In recent weeks we have been talking about an event called Extra Life United, a time once a year for Extra Lifers to come and celebrate the previous year’s accomplishments with the kids who have been helped in children’s hospitals across North America. Only a small portion of the community attends, so what exactly is going to Extra Life United like? As this has been my first year attending ELU, I figured I would document my daily experiences.
Tuesday night and Wednesday morning were long and relatively sleepless. I managed to pull off roughly an hour of sleep, give or take a few minutes. Mostly I wrote, trying to capture the previous day while the memories still held together. The longer you wait to write things down, the more bits and pieces, the small specifics of those moments, float away. It seems a bit sad when I put it that way, but I suppose that’s why we invented cameras and video recording in the first place. With those tools we can capture little details like how we really craved pancakes one evening or how we walked a bit funny because our new shoes pinched in a certain way. Maybe I am projecting a bit because I would kill for some quality pancakes right now, but I digress.
I found a few minutes between waking up, chugging a Redbull, and reaching the beginning of the day’s tournament to stop and inhale some french toast. I was shocked to almost be charged $50 for two slices of battered bread, but luckily it turned out that the cash register had been on the fritz recently and the cashier charged me a much less expensive $15. I took my seat next to a very pleasant looking family and began to wreak havoc on the syrup-covered dough. The parents looked on in horror as I utterly demolished the helpless plate of breakfast food. Finally sated and able to think properly, I left the remains of my meal (and probably my dignity) to make my way to Veracruz Hall.
One thing that some Extra Lifers might not know is that Extra Life United exists as part of a larger Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals event called Momentum. Hospital representatives from all over North America come to mingle and network with the CMNH organization. As Extra Life has grown, so has its presence at Momentum. In addition to United being a supremely fun event, it also shows hospitals and those in the CMNH network that Extra Life is a powerful, growing force for good in the world. United more than doubled in size this year and seems to be on track to do it again next year. Rallying such a fantastic community around such a valiant cause is a potent demonstration of what Extra Life is and a promise of what it could become in the future.
With that in mind, I was excited to see what this event finally looked like when it was fully in motion. As usual, Extra Lifers didn't disappoint. People had already filtered in and the day was beginning strong with Extra Lifers gathering around their platforms of choice and preparing for tournament play. The area buzzed with an expectant, excited energy. I found a place for myself at the relocated table for last-minute registrations that slowly shifted throughout the day to become a help desk of sorts. As I typed away, writing the stories of the first day, every so often someone would come up to ask for assistance. A few of these were hospital reps who hadn’t involved themselves with Extra Life much, but were interested in learning more. Some who approached me were Extra Life people who needed help with systems, had tournament questions, or just wanted to chat. All in all, it was a very communal experience and I enjoyed it quite a bit, even if my writing was a bit slower than it could have been.
We had set up a flipbook creation station nearby for Extra Lifers to make flipbooks of themselves and friends in front of a greenscreen background (I made some gifs, but can't upload them until I get home because hotel wifi makes angels weep). They’re pretty incredible and fun, especially with the props we had on hand for people to use (think inflatables, cartoon ninja heads, and more). People could act out several seconds in front of the greenscreen and the book would be printed out and stapled together in only a few minutes.
One of the more overlooked aspects of Extra Life tends to be the tabletop players. Most people associate Extra Life with video games, which makes sense; there are a lot of video games out there and it’s relatively easy to stream a digital game. However, I loved seeing the tabletop players out in force at Extra Life United. Spirited games of Settlers of Catan, Fluxx, Blokus, Love Letter, Liar’s Dice, and even Connect4 really brought home that Extra Life supports all kinds of participation. For the kids: play whatever you can, however you can with whoever you can.
Not making much writing progress in the craziness of the exhibit hall, I made my way back to my room for some quiet and a more capable piece of technology on which to whip up an article. Like the previous day, I flopped down face first on the bed. Unlike the first day, I immediately blacked out. For those of you who have never fallen asleep at a 45 degree angle, I do not recommend it. I woke a half hour later to awkward muscle spasms and the general feeling I imagine one experiences after being hit by a bus made out of sleep. Shaking myself out of my sudden stupor, I spent the next hour or two typing and editing to get the account of Day 1 finished and online.
I went back to Veracruz Hall to see the end of the first day tournaments. The Twitch streaming was in full swing complete with broadcasters shoutcasting and cheering audience members. #IDARB proved to be a really exciting semifinal event, coming down to a couple of tense closing rounds. You can watch the streams for yourself online. Following the conclusion of the semifinal, the day began to wind down. I ignored dinner and went straight to my room where I wrote until I passed out for an interminable amount of time in the wee hours of the morning.
It was incredible to see the community come together and fight for the kids in their own special way. Knowing that everyone in the tournament was having fun while also trying to raise as much money for their hospital as possible - it was a truly beautiful thing.
That message was hammered home when Laurie Wenzel shared the Rooneys’ blog with me. That proved to be the defining moment of day two of ELU for me. Sean and Trish had been writing about Dominic and their journey with him and have continued updating the space regularly since his passing. Sean Rooney ends one of his most recent posts titled ‘Love Play Cry’ with the words, “who wins this week won’t matter as much as the connections we forge, the memories we make together.” I cannot understate how true that statement is.
While the winners of the tournaments will bring their hospitals some extra money, what is even more valuable is that we come together as a community. Together we can spread the stories of kindness, strength, and love that we discover and forge here. The hope is that each person who comes to United will hear a story, see a picture, or feel in some way touched by what we do here and then take that home with them and share with their friends and family. Whether it is the story of one of the champions that came to United or the story of a tournament underdog, we all bond around stories. United is all about bringing people together in fellowship around a cause that asks people to care about people other than themselves. And not just those here at United, but to all the people who participate in Extra Life, the people who have cared enough to try, thank you for going your time, your effort, and your love for these kids.
That is awe-inspiring.
That is freaking beautiful.
You are awesome.