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South Africa’s 2020 gaming and geek con calendar

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When global event organiser Reed Exhibitions announced the first-ever Comic Con Africa for 2018, there were some mutterings about what that meant for pre-existing events, the smattering of homegrown conventions and expos organised by passion-fuelled local fans. Would they be able to survive alongside something with such a powerful drawcard name and big budget international backing? 

Some natural teething problems aside, Comic Con Africa landed like a Snyder Superman. And two years later, the South African gaming and geek con circuit is still feeling the aftershocks. Although the organisers of smaller, traditional events are optimistic about everyone finding their niche, at least eventually, 2020 continues to be a period of drastic restrategising and reconsolidation.

Despite everyone from shopping centres and casinos to esports teams and cellular providers wanting to host events, the South African gaming and geek lifestyle scene remains small. It’s a back garden pond filled with guppies and a few koi, and the risk of cannibalisation is high. Floaters are mounting as is.

As of the start of this year, Cape Town’s EGE (Electronic Gaming Expo) is long gone. Geekfest is evidently done with. In their traditional formats, both ICON and ICON Durban are on hiatus in 2020. There hasn’t even been any activity on the Facebook page of ComicEx (which does pop-up mall and entertainment world activations) since August last year.

Looking at things from a purely business standpoint, vendors – from big companies to individual artists and craftspeople – can’t afford to be at every event. When faced with a choice between smaller homegrown cons and the big international guys, most people – if they can afford exhibition space – follow the promise of much larger footfall. 

As noted before, though, the organisers of fan-run events are upbeat. Their argument is that once novelty wears off, the South African convention calendar with stabilise. Plus, any growth in the scene, and related awareness, is good for everyone. Maybe not the cosplayers, however, as if you look at the annual line-up, there are fewer places to show off your artistry.

Anyway, here’s what you can expect across the country in 2020, in chronological order:

A Viking Thing – Johannesburg

Alter Egos Events has been responsible for such smaller single-day events as Discworld Day and Fantasy Fayre, which celebrate alternative lifestyles and encourage dress-up. Their first offbeat offering of 2020 is one of their signatures events, A Viking Thing, on 7 March at Rusty Hook in Honeydew. Expect sword-fighting, mead and quirky market stalls. Later on in the year, there’s the popular Medieval Fayre on 6 June at La Vue in Muldersdrift.

UCON – Cape Town

After partnership with ACGL (African Cyber Gaming League) took this anime-centred con to GrandWest Casino and Entertainment World in 2019, in 2020 UCON is back at its University of Cape Town home. Happening 21 – 22 March at the Upper Campus Sports Centre, UCON 2020 is organised by the university’s Japanophile society Genshiken. On the attraction list are cosplay, gaming and the addition of a Maid Café experience this year.

ICON – Johannesburg

Dating back to 1992, ICON is South Africa’s longest running games and comic convention. The event has evolved over the years, particularly during the last half decade when it started bringing in high-profile international guests, formed partnerships with prestigious international bodies like the World Cosplay Summit, IDW Publishing and DISCOMICS, and made the leap from Jabula Rec Centre to Gallagher Estate, and then Emperors Palace. Encouraged by the latter venue, ICON 2019 jumped forward from its traditional dates in the Winter school holidays to Easter weekend… with mixed attendance results.

The result is a formula shake-up for ICON, at least just for 2020. Organiser Les Allen promises official announcements are on the horizon but ICON is looking at ways to bringing its associated pastimes (tabletop gaming, cosplay, comics and pop culture creation) as well as related opportunities (such as art contests) to more South Africans outside of a single event.

How does this affect the ICON-organised regional finals for the World Cosplay Summit? They’re still happening this year on Easter Weekend. However, following pre-judging on Saturday, 11 April at the Nexus Hub, the skit performances and winning 2021 South African team announcement will take place on Sunday, 12 April, at the Rand Show, as part of the event’s Festival of Gaming section. More information here.

Rush – Johannesburg

Also making the move to the Rand Show is Rush, the NAG-spearheaded esports showcase. Last year the event (the sister event to rAge) joined forces with Geekfest in Pretoria during June. This year – which marks the fourth Rush – the many cross-platform competitions, plus tech, gadgets and other pop culture delights, can be experienced 8 – 13 April in the Rand Show’s Festival of Gaming area (Play Zone 2).

It’s worth noting that the decidedly mainstream Rand Show introduced their own gaming section and big-bucks-cash-prize cosplay contest last year. In 2020, though, they’ve managed to secure the participation of Rush and ICON, already established names in the gaming and geek culture scene.

Comic Con Cape Town – Cape Town

Comic Con Cape Town is the big new event on the South African pop culture event circuit. Its surprise announcement in the middle of last year produced some mutterings about its disregard of Free Comic Book Day etiquette and that it had poached FanCon’s annual timeslot at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. That second part wasn’t exactly true, though, as it turns out the CTICC wasn’t big enough to host the event anyway. It’s taking place instead at the city’s iconic football stadium in Green Point over three days, from 1 – 3 May.

The convention promises a different focus to its sibling event in Johannesburg, centring more on TV, film and animation due to the local industry’s base in the Mother City. That said, marketing for CCCT has promised the exact same mix of pop culture stars, gaming, comics, cosplay and KidsCon as CCA. For the record, just last week, the first big guest announcement was made for Comic Con Cape Town – Umbrella Academy and Black Sails’ star Tom Hopper.

Geekfest Johannesburg

Geekfest has always been the roving event – a geeky outdoors faire that changed dates and venues. Last year, Geekfest formed a partnership with Rush, and took place side-by-side at the Sun Arena Times Square in Pretoria in late June. This year, well, there’s a very good chance that Geekfest is dead. It was previously spearheaded by retailer The Dark Carnival, but the original owners of that store have sold it and are emigrating. Geekfest maaaay still happen at Monte Casino, where the store has relocated under new ownership, but it seems unlikely.

Techfest Johannesburg

Gaming and technology festival Techfest (think of it as a rival to rAge) has been around since 2017 and is growing steadily as its location caters to a different, broader audience to the traditional electronic gaming expo crowd in South Africa. The 2020 Techfest is taking place 26 – 27 June at the Soweto Theatre and promises esports tournaments, free-to-play areas and technology brand activations.

FanCon Comic Con – Cape Town

Despite the massive shadow of Comic Con Cape Town, FanCon Comic Con, South Africa’s original comics industry-centred con is still on in 2020 – its fifth year. It’s just moved a few months later to accommodate fans who would otherwise be in the middle of Ramadan observations. You’ll be able to attend FanCon 2020 on the weekend of 4 – 5 July at the CTICC. No guest announcements just yet for this one, but expect its traditional mix of notable names from comics and cosplay, both international and local.

ICON Durban – Durban

Sad news for Durbanites. ICON Durban isn’t happening in 2020. After five years of conventions, three of which were held at the University of KZN’s Sports Hall, the tabletop gaming and geek culture event is on hiatus, for some refocusing and replenishing of resources. So no big event in April, June or early July. Still on the cards from the organisers, though, are smaller events throughout the year that spotlight different local communities, from tabletop gamers to role-players and cosplayers. Read the official statement on ICON Durban’s break here.

rAge Johannesburg

Last year, rAge took place less than five days after Comic Con Africa. Yet, South Africa’s biggest electronic gaming and technology expo didn’t seem too badly hit. Some cosplayers who travelled to Johannesburg for CCA hung around for it, and, well, rAge has always drawn more of the young male demographic despite attempts to position itself as a family outing like CCA. The result was official attendance of 35,615, up from 2018’s 34,002.

Still, in 2020, rAge is back to distancing itself from CCA, at least by a few weeks. The 2020 event is happening at the Northgate Dome from 4 – 6 September. Look forward to esports, hands-on time with highly-anticipated games and gadgets, great deals, cosplay and ye olde NAG LAN.

Comic Con Africa – Johannesburg

No surprises that South Africa’s biggest pop culture festival, Comic Con Africa is back in 2020 for its third year, and second as a four-day event. From 24 – 27 September, Gallagher Convention Centre will be transformed into a colourful, multi-fandom haven, mixing panels with movie and TV stars, access to top comics creators, gaming demos, diverse Kids Con amusements, some of the continent’s best in cosplay, and arguably the strongest Artists Alley showing in the country.

There haven’t been any guest announcements yet for this exuberant event, but given its reputation for last-minute high-profile cancellations, that may be a better strategy to avoid disappointment.

Con.ect – Port Elizabeth

No comment was received about the 2020 edition of Con.ect, Port Elizabeth’s annual gathering of geeky types and cosplayers. That said, given its small scale and the fact it’s the only pop culture and fandom-centred event in the region (largely shielded by the impact of conventions in other provinces), there’s no reason to believe it won’t be happening again. Expect the seventh Con.ect to take place at the Nelson Mandela University Indoor Sports Centre sometime between August and mid-October.

Playtopia – Cape Town

It’s way too early in the year for news on whether Playtopia MGA (Make Games Africa) – an event collaboration between the two organisations – is set for early December again. After a couple of successful showcases, though, this thought-provoking and inspiring gathering of indie game developers and digital artists is one to keep an eye on. It includes talks from global speakers in the field, art exhibits, interactive experimentation, live music and more. In 2019 the three-day event at the Castle of Good Hope was even paired with a 26-hour A MAZE. train jam between Joburg and the Mother City.

Other events

While the above events are highlights of the South African pop culture calendar, they aren’t the only things happening. Regular board game days and “learn to play pen-and-paper RPGs” sessions at tabletop retailers (like Timeless Board Games, the Nexus Hub and The Unseen Shoppe), smaller LANs, geeky pub quizzes, the usual country-wide festivities around Free Comic Book Day (Joburg’s Cosmic Comics and Comic Warehouse, plus Cape Town’s Readers Den are especially active), game developer meet-ups and cosplay picnics (Cosplay Cape Town regularly organises gatherings) – these take place countrywide, all year long.

Even without reaching out to local societies and communities, Facebook is an excellent resource to alert you to events happening in your area. Now get out there and support.

Last Updated: February 4, 2020

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