Critical Role's Wembley arena live show looked like a KPop megastar's concert, and I'm here for every second of nerd nirvana

  • "Critical Role" took over London's Wembley Arena to play "Dungeons & Dragons" on Wednesday.

  • The sold-out arena was packed to the gills with cheering fans.

  • Together, they told the tale of a crew of monster-slaying adventurers getting back together for one more battle.

A sold-out arena of screaming fans. People dressed to the nines. Bright lights.

No, Taylor Swift wasn't on stage singing about getting back together, instead, it was "Critical Role's" live show at the Wembley Arena. On Wednesday, a group of "self-professed nerdy-ass voice actors" played tabletop "Dungeons & Dragons" in front of a sold-out audience.

For four hours, the arena packed to the gills with close to 12,500 fans, who sat and listened enraptured as a cast of eight professional voice actors told the story of the Mighty Nein, a group of brave, monster-slaying adventurers, getting back together for another rollicking reunion.

The video-on-demand playback of the live show has now dropped on the show's Twitch channel, where they have more than 1.3 million followers. But pictures and videos of the arena seen by Insider showed the sheer scale of popularity the show has garnered over time. In the venue: Rows upon rows of tabletop roleplaying game fans, gathering for a rare chance to see the cast perform live, not just via watching their Twitch stream.

The view from inside the "Critical Role" live show arena.
The view from inside the "Critical Role" live show arena.Image courtesy of Milly

And never did I, a fan of the show for years, ever think I would hear an arena full of people singing one of the show's opening songs in unison.

The show's cast — Matthew Mercer, their dungeon master, and cast members Liam O'Brien, Laura Bailey, Ashley Johnson, Taliesin Jaffe, Marisha Ray, Sam Riegel, and Travis Willingham — have been streaming their "Dungeons & Dragons" game for over eight years, and more than 1,300 hours. The eight are also co-founders of Critical Role, the company. Willingham is their CEO, and Mercer is their chief creative officer.

But the trajectory of the game, and every pivotal decision in it, depends on the rolls of a 20-sided die. This means that even the most unpredictable things can happen live — and people were here for it.

"Once the show began it was electric," Jamie Doe, a fellow Critical Role fan, told me. "From seeing the cast's amazing show outfits, being led by Sam Riegel in a Freddie Mercury style call and response, singing along to the theme tune to celebrating every natural 20, participation was absolute. We laughed, we cheered, we screamed, we cried, and we stomped our feet until the whole place shook."

"Critical Role" has now aired three long-running campaigns, telling the wild tales of separate crews of fantasy-world adventurers. Vox Machina was Campaign One, the Mighty Nein was Campaign Two, and they're now winding their way through Campaign Three, a group known as Bells Hells.

In an interview with Insider before the live show, O'Brien told me he was hyped to finally be jumping back into the story of the Mighty Nein — this time, in front of a huge live audience. At Wembley, he slipped back into the role of Caleb Widogast — now a high-level wizard wielding immense powers.

"I'm overwhelmed and excited to ride that wave. Wembley is another one of those moments we're just like, 'It doesn't quite seem real,'" he said.

Finding people you love

The cast of "Critical Role" on stage at London's Wembley Arena.
From left to right: Sam Riegel, Laura Bailey, Taliesin Jaffe, Ashley Johnson, Matthew Mercer, Liam O'Brien, Marisha Ray, and Travis WillinghamCritical Role on Twitch

I also spoke to O'Brien about Widogast, who he played at the live show, and Essek Thelyss, an elven noble with whom Widogast is embroiled in a complicated romantic relationship. I brought up, as well, how LGBTQ+ fans of "Critical Role" told me that they felt represented and seen by his roleplaying choices.

"At the table, we're trying to tell stories and show a world that we wish we lived in. Not so much with the evil Empire of Caleb's story — but it's certainly about finding people you love," O'Brien said.

"I wish that characters like that were more common, and I feel like they're getting a little more common and getting the spotlight. But we at our table, I don't see why anything should hold us back from doing it the way we think it should be," he added. "And it's fun to flirt with your friends."

He said he would "love to see more stories" with Caleb and Essek, as well as with the wizard's former flames, Astrid Becke and Eadwulf Grieve. O'Brien and Bailey did, after all, work together on a novelization of their Campaign One characters' backstories.

"I think that all of that territory in our story is a rich area for exploring further," he said. "I hope we do in multiple ways."

What the next decade holds for Critical Role

Willingham, the CEO, told me most of the cast has a background in theater, so the playing at Wembley felt very much like "a dream come true." But they still have more to do — the cast is working on two animated series with Amazon, "The Legend of Vox Machina" and "The Legend of the Mighty Nein."

"Where is Critical Role in five years? Ten years? Your guess is probably as good as mine. But if this is the last job that any of us could ever have, if this was the thing that we were doing until we're old and gray, it would be the greatest joy in our lives," he told me. "It's such a unique and special privilege, just as actors and entertainers, to actually be the ones creating the intellectual property for ourselves. That's very unique, and we don't take that for granted in any way."

He added that he and his friends are continuously bringing ideas to the table — and that "ingenuity and excitement" make coming to work fun.

"If there ever comes a week or a month where we're like, 'Man, what do we do next? That would be the first time that's happened in eight months,'" he said.

"We are massively lucky and fortunate to have an interest in the stories that we create that we do. And we know that that won't last forever," Willingham added. "We know that at least it seems to us that as long as we are making each other laugh, making each other cry, and surprising each other with the choices that we make at the table, then we should be good."

Read the original article on Insider