I went to Canal Walk’s Gaming Expo and it was surprisingly cool

And I don’t mean that as a slight on, well, anyone. It’s just that if you’ve ever been to what the big shopping malls like to label an expo, you’ve probably enjoyed a harsh lesson in disappointment. I scurried off to have a look at Canal Walk’s Gaming Expo expecting more of the same – but those involved actually put in quite a lot of effort and pulled it off.

Obviously, I’m measuring this against other, similar mall expo things. This is not rAge or E3. It’s not in the same ballpark. It’s not even the same sport. But looking over the crowd of gamers, you could at least tell that this was a well-organised show. I expected, at most, a BT Games stall and a Good Hope FM DJ booth playing painful R. Kelly hits on repeat. Instead, the entire centre court area was packed with huge TV screens, full-on exhibitor areas, and a termites nest of enthusiastic attendees.

I only managed to get there on Sunday, so I missed a lot of the action, but the Football Tournament was still pulling in quite a crowd. “Football Tournament” (laughing-so-much-I’m-crying emoji). I spoke to the people running the tournament and they confirmed that EA is cracking down on people using the FIFA name for these things, so this was officially a generic Football Tournament. Which (and I’m (not) sorry if I’m stepping on toes here) is stupid, in this instance, because surely it makes more sense to have people know it’s your new game that’s being used for a tournament?

So yes, the FIFA (there, I said it, doesn’t it feel better already?) football tournament was in full swing and there were some intense-looking dudes getting stuck in. I pulled rank and was allowed to mingle among the top contenders. “Hi, I’m writing an article for NAG, can I come in?” gets you further than you might imagine. But, if you’re taking notes, it’s worth precisely bugger-all at Mavericks. Apparently. Anyway, so the FIFA guys were working it hard, and taking it seriously. Which is to be expected, considering the prize on the line, and according to ACGL’s Clint O’Shea (you may know him as Zombie Dredd) the demand far outweighed the capacity. It seems the Cape Town crowd is very much amped for FIFA esports.

Over at the Xbox stand there was a child in a racing chair, failing hard at Forza 7. I’m a people pleaser, so I had a man in an Xbox T-shirt turn the race assists on, which meant that the audience no longer had to stare at an Audi A8 driving into the same tyre wall over and over again. The lad playing Gran Turismo Sport was having an equally difficult time at the PlayStation booth, but everyone was too busy watching the people playing GT Sport via PSVR to care. Which was odd, because you’re effectively watching a person sit on a chair with a Tron headset on, doing an impromptu Stevie Wonder impression.

The BT Games area was host to a tired but friendly guy who told me some things about the pending Xbox One X launch which I’m not allowed to talk about, and a couple of specials which I mentioned in my previous coverage of the expo. As co-headliners, the people from Good Hope FM were going at it full-tilt all the way, announcing winners for who-knows-what and banging on about games in a sort of macro “one size fits all” kind of way. Perfect background noise for something like this.

The crowd seemed to be enjoying the whole thing. There was a serious buzz around the FIFA tournament, with people swarming around the event log monitors and so on, and across the floor there was a sense of genuine excitement as gamers got their hands on new releases and fresh tech. I’m not sure the market in this area is big enough to warrant an event of rAge proportions just yet, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the Cape Town gaming public turning up in numbers to support this expo. Give us a few years and we might have a crowd big enough to make rAge Cape Town a thing again.

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