MAGfest 2018 was held Jan 4th -- 7th at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Oxen Hill, MD
Thanks for visiting! Convention photos, computer museum photos, and the Overwatch photo shoot are up!
MAGfest is certainly growing and becoming one of the most popular conventions of the area. It's held at the Gaylord National Harbor, right outside of Washington, DC, which has ample convention space and many hotels. As the event approached all local hotel rooms were booked and even private rentals like those found on AirBnB were booked solid. The four day convention runs Thursday through Sunday but many attendees arrive early on Wednesday to get the full convention experience. This year in particular that was a wise choice as inclement weather on Thursday delayed many flights and made driving into the area difficult at best.
One thing MAGfest is to be commended for is their absolutely streamlined registration and badge pickup process. Registration is possible either through a website or through local kiosks (which take you to the same website). Payment can be done online or in person. Once this is taken care of, badges can be picked up almost immediately at a dedicated desk; one need only present an accepted form of ID. Staff at the registration area was proud to point out that the initial registration line, which had probably one thousand people or more, only took about 15 minutes to get through. This kind of partitioning of services seems to be key, and I'd recommend other conventions copy it if possible.
If you don't know what to expect from MAGfest, the name should give it away: Music and Games festival. In short it's a general gaming convention for both video, arcade, and tabletop gaming. There's a big focus on music, too, though, with a lot of the programming devoted to video game music and fan performances. There's also a decent merchant's area and cosplay scene. There's two exhibit areas, one for merchants -- MAGfest doesn't do any noticeable separation between artists selling their goods and traditional retailers -- and one for game developers. The game developer's hall is a good place to try out new games, some recently released and other still in development. Don't expect anything like the big trade shows; MAGfest isn't quite big enough to draw the big corporations. But you do get to actually speak with the developers and ask them questions.
The area is a high-end retail and resort area. I'll refer to you previous MAGfest and Katsucon reports for more detailed information on the area. But whereas Katsucon occasionally gets rather warm weather, MAGfest is almost always blisteringly cold with strong winds coming off the Potomac. This year a recent cold snap resulted in large parts of the river freezing over. Something to keep in mind when thinking about what to wear and where to find food. My preferred location this year was Elevation Burger, which is at the far end of the shopping area. Despite the long walk the restaurant was still fairly packed. Most of the local restaurants serve very good food, though you need to be ready for the prices. (A few cheaper options exist, such as the nearby -- and usually packed -- Potbelly's, a hidden-away deli is the local grocery store, and soon a SubWay, which will be located next to the Elevation Burger and quite a walk.)
Due to various circumstances I commuted in to MAGfest on Friday and Saturday. The Gaylord offers pre-paid parking for the adjacent parking lot and garage. It fills up quickly but is actually a bit cheaper than some of the garages farther away. The Gaylord also has ample space to drop off (or pick up) passengers which is very useful. Unfortunately, there's no coat check at the convention center, and I doubt the hotel has one available, either. The interior of the convention center is comfortably warm but those arriving in heavy winter coats and multiple layers of clothing will have to find a place to keep them or hold on to them while at the show.
MAGfest and Katsucon tend to draw very similar crowds and share the location and time of year to an extent. MAGfest is by far the more general of the two, though the anime fan won't be disappointed and Katsucon runs a game room with much of the same stuff found in MAGfest's game room. I attend both and would recommend both. Those who have to choose should go with the one that's easier on their schedule, all else being equal. MAGfest was fun enough that I intend to go for the full weekend next year. Hope to see you there!