This weekend, Durham will be flooded by gamers from across the country coming to the second annual Escapist Expo. The convention is the brainchild of The Escapist, a reputable member of the Durham startup scene since 2005. Last December, we covered the sale of The Escapist to Alloy Digital, a media portfolio whose sites serve over 95 million page views per month.

Years before I knew The Escapist’s team personally, I was familiar with their work. In 2007, The Escapist began publishing the world’s most watched video game review series, Zero Punctuation.

Outside of video reviews, The Escapist covers a wide range of topics from exclusive sneak peaks of the latest titles to detailed pieces on the lifestyle and culture of video games. Their success catapulted them into a position of online leadership by providing a voice for the video game community.

Alexander Macris, The Escapist’s founder, describes the site as “Your Escape From the Everyday.”

The Escapist Expo bridges the online and physical worlds by serving as a 3-day escape ‘in real life’ over one epic weekend. Alex mentioned that “The Escapist Expo has always been in the making, even in the original business plan for the company.” The timing just needed to be perfect. The first convention had a tremendous response, with almost 6,000 conference attendees congregating in Durham over the weekend. Last year, the Expo was held primarily in a portion of the Durham Convention Center and the Carolina Theater.

This year, they are going bigger. Much bigger. Double, in fact.

Not only have they entirely rented out those same two buildings, but events will also be held across the street at The Durham Armory. The event list itself is impressive, to say the least. Alex describes the convention as a “Sundance Film Festival for Video Gamers,” to the uninitiated. Aspects of every sector of the video game industry will be represented, from publishing giants to local game developers looking to break in.

Teams will be vying for the right to represent the United States in finals of the World Cyber Games Grand Finals in Kunshan, China this November. If you aren’t already be in the semi-finals, don’t despair. An open tournament for Street Fighter 4 will be held with another ticket to China on the line. The Escapist partnered up with local store Atomic Empire to run a weekend-long Magic the Gathering tournament as well.

Competitive gaming not your thing? Each day, 15 panels will be held by guest speakers and Escapist staff on a variety of topics. Examples include:

  • How to Create an Online Cult
  • It’s a Hit! Now What? Dealing with Unexpected Success
  • How to Run a Small Gaming Business

Guest speakers from the gaming industry will be on site including former Epic Games Design Director Cliff Bleszinski, Mike Capps of Epic Games, and Yahtzee Croshaw of Zero Punctuation. Outside of panels and speakers, there will be 20,000 square feet of Expo space, Cosplay contests, and a concert Saturday evening at Motorco.

Tickets are affordable at $20 for a single day pass or $40 for the entire weekend.

If you can’t head to the Escapist Expo this year, do not worry. If the success of last year’s attendance is any indicator of the future, the Escapist Expo is not going away anytime soon. Focusing on being a fun, consumer-friendly conference video gaming conference for everyone seems to be a recipe for success.