February 3, 2020

How To Survive PAX East (2020 Edition)

by cns2020

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via Pass The Controller @passcontroller

PAX East is an annual convention held in Boston, MA that caters to gamers and fans of nerd culture. This year it takes place on February 27-March 1, 2020. 

PAX East 2020 is just a few short weeks away and if you haven’t already started planning, the next few weeks will be vital to your survival that weekend. Let’s discuss a few things that newcomers will need to know, and convention veterans can read up on to refresh their brain.

What is PAX?

PAX East is one of several Penny Arcade Expos that takes place annually in Boston, MA. Other PAX events are held in San AntonioSeattlePhiladelphia, and Melbourne. PAX is an industry event revolving around video games, board games, and nerd culture aimed at the fans and not necessarily favoring the media. Spread out across the year, one of these annual conventions takes place allowing fans to meet other fans, attend panels, play new games, and enjoy the atmosphere of being surrounded by people who all love the same nerdy things.

Some of the Pass The Controller team at PAX East 2015


It’s not mandatory to plan out every minute of your time at PAX, nor would I recommend it, but having a general idea of where you want to go and when, isn’t a bad idea. A good place to start is by looking at the weekend schedule— once it gets posted. Some people may not realize that there is more to PAX than the show floor, so it’s a good way to start thinking about what panels, concerts, and meet-ups you may want to attend. You might be thinking to yourself, “I don’t want to be making all of these notes in my phone and setting reminders,” well I don’t want you to either which is why I suggest you download the app Guidebook. Guidebook is essential on all of my convention journeys. It’s easy to get swept up in the madness on the show floor and miss panels but this app allows you to see the entire schedule for PAX, set reminders, and offers a plethora of other useful tools to help make PAX less overwhelming. Not to mention, PAX usually partners with Guidebook each year to offer incentives and a mini game to hunt down QR codes around the convention. Also, we’ll be on two different panels this year at PAX which you can find here and here!

Blizzard booth at PAX East 2017


If you’ve ever attended PAX before, you know what I’m talking about. Penny Arcade doesn’t release the official attendance anymore, but it’s safe to say that it’s close to around 100,000 people all coming to do the same thing you are. So, expect to be waiting in lines for booths on the show floor and lines to get into popular panels. There are a few tips to help making the lines at PAX more bearable though. The first being the official PAX line Twitter account. Yes, there’s a Twitter account dedicated solely to the lines at PAX which will help you manage your time better and know what panels are full or are filling up. It’s also not a bad idea to follow the official PAX Twitter account for show updates.

This second piece of advice is monumentally important; bring your Nintendo 3DS, PS Vita, and/or Nintendo Switch! These little wonders are great for passing the time and help make waiting seem less cumbersome.

Nintendo 3DS, Vita, and Switch

Even in 2020 the Nintendo 3DS continues to thrive at events like PAX with its local social features, breadth of a library, and relatively great battery life– the 3DS is a wonderful con bag essential. Nintendo has snuck its way into most con-goers lives simply because of Street Pass.

But aside from the social aspect, the 3DS, PlayStation Vita, and Nintendo Switch are all fantastic ways to help pass the time while you wait in some of the longer queues for anticipated games and popular panels. There’s also usually a dedicated handheld lounge area where you can meet up with other like-minded portable gamers for casual and competitive play.


The only benefit to not bringing a bag into PAX East, skipping the bag check in line when you enter the BCEC. (Pro-tip: if you are worried about waiting in line to enter, the line typically tapers off around 10:45 AM). I wouldn’t recommend going bagless. You will get swag from booths on the show floor and sometimes at panels, plus you’ll want to buy stuff from the vendors– trust me you will want to buy stuff. On top of having the ability to carry the stuff you get, there are essentials you should bring into PAX with you.

I recommend these items:

  • Reusable water bottle (save money and stay hydrated!)
  • Phone charger
  • Portable charger
  • Snacks
  • 3DS, Vita, Switch (plus charger and a few games!)
  • Aspirin/Ibuprofen
  • Hand sanitizer (so many germs)
  • Mints and/or gum
  • Poster tube (if you plan on buying art)
Joe, Mike, and Brenden rockin’ out (not pictured, Todd missing his notes during his guitar solo)


If you are like us, local and traveling to the convention from within the state, make sure to plan ahead. If you are planning on renting a hotel that weekend, at this point most places are booked– but if you keep checking every few days you can get lucky with room cancellations and snag one then or be sure to head over the official Penny Arcade forums and look for room shares or other useful information regarding rooms.

You can also look into services like Airbnb but in the general vicinity of the BCEC there aren’t many properties usually so you’d still be expecting a 10-15 minute walk or a ride share service like Uber to arrive at the convention.

If you are driving your own car to the convention be aware that many of the lots at and around PAX charge between $30-$50 a day and fill up rather quickly. If you are driving in and planning on parking near the BCEC try to arrive an hour before the convention opens at a minimum. Other options for those nearby who are commuting would be to park outside of Boston and take public transportation in– just be aware that the town or city you park in doesn’t convert to resident parking at any point in the day so you don’t return to a towed car.


There is plenty of food available at the venue on both the show floor and upstairs on the first floor and though these are viable options, con food isn’t cheap and you can usually find better value not far from the convention. Some exits have food trucks just outside and there’re dozens of restaurants and bars nearby, so don’t be afraid to venture outside and get some fresh air while you’re at it. Also, in 2017 Totino’s had their own lounge on the show floor pumping out unlimited pizza rolls for free and there was a free Hot-Pocket food truck too. So there’s always a chance more free food will make an appearance in 2020.

Some recommended spots for brews and bites while you’re at PAX both near and far. The Westin hotel lobby bar is a short walk from the convention center that doesn’t even require you to step outside. So if you require some light fare or some libations you don’t have to go that far to indulge. Both the Harpoon and Trillium breweries are located in the Seaport if you want some local beer, but the local craft beer scene in MA is overflowing so most, if not all, of the bars that you venture to that weekend should have great offerings from all over New England.

If you’re looking to travel to the North End for pastries, Mike’s and Modern are the more touristy spots that are delicious but usually have insane lines. I’d recommend heading around the corner from Mike’s and hitting Bova’s for some just as incredible pastry that’s also open 24 hours if you’re craving something into the later evening or early morning hours.

Be aware that with the influx of convention attendees in the already saturated city of Boston, there will be wait times and long lines almost anywhere you decide to travel for food. Plan ahead, bring snacks to offset when most people are eating and choose to seek out larger meals in the off-peak hours of lunch and dinner. Most importantly, though this should just be common courtesy, please take care of the individuals who provide you great service during these crazy days both bartenders and waitstaff.

Avoiding the PAX Plague

You know those commercials for cleaning products that show you how many germs are on the door knobs at your house just from the people that come to your house? Well, picture an entire building with germs from 100,000 people swarming about. From the controllers at each developer’s booth, to the air you share with everyone at the convention, you’re going to want to make sure you stay hydrated with water and wash your hands often, especially when you use the bathroom, but you do that anyways, right? Though stepping away from PAX may seem like an unrealistic idea, make sure to take time to step outside for fresh air, and get rest during the weekend. The PAX plague is a real thing, and you don’t want it to destroy your weekend of gaming bliss– or the week after the con!


Whether you’re a budding content creator (ahem) or just a fan of gaming and nerd culture, you’re going to be surrounded by people who love the exact same things you do, so use this to your advantage! There is no better place to create new connections, find another adventurer for you tabletop campaign, and if you’re lucky make some life-long friendships both on and off the screen. Many people are there to meet new people too, industry or not, but always make sure to respect people’s privacy and not be encumbering to someone else’s space or time at the convention.

Brenden and Joe on the show floor during the industry social


This one is super important. Wear comfortable shoes. You will be walking and standing for long periods of time. Everything else is up to you, just dress comfortably. Remember though, you’re going to be surrounded by thousands of people, so even if the weather in Boston is cold, the venue will probably be pretty warm. This year PAX East is in February which is historically pretty frigid, so keep that in mind for when you will be spending time outside. Pro-tip: don’t forget to wear deodorant. (No, seriously don’t forget).

After Party

This is another one of those plan ahead moments, seeing as how most of these are free ticketed events that “sell out” before PAX weekend arrives. A good place to look for updates on any announced after parties is the PAX forumns, there will usually be a thread dedicated to all of the afterparties. There are plenty of outside events that go on like bar-crawls, pinny-trading meetups, and tabletop tournaments.

In 2018 we hosted our first every PAX East after party with Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers, Springdale Brewing, and Boston Uprising, with giveaways and swag– but this year we are sticking to our panels and hanging around the Westin lobby and our other local spots. So make sure to stay tuned to our TwitterInstagram, and our Discord server to look for ways to meetup or say hey to your favorite local nerds!

No one ever wants to push the payload! Cosplayers at PAX East 2017


The cosplay at PAX is top notch. The con-goers who choose to dress up do it passionately, sometimes professionally, and devote massive amounts of time and money to perfecting their costumes. Please remember to always ask before taking pictures. I have never had anyone ever turn me down for a picture, nor have I ever seen someone get turned down. Just be polite and respectful. Cosplayers are partly doing what they love so you can enjoy it and take pictures of or with if you like, but never should they be disrespected in anyway.

Circa PAX East 2016

We have a Pass The Controller panel this year at PAX East with some amazing guests as well as myself being a panelist on another panel. Our panel titled The Top Ten Video Games We’d Like To See As Movies is Thursday February 27th at 7:30 PM in the Arachnid Theatre and we would be absolutely honored if you took the time to come hang with us that night! On Sunday March 1st at 2:00 PM I will be a panelist on Celebrating 35 Years of Tetris which if you cannot make will also be streamed on PAX’s official Twitch channel. We would be humbled and grateful if you supported us at these two panels.

PAX East is a monster. It’ll rock you, it’ll leave you feeling exhausted, as well as excited for the next year. Make sure you enjoy yourself and that you’re kind to others. If you see us make sure to say hello!

Pass the Controller – Five lifelong friends broadcasting their thoughts, ideas, and banter on the latest in gaming and nerd culture! Brenden and Todd had a vision years ago of offering something new in the world of gaming journalism. What we got? Pass The Controller, focused on giving gaming a voice. Check out the podcast!