PAX South 2019: Ribbon-Blue Report
This report is written by Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza who attended PAX South 2019 and experienced it all first hand. Written from his point of view, he describes some of the day by day events not mentioned in the Summary: PAX South 2019 article.
Launch weekend of the long-awaited newest game from Project Aces with the brand director of the series in attendance and a live competition sponsored by the United States Air Force? It was undeniably a once in a lifetime event. In my opinion, some of what happened at PAX South 2019 was a landmark event for Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown and for the Ace Combat franchise as a whole.
Two weeks before the convention doors opened, I had not looked too closely at PAX South. Just because I thought it was too far away and with Ace Combat 7 being released that weekend, a far off game convention seemed less critical. As time passed, and contacts were made, it became apparent that PAX South 2019 would be an experience with key people from Bandai-Namco USA, Project Aces (Ace Combat Development Team) and members of the Ace Combat online community. In the end, the final deciding factor for my trip was location. San Antonio, Texas, USA. My hometown. Days of rushed prep work, buying supplies, researching camera equipment and booking flights and hotels paid off. By January 17th, 2019 I was landing in San Antonio still riding a wave of excitement and anticipation. All of those feelings weren't just about the convention itself. In the lead up to PAX South, I learned that Ace Combat Fan (Ace Combat-focused YouTuber), F22Coleman (USAF Aircraft Maintenance Officer, Long-time Ace Combat fan) and Zetec (the head of r/AceCombat) were also going to attend. It would be one of the few times I would ever meet up with people I've spoken with on a computer screen, at a location that was sure to be full of new and returning Ace Combat fans.
With agreements to support one another made and collaboration on media coverage established, the four of us were prepared for the weekend. Prepared for what we thought the weekend would be at least. Though my focus was on taking pictures and video, we were all pulled in much deeper than any of us had planned for. On January 17th, at a time in the morning I may never travel during again, I was at Denver International Airport before the baggage check in kiosks were even activated. Three hours and one flight transfer later I landed in San Antonio, Texas.
Midnight Pickup The same day I arrived in San Antonio, F22Coleman and I picked up Ace Combat Fan from the airport around midnight. Upon his arrival we were gifted Canadian Chocolates. My only regret is that I ate them far too quickly.
Day One - January 18th, 2019
My own experiences with conventions of all types and sizes have made me relatively use to them, but even for me, PAX South seemed to be larger than I expected. On the internet many people that attend other PAX conventions talk of PAX South as though it is smaller and less important. That created a preconception before I arrived and saw it for myself.
With F22Coleman at the wheel of his dependable vehicle, we picked up Zetec and met Ace Combat Fan at the Ace Combat 7 booth. After winding through PAX security and the various other booths, we arrived at the Ace Combat 7 area. As mentioned in the event summary article, it was eye-catching when looking at the different booths around it. The constant crowd of convention goers getting in line and looking on with interest kept the atmosphere active. After meeting with the Bandai-Namco staff there, the four of us spent the day challenging one another, interacting with fans while they waited in line, encouraged others to give the demo a try and frequently used the booth as a meetup point for the weekend. It became the unofficial event HQ for our coverage from day 1.
Throughout Friday, January 18th, the booth would run two unique events for attendees that played the eight-player battle royale. The winner of each round would be signed up to participate in battle royale matches for the Air Force Ace Combat 7 Open Competition to be held on Saturday, January 19th, live on the PAX Arena stage. The second event was a weekend-long high score challenge. The individual that put up the top score for each day of the convention would win a PlayStation VR bundle that included two games and the PS4 Camera. A select few skilled Ace Combat fans openly and frequently battled one another for the top prize all weekend.
With the Saturday battle royale on the minds of the top scorers, Ace Combat Fan, F22Coleman, Zetec and myself played as many rounds as possible at the Ace Combat 7. We all felt as though we needed to gather experience quickly. No one wants to embarrass themselves in a live stream on stage. Little did I know that everyone but me brought a PS4 and a copy of AC7 with them to their hotels. The final events of Friday rounded out with a midday lunch at Whataburger, an autograph session with Kazutoki Kono, Brand Director of the Ace Combat series and the rest of the four-man PAX South team supporting Ace Combat Fan during his interview with Kazutoki Kono. There are times when meeting the people behind your most beloved game series can be disappointing. After having conversations with Kazutoki Kono, taking photos of his autograph sessions, watching his interactions with fans and casually talking to him throughout the convention, I felt happy and relieved. He is a humble man with a genuine appreciation for those that have played and continue to support the Ace Combat series. During his autograph sessions he often took his own pictures of the merchandise fans asked him to sign and saluted with fans that asked for photos with him. You could tell he was genuinely happy to be there. After a successful day at the convention, the four of us ended up at Denny's, the current in-joke restaurant related to Ace Combat (ACF explains in this video) to review the day's events and prepare for Saturday.
Interview Wingmen F22Coleman, Zetec and I provided whatever support Ace Combat Fan, Kazutoki Kono and staff from Bandai-Namco Entertainment America needed for his interview. After relocating chairs, banners and personnel to an area away from the busy Ace Combat 7 booth, the interview went without a hitch. With Zetec on the camera (as seen in the photo) and myself taking separate photos, ACF's interview with Kazutoki Kono was an important part of the PAX South weekend.
Day Two - January 19th, 2019
Arriving just in time to play on stage, F22Coleman, Zetec and I entered into the battle royale segment alongside new companions we met on Friday. With commentary by Ace Combat Fan and Matrym, beneath the stage lights, with a camera high above roving around the arena, waves of contenders got on stage with only the winner of each round receiving a prize and a short interview. Though competitive, a casual atmosphere filled both the arena seats and the stage. As I walked around the arena snapping photos before and after my own battle royale round, an amazing chance appeared. The decision to change the battle royale format of the segment came to us suddenly during a commercial break. With the immediate assistance from Bandai Namco staff on site, the final details were settled within minutes. We found ourselves preparing for the first-ever, live on stage Ace Combat 7 team death match (TDM) exhibition. With less than forty minutes of overall game time on Ace Combat 7, I selected the F-15J with SAAMs and competed alongside the rest of what was be known as Team Project Lighthouse. The atmosphere of team-based competition felt like it had finally set in. This offset any nervousness or stage fright we would have felt. After four consecutive victories, Team Project Lighthouse was split, new teams were formed, and competition continued.
Throughout the on-stage team death matches, we were told there were consecutively over 10,000 viewers on Twitch with a peak of 16,000 viewers. No pressure, right? After the on stage, on camera events ended, the post-game celebration between those that participated shifted back to the AC7 booth. You'd figure after roughly four hours of competitive game play we'd need a break. Instead, we were right back at it celebrating with our newfound companions with battle royale. It's hard for me to say if we're creatures of habit or a bit more diehard than I expected. The second round of autographs with Kazutoki Kono resulted in him signing everything from copies of Ace Combat 7 to entire video game consoles. Zetec flew back to his home that evening, leaving Coleman and I to indulge Ace Combat Fan in a local Texan restaurant once again. Saturday's choice being Bill Miller's BBQ restaurant. With both this restaurant and Whataburger under his belt, we felt as though Ace Combat Fan could honestly say he had "been to Texas."
Day Three - January 20th, 2019
January 20th, 2019. The final day for PAX South featured the main Ace Combat 7 event which pitted Twitch streamers Deejay Knight, Kyente, PmsProxy, and Tinmac against members of United States of America Air Force. I found myself in the crowd with the other hardcore Ace Combat fans, as well as Kazutoki Kono in the audience. Cheering and commenting as we watched the tide of competition slowly rise. It was at this time, sitting in the crowd with fellow Ace Combat fans and new acquaintances that I found myself having to let this all sink in. A history of competitive Ace Combat gameplay from my time joining the online community in 2004 up to sitting in this crowd in 2019 came to mind. What a long way this has all come.
As my thoughts on this began to gather, F22Coleman said his goodbyes and began his drive home. This ended his weekend of being very popular with just about everyone that saw him or spoke to him for those three days. Once again, those that had been involved with the live events found ourselves at the Ace Combat 7 booth. We exchanged contact information with new friends, I had reunions with members of Ace Combat online squadrons from over a decade ago and even met the representative of AceCombatSkies.com from 2011 in person. Throughout the event, I met many others that knew of Project: Lighthouse. In an interesting moment of "coming full circle," I met a younger individual along with their family. To be told that he was the same age I was when I signed up on my first Ace Combat forum in 2004 and that Project: Lighthouse was a significant part of what got him involved today was very special for me. The thanks I received from them are something I'll probably never forget. The final highlight of my personal PAX South experience with AC7 was using a MiG-21 with Machine Gun Pods for "the memes" as it were. The target? An advanced version of the X-02 Wyvern, one of the most well known fictional aircraft in Ace Combat. A random but hilariously satisfying high point. With the main event hall closing at 6:00 PM on Sunday, January 20th, goodbyes were expressed, and thanks were given to Ace Combat Fan and the dedicated staff of Bandai Namco USA who truly performed above and beyond. Not only at PAX South, but in many other ways leading up to the launch weekend for Ace Combat 7. The after effects of the meetings, interviews, live events, photos and videos of PAX South 2019 are still having an effect on the online community at large today. In the background of the energy surround in the release of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, plans are being laid for long term ventures created by and managed by various members and organizations within the Ace Combat community. I look forward to seeing where it all goes from here.
About the Author
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza is the Director of Operations for 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 sims with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. | Twitter | Discord: RibbonBlue#8870