"I'm here." The two words on my phone sent my heart soaring when I saw them on the screen. Final Fantasy XIV's Fan Festival 2023 hadn't even started yet, and already I was experiencing the thrill of meeting one of my best friends for the first time in person. The running hug we did was straight out of the movies. It was magical.
The rest of Fan Fest was not so magical.
The buzz inside of the Las Vegas Convention Center was as hot as the scorching temperatures outside of it during registration day. The long, winding line for the registration moved pretty fast. People were hanging out nearby, looking at their cool squishy crystal grabs (lovingly nicknamed 'squapes' by the community), and checking to see if they got a golden ticket to meet someone on the development team. Streamers and content creators could be seen walking around meeting and greeting with guests. Even director and producer of FFXIV Naoki "Yoshi-P" Yoshida was spotted a few times.
For those who were lucky enough to have a few friends who were able to get tickets, the convention was likely everything they wanted out of Fan Fest. But for those who only had one other friend or went by themselves, they went without much to do. Coupled with the Las Vegas heat, terrible security and organization, along with the horrid conditions Warriors of Light with disabilities were put through, Fan Fest left a sour taste in many fans' mouths. My experience aligns with many other fans' opinions, although my purpose for being there was a little different than most fans'.
Disclaimer: Fanbyte was provided with a media pass to access the event by Square Enix. The press pass did not grant any additional access to anything other than a reserved seat at the Keynote and a press conference with Yoshi-P at the end of day one.
FFXIV Fan Fest Day One: Keynote and Piano Concert - and the beginning of a lot of issues
The first thing I noticed when I walked through the doors to enter the Keynote was that no one checked my bag. Press were given the ability to have a bigger bag for the event, but we were just waved straight through. All fans had to walk through a metal detector to get into the event, but very few bags were checked, and there were so many fans that they allegedly just stopped checking them at all.
Security's laissez-faire attitude towards bags and checkpoints would prove to be a massive shortcoming throughout the entirety of the event. If someone wanted to cause harm during the event, it wouldn't have been hard to do.
The Keynote was amazing, as many expected it to be. Fans got a first look at the new Dawntrail trailer and a bunch of details for what new things were coming to the game. The crowd was just as hype as I was hoping it would be. There was no better feeling than getting to see the reveal of new exciting content among a room full of other fans.
The work began directly after the Keynote for me, and the con began for everyone else. Around 2pm, I started to look for some food. But there was a big problem, I couldn't find any. There were very few food options inside of the convention center itself, and outside food was supposedly not allowed in. So the options were to stand in an incredibly long line for whatever snacks were left on the shelf, which amounted to a banana and a candy bar, or standing in an even longer unorganized line for either pizza or hot dogs in the hall itself.
The activities created by Square Enix were cool, but limited
As far as what fans had to do, there were a few stations set up with minigames that people could enjoy that were real-life creations of in-game areas. Pandaemonium, Mare Lamentorum, Old Sharlayan, Thavnair and even the Island Sanctuary made an appearance, all with some fun things to do at each one. There were also two big walls people could sign their names on and some posters to take pictures in front of.
On the other side of the hall was the merch line and the Battle Challenge. On day one, the Battle Challenge line was huge and a lot of people had to either get a time card to come back or wait a ridiculously long time to get into it. On day two, I walked straight into it and was able to complete it. The fight itself was fun, and the people I played with were great, but staff didn't inform us on how to start the fight. We had to figure that out ourselves. Since was a battle that isn't technically in the game, it took us some time to get into it, but once we did, we cleared it no problem!
I returned for the piano concert, which was lovely. Amanda Achen has a beautiful voice and such a bubbly presence that it's hard not to love her. "They handed me a microphone!" she exclaimed at one point as she thanked the fans and gushed about the community. She and the very talented pianos, Kieko, didn't leave a dry eye in the house as they beautifully played a piano rendition of Flow. It was one of my favorite parts of the entire convention.
ADA issues, security failings and concert woes continued on day two
The issues for those with disabilities continued on day two, and the con was more of the same. Since it was hard to find food, and there wasn't too much to do there, some people didn't even bother to come back for day two. The merch line was full before the Live Letter was even over, and even those that were lucky enough to get a time card still had to wait almost two hours in line and hope that their selected items weren't sold out.
The worst of the issues came during the Primals concert. I saw the writing on the wall and decided to skip it in favor of meeting a few other online friends outside of the convention center, but what I saw after the concert was quite concerning. The lack of forethought for those needing ADA accommodations was glaring, and has been the most talked about failing of the event among community members and content creators.
Fanbyte reached out to Square Enix for clarification on who exactly hired security, and offered the opportunity to comment on the state of security at the event, but did not receive a response.
Fan Fest 2023 takeaways
For those who paid to get into the event, the response is pretty split down the middle on whether it was worth the cost of admission. Tickets were $200 per person, and some thought that the cost was fair, while others were extremely disappointed with their experience due to the lack of organization, security, and the lack of activities.
On top of all this, Square Enix chose to hold an event in Las Vegas at the height of summer. There were more than a few heat related emergencies, some between the walk from the convention center to the monorail just a short distance away from the venue. Regardless of where else the event could have been held, Vegas seems like an odd choice for the middle of July, and proved quite dangerous for those not used to the heat.
There were very few spots in the convention hall itself where folks could fill their water bottles, and anyone wanting to purchase one had to wait in an extremely long line. In a city where access to water is essential to prevent these heat related emergencies, it made obtaining water very difficult.
Overall, I can't say I had a fantastic time at Fan Fest. The people that attended made the event fun. The fellow fans who love the game as much as I did were a joy to talk to, and the friends I met were certainly the highlight of the whole trip. But aside from the Keynote, the piano concert, and my luck with getting into the Battle Challenge without a wait, there wasn't much else to get excited over.
Instead of games that required long lines and a lot of waiting, I would have liked to see community events taking place in the other rooms of the convention center, more panels with members of the community, not just the dev team, and more activities housed in different parts of the venue.
For their return to in-person events, Square Enix didn't really live up to many fans' expectations. Since the event ended over a week ago, I haven't received any survey asking for feedback, but hopefully the fan conerns over certain issues and comments from community members that were there are enough for Square Enix to improve their event in 2025.