MAGFest 2019 – Count Your Blessings, Gaylord

The Gaylord National convention center and hotel comes off as one of the premieres “work horse” venues of the convention scene, hosting both Katsucon and MAGFest, two very popular and rather big conventions. But while the internet loves unleashing memes as to “I don’t know why the prices goes up every year!” complete with images of damage done to the hotel—be it walls, bathrooms, exit signs, what have you—it never seems to be the fault of MAGFest attendees.

MAGFest took place at the Gaylord National in National Harbor, Maryland again this year, calling itself “Super MAGFest” in the guidebook and on its website. Though they typically use their “Ver. X” method of naming and counting their years, this would effectively be Version 17. Plus, their logos had a StarFox motif to it this year. The main difference between this con and Katsucon, which would occur weeks later is that MAGFest is 24-hours for all four of its days, while not having as many attendees during Katsucon’s three days. Also: MAGFest attendees don’t worship at the altar of the false idol known as The Gazebo.

The drive down was pleasant enough, even with the detour to pick up another staff member before leaving properly. And this was during my vacation week from work, so I could depart for the con and travel there at my leisure. We weren’t doing a “proper” 4-day con as hotel prices are exorbitant enough for a three-day convention. Still, there were some goings-on on Thursday when we arrived. We didn’t stay at the Gaylord this time, opting for the Hampton Inn just across the street a little distance away. We were fortunate enough to have a suite this time around, which was a nice change of pace for what we usually have. Other than settling in and unpacking, there wasn’t much to do except pick up our badges and get something to eat for dinner. Rest assured, we had plenty to drink that weekend as well. I also made a point to check out the hotel’s pool, but found it to be lacking and uninteresting, only going in it once the entire weekend.

The hotel had a breakfast buffet for its guests, and although most of its wares were consistent throughout the stay, some of its hot meals changed from day to day. All in all, it was mediocre, but what do you want for nothing? If nothing else, it was one less thing I would have to pay for during the con, which was good, considering my strained funds from the holiday season.

The first panel I went to on Friday morning entitled “The Weirdest Fighting Games You’ve Never Played.” It was a what’s-what of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat clones that permeated/infected arcades in the mid-90s, many of which were highly lacking in quality, longevity, and balance. They also told the panel of the most infamous final boss from this collection, The General, from Taito’s Kaiser Knuckle. We were even given a chance to fight him on the panelists’ computers in front of everyone to test our mettle. I was fortunate enough to go first. And while another panelist suggested—jokingly or otherwise—that I’d beat this guy no problem and make them all look like chumps, I had never even heard of this game, or knew how any of the playable characters fought. I promptly got double-perfected. It was embarrassing. As we watched others meet similar fates, I suggested to someone sitting near me in the audience that Yo! Videogames do a Boss Rage of this game. I was promptly asked if I wanted host Maxwell to die.

The next panel was called “Livestreaming for Everyone”, and I made a note of it to get there quickly, as with our then-impending debut on Twitch, I wanted to learn all I could and get our channel (and my own, but that’s another story) as big an audience as possible. It was more of a refresher course than anything world-beating or groundbreaking. Though I was delighted to be joined in the audience by Ranma. Other than that, it was a massive networking opportunity, with everyone getting the chance to write down their Twitch channels for both the panelists and other streamers in the audience to watch for. It worked, too; I got several notifications over the weekend of new subscribers—for my own and for the podcast’s.

There were plenty of game show style panels that weekend as well, and the first of which I came across was called “Video Game Name That Tune.” It had significantly less of the original game show’s design and format that I remember; I don’t even remember who won.

The last panel I attended Friday was “My Hero Academia Bellydance”, from the always lovely Antipode bellydance group. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the entire thing, as I had another event to go to. Which was disappointing, as Antipode always puts on a good show, and a part of me was predicting to see Ochako as a belly dancer doing Ochako-as-a-belly-dancer things. But that was not to be. Instead, I was at a beer swap event in a different hotel. I knew of this for weeks leading up to the convention, and had even sought out some of the coveted No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care beer that was made in the wake of Super Bowl LI, and I had been wanting to get my hands on. It tasted wonderful, and from what I understood was fairly good if not all that well known. However, I could not stay and drink for long, as…well, medicine and alcohol mix very poorly, and I had to excuse myself.

Saturday started out similarly to Friday, though the buffet was just as forgettable as the day before. What was much more memorable was the “SUPER Double NintenDare!” game show panel I attended. It was basically the same format as the old Nickelodeon game show Double Dare, only with the physical challenges replaced with gaming challenges. Said challenges were preloaded onto a SNES Classic, and contestants were given (typically) 30 seconds to complete them. It was all very exciting.

Another panel that I made a note to go visit was the “X-Strike Studios Returns” panel. The people behind the fan-film River City Rumble had been inactive for some time, mostly due to the members having their own adult lives to worry about and circumstances making them relocate to different parts of the country. They essentially stated they want to return to making content, most of which can be seen on their YouTube channel. I look forward to seeing what else they could come up with in the future.

All throughout the con, when I wasn’t going to panels, I was either chilling in the room playing a roommate’s Smash Bros. Ultimate on their Switch, or going into the game rooms at the convention center to play. I spent a lot of time on the 3rd Strike machines, admittedly, but made a note to check out as many different consoles, tables, and cabinets as I could. The competition was always fierce when I could find it, even if it did mean getting blown out by someone who was overly good at another game compared to me.

I trekked into town to get dinner, and with the pain in my back and my knees, it wasn’t an easy walk…especially since it was cold and the pain in my knees and back wasn’t exactly low-key. Regardless, I made it back to the convention for a panel called “Folklore in Video Games.” I originally thought it would be a discussion about how video games get their influences from various mythologies, fables, stories, and the like. Which would’ve been lovely on its own. Instead, it was about how players themselves can have a hand in creating the mythology that surrounds a game, from following rumors of special features in a game regardless of the rumor’s credibility, passing around cheat codes from player to player, to even players picturing their favorite characters in various other lights. It was much better than I thought it would turn out.

Sunday was more of the same, everyone almost begrudgingly packing up and preparing to get back on the road to go home. I took one last spin around the game room, swinging by the fighting games to see if there was anything going on before I left. To my delight, I found my broadcast colleague on the opposite side of the Capcom Vs. SNK 2 cabinet (the fighting game cabinets were Japanese style, a joystick and buttons in front of each of two back-to-back screens). He was using Kyosuke from the Rival Schools games. Because of course. It was so much fun playing with/against him, something we admittedly don’t get to do very often. Once we parted ways, I left the convention, drove back to Jersey, dropped off my friend back home, and returned home myself, already missing the con as I drove down the Turnpike.

I’ve taken to liking MAGFest a lot more than Katsucon, in all honesty, though it has little to do with how much I attended one compared to the other. The atmosphere in the con for the former feels much more relaxed, and the gravity of having to put more and more into your cosplay is, for a lack of a better term, wholly optional, but widely appreciated. Perhaps when I’m feeling fit enough to get back into cosplaying, I might add a few gaming cosplays just for this convention. If nothing else, it means no one will be fist-fighting one another to pose in/on/near the gazebo…or at the very least they’ll go into the game room and settle their differences like gentlemen, thank you very much.

Ari Rockefeller

When he is not training Pokémon and being the very best, the Master of the Written Word churns out convention, video game, anime and movie reviews like clockwork. No one is more productive and dangerous with a pen and paper (or, in this case, a keyboard).

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