Dawn of the rAge: A weekend immersed in South Africa’s gaming mecca

There are events, and then there are events. rAge is certainly the latter – with fancy italics and all. Now in its sixteenth year, the really Awesome gaming expo has become a mainstay on the annual event calendar for South African gamers and pop-culture fans alike.

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend all but three of the expos over the years. Looking back, I still find it hard to believe it’s been 16 years since the first one! In fact, I know a few kids who attended the first rAge as teenagers, and are now self-sufficient adults in their 30s who still religiously attend this festival. I guess it’s safe to say this yearly gathering of the geeks is now officially a thing.

Even though rAge has evolved over the years to encompass all manner of paraphernalia that pertains to the geek lifestyle, its core focus is still its biggest drawing card: loads and loads of games. Everything – from the latest console exclusives to the hottest board games – is on display for you to touch and experience. This year’s event was certainly no exception, and the best of the show (in my opinion) was actually a locally developed gaming platform. But more on than later. First, let’s talk hardware. Very expensive hardware.

The new RTX range of graphics cards were out in full (Ge)force, much to the delight of Visa and Mastercard of course – with prices peaking at around R26,000 for the MSI GeForce RTX 2080 Ti GAMING X TRIO, sporting 11GBs of graphics memory. It’s certainly a sight to behold. The RTX 2080 Ti is a behemoth, and I even managed to touch one – which is likely the closest I’ll get to owning one, for now.

For those of us with more realistic budgets, there were loads of accessories and upgrades to buy, and at really good prices. RGB once again stole the show at each of the hardware stands, but it was the Cooler Master range of coolers, fans and peripherals that had me drooling the most.

For the more technically inclined, there were some fantastic custom and overclocked rigs on display, with enough geek-talk to keep any enthusiast engaged for days. Even I learned a few new tricks that I’ve since successfully implemented in the video review rig.

Another hot piece of kit that recently made it to the country is the HTC Vive Pro VR headset, which was being demoed at the TVR stand. It’s an impressive piece of kit, and I would urge everyone to try the Vive VR experience at least once. The Plank demo is still a sensory-induced adrenaline rush.

rAge’s peripheral game was also very strong this year. Crowd favourites like Razer had a number of new hardware devices on show, but I was also impressed by the range of brands aimed at the gamer on a budget. VX Gaming and Redragon are the two I would keep an eye on.

The AAA titles on display were impressive, with games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and FIFA 19 stealing the crowds on the main floor. To me though, it was over at the home_coded stand that the magic really happened. This year’s offering of locally made games is the strongest I’ve yet seen. While Boet Fighter has received a lot of press, and it’s obviously an attention-grabbing title, other games like 4Pillars and VALA really stood out as well.

It’s what I saw at the Table Realms stand that ended up being my highlight of the show. Created by Red Oxygen, a company founded in 2017 by Celestial Games and Combined Artists, Table Realms is a gaming platform that utilises your mobile phone in clever ways. By scanning a QR code from within the Table Realms app, you can play and host a number of fun, arcade-style multiplayer games. The idea is to bring people together, everywhere and anywhere, to enjoy a quick game or a few rounds of fun. There’s also a broader rewards system built in which will earn you real-word prizes. As a gaming platform, Table Realms is open to any game developer who wishes to appear on the service. It’s a really cool concept, and I would keep an eye on this one, because it’s going to be big.

For pop-culture fans, there was loads to admire and even more to spend money on. I’m repeatedly blown away by the talents of the artists who exhibit and sell their works at rAge, as well as the level of detail that goes into the incredible creations of the cosplay community. The bar was raised yet again this year – and I’m not just talking about the cool new beer garden that was neatly positioned at one of the Dome’s entrances. The limit of three beers per person was a good idea indeed, and the gaming couches were a comfortable spot to hang out with buddies before heading back to the show.

The selection of food stalls outside also didn’t make my life any easier, because I had to sample more than my fair share to adequately sustain my tired body every few hours at rAge this year.

Other stuff worth throwing money at included certified, signed replicas of impressive movie memorabilia, assorted gaming merch, and a plethora of attractive figurines. By far the most popular collectibles at rAge were Funko’s Pop! figures – which is no surprise, given that Funko has amassed a huge following around the world. There’s even a documentary on Netflix. They’ve got access to the licenses of an immense number of fan-favourite franchises, which makes Funko’s figures the perfect desk accessory for any movie, series, or gaming fan. The range on display was the largest I’ve seen, which enabled me to add a few more Star Wars-themed Pops to my collection.

It’s always a strangely emotional affair to walk out of rAge on the last day. This truly is an event that celebrates the people and the communities that make up our gaming culture. It’s the perfect place for anyone and everyone to come together to celebrate our love for technology, games and geek culture. As a gamer in particular, there’s so much to experience at the show – and if you were lucky enough to be part of the massive 1,750-human strong NAG LAN, you’d have experienced an entirely different side to rAge too. The side you’ll only see when it’s 2am in the Dome, and the LAN area is still buzzing with activity as people thrash it out in-game.

With another 350 days or so until the next rAge, there’s just enough time to get through the current catalogue of new launches. Game on!

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