Massive Comic Con-style retro video game convention reboots in Austin
A mecca for video game fans, Classic Game Fest is returning to the Palmer Events Center July 24 and 25 after missing last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With restrictions fully lifted, it’s on like Donkey Kong for Austinites and anyone else who wants to get in the game.
CGF, as it’s often called, is hosted by David Kaelin, owner of Game Over Videogames, an Austin-based retail chain with 10 stores in Texas and two in Washington. Kaelin compares CGF to a “massive Comic Con-style event,” but with every vendor, guest, and artist directly related to the field of video games.
“It’s a coming together of the retro gaming community,” Kaelin says. “It’s much more than just a local buy/sell/trade meetup, as CGF attracts vendors, guests, and attendees from all over Texas and the entire U.S. In addition to just buying and selling old video games, we offer gaming tournaments, live music, cosplay, a free-play arcade, industry guests, and more.”
Despite the fact that CGF bills itself as the “biggest retro gaming event in Texas,” with thousands attending, Kaelin says it has a “laid-back, family-style atmosphere” in which gamers of all ages and gaming preferences can have a blast. Whether you want to fill some holes in your Atari 2600, NES, or PlayStation game collection — or you just want to play a wide assortment of arcade classics without shoving quarters into machines — CGF should have you covered.
A longtime industry supporter, Kaelin first played video games during the early 1980s, when Atari was king. He and his younger brother would play for hours on end.
“We had a great time playing Atari 2600 classics such as ‘Yars’ Revenge, ‘Pac-Man’ (yes, the awful blue-screen Atari version!), ‘Donkey Kong,’ and ‘Berzerk,’ among many others,” Kaelin says. “Then we got the Nintendo NES. We played through the ‘Mario’ games repeatedly on that system and loved every minute of them!”
Kaelin began collecting during the late ’90s and became store manager for EB Games about the same time. He collected video games, which he bought from thrift stores, garage sales, GameStop clearance bins, and the like, not only to play, but also as future store inventory.
“At first, it was just a personal passion or hobby of mine, but eventually it became clear that this would be my next job,” Kaelin says. “I turned that hobby into Game Over Videogames. I opened the first store October 14, 2005, at the corner of 183 and Lamar in North Austin.”
In 2007, as Game Over began picking up steam after a tough first year or so, Kaelin started hosting an annual summer retro gaming tournament at the flagship store in North Austin. The tournament evolved into something much bigger and better, resulting in the massive Classic Game Fest.
“The tournament outgrew the store, outgrew our parking lot, and grew so big that we had to convert it into a full-scale convention-style event to accommodate the huge crowds,” Kaelin says. “We moved it to the Palmer Event Center in downtown Austin in 2013, and it’s been thriving there ever since.”
Kaelin and his staff are especially excited about this year’s event after the pandemic canceled the show last year. It broke Kaelin’s heart. Like most other retailers, he had to temporarily shutter his stores as well.
“The shutdown hit all businesses, especially the smaller companies like us,” Kaelin says. “It was a dark time for me personally and financially. I definitely feared the end for both enterprises. Luckily, our customers were quick to support us with online and curbside shopping. And when we were allowed to open back up, they came out to spend money with us to help keep us going, even with the capacity limits and mask requirements.”
Kaelin is grateful for the lively gaming community in Austin, which motivates him to raise his own game.
“Without great support for each of our stores, Game Over Videogames and Classic Game Fest could have all died last year,” he says. “I am so humbled, grateful, and proud of our customers and employees for not letting that happen!”
Classic Game Fest
Palmer Events Center
900 Barton Springs Road
Saturday: 10 am–6 pm (9 am entry with VIP pass)
Sunday: 10 am–5 pm
Weekend pass: $25 in advance ($30 at the door)
Saturday only: $20 in advance ($25 at the door)
Sunday only: $10 in advance ($15 at the door)
Kids 10 and younger: free both days