January 12, 2018
The 15th annual Chicago Toy and Game Week (ChiTAG) drew toy and game industry heavyweights and more than 30,000 consumers to Chicago’s Navy Pier the weekend before Thanksgiving. With more than 125 companies representing the best of play, attendees kicked off their holiday shopping while experiencing the latest innovations. Leaders from the world’s biggest toy and game companies and retailers perused new concepts from inventors, all vying to have their ideas become the next trend. With sponsors including Hasbro, Mattel, Goliath, Pressman Toy, Spin Master, Play Monster, LEGO and TARGET, the spirit of cooperative competition was alive and well at ChiTAG 2017.
Thursday and Friday before the Fair, more than 200 toy and game inventors and major global manufacturers came together for ChiTAG’s annual Innovation Conferences. Established and aspiring inventors shared knowledge and pitched product acquisition executives, hoping for their big break. During a joint keynote address, Mattel’s SVP of Inventor Relations and Head of Gaming, Gary Swisher, and Hasbro’s Senior Director of Global Product Acquisition, Rich Mazel, discussed what unites their rival companies. According to Mazel, “We have a shared passion for innovation and new things that are fun. We are always supporting inventors.”
Highlights of the marquee ChiTAG Fair included gigantic games, play spaces, live gameplay, tournaments, and inventor meet-and-greets. Playfoam, the squishy squashy modeling compound from Educational Insights won Best Toy in Show based on attendee voting. The award for Best Game in Show went to Soggy Doggy by Spin Master, which drew lines of kids and adults to its larger-than-life, super-soaking version of the game. Attendees also experimented with next generation toys in virtual reality with Merge Cube and got physical with a giant game of Build or Boom from Goliath and the Super Spinner Swing from PlayMonster. Detroit’s Josh Morof won the US National Rummikub Tournament, and now prepares for the 2018 Rummikub World Championship in Israel.
Each year, ChiTAG plays host to the Young Inventor Challenge, which offers young people the opportunity for mentorship and to present original toy and game inventions to industry luminaries. This year, 12 winners in six categories were selected from more than 135 hopefuls with video participation enabling 15 entrants to compete remotely. All eyes were on Ellie Skalla of Oak Park, IL, the senior winner in the Most Marketable Game category for her concept, Galactiquest. Winning concepts are now under review for potential licensing deals.
Mattel’s Gary Swisher took the stage again Friday night as the keynote speaker of ChiTAG’s annual Toy and Game Innovation Awards (TAGIEs). “We’re here to celebrate play,” said Swisher. “Play is the only reason humans still exist. Without play, we would have never progressed.” Following the presentation of awards in categories such as Game and Toy Inventors of the Year, Rising Star of the Year and Marketing Team of the Year, Lifetime Achievement Awards were given to industry giants; Adi Golad, founder of Goliath Games, and prolific toy and game designer, Judy Blau of J. Hope Designs. In an award that epitomizes the spirit of inventor advocacy core to the mission of ChiTAG, Lisa Giuli, president of Educational Insights, was honored for featuring her company’s inventors on product packaging.
Olivia Wasilewski and Brynna Siewers won the TAGIE for Young Inventor of the Year. The elementary school students’ game, Ship of Treasures, was discovered at ChiTAG’s Young Inventor Challenge last year, and is now sold at TARGET nationwide. The pair created an unexpected moment, surprising fellow honoree, Lurie Children’s Hospital, with checks on behalf of themselves and their manufacturing partner, Pressman Toy. The donation was a percentage of the game’s profits and honored their schoolmate, Sophie Shields, who died of cancer earlier this year.
The 16th annual Chicago Toy & Game Fair will take place again next year, the weekend before Thanksgiving. All details will be released as they become available at https://www.chitag.com.
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