AUSTIN — Last year marked a significant shift for the X Games, ESPN’s flagship weekend for action sports. Saying goodbye to their former Los Angeles stomping grounds, the event set its sights on Austin and took up residence at the Circuit of the Americas. I only got to hang around for one day last year, taking in a bit of BMX and off-road truck competition. This time, however, I was there for the whole thing, from the opening press conference to The Glitch Mob’s closing set at the Austin 360 amphitheater. It was an absolutely overwhelming weekend, and I’d be lying if I said that people-watching wasn’t a significant portion of the fun.
So, if you find yourself wondering what kind of people brave the brutal Texas heat to see the mecca of big air, here’s a comprehensive guide to the people you’ll encounter at the X Games.
With so much music in the atmosphere, it’s not surprising that a lot of dancing was going on. This demo from a youth breakdancing class turned a lot of heads, but I think my favorite dance-related memory came a bit later in the day. After all the sporting events had wrapped up, I headed for the amphitheater to catch Deltron 3030’s set. About halfway through, some guy to the side of me drops his backpack on the ground, throws his half-finished beer in the air, and starts pop-locking all by himself. Here’s the thing about dancing like nobody’s watching, though… eventually, people want to join in.
Only at the X Games, people.
Let’s just make peace with it now: DIY streaming services like Periscope will be significant fixtures in our lives from here on out. This was the first X Games with Periscope presence, and a lot of the streaming was officially done by ESPN personnel. Do you want to ride along with Bucky Lasek as he leaves the skateboard vert ramp and heads to the rally car pits? They’ve got you covered! A fair amount of fans were getting in on the action, as well, and the phones and tablets will probably be out in even greater numbers next year. Let’s hope you’ve got a serious data plan lined up.
The Opening Acts
Part of the move to Austin was refocusing the X Games live experience, making music a much more significant part of the weekend. With a central amphitheater at the venue, musicians could be found playing live sets starting at about noon each day. Of course, the non-headlining acts were competing for time with the biggest worldwide action sports spectacle there is. Bands like Austin-based hip-hop/funk collective SIP SIP realized this and simply decided to let it all hang out on stage, resulting in some energetic, eye-catching performances. The musical elements of SIP SIP are great, but it’s the visuals that drew me (and dozens of others) closer. They’re a band straight out of a Stefon sketch from Saturday Night Live. “This group has everything… a six-part horn section, GoPro cameras on microphones, a masked synth player…”
Then, you’ve got Immortal Guardian. If you’ve ever walked through downtown Austin at night, chances are you’ve seen some incarnation of Immortal Guardian. I think the first memory I have of them was just one guy playing guitar over a drum machine loop, but they’ve clearly stepped up their game since then.
If your first question is, “Do they sound anything like DragonForce?” then you’ve got the right idea.
The Live Demos
The live element at X Games goes way beyond music. Anywhere you look, you can find an artist or performer in mid-session. In the course of one afternoon, I found this pair of people working on one of those 3D-perspective chalk drawings, as well as a graffiti artist using a cargo container as his canvas for an X Games logo…
… and a guy from Hoffman Bikes doing a flatland demo.
Between the live music and live demos, there’s plenty to take in between vert competitions. Actually, while we’re on the topic of other attractions…
Far removed from its centralized location last year, the Major League Gaming tent now sits way off to the side of the venue by the BMX dirt jumps. The 20 or so minutes I spent inside were absolutely mystifying. Don’t get me wrong, I can grasp the appeal of watching someone play over Twitch, but this was something else entirely. This was a significant crowd of people watching a Call of Duty team deathmatch (with LIVE COMMENTARY) while the world’s best skaters and BMX riders competed just a stone’s throw away.
People were bolting out of their seats to get pictures with MLG Personalities. This was somehow a very big deal. Big enough to warrant CUSTOMIZED JERSEYS.
This is Flame. His name is Flame. His name is Flame, and he came to play games. MLG is a thing now, and we just sort of let it happen. I guess this was my Hunter S. Thompson moment. He had a motorcycle race in the desert, I had a tent full of people in meme t-shirts.
The Taco Troopers
Speaking of video games, here’s the Warthog from Halo.
Torchy’s Tacos is a Texas-based restaurant chain, and in my 100 percent biased opinion, it thoroughly kicks the ass of whichever taco stand you prefer. Not only is the food great, but they have their own promotional assault vehicle, capable of firing free tacos and shirts at high velocity. Let’s just hope they continue to use their superior taco firepower for good rather than evil, because not only does this beast look fit for the Fury Road, it’s probably capable of pulling a Maude Flanders in real life.
The Ink Bearers
As you might have guessed from the picture of the graffiti artist, the X Games are a very tattoo-heavy event. Fans and athletes alike are often walking canvases. Trust me, Ryan Sheckler walked two feet in front of me with his shirt off, I can say with authority that there were very few square inches of untouched skin here. By the way, the man you’re seeing here talking with one of the off-road truck drivers had a Misfits logo tattooed on the other side of his head. That’s right, he had a skull on his skull.
Did I mention that Twiggy the Water-Skiing Squirrel was there? Because Twiggy the Water-Skiing Squirrel was totally there.
The Significant Others
The X Games are undoubtedly the Super Bowl of action sports, so the athletes bring the biggest support team they can, usually including their spouses. I wondered why the woman next to me at the Skateboard Big Air final was getting so much camera time from ESPN, until I realized she was silver medalist Elliot Sloan’s girlfriend, Tabitha. Elliot would usually come find her between runs and discuss what he was planning next.