MAGFest - Post-Show Field Report

MAGFest (Music and Gaming Festival) is a huge convention in Maryland that will make you want to brave the frigid cold. You'd never know it takes place up north during the winter once you step inside the beautiful host hotel. It boasts a huge number of games both old and new from all over as well as many concerts playing your favorite video game tunes. With fun stations for the casual gamer, to in-depth panels to entertain the seasoned, die-hard fans, no wonder it's such a popular convention!

Basic Info

Establishment January 2002 (then called Mid-Atlantic Gaming Festival)
Length of event 4 days, Thursday-Sunday, usually at the beginning of January
Place / location Gaylord National Hotel in National Harbor, Maryland
Cost Pre-reg will get you the full weekend for $59, and usually at the door on Thursday, it’s $35; Friday is $40, Saturday is $40, and Sunday is $30.

Hotel Gaylord National Hotel – the host hotel of this grand convention. Rooms are extremely hard to come by despite their high prices. The hotel itself is gorgeous and has a lovely market with trees and a small artificial creek, it also boasts an indoor swimming pool and hot tub.

The Residence Inn – located just across the street from the con, it's not a bad option. It tends to be expensive as well, but comes with free breakfast, and we know how important it is to make sure you eat during the weekend.

Company/Event Message for Fans/Attendees

"Short for "Music And Gaming Festival," MAGFest is a four day-long event dedicated to the appreciation of video game music, gaming of all types, and the gaming community. The event runs 24 hours a day, and offers consoles, arcades, tabletop, LAN, live video game cover bands, chiptunes, vendors, guest speakers, and much much more.

What makes MAGFest unique is that it's a non-profit event run by fans for fans.
There are no corporate sponsors, no over-crowded showfloors, and no top-secret-behind-closed-doors showings.

MAGFest is built from the ground up to focus on community and fan creations, which creates an environment that no other expo or convention can recreate".

What to Expect

From the moment you walk in the door, you'll feel overwhelmed with the grandness of it all, as the Gaylord hotel looks like it contains a small countryside town in the atrium; complete with a beautiful creek with shops that look like tiny, cute houses. The gazebo is one of the most popular places to take pictures and there is always a line of cosplayers wishing to take advantage of the lovely setting.

Expect a LOT of concerts, from chiptune artists to huge orchestras playing songs from your favorite video game soundtracks. Even though the focus is on video games, there's still a large number of card game and board game competitions held throughout the weekend. While anime, fantasy, and comic books are not what MAGFest is known for, you'll still be able to find various panels and cosplayers representing. Think half arcade and half geek convention and you'll have a good idea of what to expect.

What to Bring in Order to Enjoy the Event

  • Snacks – there is food located in the hotel and in very close proximity outside the convention, but considering how expensive the rest of your experience will be, it's a good idea to bring your own to save some money.
  • Cosplay/camera – make sure to take advantage of the wonderful photo ops in the hotel. The regal gazebo is a great place for elegant or royal cosplays. The creek and trees offer a natural backdrop to fairies or elves. If you're cosplaying a small town girl or boy, take pictures near the ornate fences and brick-laid streets. There are some really excellent cosplayers that make their way to MAG and you'll want to be able to snap pictures of their impressive works.

  • Water – with all the rhythm and dance games that will be there, you'll want to have water on hand. There are water dispensers in the rooms but they run out easily with 20,000+ attendees to keep hydrated.
  • Jackets/coats – it's gonna be COLD and especially if you want to cosplay or wear light clothing for hours of dance games, make sure to bring a warm jacket in case you need to go outside or hang out near the doors.
  • Club/dance attire – On the 18th floor of the Gaylord is the club POSE that is only open to 21+ attendees. Rainbow lights cover the stairs, bar, and pillars and guest DJs provide the music. Expect samplings from anime and games!
  • Laptop – join the various LAN tournaments taking place throughout the weekend, or just set up shop and start whatever games you have up and see who wants to join.
  • Flash drive – for the more intense gaming fans, bring a flash drive with your mods or songs for the various games in the arcade.
  • Bathing suit – Not only is there a lovely indoor pool, but also a hot tub! Despite the frigid outside temps, you can relax and keep warm while swimming in the Gaylord. You might even want to do a swimsuit cosplay and get some pictures!

What to Do While There/What is Available

The 24 arcade is arguably the main attraction of MAGFest. Lots of games all free-play from around the world, both old and new. The newest releases to indie games still in development will be there and ready for you to experience! It's not uncommon for attendees to adjust their sleep schedule to make use of the arcade at the wee hours of the morning in order to take advantage of shorter lines.

Ever wanted to know what went into your favorite video games, or what companies are known for what types of games? There's a panel for nearly everything from lore of video game worlds to breakdowns of fighting games from different companies.

There are always a large number of musical guests ranging from those who make or play music exclusively from video games and those that create different music from sounds or songs from games. You also have the bands or solo artists whose sound and lyrics are heavily influenced by certain games and/or gaming culture at large. You can really get your nostalgia going attending concerts like the Sonic Adventure Music Experience playing songs from the very first to most recent Sonic games.

The dealer's room and artist ally are in one huge open space and have the normal video game fare you see at anime conventions, but with a much wider variety. Beautiful replicas of weapons and items from your favorite games can be found as well as gorgeous artwork.

If you want to really get down to some nerdy music while getting your drink on, Club Pose is a great option for those over 21 years of age. It's located on the 18th floor and can only be reached by a special elevator accessed on the first floor. The view from the balcony is beautiful and the bright rainbow lights in the otherwise dark club create an almost ethereal effect.

One of the events that will really set MAGfest apart from other cons is the MAGFest Indie Videogame Showcase where various (you guessed it!) indie video games are demoed for the crowd. Even if you show up to the con with your own game having not signed up, don't worry! There are a few select spots available for walk-ups. If you like what you see, check out the indie arcade as well and see for yourself what these games are made of.

MAGFest has more than just video games, so don't despair! Pathfinder and D&D tournaments are constantly going and if you want something more hands-on, sign up for Zombie Outbreak or the Scavenger Hunt.
If you're a musician in any way, you'll want to take advantage of the jam-spaces throughout MAG. Whether you play chipmusic or you use an old-school guitar, there are multiple places (with equipment/instruments provided!) which attendees can utilize to show off their skills.


Most of the cosplay you'll see at MAG is game-related, from Final Fantasy to D&D. Legend of Zelda, Mario, Street Fighter, Idolmaster, and Overwatch were popular choices this year. Because of the picturesque backgrounds in the Gaylord, you'll find all types of cosplays as people wish to take full advantage. Formal and elaborate costumes with origins in gaming or otherwise are easy to find.

Final Thoughts

MAGFest is a great show in its ability to appeal to many people. It's definitely more geared to an older crowd but it has something for the most passionate fans, yet it’s accessible for those whose lives don't revolve around gaming and music. MAGFest is what you make of it, and with panels going on from 10 am Thursday all the way until 2 pm Sunday, you could spend your entire nights awake and not run out of things to do. You can traverse the arcades alone or bring your buddies along to battle you. You can meet a lot of interesting and artistic people who share your interests and passions, or learn from those that know more. For a long weekend of fun surrounded by all kinds of games and music, put MAGFest on your list of conventions!



Author: May

Hey friends! I reside in Georgia and use my degree in Japanese primarily to (barely) read doujinshi that hasn’t been translated. Beyond deciding who is best girl in whatever I happen to be watching, I really enjoy ballroom dancing, reading, crying over dating sims, karaoke, and being surrounded by beautiful things~ (You know, scenery, décor, boys, stuff like that). I also love talking about passions with others!

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