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LevelUp 2022 convention attracts hundreds of players for school gaming event

Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, Super Smash Brothers tournament highlight just some of activities on hand at Riverview on Saturday afternoon

When Riverview teacher Janice Lamb was approached by a student about forming a Dungeons and Dragons club in back in 2017, little did she know it would all grow and develop into a popular gaming convention at the local high school.

But there they were on Saturday afternoon, playing video games, board games, painting miniatures, playing cards and, of course, running a series of D&D sessions, all part of what has become the annual LevelUp gaming event.

Hundreds of participants took part in the proceedings throughout the day and into the evening, marking the continued growth of a convention that has the most unique of origins.

“We have kids from Grade 7 to 12 all coming together and playing games, from video games to board games and party games, and a lot of role-playing games like D&D, we had a bunch of DMs (game runners known as dungeon masters) that have come and volunteered their time to play with the students,” Lamb said during a short break from wrangling activities. “It’s been great seeing how this has grown, we’ve had a lot of players here today and we’re really pleased with how things turned out.”

It all started with Riverview student Skie Nancarrow way back in 2017. Looking for an extracurricular activity, Nancarrow proposed starting up a D&D club in the school to Lamb, and it wasn’t long before things took off -- even if there was some skepticism at first.

“I wasn’t sure if it would take off, but once they got going, I just fell in love with it,” Lamb said with a huge grin.
It’s no coincidence that the roleplaying game -- created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and currently in its fifth edition of rules updates -- was a major focal point of LevelUp, with no less than five campaign sessions running at once at one point.

Nancarrow and some of the DMs from the beginning were on hand to help out, too, running mini-campaigns for players throughout the day.
D&D has grown in popularity at Riverview in the years since the club began, with it now one of the largest extracurricular activities currently in action, even outdrawing the always popular sports teams. Seeing that level of interest led Lamb to look into creating a special event, and it wasn’t long before LevelUp came into existence.

“We have four tables that play every week, and the natural extension was to collaborate and form a convention where we could celebrate this lovely nerd culture that we’re building up, enjoy the hobbies that we love and have fun playing games,” Lamb explained. “It’s been such a great culmination from one student who had a desire to start something to see it grow into this.”

The first LevelUp was held in 2019 and was a modest success before growing substantially in the spring of 2020. Two weeks after that event, the pandemic took full hold, and LevelUp 2021 had to be cancelled.

Fast forward to this past May, and the convention returned in more of a feeling-out mode while staking open just to students in Grades 9-12. The decision to expand to Grades 7-12 and hold a second LevelUp in the fall led to Saturday’s successful showing.

The question now is just how big LevelUp can go, and that’s something Lamb will be looking into for the event in 2023 and beyond.

“We’re going to continue with once a year for now, but I’d eventually love to see it get bigger and have more schools involved, too,” she said. “I know there’s a demand for D&D groups in other schools, but there’s a limited number of teachers who can do this kind of thing. So we’d love to build programs in other schools, and if I have to ask 20 people to DM for me over a weekend because there’s so much interest, I’d love to be able to do that.”

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