MAGFest 2019 just ended and we’re still getting used to walking down the street and not seeing Rick and Morty casually chatting up Samus Aran and Kylo Ren. The four day-long event is a celebration of gaming, music, community, panels, and all things nerd. The convention welcomes all walks of life and all types of fans, be they Windows or Mac, PlayStation or Xbox, Call of Duty or Halo. Think of the whole event as one giant post-game lobby where everyone’s excitedly talking about their favorite moments of the match. It’s a bonding experience.
If you’re an avid gamer – or even if you’re just a casual fan of something like Undertale, Mario Kart, “Lord of the Rings,” or “Dr. Who” – that doesn’t necessarily equate being a convention-goer. A quiet evening with Mass Effect is pretty far removed from being caught up in a tide of rabid cosplayers foaming at the mouth at the first note of the Legend of Zelda intro music. Not everyone’s an extrovert, not everyone has money to burn, and not everyone lives close to the National Harbor, where the event takes place. So what is the biggest draw of MAGFest? What’s the logic behind putting down the cash, hopping on the road, and suiting up a Tracer costume? Here’s why
10 reasons why every gamer should attend MAGFest
1. The Arcade
The definition of “gamer?” You play games. From the brainy Hearts of Iron IV strategist to the trigger-happy Gears of War fanboy to the anime-loving Doki Doki Literature Club enthusiast, at MAGFest you all fall under the wide umbrella of “liking video games.” A word to the wise: If you’re the Halo loyalist type who swears all Call of Duty players are a blight on the galaxy, or a “Star Wars” fan who bites his thumb at the Spock cosplayers, here’s a secret: All the fandoms are awesome in their own right. Furthermore, the creators of your favorite show or game are probably heavily inspired by the competition. Did we mention that Stan Lee was a huge Superman fan?
The arcade at MAGFest is a retro gamer’s dream, with everything Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghosts and Ghouls, Pac-Man, Dance Dance Revolution, and practically half the room filled with old pinball machines. And did we mention practically all the machines are set to unlimited play? You could sink hours of time into Konami’s X-Men arcade game from 1992 and not spend a cent. At MAGFest you don’t have to ‘pay to win’ or ‘pay to lose!’
It’s not just video games either; MAGFest also has mmultipletabletop gaming rooms where you can play Pathfinder, Munchkin, GURPS, Cards Against Humanity, or Magic: The Gathering. Think you’ve got the best deck around? Sit down and see how you stack up to the competition!
2. LAN Parties
It’s not just ye olde arcade games at MAGFest either. They’ve got monitors and controllers set up all around the convention set to plunk you right into a raging Call of Duty LAN party, a speedrun through Crash Bandicoot, Pokemon, or Spyro the Dragon. We shouldn’t even need to mention that there’s a King of the Hill tournament where Super Smash Brothers experts can clash in front of a cheering crowd. The list goes on.
You can happily pass the time playing Star Fox at your own pace. Or you can waltz into a group of ranting Halo players, pick up a controller, and make some new friends while you’re pwning the enemy team.
3. Buy and trade games, consoles, and controllers
For the more thrifty or forward-thinking gamers, MAGFest is a great opportunity to pick up some phat loot. If you’ve got an old Xbox 360 or unused Nintendo cartridges sitting around there’s a kiosk set up where you can make some profit by trading them in; something Gamestop probably wouldn’t give you more than a couple bucks for. On the flip side of the coin, there are literal boxes full of used games from which you can can peruse and choose at your leisure. We even saw a retro mouse next to a couple old Xbox memory cards.
If you’re concerned about spending money at a convention, entering the event arms laden with things to sell and trade for profit is a good compromise!
4. Legendary and hilarious panels
Comic-Con has them, MAGFest has them too. When you’re done pounding away at an arcade machine or spent all the money on merch that you’re willing to part with for the day, you can sit back and relax with some truly memorable panels. Voice-A-Palooza featured a handful of famous voice actors such as Jan Johns, Alexander Brandon, and Wes Johnson all dubbing over famous movie scenes with their various characters. If you’ve ever wondered what Luke Skywalker talking to Rey in The Last Jedi sounds like if Luke was Popeye and Rey was Sean Connery … well scratch that – you probably never wondered that, but it happened anyway:
Some of the panels got absolutely zany (especially after dark!), but some were also insightful, even educational. There was an Advanced Music Theory lecture that capitalized on 8-bit music, a beginner’s guide to playing Magic: The Gathering, and even Yoga for Gamers. For a complete list of all the awesome events going on throughout the weekend, check the schedule right here.
5. Support indie developers and get discounts
This year’s MAGFest had over 80 indie developer companies showcasing their products in varying stages of completion, ranging from playable concept, to beta testers, to soon-to-hit-the-market games. From side-scrolling platformers to JRPGs to shooters, there was something for everyone, and every booth felt professional and polished. It’s a special experience being able to talk to the folks who designed a game as you’re sitting there playing it, enjoying the fruits of their labors and providing constructive feedback while they type away transitioning you between levels or punching in cheat codes.
Many of the indie development teams handed out business cards and discount coupons for their games, meaning that when they hit the market on Steam you can get it for cheap, knowing you might have been part of the game-building process! Check out the full list of indie booths right here!
6. All the merch you could want
The vendor hall at MAGFest was so ridiculously jammed with cool stuff we’re positive we didn’t see it all. Ranging from 10-cent bags of dice to brand new unopened board games to the more pricy hand-crafted leather works or painted posters, toys, and models, the whole huge room was a cornucopia of games, artwork and assorted knickknacks for every variety of game enthusiast.
Walking around the various vendor kiosks at MAGFest was like window-shopping at a nerdy bazaar. In one direction a set of handmade stuffed Koopalings, in another direction nerf guns, still another direction some life-sized paintings of Lara Croft, Geralt of Rivia, or Link. Geeky squeals of delight around every corner as people unbox a chibi Garrus Vakarian or Little Sister from Bioshock.
7. Live video game music
Nothing hits you in the nostalgia quite like a familiar video game track. Be it the Dragonborn theme from Skyrim, the title theme to Monkey Island, the final boss fight track to Undertale, or the shreddin’ intro to Halo 2, it’s sure to get the memories flooding back and the blood pumping as you geek out in a crowd of cheering fans. Check out a list of bands that played here.
If listening to a video game track is awesome, then just wait until that track is performed by a live string quartet, or a jazz combo taking requests. MAGFest has a live performance every few hours, and no two bands are the same. If you’re craving something a little more wild and unrehearsed they’ve got that covered too: There’s a Jam Room where anybody can go and bring an instrument and play with whoever else happens by. We saw a trumpeter jamming with a rhythm section on what may have once been Rainbow Road.
Musicians are welcomed. Musicians are encouraged.
8. Crazy Cosplayers
Looking for a good place to show off your Han Solo costume? Maybe bring a Fellowship of friends, or strut the halls as One Punch Man? You couldn’t ask for a better place to do it. MAGFest is teeming with cosplayers sporting costumes of all shapes, sizes, genres, and corners of the world. Enjoy the view or suit up yourself and prepare to be bombarded with people asking for a picture!
We get that this aspect is NOT for everybody, and feel it’s a good time to mention that it is wholly unnecessary. Cosplaying is added fun, but there were certainly a ton of people out of costume just quietly wandering around playing video games or sitting in on panels. MAGFest even has an ‘AFK Room‘ set up for the con-goer who feels to socially bombarded. It’s a quiet room off to the side where people can zone out, pull out their laptops, sneak a nap, or even fill in a coloring book. When you’re feeling rejuvenated you can head back out and greet the colorful masses.
9. Advertise your own game!
MAGFest is a beacon for any indie game developers, and if that’s you, you definitely need to consider getting a booth to show off your stuff! The convention had numerous tables laden with indie board games and video games and is an excellent place to look for feedback in a crowd comprised of your exact audience: Gamers. You might even pick up a new member for your development team!
If you think your product is ready to meet the masses and get hard-tested by tons of experienced gamers, sign up for a booth on their website!
10. Be among your people
Mush alert: Amidst all the indie booths, posters and games to buy, arcades to play for hours on end, LAN parties to jump in whenever you like, and live performances and panels MAGFest is a huge community of people who share a passion and excitement for nerd culture and video games. From the hardcore Final Fantasy guru who cosplays as Vivi to the casual Persona fan, to the musician aspiring to compose for a big game company one day, know there’s a place for you at MAGFest.
We hope to see you there next year!