“Are you going to do the Summer of Sonic retrospective?”
“Sure” I say! How hard can it be?
Well… it’s surprisingly hard. I’ve tried reading other peoples thoughts on the day for some inspiration, when I realised my problem. Because I’m on the SOS staff team, I don’t get to experience Summer of Sonic in the same way as someone who isn’t on the staff team, which is most other people.
To illustrate, in the early hours of Saturday 6th August, nearly 1000 Sonic fans are waiting in line, talking to one another, singing songs, some are even dancing and others are having fun posing for photos with cosplayers.
I however am not.
I am currently running down a nearby street with another Summer of Sonic staff member, in an area of London we’ve never been to before, running into every pound shop we can see, checking every store which may sell stationary supplies, and we have only 30 min left before the venue is due to open.
With cash in hand, we find the items we need, at the final store we hand over both out budget and own money just to get that little bit extra paper. We then ran back to the venue with the new art supplies well before doors are due to open. An extra 2000 sheets of paper, colouring pencils, erasers, sharpeners, we carried them all and ran like the wind.
Well… We didn’t want to risk disappointing anyone who really wanted to draw stuff, we wanted to ensure the art tables would be fully stocked for the whole day.
This was one of my early duties on the day. But whilst I’m doing this, everyone else is waiting in line, making new friends, meeting old friends for the first time in years. Meanwhile, other staff members are rapidly doing last moment checks, making sure the ticket scanners are working, making sure the goody bags are all ready, making sure the room is clear and clean, making sure… well… just making sure everybody has a great day.
When the doors open, a cheer goes up from the crowd, and in they come, the old, the young, the cosplayers, entered they did, and at that moment a cascade of goody bags, running towards stalls and game pods.
I’m also running towards the game pods, briefing Sega Europe on who I am and what my role is for the next 2 hours or so. Then I meet the first guests, and then have to watch their faces as they learn the pods won’t be open for a while, but everybody seemed fine with it and willing to wait.
Talking to the fans in the line was great, asking them which stage they were going to play and listening to how excited they were was a blast. Some of the fans asked ‘have you played it yet?’ to which I said ‘No…’ suddenly realising, huh I might not get to play this today! Same for all staff, we’re all so busy that it becomes virtually impossible to find time to wait in line to play games at these events.
With my shift on the pods over, I had a few moments to get ready to host Buzzbombers. Quickly gathering all the stuff together I introduce myself to Mike Pollock and let him know who I am and roughly what Buzzbomber’s is like, but there’s no time for autographs, no time for photos, we have 800 people to try and entertain.
Well we’re all ready to go and then just before I’m to go on stage I’m told ‘We need to cut Buzzbombers down! We’re really over-running’ So I sorta smile and say ‘Ok no problem!’ Then I’m rapidly thinking ‘how the hell do I cut it down?’ well, that’s a skill all Summer of Sonic staff have, the ability to quickly problem solve and come up with solutions on the fly.
With an entire round and most of the jokes out the window, I get to do the thing most people now recognise me for. And it’s great, I love hosting Buzzbombers, it’s so much fun and I get a huge kick when you guys cheer and join in with the fun. It’s why I put so much effort into preparing it, I just love the fact it entertains you guys and you join in the way you do.
I believe this is true for all staff, this is why we all put as much into it as we do, we want the day to go well, not just because it makes us look good, but because we love watching you guys react to the day when it goes really well, the buzz we get from seeing your satisfaction is incredible.
So Buzzbombers is over and someone comes up to me with one of the masks which seemed to have found it’s way into the crowd, the girl hands it to me and I say ‘Oh you can keep it if you want’. Her reaction is quite amazing, she gasps and puts her hand to her mouth and says “Are you serious!” I’m a little confused and say ‘sure, it’s fine’ she thanks me a lot, turns to her friends and says ‘Look what I got!’ she was so happy it was really nice to see.
I think the reason for why she was so happy was that later I found out she was a huge Crush 40 fan, and the mask was the one that Johnny was wearing, so I was really pleased to make her so happy… and it freed up my suitcase space too! Seeing the photos she posted later of the mask in her ‘pickups’ photo made me smile too.
Popped back to my room, dropped off the Buzzbombers stuff, then realised my shift on the Mike Pollock signing was about to start. So grabbing a bottle of water I head back down.
Another quick briefing with my team we open the line to meet Mike Pollock and wait for him. During Mikes signing session we realise it’s going a lot slower due to the fact Mike was really pulling out all the stops to make peoples day, posing for photos, selling packs of Evil Ham, signing utterly everything. So again we have to make quick decisions, staff offered to take photos for people, heck at one point I even played ‘bank’ as I changed notes with my own money so it sped up the line.
Why did we do this? Because we wanted as many fans as possible to meet Mike, we hate having to turn away people if the time runs out, we try as best we can to ensure everyone gets chance to meet their hero.
So the signing came to an end and finally I was due for a break, now you’ve probably read stories about the onsite pub, well… due to time reasons, I couldn’t possibly go there… so I had to head back to my room where I had my lunch, a banana and a glass of water.
Well I had some more free time so I decided to do a bit of an SOS tradition, film my tour video which you can see above. However if you think this was a way for me to enjoy SOS, it wasn’t. The lines to see the comic guys were really long, the line for Sonic Mania was also really long.
But hey, I shrugged it off and got ready for my next task… and it was the big one, Yuji Naka & Takashi Iizuka’s signing session. Then came a really interesting job, “Find Mr Naka” he had sorta wandered off to enjoy the convention, I eventually found him, he was in a secure area taking photos of the stage, so I had this odd moment of ‘I have to tap Mr Naka on the shoulder and ask him to come to the signing desk… Whilst he’s enjoying himself and taking pictures.’ Which… took me a few attempts before I got the courage to do it.
Anyway, this was by far one of the most challenging jobs of the day, the goal was simple, we wanted to get everyone who wanted to meet Naka and Iizuka the chance to do so, however, almost instantly there were problems, everybody wanted photos, and they were taking a very long time. We knew time would run out long before everybody would be able to meet the two developers.
So the very difficult decision was made to stop people from taking pictures.
And this is the point where everybody in that line did something awesome, we explained to everyone that ‘we can’t have people posing for photos, it’s taking too long, please don’t pose for photos or else somebody might lose their chance to meet their hero’ And do you know what? Not one person violated that request.
You guys in that line were awesome, not one person protested it, not one person complained, everybody understood and everybody complied, everybody knew how important it was to everyone’s day to meet these two men, so everybody made a sacrifice to help another fan.
If you want an example of what Summer of Sonic is like for staff, that moment was it, making sacrifices in order to let other fans have a great day.
To further add to how amazing this moment was, when the end of the singing time came, Mr Naka and Mr Iizuka had a small chat to themselves, then told myself and the other guys working the line ‘they would stay on until Crush 40’s performance if we would assist.’ So we did, we gave up our last break, one staff member hadn’t had a break since the morning as a result, nearly 100 extra people got to meet Mr Naka & Mr Iizuka.
With Crush 40 on the stage I’d suddenly realised how tired I was, so managed to find a small chair to sit on… then I noticed the free Generations posters we’d been handing to those who didn’t have anything to get signed and decided to do one more thing.
I carried them into the corridor out, along with a sign which read ‘Free’ I don’t know how long they were there for, but I must have carried around 200 of the things out, not one was left when everybody left.
With the final song and the goodbyes, Sega turned the Mania pods back on for staff to have a play on, but… I couldn’t play just yet, there was a guest who required assistance to get back to their hotel room, so I agreed to help them back.
I came back to the venue to help with the strike/clear down and finally managed to get some time on Sonic Mania (thoughts on that later this week), to thank us for all our hard work, all the special guests agreed to come and meet us all, so I was able to meet my heroes at last, after helping hundreds of others meet them first. Another final surprise was a gift, Adam started handing everybody a Sonic 25th Anniversary USB stick (until he ran out), thanking us all again for our hard work.
When the clear up was done, I went to a pub called ‘The Goose’ to which I got told they had stopped serving food, so back to the Hotel Ibis’ pub where they agreed to make me a burger. Where I got to meet my friends again and have another final meal with them before we returned home.
And that’s roughly what my day is like, what most people who are staff at Summer of Sonic is like. I know that there is a perception with some fans that being staff on Summer of Sonic is an amazing experience… well… yeah, you’re right it is, but not for the reasons you think.
See, up until about 7:30pm on the day, I had no idea if I would be able to play Mania, I had no idea if I’d be able to meet Mr Naka and Mr Iizuka, yet I still volunteer to be staff, I’ll go running to a shop to buy art supplies in the early hours of the morning, or like I did at SOS 2010, spend half an hour taking cardboard boxes out to a recycling bin, just so the venue was tidier for other fans. Yes I was able to grab an art print or two before opening, but only through very fortunate luck, and… I’d rather have been able to spend some time actually chatting with Tyson and the STC alumni than just buying something.
When I was helping the line for Naka & Iizuka a guy came upto me and said “You have the best job right now!” well… yeah I do… but… probably not for the reasons you think.
See, I get there exists an impression from a lot of fans, for a long time I was kinda known as ‘the guy who hosts Buzzbombers’ and people think that’s all I do, that stuff like that is all any staff do, what they don’t see are these faces running from place to place to ensure the event runs correctly, they don’t see staff members offering to carry the bags of someone who can’t walk so well back to their room, nor do they see staff rushing out for water to a guest who has become ill, nor do they see staff trying to track down a single fan out of 800 because they found something that belongs to them, or looking after a lost child.
But it’s worth it, it’s worth all that effort to see how happy people are on the day, to see their enjoyment, regardless as to what crap is happening to them outside of the doors, for one day at least we try to make it the best day possible for people. SOS is a day to make new friends and to continue conversations left over a year prior, as staff, our view of SOS is to ensure you guys can do that. Even if it means we can’t meet everybody we’d like to.
That said, I did get some chance to meet some of the special guests and pick up some items, but, yeah… I can quickly purchase something, but I’d gladly give up that chance for a good conversation with a guest, the night before I was hanging out with Richard Elson, Ferran Rodriguez and his family, Richard Elson even asked me how my university course was and bought me a drink! When they left I found Steve Lycett of Sumo Digital, we had one hell of a conversation which… well… that’s stuff I really can’t talk about, maybe one day, but not today. But then we just started chatting about work and the beer. That’s what I enjoy most from SOS, meeting and talking to people.
Then to new friends I made, I wish I could have spent more time talking to Matt of the Tails Channel, yes we will have to collaborate in the future on something. To Peter Robinson of the Sonic the Hedgehog Collections Facebook page who agreed to help my partner carry her stuff around for a small chunk of the day.
And a huge thank you to everybody, everybody in the Naka and Iizuka line who agreed to forego photos, to everybody who did something just to make someone else’s day just that little bit better. Hell they even made my day so worth it, I asked them to sign an old Sonic Pin gift set that I have, Mr Naka saw it and he gasped and then called Mr Iizuka over and they reacted very well to it. Inside this gift set are the words ‘Thank you for your support, past present and future.’ Mr Naka signed it and very carefully handed it back with a huge smile on his face, Mr Iizuka also signed it, and as he handed it back, he looked me in the eyes and said “Thank YOU for your support, past present and future!” You could just tell that he wasn’t just reading it back, he was thanking me for the work and effort I’d put in. That… absolutely made my day!
So that’s what my day at Summer of Sonic was like, a lot of work, not a lot of being able to stand and take in the day, and I’m actually one of the lucky staff members, we have one staff member on our team who has been to every Summer of Sonic, but has never actually seen it, he’s always on the door ensuring that people don’t don’t come in who are not supposed to be there, that everybody who is in the building should be there. And he does this because he knows his job is helping to keep everybody in the venue safe and the days events that little more secure.
Probably a better way to summarise it, take a look at the video at the top of the post, skip right to the end, you see the guy in the glasses who laughs and falls over, pretty much summed up all our feelings.
Will Summer of Sonic return again? Well… there’s plenty of other years left in the 21st Century. Also if that Svend “Dreadknux” Joscelyne guy finally builds me a Death Egg, I will personally fly it around and pick up everybody who wants to go to then next one.
And here is what I was able to get from a days hard work, as well as a few more stories for the day and the like.