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Gamers and card collectors convene in Bloomington for 7th annual Illinois Game Con

A man wearing glasses and a gray graphic t-shirt smiles at the camera. The red wall behind him has a WGLT.org log and 89.1 FM
Lauren Warnecke
The Item Shop owner Ryan Tauscher first launched Illinois Game Con as a money-making endeavor. He keeps doing it for the community.

The annual Illinois Game Con is Saturday at the Interstate Center—a gamer’s paradise that promises to be bigger and better than ever.

The video game and card collectors’ convention has grown to become the largest in Illinois, drawing more than 2,000 people last year.

Ryan Tauscher, who owns a game store called The Item Shop in Normal, launched the convention seven years ago as a way to offload some of his inventory.

“It wasn’t an idea I meant to have,” Tauscher said. “I thought, man, how do I get rid of these games and consoles?”

He called it a convention, made a Facebook post about it—and 500 people showed up.

“It blew up,” Tauscher said. “Immediately, I realized people are into this.”

Each year, Tauscher tweaks the model a bit, expanding their space, adding food trucks and, last year, collaborating with Iron Spirit Pro Wrestling for a live action Mario Bros. super slam—which returns this year with a new scenario.

Princess Peach and Yoshi body slamming a Mario and Luigi tag team?!? Yes please.

“This year, I’ve got a lot more vendors,” he said. “You’re going to see a ton of artists. Food trucks are back. We’ve got some great options. Pokémon fans, Yugo fans, Magic—you’re going to be interested in coming, for sure.”

A vintage arcade will be set up with contributions from McLean-based Arcadia and more than 60 gaming consoles—from Atari through VR and everything in between.

Consoles and Culture

As a console gear head, Tauscher loves video game history.

“For me, console collecting really tells the story of the console wars,” Tauscher said. “You’ve got all these different companies that are trying to corner that market and be the console in your living room. It’s really cool to see how that affects not only the growth of technology, but also how it affects culture. It’s good nostalgia. Fantastic memories are often greatly associated with video games. That’s something that’s very important to bring back to people.”

But it’s the people—the community—that really make him tick. They are how he finds the time and energy. Illinois Game Con has gotten so big it requires multiple people and a 6-month runway for a one-day event—all while running a small business.

It is a huge community,” Tauscher said. “It is the biggest entertainment money-maker there is. People really dedicate themselves and don’t always get to see that community when they’re playing from home.”

As the social aspect of gaming has moved increasingly online, the I.R.L. component of Illinois Game Con, for Tauscher, is his favorite part. To that end, there’s a tournament for every type of fan—ranging from Halo 3 to Wii Boxing.

“All these people come together, and they share a greater love,” he said. “They see modern games, old games—they get to pick up controllers and play things they’ve never touched before.”

A decisive moment for Tauscher was during the first Illinois Game Con: A father showing his son how to play Mario Duck Hunt on the original Nintendo—then the son showing his father a PS4.

“It was really nice to see those two experiences shared from father and son. And I guess from there, I was hooked.”

Illinois Game Con takes place from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the Interstate Center, 1106 Interstate Dr., Bloomington. Admission is $15 for adults and $5 for kids 2 and up (under 2 attends free). The Super Smash Summer Slam wrestling show runs at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $10, sold separately at the door.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.