime
Chris Aguilar had one of the most interesting experiences any convention attendee could possibly have. During the weekend of his first convention visit ever, he won a PlayStation Virtual Reality headset for having the highest battle royale score in a day and competed in the first PAX Arena Ace Combat 7 competition.
Air Force Ace Combat 7 Competition Live at PAX Arena
The headline event for Ace Combat at PAX South 2019 was both days of the Air Force Ace Combat 7 competitions done on the arena stage. For those that do not know, PAX Arena broadcasts competitive game play from PAX events to thousands of Twitch viewers and a live audience. For Ace Combat, eSports style tournament play with commentary rarity but having it broadcast for the first time to such a wide audience has raised the curiosity of many. On Saturday, January 20th, Ace Combat 7 events at PAX Arena consisted of many rounds of battle royale made up of players that won matches at the AC7 booth the day before. Each victory on stage resulted in a short interview with the winner and a prize for their victory ranging from mugs, a copy of Ace Combat 7 and more (time stamp 00:00:00 to 01:53:00):
After the battle royale matches, a change in programming occurred which resulted in the first-ever live team death matches for Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown. Unexpectedly, members and affiliates of Project: Lighthouse appeared on stage as Team Project: Lighthouse - announced as the first team to participate in an eSports style event for Ace Combat 7.
Commentary by Ace Combat Fan and Matrym carried through the event (timestamp: 02:02:49):
The final, headline event for Ace Combat at PAX Arena was the Air Force Ace Combat 7 Showdown on Sunday, January 20th. This pitted Twitch streamers Deejay Knight, Kyente, PmsProxy, and Tinmac against members of United States of America Air Force. After an on-stage presentation with Kazutoki Kono with translation by Ace Combat Fan, both the Twitch and Air Force teams were introduced, and gameplay began. Commentary for the event included a former F-15C Eagle pilot. Colonel Bradley Oliver of the United States Air Force is the Commander of the 369th Recruiting Group. His commentary discussed his own life experiences with combat aircraft in comparison to what he saw being played on stage. The full event can be viewed here:
Known as 'Valk' to the Ace Combat online community, Jonathon B. now jokingly self identifies as an accidental Ace Combat eSport personality. At PAX South 2019 he flew with the title of 'Apex Predator' as his in game nickname. A fitting name for one of the best players attending the convention that weekend. Besides securing a top score and winning a PS VR bundle, he also won a copy of Ace Combat 7 during the PAX Arena battle royales and filled an open slot with Team Project: Lighthouse in the team death match competition on the PAX Arena stage.
Bandai Namco America Outreach
In the lead up to the release of Ace Combat 7, Bandai Namco Entertainment America performed a level of community outreach they had never done before in relation to the Ace Combat franchise in the US market. The last high-level outreach was performed in 2011, in support of the release of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. Outreach was directed at AceCombatSkies, one of the oldest English Ace Combat fan forums with roots extending back to the early 2000s. This contact resulted in a representative of the long-established fan forum attending E3 2011 with the Community Manager at the time. In 2018 and 2019, Bandai Namco Entertainment America maintained a constant presence on social media, engaged directly with well-known hubs of Ace Combat activity and performed interviews and livestreams with notable individuals from the Ace Combat online community. While at PAX South their engagement and enthusiasm continued. From the AC7 booth, behind the scenes of the Air Force Ace Combat 7 events at PAX Arena, in support of Ace Combat Fan's interview with Kazutoki Kono and encouraging F22Coleman, Ribbon-Blue, and Zetec to engage with convention attendees coming to the Ace Combat 7 booth. Let the record show that for Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, Bandai Namco Entertainment America has put on one of the most, if not the most, extensive community outreach thus far for Ace Combat in the US market. Congratulations and thanks are in order for their staff for all they've done. Special thanks to Dmitryi Khlynin, Community Specialist. Many may know him from the December 2018 and January 2019 AC7 livestreams. While he may not have been on camera, his efforts were pivotal in the success of Ace Combat 7 related events at PAX South 2019 that weekend.
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. A lifelong aviation enthusiast with a special interest in flight simulators and games. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating aviation related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He continues to explore past and present flight games and sims with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. | Twitter | Discord: RibbonBlue#8870 |