rAge Expo 2019 – Soldiering on with its focused identity and offering, for now

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Say what you want about rAge, but South Africa’s biggest and longest-running electronic gaming and technology expo is always evolving; listening to and implementing feedback. There was a lot of course correction with rAge this year, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that as the event tries to stand out in a context where apparently everyone wants to get in on the gaming and pop culture events bandwagon.

2019 came with its own set of challenges for rAge. Although the expo was first to announce a move from its traditional date, of the first weekend in October, to 27 – 29 September at the Ticket Pro Dome, the three-day event was now starting just three days after Comic Con Africa 2019 wrapped. Ignoring the issue of exhaustion and depleted enthusiasm, many vendors, exhibitors and probably attendees too, were clearly forced to choose between the two for budgetary and logistics reasons. The end result was a rAge with no official Nintendo, Megarom or Xbox presence.

An excellent STEM showcase

That being said, in 2019 rAge really pumped up its educational aspect, to the expo’s benefit. One of the most well-attended areas was the World Robotics Olympiad South Africa where local school pupils pitted their robotic creations against each other in tabletop football matches and the timed task of navigating obstacle courses. There were also robotics-centred science projects on display, exhibits from the Wits School of Palaeontology and Doctors Without Borders, as well as the Huawei home_coded showcase of local game and app developers.

Focusing on STEM education and opportunities isn’t a bad idea for rAge. As much as the organisers try to position the event as a family occasion, complete with an inflatables-filled Kids’ Kage play area and free entry for children under 6, rAge still skews heavily towards the young male demographic. These guys are there to play games, enter the various formal and casual gaming competitions (there were loads this year!), gets hands-on with hardware, and snatch up the excellent deals that rAge is famous for. Oh, and refresh with the appreciably diverse food and drink choices from the many independent suppliers present.

Time for cosplay and crafting to leave the building?

Perhaps I’m making assumptions here, but with their laser focus elsewhere, the young male demographic isn’t really interested in cosplay appreciation or buying hand-crafted steampunk jewellery. Once upon a time, rAge was the place to cosplay and sell your wares, but since the Pop Culture-dedicated Blue Wing was given to the rAge LAN last year, cosplayers and crafters have been essentially demoted; pushed to the peripheries of the Dome instead and largely left to their own devices.

To be fair, in 2019 rAge cosplay received its own dedicated stage, better-lit space and excellent prizes for its GES-run competition (including R15 000 for the Overall Winner and R5 000 for individual Category winners). Vendors too were better integrated among the other stands on the show floor, although the Flea Market and Artists’ Alley felt even tinier than last year.

Still, there’s a lingering sense that rAge may no longer be worth the effort for crafters and cosplayers (unless you want to test the competitive cosplay scene in a less intense context). If rAge scrapped these “afterthought” aspects and focused entirely on gaming and tech, I don’t think that anyone would miss them.

Note: A separate post will spotlight the cosplay of rAge 2019, including the major winners of this year’s competition.

Expo numbers in recent years

While we wait for the official announcement of rAge 2019 attendance figures, here’s a look back at how the expo has fared recently – in addition to potential impacting factors.

  • 2016 – 34,693 visitors (year of the VR showcase; record-breaking attendance)
  • 2017 – 35,845 visitors (focus on esports; sister event Rush held for the first time in July)
  • 2018 – 34,002 people (three weeks after the inaugural Comic Con Africa)
  • 2019 – Still to be announced (three days after Comic Con Africa 2019)

Pre-media release, it’s difficult to gauge how rAge performed this year. Absent exhibitors meant more open floor space, which alleviated a good deal of the congestion that the expo is notorious for. At the same time, though, rAge 2019 didn’t have any major gaming drawcards – no behind-closed-doors first looks at highly-anticipated releases; no super high-profile demos to try. Which is unfortunate. As a result, midday on the Saturday – the expo’s traditional peak period of busyness – did not feel as packed as it has previously.

As a geeky expo, rAge has a strong, clear identity and remains the pinnacle, must-attend event for a large portion of South Africa’s gaming community. Its reign is no longer uncontested however, and the next few years are going to be interesting in South Africa’s “win or die” Game of Cons.

Last Updated: September 30, 2019

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