I wouldn’t say I’m a huge convention-goer. I only make the out-of-state trips for conventions two times a year tops (because I can’t be arsed to leave the East Coast) those being Otakon and MAGFest. If I had to pick just one a year to attend, I’d probably say that I’m leaning more towards cutting out Otakon and exclusively going to MAGFest. I’ve been going to MAGFest every year since 2010, and I swear that it only gets better with each passing year. If nothing else, I can say that attending MAGFest has lead to more post-con illness than Otakon has. That’s got to count for something, right?
MAGFest has been taking place in one venue for the past several years now: the Gaylord Hotel at National Harbor Maryland. Its a picturesque place, the kind you’d like to vacation to regularly. The surrounding shops are a little of everything, which means that a convention-goer can get anything they need quickly in case the con plague strikes. The Gaylord itself is a great venue, being both huge and nice: every time I’ve been, there have always been leftover holiday decorations which periodically light up during the con’s later hours.
The biggest draws for any gaming convention are the dealer’s area and the arcade, and MAGFest delivered on both ends. Said areas were smaller than previous years, due to there being an astronomy convention being held concurrent with MAGFest, but there was still a huge amount of space allocated to both gaming and buying. I bought my first ever SNES this year and I found a lot of obscure titles that ultimately got bought up between the time I saw them and bought my SNES. The only title I walked away with was Tetris Attack, which I ended up lending to the game room on the spot. The dealers are always pretty reasonable, swapping out the two controllers I was dissatisfied with for another one, and refunding the other controller when they couldn’t get a replacement. There were tons of self-made items at vendor booths too, ranging from bead and Lego constructions to clothing and accessories. There wasn’t a whole lot of official merch, but I did find an awesome Figma of Samus which was tragically out of my price range, as well as illustrated collections like Hyrule Historia.
I was pretty happy to see setups for Persona 4 Arena, Street Fighter, Skullgirls and Divekick, as well as lots of arcade cabinets, ranging from fighting like Mortal Kombat to beat-em-ups like X-Men to imported rhythm games that I didn’t recognize. There was a main stage for tournaments including Super Street Fighter IV and Pokemon Puzzle League, and another stage displaying a marathon of Mega Man games throughout the weekend. One of the biggest draws amidst the gaming setups was the Challenge Booth, which outlined extreme challenges for players to accomplish, with prizes as an incentive. I only ended up conquering two of them – beating Death in Castlevania II with only the leather whip without dying, and beating the final boss of Bust a Move – for which I received a CD, a button and some Adventure Time/Zelda crossover art. Some of the more extreme challenges included beating the final boss in Dracula X without using subweapons and TKOing Mr. Sandman in the first round of Mike Tyson’s Punchout!! Completing lots of challenges earned players MAGPoints: Rupee-shaped pieces of plastic stamped with different numbers that could be used in place of money in the dealer’s area.
MagFest’s panels were pretty varied: the guest panels this year included voice actors like longtime MAGFest friend Jon St. John, Ellen McLain, and Matt Mercer, who I had the pleasure of running into in the game area at three in the morning. Youtube guests included the Angry Video Game Nerd, the Game Grumps, and Matt and Woolie of Two Best Friends Play, whose panel I attended. There were several fan panels as well, such as one on horror games that I ended up moderating for a while after the original moderator had to leave on other business. As well as standard horror titles like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, concepts for horror such as betrayal of expectations and jump scares were discussed at length.
Of course, the M in “MAGFest” stands for music, with concerts happening almost every night. Recurring musical guests This Place is Haunted returned after their absence from Magfest 11, playing a medley of Super Mario Bros. 2 and a horror movie medley. Charlottesville, Virginia Bluegrass band Love Cannon provided music for the MagProm event, covering classics such as A-Ha’s Take on Me. The concert I enjoyed the most was the DJ Battle featuring DJ Cutman. Though it wasn’t a real DJ Battle, it was a hell of a good time either way, though in truth I only ended up sticking around for around an hour. I also ended up getting caught in a few impromptu late-night raves in the hallways.
The final hurrah of MAGfest was the pair of auctions, one of which is annually held to raise money for Child’s Play, a charity for sick children. In the past, over $1000 was raised solely for a Japanese copy of Final Fantasy signed by Nobuo Uematsu, with other items including rare games, artbooks or the potentially tragic $5 mystery items. This year’s stock included signed copies of Nintendo Power, copies of retro or imported games, and the traditional deluge of DJ Hero memorabilia. DJ Hero items appear in droves at every auction, but there always seems to be more when the next MAGFest rolls around.
MAGfest is an enormous event that takes place over a weekend plus Thursday and has a host of guests, panels, and merch to sate the most rabid gamer’s appetite. MAGFest’s attendance has been expanding every year to over 12,000 this year – up from 9000 from the previous year – with said attendance filling up the Gaylord’s rooms as early as September. With these facts in mind, returning fans and first-time visitors alike are recommended to book as early as possible, or check out MAGStock to tide themselves over while waiting for MAGFest. The Gaylord Hotel will be MAGFest’s host through 2020, and the venue is incredible enough to check out all on its own. Hope to see you there in 2015!