From college dorms to the big stage: The story of Beachcon

Founded in 2005, Beachcon has remained one of the most recognizable gaming conventions in Long Beach. Courtesy of Beachcon

It isn't everyday that your college LAN party turns into a city's flagship gaming event, but Beachcon did just that for Long Beach, California.

Beachcon is an annual gathering of all things video games. Originally founded in 2005 by students and staff from California State University, it's become a melting pot of hundreds of gaming enthusiasts from across the state and beyond. This year's Beachcon, which kicks off Saturday and Sunday at the Thunder Esports Center, marks its debut as an independent event. With attractions such as the AVGL collegiate championship, open tournaments and visits from industry professionals at Twitch Student and Los Angeles Valiant, the event is looking like a solid follow-up to last year's iteration, which boasted 2,400 attendees.

Humble beginnings

What we know today as Beachcon began in the dorms of California State University in 2005. Frank Lima, a student of the university, worked with friends and dorm managers to create something that would give CSULB's gamers an event of their own. This manifested into the A versus B LAN party, which at 50-or-so attendees, was considered successful enough to continue for years to come. The event was popular enough that in 2008, it had become a mini-convention and university tradition of sorts, signalling the name-change to Beachcon.

It was the turn of the decade however, that Beachcon truly entered the mainstream. The legacy it set inspired several of its current heads to get involved, including convention director Cat Tompkins.

"In 2013, I was a student editor for one of Long Beach's campus newspapers and at the time, I was assigned to report on Beachcon," Tompkins said. "Because of that article, I was inspired to really try and tackle on a major role with Beachcon -- however, I did not expect to end up directing it! It's really crazy to look back."

Around the same time, esports was gaining popularity across the world and Long Beach was no exception. 2014 marked Beachcon's shift toward a competitive gaming-focused approach, shedding its "Bring Your Own Computer" roots. This, alongside the introduction of console games, gave the event a new lease on life.

But the organizers didn't want to end at that. Despite Beachcon traditionally being a CSULB affair, they thought that outsiders should be able to join in the fun.

"In 2016, we started heavily inviting and marketing to other schools and campuses, and overall setting the tone for the 'community-first' vibe," Tompkins said. "It was a major shift from the event being prioritized to dorm students, to all of a sudden, inviting multiple schools and communities to come out."

From that point on, diversity was the name of the game for Beachcon. The inclusion of anime, mechanical keyboard and digital art communities in 2017 turned the event into much more than what it was started for: a meeting ground for hobbyists of all types. The reward? A record-breaking attendance of 2,400 that year.

"Beachcon for us is about creating a quality gaming and pop culture convention experience for the city of Long Beach and anyone beyond that," Tompkins said. "It's an event to bring the community together and show folks what gaming can be all about."

Community effort

For the organizers, Beachcon 2017's success was a wake-up call that the event had even more potential as an independent initiative.

"Beachcon just outgrew CSULB as a whole and became a community-run convention this year, with the intent of hopefully becoming the 'mini-E3' of Long Beach," Tompkins said. "Our staff this year is comprised of folks representing different esports/gaming communities. ... I want Beachcon to serve as a training ground for anyone to dip their feet into event planning."

Another thing Beachcon outgrew was its long-term venue, CSULB's Pointe at Walter Pyramid. While the conference center had served Beachcon well for several years, its 500-man capacity wouldn't be enough to support the event moving forward. Luckily, the newly opened, nearby Thunder Esports Center had just the right amount of space and was looking to partner up.

"It was an easy decision for our team to make," said Thunder Gaming CEO Christian Bishop. "The Beachcon team is a group of young, passionate gamers that are looking to push the envelope and throw an amazing event. This team is one of the most selfless teams I've worked with. Every dollar plus some is going back into the event."

At the same time, the goodwill the event had built up over its lifespan caught the attention of the American Video Game League, who needed a home for its April Anarchy Dota 2 and Counter Strike collegiate championship.

"We knew we wanted to partner with a college club, administration, or event, and bring our April Anarchy Grand Finals as an added value to the community experience," said AVGL founder Victor Suski. "There are many great college events across the country, but Beachcon stands out with 13 years of experience putting on a high-quality event."

Beachcon's longevity and success is a testament to just how far student-run projects can go. With how much it's grown with each installment, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the event achieve greater heights in the years to come.

When asked about Beachcon's continuous success, Tompkins said, "I definitely attribute that to the growth and support of the community, combined with our efforts to keep the event fresh and interesting. Without the community's support, we wouldn't be as big as we are today."