Sonic Boom in St. Louis: Inside The Nerd Convention for The World Famous Hedgehog

Aug 12, 2013 at 8:45 am
Head Juggalo Sonic - Theo Welling
Theo Welling
Head Juggalo Sonic

I didn't grow up a Sonic the Hedgehog fan. In my early video game days, Pitfall Harry represented my family's Atari allegiance, and Mario and Link later led us to Nintendo heaven. I knew about Sega only through visiting friends, with "the hedgehog game" being something we played before dinner at their houses.

So why was I keen to report on Sonic Boom this weekend, an event that celebrates the mascot for a gaming system I didn't play much?

Because I could wear a costume while reporting. Duh.

Sonic Boom is known as a mecca of sorts for Sonic fans. The event is smaller than traditional nerd-interest conventions like E3 or San Diego Comic Con, but it's packed with entertainment and giveaways solely focused on the world's most famous hedgehog. It's a big deal; there's only one annual Sonic Boom in all of North America (a larger companion event happens in Great Britain), so fans swarm the event. It's like the Gathering of the Juggalos, but for nerds.

For the past two years, Sonic Boom was held in California, but while planning the third installment, the Sega folks decided that fans in the Midwest deserved some love, too. With its nationally central location, St. Louis became the 2013 home for the Sonic lovefest of trivia rounds, Q&As with game developers, a performance by Sonic theme musicians Crush 40, bags of exclusive swag and a costume contest.

I shouldn't be running -- or driving -- anywhere in those shoes. - Courtesy of Erica Smith
Courtesy of Erica Smith
I shouldn't be running -- or driving -- anywhere in those shoes.

Ahhh, "costume contest." Magic words, those. I fished out my blue body suit that served as the foundation for my Sue Storm costume during Wizard World and started working on accessories that would turn me into a hedgehog.

White gloves? Check. Ill-fitting headgear of quills? Check. Red platform tennis shoes that gave me appropriately giant anime feet? Check. After three days of scorching my fingers with hot glue, writing the preview story about the event and convincing my friend Erica that she should attend this strange thing with me, I was ready for Sonic Boom.

During the ride to the Pageant (made a little bumpy by driving in my comically-giant shoes), Erica and I pondered what might be in store for us. What kind of food would be available on the buffet that was included with our Sonic Boom tickets? Would everyone be in full costume? Would we be the only adults with no kids, thus making us appear super creepy?

The Gathering of the Sonic Nerdalos. - By Theo Welling for RFT
By Theo Welling for RFT
The Gathering of the Sonic Nerdalos.

We were overwhelmed by the Sonic-ness from the moment we entered venue. Nearly everyone was sporting Sonic hats, Sonic toboggans, Sonic t-shirts and Sonic backpacks while carrying Sonic plushies. It was as if the Sega store had thrown up and fans were wearing the adorable vomit.

About four steps through the door, a kid of about sixteen cornered me to talk about my costume. To him, I was a mix of the Sonic and Shadow characters: Sonic was represented in my entire blue outfit, but Shadow (Sonic's dark hedgehog rival) came through in my black and red striped hair. The guy was flummoxed that I seemingly hadn't chosen to be just one or the other, ignoring my repeated responses of "This is just my hair, I swear. I'm not Shadow." Throughout this "conversation," he held his hand up expectantly, and after a few minutes, I realized that I was supposed to high-five him. I finally did so lamely and he went away. Erica shook her head, and we scurried down to the floor to people-watch while waiting for Crush 40 to perform.

Shadow will get in your face. IN YOUR FACE! - Via Wikipedia
Shadow will get in your face. IN YOUR FACE!

In the pit, we were surrounded by even more hedgehog ears and discovered that the average Sonic Boom attendee appeared to be fourteen years old. The first Sonic title was released in 1991, and many of these kids weren't even born until just before the hedgehog's games were ported from Sega to Nintendo and other platforms in 2002. Erica and I definitely were the old people on the floor, we definitely were among the few without kids in tow, and we definitely were starting to feel like creepsters.

Fans apparently like a thirty-something, underweight Sonic/Shadow in spandex, though, so a bunch of people put me into traditional Sonic poses -- thumbs up, peace sign and "#1" finger -- and took my picture. That's when I was bum-rushed by a little girl who not only dressed as Shadow but also was acting as Shadow.

"So we meet again, Sonic," she said as she stormed over, eyes blazing. I was completely unprepared for this and stood there helplessly as she recounted "our" last meeting and how I "foiled her plot." It was kind of adorable but also slightly unsettling to hear this eleven-year-old using words like "dastardly" and "thwart." I feebly admitted that I hadn't rehearsed any lines and couldn't verbally spar with her, and as her face fell, I was thankful that the emcee came out to welcome Crush 40. Wondering if I really was jerky like Shadow for crushing a kid's imagination, I turned toward the stage.

Continue for more nerd Juggalo action and costume contest results.