by Hunter Hite
Join me as I recap the Marco team’s visit to the eighth-annual Southern-Fried Gaming Expo in Atlanta as well as my first game convention experience.
It’s Thursday July 14th, bright and early. We finished putting the final touches on loading up our hauler. We left our home base in Lexington, SC for the drive down to Atlanta to the beautiful and absolutely massive Cobb Galleria Convention Center. I was walking into the empty main hall wondering just how they’re going to manage to fill this place up, when the vendors started arriving. Trucks and vans were being unloaded left and right with all the pinball and arcade machines you could ever imagine. All the games I remember from my childhood days at our local mall’s arcade and then some were there! But enough nostalgia, it was time to get working to put together the Marco booth! We were fixing to fill up almost a quarter of the whole hall with our setup! Everything came out of our hauler and we had endless stacks of aluminum trusses, lighting, cords, tents, banners, and hardware. Our fearless leader Marco Ramirez arrived with an entire trailer loaded down with pinball machines, and our vendor partner Jason Grindle and the team from Classic Game Rooms showed up with another hauler full of even more pinball machines, parts displays, and other goodies soon after! I started to have my doubts on how this massive pile of stuff would have any resemblance to a show booth but after a ton of hard work by the entire team we were starting to see things come together. After plowing away all day and well into the evening we had things really starting to come together and looking pro! We finished up around 9pm and got rested up to put the finishing touches on everything in the morning for opening day.
We were all back at the booth early Friday morning to finalize everything and get the internet set up in time for the grand opening. Mike Vinikour and Michael Grant from Stern Pinball did a masterful job getting the “Insider Connected” leaderboard system set up to display all of the high scores from Rush, Mandalorian, Deadpool, and Godzilla on two big screens at the front of our booth. Our booth was officially done and dressed to impress!
The hall opened to the public Friday afternoon and the masses started to pour in! Pinball is HOT at SFGE and there were lines of gaming enthusiasts eagerly waiting to play at every machine in the hall. The Phils Pinball drew a lot of attention in our booth with their “Pinball Sick Bay” set up doing live, on site repairs and educating people on how to fix their own machines. Classic Gamerooms had a great looking display showcasing custom shooter rods, toppers, and other Stern accessories. On the left side of our booth we had “Arcade Alley” set up with help from many different arcades around the southeast including the following:
Bang Back Pinball Lounge – Columbia, SC
Transmission Arcade – Columbia, SC
Granby Grill – Columbia, SC
Carolina Pinballs – Carolina Area
The Phils Pinball – Upstate South Carolina
Portal Pinball – Acworth, GA
Replay Arcade – Duluth, GA
Vertigo Pinball – Blue Ridge, GA
The Blue Ghost Arcade – Woodstock, GA
My Parents Basement Arcade – Atlanta, GA
Jokton Strealy’s custom Tron Cabinet
The Little Flippers of Columbia – Columbia, SC
Belles & Chimes Cola – Columbia, SC
Pinky’s Revenge – Taylors, SC
Greenville Beer Exchange – Greenville, SC
Upstate Pinball & Arcade Museum – Simpsonville, SC
Our local Belles and Chimes chapter were there playing in the tournaments at the show and interacting with everyone around the booth. Finally at the Marco table we had set up a smorgasbord of free swag and a prize wheel where visitors could spin and win, with the catch of having to challenge and beat one of the Marco team members at a game of pinball to get a spin. I got my butt kicked by more than one kid there. Don’t sleep on the kids, some of them are really good! It was a great experience getting to interact with our customers, pinball enthusiasts, and people who had never even played pinball before.
On Saturday I actually got the chance to meander around the show and check out and play every game imaginable. Brad Albright (designer of our super rad Marco Tech Shirts) had a booth set up there. There were plenty of great seminars for everyone to learn about anything gaming. Our own Imoto Harney recorded Rick Pecot’s EM seminar and gave away one of our very cool and useful Marco tool belt pouches to a lucky attendee. This show had everything from hundreds of unique card and board games to cocktail table arcade and pinball machines to vintage computers to VR and even the very first Gottlieb Pinball machine that started our entire hobby! SFGE went all out this year! They even had live wrestling as well as the infamous Hotlanta Extreme Eating Challenge. Marco did NOT compete in the eating challenge this year but he’s still a champion in our hearts! We tried to get him into wrestling instead but they said he was overqualified.
Saturday evening we had a fantastic dinner with the whole Marco team, followed by the very first Marc Mandeltort Distinguished Gamer Award ceremony. After a moving speech by Shannon DeWitt, founder and president of SFGE, we presented the Marc Mandeltort Distinguished Gamer Award to David Kitch for his tireless dedication to the pinball community.
As we fast forward to the last day of the event which was Sunday, they were still packing people into the hall all day long! They literally had to shut off the power to all the games to give the signal that it’s time to go. This crowd would’ve stayed another week if they were allowed to! Packing up went well and is much faster than setting up. We were able to get back home with everything by midnight. I may have slept better than I’ve ever slept in my entire life after 4 days of fun with some of the best folks I’ve been blessed to know and work with. I wouldn’t have had it any other way! We can’t wait to see all of y’all again at SFGE 2023!
SFGE announced their dates for 2023, so put it on your calendar, pre-register to get your discount tix, and we’ll see you there!
July 28-30, 2023