rAge Johannesburg 2016 is now behind us, and the smell of fast food and expo-stank has just started to fade. But what keeps lingering, longer than the scent of Spur nachos, is the definite sense that this was my favourite rAge yet. Ever. So far. I’m not sure how definitive to make this. Anyway, I’ve been to a few of these expos, and 2016 was what I called “rAge Part 4: The rAgening“. So what made The rAgening so special? Hit the jump and find out.
My first rAge was in 2012, and back then there was just one stage. It was used for all the demos, cosplay, giveaways, and eSports finals – multiple events shared the same stage. This was still the case in 2015, and at rAge Cape Town.
rAge 2016 had three stages: two large ones for eSports, and a smaller one for cosplay. This may seem inconsequential, but I see it as a sign of growth. Suddenly, three separate groups of hundreds of people could be occupied and entertained simultaneously, there wasn’t a big confusion or clusterf*ck as events bottlenecked, and it meant that each event was given a chance to shine.
Tabletop gaming has been an important part of rAge for several years now, and covering Unplug Yourself in 2014 helped introduce me to this fascinating and dynamic world. I was especially eager to play a few games this year, and maybe settle my long-running rivalry with Chris “Crusher” Kemp. But there was something different about the board games stand this year: I didn’t recognise most of the games.
I try to keep up with the tabletop industry, but I saw many strange sights in the demo area. There was no familiarity – no Catan, King of Tokyo, Ticket To Ride, nothing that had been at every rAge before. This was a good thing. See, people already know about those games, and Solarpop Distribution made a bold choice by not having the old faces out. Instead, it encouraged people to try new games with unusual components and unfamiliar game mechanics. I discovered new genres, and it helped me appreciate just how varied the board gaming world is. Also, I beat the Crusher at Onitama once. It was terrific. It’ll probably never happen again.
At previous expos, the stretch of creativity known as the Artists Alley typically found a spot on the show floor, usually along the perimeter. It’s always been popular, but there was a definite sense that it was cramped, and often jammed-up by passersby. This year, Artists Alley got its own space in the Blue Wing Conference Centre.
The new wing gave Artists Alley a chance to spread out a bit, to stand apart. The stands, craftspeople and artists had more space to show off their wares, and the layout allowed for good traffic flow. More than just making logical sense, it felt like a celebration of the fiercely talented and creative people in our country.
Sharing the Conference Centre with Artists Alley was the cosplay stage, and the area was a hub for costumed fans. There was a great deal of support for cosplayers, including a backstage area and a really neat cosplay first-aid stand with duct tape and spirit gum for damaged outfits. On top of that, having a dedicated stage allowed more cosplay events to happen.
Besides the competitions, parades and prize-givings, there were skits, tutorials and presentations. Someone dressed up as Deathwing from World of Warcraft delivered an epic monologue, essentially shouting and roaring his words at the top of his lungs. I witnessed a long talk about the South African LARP (Live Action Role-Play) scene, and there were cosplay-focused hair and makeup tutorials presented by Baka Sakura. It’s fantastic to see the growth in support for cosplay and LARPing, and next year I hope to see historical European martial arts on stage. I’m looking at you, MACS.
Yeah, a bit of an anticlimax for this one I suppose, and it might be a stretch to give credit for this to rAge. I’ve been to Johannesburg five times, four of those for rAge. Each time I arrive in the city, I’m reminded that if it wasn’t for gold, nobody would’ve settled there in the first place. Heck, I’m amazed any of you can still live there without shrivelling up in the heat and dryness. The place dries out my sinuses, and the resulting nosebleeds resemble scenes from The Shining. Imagine my joy when we got a thunderstorm and light rainfall on rAge Saturday.
rAge 2016 was incredible. On paper you could point to the record-breaking attendance, but more than that there was a genuine feeling of growth. There were new, exciting things at the show, events that will push the industry forward, presentations that will knit communities, and… rain. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for rAge 2017.