1. This is the biggest family reunion of people you’ve never met before.
TL;DR: You’re going to make friends. A lot of them. You’ll know people from across the world now, and you have one amazing cause in common. Welcome home.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend all prior Extra Life Uniteds (November 2014, February 2016, and March 2017). The feeling is the same every year – how did I not know this person before now? We’ve just met, but I feel like we’ve been friends forever!
That first year was intimidating. I went in not knowing anyone, was keenly aware I was in a new place, surrounded by new people, oh, and I was also competing with everyone. But what I quickly realized was that everyone felt the same. Within minutes people were introducing themselves, arranging rides for each other, and generally just welcoming each other. I made friends all over the country, hung out all hours with them, and regularly keep up with them on Facebook.
2. Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya.
TL;DR: Bring a contact card of some sort to hand out.
Come prepared with business cards that have your name, email, phone number, and gamer tags. I’d also suggest including your city and state, the hospital you play for, and your Extra Life URL (customize it to have the same URL every year!). You can always exchange contacts on your phone and friend people on Facebook, but there are sometimes so many people you’ll meet handing over a card is easier. You may also get to spend time with hospital staff and partners you haven’t met before.
Don’t have cards? No worries! Head to your local print shop and they can have some printed for you quickly. You’ll want heavy cardstock, and can also get full color printed on both sides, too. You can ask for them to be cut, but you’ll be charged per cut, or you can use a paper cutter and trim them yourselves. There are plenty of templates available for free on the web, and even in Microsoft Word.
3. The camera loves you. Love it back.
TL;DR: Take that selfie. Share that post. Photobomb all the group shots. You’ll want to capture as much as you can, and you should be in the picture, too.
If I have one regret about Extra Life United, it would be that I’m not in more photos. I’ve taken a ton, and I’ve shared a ton, but I’m not great about getting in the photos, or asking people to take photos with me. These photos will be shared all over and come up in your Facebook memories, so you should be in them! There are also professional photographers who will be taking photos all over, and you’ll be able to access those within a few weeks.
Want a peek at past ELUs? Here you go:
4. Even if you lose, you’re still winning.
TL;DR: Not everyone is going to win prize money. But that’s okay. You’ll walk away with something priceless.
Losing is tough. No way to sugarcoat it. But what you can do is prepare yourself a little bit for how you react. I’ve had some really, really tough losses at ELU. It hasn’t stopped me from going back. But I did take myself out of the picture for a bit, literally. One semifinal loss was particularly brutal for me, and I completely missed the closing ceremonies. I saw the pictures, but it’s not the same as being there. Especially when you realize you’re missing from the large group shot. ☹
It's completely okay to take a break. Head outside, get some sunshine or find a quiet corner for a minute. Take a short walk around the lake if you need it. But come back. You’ll thank yourself later. And your new family will be there to help you recuperate.
5. Take this!
TL;DR: Pack all the things. TSA will love your board games. Got a bag of holding? Pack that, too.
I like to think I’m a pro at packing light. I avoid checked bags if I can. But you may want to check your bag if you plan to bring along some board games. If not, give yourself extra time to go through security. Board games and all their little pieces tend to get extra attention. It’s also a good idea to tape your name and phone number on the inside lids of the games, just in case they need to find their way back to you.
What else should you pack? Here’s a good starter list if you’re visiting ELU for the first time:
- Allergy medications (Florida pollen will be high)
- Reusable water bottle (cut down on waste and save money!)
- A sweater or hoodie if you get cold easily (the convention center rooms can be cold)
- Your favorite snacks (I always pack a few meal bars and gummies when I travel)
- Battery packs and charging cables for your phone, and extra batteries for other items
- Headphones (they can do wonders if you need a moment to yourself and are in a crowded area)
- ELU specific accessories (I’m not saying onesies, but I’m saying there will be onesies… Also, tutus.)
- Giveaway items: buttons, stickers, business cards
Swimsuits if you want to take advantage of the pools near your hotel
Heading to the parks? Make sure you have these:
- Comfortable shoes
- Extra socks
- Blister Block, moleskin, or cushion inserts to avoid blisters
- Comfy shorts or jeans (I like cargo shorts. All the pockets!)
- A bag that’s easy to carry (backpacks work best in the parks)
6. Get your swag on.
TL;DR: This is a wonderful time to pick up some CMN Hospitals swag. For yourself, and for your donors!
You can browse the online shop, but save shipping costs by picking up items at ELU. I like to wear a CMN Hospitals pin on my jacket anytime I travel. I’ll give a small gift pack of CMN Hospitals swag to donors (a stylus pen, screen wipe, and a lapel pin). Want to add to your collections of t-shirts? This is the place to get them!
7. Side quests are fun, but stick to the main story.
TL;DR: You’ll spend way more time at ELU than you expect, and that may mean skipping out on other things.
Unless you’re coming into town early or staying late, you may not have time for park visits or hanging out outside of ELU. Once ELU starts, plan to stay close by. As much planning goes into it, adjustments sometimes must be made and scheduled times can change. There is plenty of time to hang out in between games, but stay where the action is.
Just remember – if you’re wearing your Extra Life gear, represent Extra Life well. (There may or may not be a story from the first year where I ever so kindly used my mom voice and asked a few boisterous Extra Lifers to turn their shirts inside out.)
8. You’re going to need a bigger boat.
TL;DR: Actually, a place to keep all those contact cards, buttons, and other gift items you’ll receive. Don’t forget to bring some of your own!
One of the absolute best and most amazing things about Extra Life United is having a chance to interact directly with the kids your Extra Life efforts are helping. You won’t want to miss the pin exchange with the Champions. This is happening on Thursday, March 8th from 10:00-11:15am. Most of the Champions bring pins to exchange – so bring some of your own! You can take photos with the Champions and have them sign an autograph book. Don’t have an autograph book? Buy a deck of cards and have each Champion sign one! Let them know they’re aces in your book. Some Champions use stamps because they may have trouble holding a pen. You can become a human autograph book, or have them stamp a t-shirt as a keepsake. Find out about each of the Champions here.
Don’t have buttons? Don’t worry – you may be able to have some made quickly locally or with online shops, and have them shipped to your hotel. But you can also bring any other small item for an exchange, such as sticker sheets, playing cards, or mini-games. Your local dollar store is a great place to find items like this.
You will get neat little string bag when you check in, but it can get full quickly, so you may want to bring a bag of your own to carry your stuff around.
9. You’re not the only one who is bananas for Extra Life.
TL;DR: One of us! One of us! You’re not alone in your love and all-encompassing obsession with all things Extra Life. Get ready to have even more ideas to act on.
I came to the first Extra Life United because I helped plan, manage, and run a large game day event. But I didn’t consider myself a true Extra Lifer because I didn’t regularly play games. And I also didn’t play video games. If anything, I liked board games and puzzle games I could play solo. I didn’t even register my first year of Extra Life, I just donated to others. After leaving Extra Life United, I realized I wasn’t alone in that feeling. But also, that I had nothing to worry about. Extra Life is for anyone and everyone who loves gaming – from whatever viewpoint.
I still don’t play video games much. But I’ve discovered a whole new slew of board games. I’ve earned four medals of my own, and have gotten my whole family involved, too. I’ve shared ideas with so many others on planning game days, donor rewards, fundraising ideas – all of it. And I’ve gotten just as many ideas in return.
Extra Life has made a massive impact on my life. For five years I planned and managed a massive Extra Life game day of a few hundred gamers. Every year I recommitted to do it again. And in 2017 I left the tech industry to work for CMN Hospitals. That’s how much I care for this cause. So, I won’t be competing at ELU this year, but I’ll be there and can’t wait to meet my new family members!
~Tanya K., 5th yr Extra Lifer from San Antonio