25,000 expected in 2017
From a 265-person show in 2002, MAGFest has blossomed into near uncontrollable levels. Last year the convention runners reported roughly 20,000 were in attendance, but this year, 25,000 registrants are expected to attend. That’s a massive amount of growth for what is essentially a small indie outfit — and they’re expanding into multiple conventions to meet demand.
It helps then, that the con has been situated at the Gaylord National Harbor Convention Center on the brink of Maryland, DC, and Virginia, for the past several years now. It’s a massive facility that’s just starting to see its breaking point — as evidenced by the fact that hotel rooms sold out months ago, mere minutes after being announced.
But the floor space is perfectly suited to hold everyone, and with at least six big panel rooms, multiple warehouses for the marketplace, arcade, and indie gaming expo, and tons of small little hamlets to sneak into (like the wonderful retro computer lab with OG equipment), there’s plenty to do.
MAGFest somehow manages to maintain that intimate feel despite its growth spurt, though. I noticed it in particular after happening upon the small “jam” room where anyone who feels like it can pick up an instrument and play along, like a video game jazz session of sorts. There were people of varying skill levels but they were all playing in time together, and at one point I noticed the lead drummer scan everyone in the room and give them a look, like they were home. Impromptu concerts like the one below also pop up in random halls — this is a music festival after all.
Another big highlight was Killer Queen, a giant indie arcade setup that pits 10 players against each other with a 2D Joust-like retro conceit 5v5 style. There are three ways to win — economic, military, and “snail.” The former two are self-explanatory (gather enough resources or kill the enemy queen enough to win a round), but the latter bit involves riding a giant snail to the end of your side without getting killed. It’s fiendishly complicated affair that involves several mechanics all working in tandem (like speed buffs, or optional evolutions from workers into warriors). If it sounds interesting, it might be at your local arcade already as it debuted in 2013, but this is the first chance I’ve had to play it.
Those are just a few of the things you can do at MAGFest, not including live concerts, charity marathons, and an entire floor dedicated to tabletop and CCG (collectible card games).