I will be blunt. This article will not nearly cover everything you will experience at MAGFest.
It will not tell you about the elevator and hotel room parties. It will not explain the sense of home you will instantly feel, being surrounded by nearly 20,000 of the best friends you didn’t even know you had. You will not get a shred of an idea of what it’s actually like to see a game creator, industry representative, or favorite YouTube celebrity be humbled by you asking to take a picture with them.
What this article will explain is my best explanation of what MAGFest is. I’ve been to MAGFest two years in a row now and, even though the journey is long (around 2,500 kilometres each way), this festival is a must for me and should be on your radar for events to attend in your lifetime.
First things first, let me be very clear. MAGFest, also known as the Music and Gaming Festival, is as its name suggests a festival, not a convention. IT IS A FESTIVAL, NOT A CONVENTION.
What does that mean? The biggest way for me to stress the difference is that, from what I’ve found, conventions tend to be more about the marketing of nerd culture back to the nerds that support it. That means demos of the newest games, opportunities to buy exclusive merchandise, meet-and-greets and Q&As with celebrities that are very structured and methodical.
This isn’t by any means to put down the convention as a business model. They’re still a great opportunity to enjoy your fandom and network with a community of other people who enjoy the same things that you do. But a festival is genuinely more about entertainment for the fans. There may be a marketplace on site, but no one in the building is trying to sell you on anything. It’s like the difference between going on a trip to a resort or going on a trip to the Mall of America. Both are legitimate vacation options, but both have very different purposes and reasons for being there.
MAGFest takes place in National Harbor, Maryland at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Centre. This venue also plays home to Katsucon and it is a monolith of a venue. The location is gorgeous, with tons of restaurants and sites to see. And, compared to Canadian weather in February, it’s generally beautiful to walk around there and check out the area. The main atrium provides an amazing backdrop for cosplayers, with neutral colours, indoor gardens, dark slate walls, and a small village as options to suit any cosplay. The convention centre area is broken up among multiple floors and the event quite literally takes over the entire venue and area, including the hotel rooms on site and in the surrounding region.
So what will you see at MAGFest?
Like I just mentioned, cosplay is fairly big at MAGFest. While it’s not as rampant as at some conventions, people do bring their best and most creatives works to the event and photographers do make the trip from all over the country for some photo shoots.
As you may have seen from my recent posts, I brought a brand new cosplay to MAGFest and I’m so happy with how well it was received. While photo shoots can be captured in a variety of places on site and off, a common location to find cosplayers is on the second floor and you may have seen the legendary “Gazebo” before in photos from past MAGFest and Katsucon events.
Do you like gaming? I sure hope so, because you’re reading this on a gaming site! MAGFest is a gamer’s dream. No, you won’t find demos of the latest and upcoming AAA titles. Believe me, you wouldn’t want them there. But you will find a 24-hour arcade full of local and international arcade machines and it’s all free, no quarters needed, and will satiate your gaming needs at 4 AM when you’re not quite ready to crash. You can even get competitive and duke it out with your fellow attendees in many of the scheduled tournaments.
Arcades not your thing? They’ve got you covered with consoles from all generations and a library to match. If they don’t have a game, it’s probably impossible to find, period. This even includes imports.
You can even bring your own computer and join in some LAN gaming. You’ll have no trouble finding people to join you in a game of SM4SH, Rock Band 4, Rocket League, or the original Super Mario Kart.
While you may not find booths for any of the major studios, there’s still new games present on the game floor for you to demo and keep on your radar. Indie developers at various build stages bring their demos for you to enjoy, and they welcome all the feedback they receive from players to improve their game.
Compared to last year’s event, it seems the amount of indie developers has nearly doubled, and I would expect that it will continue to grow.
Now, even though I mentioned earlier that no-one at MAGFest is trying to sell you anything the way they do at conventions, that’s not to say you can’t come home with a few souvenirs.
The onsite marketplace provides a variety of Asian imported merchandise, fan-created merchandise, apparel, accessories, and collectibles. It’s also the only place you can buy MAGFest merchandise to commemorate your attendance. MAGFest also makes some exclusive merch for each year’s event, in keeping with that year’s theme, which you can also see on their advertising, signage, and passes.
Maybe this still isn’t enough entertainment for you to fill your weekend. That’s because I haven’t gotten to the best parts of MAGFest.
Two words: Panels galore. Beyond the obvious Q&As with the various guests both appearing and attending MAGFest (That’s right, they’re also attending, just like you. Meaning you’ll see them around the venue and they’re happy to stop for a minute and say hi), there’s a ton of amazing panels running from relatively early in the morning to… even earlier in the morning. It’s not uncommon to see a panel scheduled to start at 2 AM. And all kinds of topics covering music production, game development, social and cultural issues, fandom, entertainment, and seriously so much more that don’t fit into those categories.
I’ve saved my favorite part for last: The music. I cannot stress enough that one of my favorite parts of this event is the live music happening all day, every day. Random DJs and jam sessions happening in the hallways and in the pre-assigned jam space.
And O-M-G, the concerts.
All weekend long, you will find bigger concerts of well-known gaming DJs, chiptuners, video game cover artists, video game music composers, and nerdy bands playing live in the concert area. This area is set up perfectly with 2 stages, so transitions between artists have virtually no wait time. You can stay in the concert area virtually all day with very little dead air time. And if you like what you hear, you can also support the artists at the dedicated merch booth right outside the door. You may even get a chance to see the artists post-show and let them know yourself how much you enjoyed their performance.
Needless to say, this is just a summary. I can’t stress enough how much I love being there and, even though I’ve got a long, exciting year ahead of me, I cannot wait to go back next year.
MAGFest, it’s been a true pleasure and I’ll see you in 2017.
Also, check out this walk-around video taken by my hotel roommates!
J. Tanooki is a Contributor for AYBOnline.com. She has been a lover of cosplay for over ten years and regularly works on new and exciting cosplay projects. She actively posts about her cosplay plans, progress, and random shenanigans on her Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram. Her opinion is her own.