I’ve been attending conventions on a regular basis for well over five years now, and some important things I’ve learned are that no two are the same, and I won’t always love the ones that my friends love. Well, MAGFest is really nothing like any other convention I’ve attended. While I absolutely caught glimpses of some of its most awesome characteristics, it isn’t one I see myself going back to.
Honestly, that has very little to do with the convention itself; when I got my butt down to the floor and participated in the con, I had a really great time. The problem was rather with several things that MAGfest can’t really control: the weather was miserable (it was unseasonably cold, even for early January) and the venue simply wasn’t my cup of tea.
Now, I got SUPER lucky and snagged a room at the host hotel, the Gaylord National Harbor. Not only that, I snagged a room at the lowest convention rate, which was around $225 a night once all of the taxes and resort fees were added in. A friend who suggested MAGFest to me jokingly called it “Never-Leave-the-Gaylord-Con” and let me tell you, with the weather this past weekend, boy was he right. I really feel for all the people who had to leave the Gaylord to go back to other hotels, especially as very few of them were within walking distance. But even though I had one of those coveted Gaylord rooms, as a whole my experience staying there was not great.
For instance, there aren’t really enough elevators and the stairwells are weird/creepy – and hard to find when you’re trying to get back up to your room. The prices at the restaurants and bars in the hotel are insane. Thankfully there are several other restaurants just a few minutes’ walk away but that’s still not very convenient when temperatures are in the teens and you don’t want to spend several hours of your day trekking out to go eat. (Give me that Labor Day weekend in Atlanta heat of Dragon Con any day.)
And yeah, I’ll be honest, it didn’t help my overall attitude (and therefore experience) that not once did the ‘hot’ water in our shower get above barely-more-than-lukewarm.
But enough complaining! While MAGFest maybe wasn’t my cup of tea in other ways (even outside of my ‘meh’ feelings about the Gaylord as a venue), when it came down to it I had a good time. If you’ve never been to MAGFest, they have panels and such, including some great offerings via their “Forge” – where you can basically learn how to make things, whether it be a plushie or an RPG story line. There were also events like “Yoga for Gamers”, and of course all sorts of gaming tournaments, including Magic the Gathering and Pokemon. There’s definitely cosplay, though not as much as at other conventions; however, while plenty of it is from video games, I saw tons of other costumes as well (and even wore some myself).
Of course there was a dealer’s room (which was, blissfully, full of mostly artists and very few junk vendors), but there was also a big space dedicated to Indie games and a giant room filled with more free-to-play arcade games and pinball machines than I ever knew existed. In fact, I played one that I’d never seen before and it was housed in an unlabeled particle board box. I kept returning to it hoping to find someone to ask about its name; while I never found a person to talk to about it, thankfully sometime Saturday they put a paper sign on top, so at least I know the name! (Which was, by way, “TH Strikes Back”.)
Another large room was dedicated to LAN gaming, but I didn’t spend much time in there, because there was simply too much going on to take it all in. In fact, I was sad to miss the costume contest because I heard from friends who attended that it was a lot of fun, featuring everything from the usual construction awards to one-on-one insult battles that led to Zangief from Street Fighter winning the day.
For me, though, the most enjoyable events involved music (…and other performances). While I unfortunately missed the “Crystal Jams” Steven Universe singalong (because I had to leave the Gaylord in search of an actual meal and said meal took way longer than expected), it was really cool to hear the Sonic the Hedgehog music played by the original composer, or to stumble onto a big group of people playing and dancing to J-Pop…not to mention the late-night dance party/dance off/mosh pit that took place on the Atrium level.
Overall, if you’re a big gamer or just really into video game and generally geeky music, MAGFest is worth a try. If it was at a different time of year or in a different place, I’d be willing to give the event itself a second chance. As it stands, in my opinion it’s too close to the holidays, the location is colder that time of year than I’d like to experience for anything other than a ski trip, I don’t like the host hotel reservation system, and said hotel is good for photoshoot locations and kind of nothing else, anyway…but if I hadn’t been staying there I would have enjoyed the experience as a whole even less.
Some MAGFest tips I learned? Buy your pass as soon as they go on sale (there’s a sort of pre-order situation that my friends clued me in on), make sure you have a lot of friends vying for a host hotel room (we were a group of eight, only three of us got the email to be involved in prebooking rooms, and I’m the only one of the three who got a room at the Gaylord), and if you get one of those coveted host hotel rooms, check in early because they won’t guarantee you get two beds even if there are four people staying in your room. Also, don’t be afraid to sleep in (even if it means missing some of the earlier activities), because some of the best things happen super late at night!
Author: Tara Lynne
Tara Lynne is an author, fandom and geek culture expert, and public speaker. She founded Ice & Fire Con, the first ever Game of Thrones convention in the US, and now runs its parent company Saga Event Planning.
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