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Inaugural gaming, technology expo fosters collaboration; it's headed by former Olympian Ashton Eaton

There's a new "con" in town — but don't think of it as another comic con full of fans dressed as masked superheroes, villains and other colorful cartoon, movie or game characters.

Instead think of a con more for tech nerds: It's called BetaCon.

It's aptly titled, considering it's the first run of a new gaming and technology expo, to be held at the Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Saturday and Sunday, April 15-16.

Beta test is a common term in the tech world meaning a trial run of software. The expo's mission is to bring together not only gamers, but tech fans, educators and innovators, developers, designers and artists through a number of panel discussions, contests, conferences and other events over the course of two days.

"The original purpose for BetaCon was ... wanting to create an atmosphere for people who are doing things on the cutting edge together, and hopefully foster some kind of cross collaboration and networking in the spirit of beta," says Ashton Eaton, the con's director, and the two-time Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon who has roots in Portland and Bend and the University of Oregon. "It just so happens this was our first year, so we're also in beta."

Retiring recently, Eaton pivoted back to a childhood love of gaming, which evolved into a larger appreciation of technology, gaming and "fostering new connections in education, art and entertainment." Organizers actually see beta as an acronym for the conference: Beta Education/Entertainment Tech and Art.

It's only in its first year, but tickets are going fast for BetaCon.

"Initially, throughout the whole thing, our main objective was to get people really passionate about the gaming and technology industry, also with an eye of what's going to happen for the future of the industry," Eaton says.

Panels and speakers include representatives from major companies like Sony, Intel, Nike, Insomniac Games, Wacom, Kinjo, polycount, Portland Retro Gaming Expo and others.

There will be discussions on the history of gaming, the process of creative development, demonstrations of virtual reality and Oculus Rift, as well as "live art battles" where artists develop art for games in various formats and compete against one another on stage.

"Our dream is to have all these industries come together in this space, so people ... can see the potential for connection," Eaton says. "I think that's exactly the reason for the conception (of BetaCon)."

He believes that this particular need, "a convention where you get to bring the entertainment and tech industries together," wasn't being met in Portland.

He also says that there's a lot of talent in gaming and technology to come out of the state of Oregon. He's excited about having Liquid Development, a local development and art studio, involved.

"It has provided art for like every game title you could think of ... this whole industry is a collaboration, and everyone's trying to elevate everyone," Eaton says.

Tickets and information are available at www.betacon.org.

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