Gen Con is the largest tabletop gaming convention in North America with more than 500 exhibiting companies, around 300 games launched each year, and over 60,000 attendees. Open to all ages, it features exhibit halls, special events, fundraising for charities, the True Dungeon–a life-size dungeon crawl, a Trade Day, an art show, a film festival, and more.

The entrance to Gen Con inside the Indiana Convention Center, 2016
© Digital Image 2016 Indiana Historical Society. All Rights Reserved.

Gen Con was established through the International Federation of Wargaming (IFW) by its cofounder Gary Gygax of Dungeons & Dragons fame in 1968. This first convention, titled “Lake Geneva Wargames Convention,” was held in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and had 100 people in attendance.

In 1975, TSR (publisher of Dungeons & Dragons) took over the management of the convention. The event moved to various locations throughout the 1970s until landing at the University of Wisconsin-Kenosha campus where it stayed from 1978 to 1984. With attendance steadily growing year after year, the convention needed more space and moved to the Milwaukee Exposition & Convention Center & Arena (MECCA). Here the attendance grew from 5,000 to 30,000 by 1995. Gen Con was also held in a variety of locations in addition to Wisconsin: California from 1976-1984, Florida from 1978-1984, and the East coast in 1981 and 1982. By the 1990s, Gen Con went international and has held conventions in various European and Australian locations.

Gen Con attendees at the Indiana Convention Center, 2016
© Digital Image 2016 Indiana Historical Society. All Rights Reserved.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a shuffle of ownership over the convention. Wizards of the Coast bought Gen Con in 1997. Then Hasbro, a game company, acquired Wizards of the Coast two years later. The founder of Wizards of the Coast, Peter Adkison, bought Gen Con from Hasbro in 2002 and formed Gen Con LLC.

Gen Con moved to the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis in 2003. The city’s convention center provided more space for the convention and the city itself had more hotel space to accommodate a large number of attendees. Gen Con soon became one of Indianapolis’ biggest conventions. Accommodating its large number of attendees was one of the reasons for the expansion of the Indiana Convention Center in 2011.

In 2015, Gen Con’s CEO, Adrian Swartout, came out publicly against Governor Mike Pence’s intent to sign SB 101 RFRA which would allow businesses in the state to deny service to anyone on religious grounds leading to possible discrimination of LGBT community and other groups. Swartout threatened to move the convention from Indiana if the bill was signed, creating a loss of over $50 million annually to Indianapolis’ economy, but he never acted on the threat. The convention continued to be held in Indianapolis, celebrating its 50th convention in 2017.

Revised June 2021
 

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