A New Era

Have you ever woken up from a dream you so wish could be real someday, or hoped that you could simply go back to for a bit longer?

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Almost every day since last summer I would daydream about my June 2018 trip to Los Angeles. Everything had been booked a year ahead of time and I would be regularly imagining what it could and would all be like. Occasionally, I would almost have to remind myself that it had not happened yet, because the thoughts of anticipation about the future events were almost as realistic as the cherished memories of past years at E3 and Xbox FanFest.

Now that the 2018 trip is over, I tell anyone who asks how it all went that it feels as though I was able to live out a dream I had. It is not cliche for me to describe it as a dream come true, because that is simply what those few days in LA for Xbox’s E3 festivities were to me. I would not change any of it, as I cherish every memory made this year, but there was so much going on at some points of some days that I would love to relive those hours just to do things a bit differently, see what other people I run into that I know or meet for the first time, and generally see what else could have happened – because it was all a guaranteed amazing time.

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This is my third article regarding my personal journey through life as a fan of Xbox for more than half of it, with 2015’s being focused on a day-to-day recounting of my first adventure to Los Angeles for E3 2015 (The Best Week Ever). Last year’s much longer article talked about both my 2016 and 2017 trip, as well as going back over fifteen years to talk about how I first fell in love with Xbox, the years it has been with me through, and what The Power of Xbox means to me. I hope you have read those already, just so you know where I’m coming from with what follows, but it is certainly not required reading, and I hope that my story here is interesting enough for you check out those past articles if you aren’t familiar with them already.

New Beginnings

When E3 ended last year, the next big moment was set to be the release of the Xbox One X. Pre-orders opened up a few weeks after E3 and it was exciting for fans, including myself, to finally lock in their order.

For me, the release date of 11/7/17 for the new Xbox was also another goal line in my personal life. Less than a week week before E3 2017, I walked away from an astonishingly toxic work environment, also leaving behind the best benefits package and pay I had ever found at an employer. It was a huge weight off of my shoulders, as I had never been that stressed for that long in my life, but the drop in pay and benefits in the new job I found just days before my 2017 trip was a hard pill to swallow. I enjoyed the new job for the few months I had it last summer/fall, but I always knew it could not be a permanent career for many reasons.

I looked at the Xbox One X’s release date and told myself I would have to be in a better position by then. It would be the most recent of the many times in life that I used my passion for Xbox to motivate and fuel an enhancement of my daily life, or simply used it to help me through a difficult time. This feeling has been even more apparent in my life since mid-2015, when that first trip provided me such a confidence boost and an increase in positivity overall. That was when I first started pushing myself to make sure things improve regularly, and it has been a constant ever since.

In mid-October of last year, that goal  of improvement once again succeeded and I started the best position I had ever interviewed for (and the interview process was more than I had ever experienced before as well). Due to the nature of the job (a lot of driving to various places and a bit of a commute to get there to begin with) it gets a bit nerve-wracking in these Minnesota winters (especially this year) and it is physical to the degree that I worry about how long I will be able to do it without hurting myself, but overall it is a great job for me at this point.  I just wish I had found it when I was a bit younger!

XboxCookiesCustom Xbox cookies for the Xbox One X launch last fall!

During my third week, which was also the end of my training period, the Xbox One X launched. I was thankfully able to make it to the midnight launch party at a local store. From that point on I have said over and over that gaming has never been better, and I believe that 100%. The difference in how games look and feel (and now also sound thanks to Dolby Atmos being implemented in so many more games) has blown me away, and the amount of great games is staggering – as I’m sure most of you reading this can attest to having a backlog of games that seems insurmountable.

SetupMy setup for the Xbox One X release

Although I’ve never gone out to celebrate it in the “typical” way, New Year’s Eve has always remained a favorite holiday of mine. I love that feeling of a new, fresh start. I love thinking back to what has happened in that last specific year, and comparing it to other years and what all has happened – and this most recent NYE was likely my favorite one.  I felt so content.  I had finally found a job that, despite having no benefits, paid decently and that I actually enjoyed and felt good about.  The owners were (and are) great, honest people and I felt appreciated and valued for one of the first times outside of an E3-related trip. I remember sitting here at home interacting with other Xbox fans on Twitter that night on NYE (one of my favorite things to do besides actually game on Xbox) and feeling so happy and lucky – and excited for the future.

A New Year

Once 2018 began, all that was on my mind was this year’s trip to LA and preparing for it. I was going to work my ass off, play Xbox, survive the winter, and once spring came around I would hopefully be able to lock my place in for FanFest via whatever method would be used this year. For once, it felt like I would be going into an LA trip with contentment and not a whirlwind of stress leading up to it – which had kind of become an unwelcome tradition these last couple of times despite living quite a simple life.

For anyone who has read last year’s The Power of Xbox article, you will already know a bit about the bond my mom and I have, as I am an only child and she is the only family I have. I wrote a bit about her in last year’s article regarding her sudden battle with thyroid cancer in 2007. Unfortunately, early 2018 had a curveball for her that was about as big as that one was, if not even bigger. For over twenty years she had been an extremely hard-working, reliable, loyal employee to a family business. Sadly, this business was bought out by a corporation a couple of years ago and they had begun to slowly morph the office into something it never should have been. Incompetence reigned, among other things, and it had become a toxic, stressful workplace for anyone who cared about the place, to the point where it would honestly take a toll on your mind even when not at work.

This might sound familiar to the place I left just before E3 2017, because it actually is the same place. I had only worked there for a year after the buyout – started there just days after my 2016 trip, and interviewed for it on the eve of it – so I never had a chance to experience the better days aside from having visited there every now and then throughout most of my life. When I left, it was getting worse by the week and it was sadly still a black cloud in my mom’s life from that point on. It was hard to move on because the salary after that many years wouldn’t be possible anywhere else, so she was stuck just like so many others are, in a job she no longer enjoyed but had to stick to.  However, earlier this year, the decision was made for her when the corporation decided to simply eliminate everyone’s jobs within the office – with no real logic to the decision – but it’s what happened.

It was frustrating, as the news brought back all the bad memories I had from before and I knew exactly what was going on there and it was all so wrong, but the feeling I had for the future was similar to what I had felt when the thyroid cancer episode happened. It just felt like things would work out for the better. Somedays I would be thinking about it all while at work and it felt like, whoa, things might not work out so well and this could be bad, but overall it felt like this just had to be for the better, even if it meant a loss in overall salary.

In early April, just a week or two before FanFest selections began it was my mom’s last day at her workplace of 21 years and this was when I truly felt the “theme” of 2018 was going to be that of a new era starting – it had to be, and I welcomed it and was excited by it. Along with my anticipation of going to LA in June, I worried about what was going to happen regarding all of this and if it would be all okay. I hoped and dreamed of a scenario where she found a place she enjoyed similar to the old days of her (now previous) place and that it could all happen soon.

A couple of weeks later in mid-late April, I thankfully was invited to FanFest during the second wave phase and could finally be at peace with that part of my first-half of 2018 stress. In early June, just a week before my flight to LA, my mom applied for the best job she had seen after several months of searching. She received a response, one of six out of 100+ applicants to get one, and she ended up receiving the news that she got the job just two days before my flight.

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Full Circle – 2015/2018: Had a laugh after dinner due to going the same Dairy Queen for dessert on the eve of the trip, just like in 2015 – same booth and all!

Her and I always do a fun pre-trip dinner before I go to LA, and I wanted us to be able to have that dinner be a celebration of her new job and also my trip, and it actually happened! The timing of it all was so magical and something that could have never be planned or recreated. Several months of anxiety and stress culminated in us having that dinner on a day that was sandwiched between her receiving the news and my trip beginning. To make things even more surreal, her first day at the new job ended up being the morning of my flight, with my plane taking off within just a few minutes of her first day officially starting.

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Flying into LA, it was all hitting me that my dream had finally arrived. I had thought about these moments that were now happening countless times – during every cold morning on the way to work during the winter, or even just when trying to get out of bed for another long day. It meant so much to me, and everyone who knows me in real life knew it too. My bosses had been made aware of the trip the day I was hired last fall, and in the course of my job the topic had come up many times, as I love sharing my passion not just for gaming and Xbox, but more specifically how well I’ve been treated among hundreds of other fans in LA. It is something truly special that Xbox has turned their E3 presence into, and I credit them with leading the way in transforming E3 itself into an event that is more accepting of public attendance and has made alterations to make it more fun for non-industry gamers to get in on the action they have gotten excited about from afar for all of their lives.

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No matter how much I prepared for the trip or cherished it as it happened, I knew it would all be over in a flash and that on my final morning as I get ready to leave for the airport it would feel as though it barely lasted any time at all. I actually wrote a note to myself that final morning when I was feeling it to include that in this article, because it is the one thing that never changes with each trip. Regardless of how much time I spend savoring every second of each day (even on a seven-day trip like this one and my 2015 trip was) that final morning I always look back and think, “Where did the time go?”

I start to second-guess how I spent my time, maybe a regret or two seeps in, and I have to imagine that it is a similar feeling people get when at the end of their lives if they are able to be aware near the end. Life is short, and that becomes more real and less cliche to all of us each year, and it is in this way that these trips make me want to make the best of my life – often in the form of a better job since it has often been the area of life I have often been unhappy with. These trips have shown me how precious the good times are, how good life can be, and how good some people are.

Tribute to a Legend

Tragically, one of those good people – someone who had brightened up my 2015 trip with simply his presence near me, passed away just a few weeks before this year’s E3 – an event that he had no doubt anticipated all year long. Matt (also known as @Xbox_Addictt) was the best and biggest Xbox fan there could be, and he was someone I felt so inspired by when I finally connected with the Twitter/Xbox community a few years ago – something I regret not doing so sooner as I was always so passionate about it all on my own, and I ended meeting so many amazing people like Matt once I finally did.

When I wrote my first article in 2015 and discussed the Xbox nightclub party that happened, and wrote how much it had stood out to me how happy people were and how much fun they were having, the only image I ever had in my head was Matt on the dance floor with the biggest smile I had ever seen anyone have. I will always say I’ve never seen anyone look so happy in my life, and I thankfully came to know who that was in the coming days. His smile and positivity made him a magnet for people to come over to him and I saw it for myself that night and was in awe at his spirit.

Last fall, when Matt saw my revamped gaming setup in preparation for the Xbox One X, and then complimented it… That meant so much to me. If you read last year’s article, you will know how personal and intense my bond with Xbox has been over the years. I obviously knew Matt felt the same, and during Xbox’s beautiful tribute to Matt at the pre-briefing FanFest event this year, we were all shown even more insight in what it all meant to him. A message he sent to the Xbox team was shown to us and in it he discussed how much this all means to some people and that it is not just a toy that the Xbox team works on, and he was 100% right in saying that. His passion for not just Xbox, but gaming and the community in general, was straight from the heart, and pure.

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He will always have the most impressive Xbox collection of anyone, but it was his humble, positive attitude and presence both online and in person (and his smile!) that made everyone he came into contact with a lifelong fan and friend of his. His collection thankfully allowed for so many thousands to be made aware of such a person, and this year’s FanFest and Xbox E3 events could have only been made better had he been there as well – having the time of his life. I hope he was somehow there in spirit, just as I hoped and believed the same for another loved one of mine last year. His attitude and positivity, making the most of his life as a Marine, a son, a husband, and a father will be a lifelong inspiration to me. I hope in the coming years that the Xbox community can become even better somehow, all in honor of him and the spirit he had for life.

The Briefing

In addition to the Xbox team going above-and-beyond the hopes we had for a tribute to @Xbox_Addictt, the first day of Xbox’s E3 events were incredible. The briefing was, as almost all media outlets have agreed on, the best of all for E3 2018 – if not Xbox’s best ever.

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There were massive studio purchase announcements, several highly-anticipated games made their debuts at Xbox’s briefing, and we also had our first looks at the heavy-hitting exclusives with Halo Infinite, Gears 5, and this fall’s Forza Horizon 4 among many others. I was lucky enough to be inside the Microsoft Theater for the show and my dream to be there as a new Halo was revealed for the very first time (albeit more of an engine demonstration this time around) was realized after more than fifteen years of wanting that moment in my life.

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Aside from the briefing and FanFest events that Sunday, I was able to see so many friends once again – both fellow fans and Xbox team members. The greatness of those moments truly is indescribable and they only come around once a year for most of us (at least in an E3 setting) so the excitement and hype and happiness in those hours is truly something to experience. It is in those moments, and in the hours and days (and hopefully weeks and years to follow) where all past regrets fade away and I think to myself I am happy for everything happening the way it happened, because it led to these moments and that level of joy, and I would have never wanted to not experience that and those friendships and kindness.

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This year in particular I met so many people for the first time as well. Due to the venue change from the Galen Center to the Microsoft Theater, this year’s trip had consistently reminded me of that feeling I had before the first trip in 2015 – as there were again some unknowns about how things would look, feel, and transpire. However, unlike 2015, I actually knew people in LA this time, and even more people knew me!

GiovanniPhoto with @MrGiovanniLim

I was blown away each time I was recognized from Twitter, or because of writing these last couple of articles about my times at E3. I had never experienced anything like it, and it was a highlight of my trip. I’ve always been a fan like anyone else, and to have other fans come up and talk to me about how things I had written about resonated with them, and/or inspired them to make the trip to LA for FanFest and Xbox, was one of the best feelings ever. Other messages I received online during E3 week were just as touching and I thank all of you again for your kind words.

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Throughout the year I love spending time on Twitter with everyone and that has grown so much from that first year and I’m always thankful for the number of friends I’ve made on there, the number of people who follow my tweets, and who care about what I have to say and about my life in general. As I told a friend in LA on the eve of the Xbox briefing, this is the first time in my life I have been a part of something, and it is the first time I have felt like someone.

The Showcase

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Monday night’s showcase event (the second and final FanFest-related event for 2018) was again my favorite part of the entire trip. Xbox had done something similar in 2017, and I was happy to see it again – and done even better this time. It also marked the opening of the Xbox Gear Shop and I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of the pins Major Nelson has faithfully worn daily throughout the years, as well as one of the new Xbox Sphere shirts. The event was four hours long, but I happily would have experienced what went on there in that theater (often on the actual Xbox E3 stage) for many hours longer.

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Several of the Xbox people were there, countless friends were there, many people I had yet to meet and was introduced to that night were there, and quite a few of the big games for 2018 (and some from 2019 – like The Division 2!) were there. All of this on the Xbox stage inside the Microsoft Theater, right where all the magic had happened during the briefing the day before.

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In four hours time, I played one session with one game – Forza Horizon 4. It was one of the first things I did (besides get a free drink!) and from that point on it was non-stop great conversations with other fans and people from the Xbox team like Phil Spencer, Major Nelson, and Rob Semsey, Bonnie Ross, and many others. I did not have a single conversation with someone that I wasn’t impressed with.

343andMeBonnie Ross asked, “When in the trailer did you know it was Halo?”

Everyone was so nice, so genuine, and I doubt even the best dream I’ve ever had could live up to those few hours. There were also some moments that were so touching to me for reasons that go back to the first and second trip I took to LA. Quick moments or conversations with people that had first begun in 2015 or 2016, continued on that night – years later – like no time had passed at all. The way it all came together was more than I could have ever hoped for.

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The event ended at 11PM, and since my place this year was just a short walk away I was able to make it safely home within a few minutes. I was wide awake until after 4AM thinking about it all and sharing what I could on Twitter and elsewhere. I had just experienced what had been the best day of my life since the day of the E3 2015 briefing, and a big part of me didn’t want to fall asleep and have it be over with.

Off to E3!

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It was now day five of my trip, Tuesday, which of course is when E3 itself actually starts. Due to the changes made at the convention center, and the fact that Xbox had its own separate presence at the Microsoft Theater across the street, it was definitely my favorite E3 experience since 2015.

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E3 itself was organized with many more wide-open spaces so that attendees could actually move and breathe within the convention center, and several of the booths felt more suited for fans (more creative photo opportunities and gimmicky things like that). Over at the Microsoft Theater it was packed with kiosks and a variety of games. Including a massive Battlefield V setup for 40-player multiplayer action. The lines were never that bad over there either – well, not until word got around regarding how great the overall experience and A/C was over there.

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I went to E3 all three days this year, and especially made the most of the third day – staying there until the very last minute. I was even lucky enough to get the very last Nuka-Cola Quantum of E3 2018, handed specially to me while being told that fact. It was all luck and timing, which were two things I felt a lot of in the days before and during my trip.

Everything went smoothly from start to finish (except for the llama ride above!) that in the days after I got back home there were a couple moments where I would have to now remind myself, yes, it has actually happened now – it is not yet another imagined dream of the future perfect trip. I was lucky enough to experience my dream, again, and it will never not be something I appreciate and think of fondly.

JeffandIJeff Rubenstein and I at the E3 Mixer booth

Thankfully, this year it’s not another year-long wait until the next trip. Later this summer I will be attending my first-ever PAX convention (in Seattle) and I am incredibly excited about all of the new experiences that trip will include. This will be my first trip I’ve taken like this that doesn’t involve Los Angeles/E3. I still feel quite new to the traveling world, and the Seattle/PAX trip has been something I’ve wanted to do for several years – having first attempted to go in 2011 for “Halo Fest” and then again in 2015 for PAX West.

Seattle

Seattle will be yet another stop in this new era of life, and it will be far from the last one. I believe my life, and my mom’s life, has entered a whole new chapter – possibly one of even more changes to come – and I feel comforted by that for once.

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It is also fun (and comforting) for me to equate these new feelings and hopes with all that is going on with the Xbox brand as a whole, as there is this intense excitement and feeling of positivity for the future of the brand, the upcoming games and future opportunities. The cross-platform play capability with Nintendo and continued integration with the PC market are enthralling, and I loved seeing the Xbox Game Pass service have such a big presence throughout the events and the briefing itself – as I am continually blown away by the value of that service.

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Going forward, I have no doubt that Xbox is going to do its best to give us the best experience and value for our money, and it was again an honor to be there in the crowd this year when they went all-out to silence the critics and steal the show. Some may say that Xbox has played it safe these last few years, and I have the same criticisms for myself, but they are putting in more effort than ever to change things up and I hope to do the same in my own way somehow.

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Life has its ups and downs, and we all experience loss that can never be fully repaired. I feel that weeks and events like these, with the joy and comradery they bring, and the games that are announced there bring in the future, help to try and balance out the bad we all experience. It is because of that fact that I will always be thankful for Xbox in particular – for pushing my favorite hobby into so many uncharted areas over the years, for making its fans and community such a priority, and for making the future eras of life, as uncertain they have shown to be, something to anticipate and be inspired by.

Thank you for reading, and thank you to everyone at Xbox and elsewhere that helped make all these events happen this year!

– Rob

Twitter: @ReclaimerRob

Instagram: @reclaimerrob

Gamertag: Reclaimer Rob

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