Jul 9, 2021 - Technology

As gaming events return, COVID safety is up for discussion

Illustration of a lanyard badge with requirement checkboxes changing.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Gaming events are slowly resuming as vaccinations roll out and COVID cases drop. But discrepancies between how different organizers choose to enforce safety protocols are forcing some attendees to drop out.

Why it matters: For attendees who might be immunocompromised or have loved ones who are, events still pose a significant risk.

  • The delta variant, which is said to be twice as infectious, is quickly becoming the dominant strain.
  • PAX West is the first annual gaming events to return with an in-person presence, but organizers will neither require attendees to be vaccinated or present a negative COVID test.

Press outlets like Fanbyte have decided not to send staff to the event.

  • In a statement issued on July 7, Fanbyte brand editor Nicholas Grayson wrote that they "do not feel that it is safe to make the trip to Seattle."
  • “While we would love to spend time with each other and our peers in-person for the first time in over a year, concerns for our team’s health and, frankly, the public good take priority,” Grayson wrote.
  • Polygon editor-in-chief Chris Plante told Axios that the site would not require its team to attend any conference with this policy because "their health matters far more than a few stories about video games."
  • Kotaku editor-in-chief Patricia Hernandez told Axios that the site "will keep monitoring the situation and will likely not officially attend events until it is completely safe to do so."
  • "We're committed to following both CDC and local guidelines as circumstances continue to develop. For now, we're comfortable with fully vaccinated employees attending events and onsite meetings that abide by locally-set restrictions. LA, for example, is still recommending masks and social distancing for fully vaccinated individuals, so we adhere to those guidelines," an IGN spokesperson told Axios.

The big picture: Conventions worldwide are starting to loosen their grip on safety precautions.

  • Events like UK Games Expo, the country's largest tabletop gaming convention, has opted out of basic safety measurements like masks or social distancing.

What they're saying: The event's decision is already drawing criticism from people across the industry.

  • No Code founder Jon McKellan urged publishers and developers to pull out of the event, tweeting, "Don't let the organisers put your staff at such risk for their sake of cramming in more ticket holders on the day. Also, you don't really want your brand associated with a massive covid hotspot right?"

The bottom line: Even in a non-pandemic, conventions are breeding grounds for disease. Events like PAX are notorious for "con crud," where it's normal to pick up some sort of cold or other illness after an event.

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