By John Fenix
Final setup of the RT SideQuest booth is underway in the main exhibition hall of RTX Friday morning before the floor opens to the public.
For a weekend in the summer, tens of thousands of people flock to Austin to celebrate a company whose primary productions are hilarious webseries and Let's Play content. Although it’s been around since 2003, Rooster Teeth Productions has only had its own convention, RTX, for the last 4 years. Despite being so new, the convention, like the company itself, has expanded exponentially, with 40,000 fans arriving in Austin for a weekend of video games, previews of RT productions, meet and greets with RT staff among other events. Beyond the walls of the convention itself, one can find the expanding influence of the convention itself and the fan community itself to bringing good and charity as well as fun. Some of those 40,000 that attended this year's RTX were doing just that, branching off the main path of RTX to attend RT SideQuest, a community-run series of events that has been raising thousands of dollars for charities both local and national.
SideQuest festivities begin Thursday, the night before the convention starts with their Charity Dinner and Auction, now in its fourth year. Before the normal, bustling atmosphere of RTX begins, attendees enjoy a calm, more relaxed occasion to enjoy delicious food, great beer, and meet fellow fans, even a few Rooster Teeth staff. Dressed in suits and cocktail dresses, the event offers a chance for attendees to dress up from the normal convention attire. Around the floor, tables display items offered for silent auction run throughout the night, from props provided by RT Staff, companies such as Twitch, and pieces of artwork created by Rooster Teeth community-at-large. No matter how much the item goes for, attendees know all the money will be donated to charities such as Child's Play, which lies at the core of what RT SideQuest has become. Where they are today stems from their humble origins only 4 years earlier.
Early attendees to RT SideQuest’s Charity Dinner get early chance to bid on the items being offered for charity during Thursday evening, from Rooster Teeth Productions scripts and props, to Twitch streaming packs, to Microsoft and Halo products and signed merchandise.
The start of RT SideQuest parallels RTX itself. When the first RTX was being organized in 2011, only 200 tickets were initially offered. This concerned RT Community member Dominic Dobrzensky, now Co-founder and Donations Director for RT SideQuest. He wished to create an event parallel to RTX for fans to meet each other and explore Austin, even if some of them couldn't make it to RTX proper, which later expanded to offer 600 more tickets. Dobrzensky, originally from Vancouver, teamed up with local Austinite Grady Bailey, now fellow Co-Founder and President, creating a spreadsheet of places to eat and visit for attendees to use, becoming an interactive guide for any RTX attendees to use while in town for the convention. During the weekend of meet and greets, 100 fans showed up to meet fans at local Austin flavors such as Home Slice and Halcyon. Even during this initial event, RT SideQuest showed the potential to become its own event as much as RTX.
It wasn't until after the support and attendance from the first year that started to conceive RT SideQuest as a charitable parallel event to RTX, says Julia Rosinski, Logistics Director for RT SideQuest. They started the following year with their first charity auction, where they raised $10,000 for Child's Play, a video game-related charity. Every year since then, RT SideQuest has raised more money not only for Child's Play, but now several other charities, including Extra Life, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Operation Supply Drop, and AbleGamers. The amount of money being brought in by these events led to the group of people coming together to formally organize RT SideQuest as a non-profit in 2013.
Saturday night of RTX weekend, RT SideQuest staff and Spectres, volunteers spending their convention time helping setup for SideQuest events, are busy pulling together the evening’s festivities on the second floor of Buffalo Billiards bar along Austin’s well-known Sixth Street. The bar, pool cues, and gaming consoles are set for the competitors to compete in the SideQuest BarLympics. Soon enough, the room is filled with competitors, split into four teams, named after characters from Rooster Teeth's show, Red vs Blue. The team that wins the most points from a number of challenges has their name added to the BarLympics trophy as that year's winner. The challenges vary from playing rounds of Super Smash Brothers, drinking a few specialty drinks, or taking a picture of yourself at a bachelorette party or kissing a Lyft car. It's the unique mix of hilarity and high-speed spontaneity that is reflects the spirit of the RT community. After a long night of friendly competition, Red Team took home the trophy and reigned supreme for the evening.
Competitors gather and listen at Buffalo Billiards as Grady Bailey, co-founder of RT SideQuest explains the rules and point system for the evening’s BarLympics.
Even in its few short years of existence, RT SideQuest has rapidly expanded its charitable progress and events beyond RTX. SideQuest meetups have been organized around PAX Prime (PrimeQuest) in Seattle, WA and PAX East (SideQuEast) in Boston, MA. Beyond these meetups, they have done other charity activities: They partnered with local video game retailer Gamers Galaxy to run 24 hour live streams for Extra Life, raising $10,000 over 4 streams. They have even worked with Rooster Teeth staff Barbara Dunkelman, Rooster Teeth’s Community Manager, and Caleb Denecour, Achievement Hunter’s Community Manager to attempt to send them down side of a building in downtown Austin to raise money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. As part of their goal of also supporting the community, they provide $200 community group grants to support whatever event or activities they wish to accomplish. It's all part of following RT SideQuest's motto for the group “Enim Filii,” Latin which translates to “For the Children.”
On the Monday following the end of RTX, RT SideQuest attendees that remained in the Austin area gathered for one last farewell at The Salt Lick, one of Austin area’s best local barbecue restaurants, located just outside the city in Driftwood, TX. For the last several RT SideQuest years, fans have gathered to say goodbye to friends, old and new, and enjoy some of the best food the city has to offer. During the previous night, RT SideQuest offered a post-con lounge event at Buffalo Billiards for any RTX attendee to relax and reflect on the finished convention. Sadly, I was catching a flight back home by then and had to enjoy the next best thing: The Salt Lick had open up a small restaurant within the Austin Airport. With more attendees expected to join RT SideQuest alongside their main quest of RTX, the group hopes to rent out a whole area of Salt Lick for the event next year, and I will be sure to be among them, so that I can enjoy the same thing.