Hundreds of geeks, gamers, comic lovers and cosplayers gathered at the Kram Exposition Center this weekend for the first Comic Con to be held in Tunisia.
The international event ran from Friday to last night; with a multitude of animation displays and stands where excited fans had the opportunity to test both new and retro games, attend talks and competitions, and experiment with different attractions, all the time while surrounded by hordes of people wearing weird costumes inspired by their favorite characters.
Visitors had different, and sometimes hard choices before them. Do they want to attend the cosplay competition? How about watching the official Tunisian qualifiers for the e-Sports World Championships? Or maybe it would be worth waiting in line for a chance to try Oculus Rift? All of these activities and more were happening simultaneously and all just a few meters from each other.
Gamers had the biggest treats of all. Attendees, both young and old, were eager to try out the Tunisia Retro Gaming stand. Numerous old consoles (and a functioning arcade game!) with some of their most iconic games invented were available, such as Street Fighter or Bomberman were free to try. Youngsters were surprised to try out old video games that came out in a time where 3D graphics were considered some kind of magic, while older visitors had a nostalgic feel, tapping frantically on the buttons of the old machine in order to win the match.
Another stand offered visitors a chance to try out an early version of the next 100% Tunisian game, Veterans Online. The developers, an independent games studio called Nuked Cockroach, have no definitive release date. However, they’re confident their product will not go unnoticed. Ayoub Gharbi, game developer for Veterans, told Tunisia Live that his team has already presented the game at conventions outside the country where they had received positive feedback. “This is our first real experience of making a video game,” he said. “We’re between 12 and 15 people working on the game, from game designers, 3D artists to developers. It took us about a year and four months to get to this point.” As described on their website, Veterans Online is “a competitive top-down shooter for those who enjoy energetic yet tactical multiplayer battles.” Or, in words that gamers would understand better, it’s a mix of Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) with elements from First-Person Shooter (FPS) games. “Kind of like League of Legends (LoL) and Counter-Strike (CS) mixed together,” says Gharbi.
League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, along with the online virtual cards game Hearthstone, were also present during the Comic Con. The Tunisian Association of Gamers (TAG) chose this convention to organize the third edition of the eSports Tunisian Cup. The winners would have the opportunity to take part in the eighth e-Sports World Championships, which will take place in Jakarta, Indonesia, between the 6th and 9th of October where the winners from Tunisia will face professional teams from around the world. “We had 30 teams of LoL and CS:GO each (each team has five players), and 60 Hearthstone players who competed in the free online qualifiers. The four best teams from LoL and CS:GO and the 16 best players from Hearthstone played in front of a live audience during the Comic Con,” Amine Ghadhab, founder and first president of TAG, told Tunisia Live.
TAG have been working on promoting gaming in Tunisia for years, according to Raafet Kouki, who’s in charge of organizing events for the TAG. “We’re quite happy with what we’ve achieved so far. We’ve already sent four delegations in the last few years. Gaming is another world that makes people push their own limits,” says Kouki. He adds that gaming isn’t about people getting locked up in their rooms, and that it should actually help people progress in their lives.
The popular League of Legends also featured in the cosplay competition. Costumes of characters such as Diana, Kindred or Kayle made the crowd cheer for the quality and attention given on display. Characters from other games, such as Tyrael or the Crusader from Diablo III, also made a big impression on the audience. Wael Baldi, who chose Tyrael in his Archangel form as his costume, told Tunisia Live it took him about two months to finish it. “It cost me a little bit more than 100 dinars to make it.”
Anouar Bouzrati, who made the Crusader costume from the same game, said, “I worked on it for two hours a day over one month. It cost me something between 150 and 200 dinars.” Bouzrati says this was his first attempt at making cosplay and taking part in a competition. “It was really nice to meet with all of these people and talk about the costumes and how to make them. I used some steel and wood in mine, but others used other materials I wasn’t really familiar with, and the results were awesome,” he said. There was a total of 110 cosplays divided by theme, according to presenter Jaouher Dridi. “For the first day we had about 33 competitors for video games costumes, 37 for the second day, which was about Japanese culture, and around 40 for the last day, which revolved around pop culture and comics,” he told Tunisia Live. “And of course there are more cosplayers who aren’t part of the competition.”
Aside from official competitions and frantic button pushing, some stands and kiosks offered drawing workshops, robotics displays, talks and animations by people like Aleissia Laidacker, who works with Ubisoft, or Tarek Al-Arabi Tourgane, who’s famous among the older generation for his credits to the Arabic version of Captain Tsubasa song. Houssem Ben Amor, co-founder and president of Tunisian Game Developers, who’s also part of the organizing team for Comic Con Tunisia, told Tunisia Live “We tried to gather as many amusements as possible. It took us nearly two years to pull this off.”
Overall, visitors were delighted with the first of Tunisia Comic Cons, with many already planning to go to the second one, (announced for next September of next year). Hedi Tej told Tunisia Live “It was nice to see something different like this, something that’s kind of out of the norm. It’s a very welcome change to what we usually see at the Kram Exposition Center.” Houssem Larif, another visitor, said, “Comic Con Tunisia is the event we needed to gather all comics, video games and pop culture fans. It’s nice to see people who share our love for the same stuff in real life and not just on facebook or reddit.” Larif says he had a good time watching cosplays, testing a Tunisian video game and visiting a variety of other stands. “I’m going to be there next year for sure!”
Prior to working as a journalist, Inel worked as a computer programmer. Inel is fluent in English, French, and Arabic. He writes mainly about freedoms, liberties, and minorities' rights in post revolution Tunisia. He currently blogs about films in French and writes metal reviews.