MAGFest is a music and gaming convention that took place the first weekend of 2020. I went to it almost blind; I had heard a lot from friends about it, and their thoughts ranged from, “it’s a cult, join us” to “it smells so bad, you’re going to die.” These responses are both so visceral because when MAG starts on Thursday, it doesn’t close until Sunday afternoon. There are panels at all hours, and they are all over the place. So before we get into it too much, know that while I had an incredible time, it is a lot.
We got to National Harbor around 1:15 on Thursday, checked into our hotel, and went to registration to pick up our badges, and I learned the first thing about MAGFest: Colossus Yells fuel the con. One person will let out the Colossus yell from the X-Men arcade game, and everyone joins in. It’s insane. One of my roommates and I then went to Speed Friending, which is kind of exactly what it sounds like; Speed Dating but to make friends. It was a neat way to meet people who were also looking for friends. That was kind of what I expected, a large gathering of nerds talking to each other starts off awkward, but quickly became a room full of big smiles and friends heading to panels together.
After that, we met up with more of our roommates and had some Donkey Kong themed drinks down at the sports bar in the hotel. We ran back into a speed friend, and introduced everyone around. Before their next panel we all headed out for some food. Post-Chipotle, I went in to meet up with other friends, and play some arcade games. There are just massive rooms in the convention center that are for arcade cabinets, both new and old. It’s legitimately just a big arcade, but all of the plays are free plays! Plus since the con is open 24 hours, you can roll out of bed at any hour to play arcade games! It was so exciting. I played some games, drank some drinks, then went to part of the David Wise 5 concert. By the time I was finished with that, it was around 1 and I was done. So I went back to the hotel for the night.
I did something I’ve never done during a con on Friday; I woke up early and worked out before showering and heading in. My first panel wasn’t until 12:30, so I had tons of arcade time when I got in. I played a good amount of pinball, absolutely destroyed at skeeball, and then headed to the classic museum, and played some GORF. When it was almost time for my panel, I changed into some workout clothes, because it was Yoga for Gamers!
Yoga was a really solid practice. I think it was about 45 minutes to an hour, which is amazing. And the room was totally full, with all sorts of body types and experience levels. I had a blast, then met up with some friends to grab some drinks and play more games. I also checked out a Latin Dancing class (which was led by people cosplaying as Jessie & James from Pokemon). That was awkward because not only do I have 0% rhythm, but it’s also a bunch of socially awkward folks hanging out and having to get physically close and touch each other. But it was still fun!
After that, there were waaaay more arcade games, an incredibly quick trip to the pool, and some more drinks. Around 2 AM, a big group of us went to a panel about sea shanties. I don’t think we learned anything, other than everyone likes to scream “way hey up she rises” at the top of their lungs at 2am. That was all I could take for Friday!
Saturday I got a much later start; I didn’t actually get to the convention until around 3. I met up with the lovely folks from Super Art Fight (we’ve been chums for a couple years, after meeting at a different convention). Their panel wasn’t until 5:30, so of course I went back to the arcade until then. The Super Art Fight panel was an absolute blast; their show is kind of Pictionary meets Wrestling. There are characters who draw fight at each other on a big canvas, and every couple minutes they get new topics. It was a great show, and my friends that I introduced to it had a good time as well.
Art Fight got together for dinner, so I tagged along for some real food (aka Mac & Cheese), then we split back up so I could go to Protomen! Theirs was also an amazing show. The lasers were wild, and there was so much put into the performance. I didn’t make it all the way through because I was exhausted, but I loved what I saw of it!
I took a much slower day on Sunday. I got to the con early enough to spend all of my money in the art room. There was a fantastic mixture of video game items, along with just general nerdery. I ended my day helping some friends pack up, then headed home.
Overall, MAGFest was basically a giant party. I made a bunch of new and rad friends, played so many cabs, and genuinely just had an amazing time. I think if you really love video games, and/or nerdy music, you should check out MAGFest, but know that people party hard there.
For anyone planning on checking out one of the other MAG events this year, or MAGFest next year, I have a couple suggestions for you.
1. Go with people you trust. It’s a long weekend to be around people you exclusively don’t know. Especially as a woman, it has the potential to be a very bad time.
2. Hydrate. Whether you’re there to party or just to do regular con things, you need to be hydrated to have a good time. Keep yourself hydrated, please (in your regular life too).
3. Eat. Much like hydration, food is super important for having a good con! If you’re drinking, it’s important to soak (some of) that up, and it will keep you from getting hangry.
4. Bring what you want. If you’re planning on drinking, bring alcohol. Bring snacks, and bring yourself a reusable water bottle! The National Harbor is kind of close to DC, so prices are higher in general, but factoring in convention center & hotel bar prices, and prices being hiked up for conventions, eating there can get super expensive.
5. Check out Monday, not Sunday. My group (and most groups) checked out on Sunday, which meant that the hotel reception desks were crazy busy. I have a friend who checked out on Monday, so he could go back to his room and relax for one more night without the rush!
6. Be aware of the fact that this is a party con. There are so many people that go to MAGFest, and so many people who drink and smoke around MAGFest. If that isn’t something you’re comfortable being around, late night MAG may not be for you. But I didn’t see anyone who was being belligerent or getting sick.