Welcome to the New Year everyone! This year we’ve got some great things over the horizon for 91.8 The Fan and The Current. Specifically, this article is going to be the first in a run of occasional op-ed pieces where I’ll voice my thoughts and opinions, and even speak with many of The Fan’s personalities to get their Current Thoughts. Today, I pose a question to everyone who has ever gone to a convention: can a convention be too big or too small?
As a veteran of attending conventions-as a regular attendee, a member of the press, and as a guest-I’ve caught myself wondering if the conventions I’ve attended have become too crowded to enjoy. Perhaps their guest list has too many great people to see but not enough time to see them all? Or maybe the panels have become too similar and uninteresting? Whatever the reason, I am sure a similar thought comes to mind for all of us loyal anime/manga/video game fans. Maybe looking back at the conventions I attended last year will help guide us closer to an answer?
With the best guess of 70,000+ unique attendees in 2015, C2E2 is unquestionably the largest convention I attend on a regular basis. The Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo prides itself on offering attendees a massive collection of video games, comics, TV, movies, and anime goodness all right in the heart of The Windy City of Chicago. C2E2 literally rolls out the red carpet for guests and attendees (the exhibit hall has red carpeting), and each year the convention grows larger and larger.
As I walked through the con floor, I was somewhat intimidated by the sheer size; every year before this one I hadn’t had that feeling hit me. I didn’t know if I’d have enough time to see every cool booth in the exhibit hall while still getting enough photos to be satisfied and also see some of the few panels I was interested in. C2E2 doesn’t even take up the entirety of the exhibit hall they were given at the massive McCormick Place! They could easily take up the entire hall within the next few years!
That being said, if the convention continues to grow and grow and more room is used, I wonder if it would benefit attendees and the convention if C2E2 added an extra day to the festivities. Or would that make it feel more crowded? A longer C2E2 could be a lot of fun and give people more chances to see and take in everything the convention has to offer. In the end, I still enjoyed my time at C2E2, and I don’t think it’s in a position where the size and content of the convention turns that feeling of wonder and excitement into one of hesitation and intimidation. I will be closely watching this convention as I always have been since its inception.
ACen will always have a special place in my heart; it was the very first convention I attended and I have never missed it since I began attending. It has grown massively since its inception in 1998 and that is still true in the years since I first experienced it in 2008. In fact, the numbers for ACen 2015 hit 31,113, which is close to tripling the 13,900 they recorded in 2008.
Seeing the numbers in front of me boggles my mind; the show I’ve literally grown up with has nearly tripled in size and content. Each year, the guest list is a massive show of love to VA’s both Japanese and American as well as famous brands and studios. Each year, Tons of fans gather to put on panels and show off cosplay in the massive number of photoshoots scattered around the Hyatt Regency O’Hare and the Donald E Stephens Convention Center. The hotels, much to my chagrin, always fill up in a flash, and you’ll always see cosplayers walking around as they move from con to hotel or home.
So is ACen too big? There’s no doubt that this question has begun to nag and fester in the back of my mind lately. ACen still occupies the same hotel year after year as well as the same convention center. The exhibit hall that is assigned to ACen may change on a year to year basis but it rarely deviates much more than that. ACen is another convention where I wonder if it would benefit from a fourth day. It’s certainly not as large as C2E2 but it is larger than Youmacon, quite possibly the most famous four-day anime convention, according to AnimeCons.com’s top 10 list of 2014. It seems as though a feeling of crowdedness may soon afflict this convention. I regularly felt like I needed more time for photoshoots and panels I wanted to attend, and due to the sheer number of them on the schedule, I was forced to skip some things to make it to others. Larger panel rooms, more exhibit hall room and an extra day of convention going could be a breath of fresh air. So to answer my own question, ACen is too big for the pants it’s always been wearing. It’s time to put on some bigger, more comfortable pants.
Interestingly enough, Anime Midwest has reached a sort of sweet spot with its number of guests, panels, and activities. The Con Suite is still something unique to them and it feeds the convention attendees everything they could ask for from a convention: Mountain Dew, Cup Noodles, steamed rice, sriracha, and other fixings. Throw in a maid café, a formal dance, and rave dances and you’ve got plenty of extra events for attendees to choose from. There are no official numbers given from the convention, but it claims the attendance is over 10,000. Is this too big? Actually, it doesn’t feel too big at all. The Hyatt Regency O’Hare is actually a perfect size to handle this convention, and despite its growing popularity, the convention still maintains the air of a comfortable small con. As long as it continues to offer its unique flavor of events and is able to keep up with the inevitable growth in attendance, then I see no immediate issues.
I’ve talked about conventions that are growing larger and may be too large, but it’s also important to look at the other side of the spectrum. Born from the ashes of the successful but short-lived Anime World Chicago convention, AWX returned in 2015 after a multi-year hiatus with the hopes of attracting anime fans to yet another convention they can happily attend during the year. However…
The truth is that AWX was far too small. Is that even possibly a thing? I had never given this question some thought until after that convention had ended. I have attended first year conventions before; conventions like Kollision Con and Anime Midwest all had amazing, cozy, and fun-filled first years. That same buzz was lacking at AWX with just under 500 total attendees. This isn’t to say the convention was terrible however! The staff was friendly and I’m sure everyone did their best to put on a good show. Sadly, their best isn’t enough, yet. The guest list was very humble, as was the game room, panels, and exhibit hall. The hotel, the Westin Lombard Yorktown Center, was actually a very nice location for a small convention. Perhaps my memories of how well Anime World had done in the years past had me disillusioned, but I believe that the convention could have done a little better and still can. AWX can return to its former height and surpass that; it will just have to work hard to reach that point again.
Ramencon stands out as it’s the first con I’ve gone to with 91.8 The Fan every day of the convention. Previously I was only able to help on the Saturday of Chi-Fi. Once again, our lord and master, Kanashimi, and I joined forces to rock the joint and spread the 91.8 The Fan love! We both agreed that the convention has pretty much hit its sweet spot. The hotel and convention staff were both very nice and handled anything we threw at them; they were all accommodating and we had a really great time there. Once again, that all-important feeling of being comfortable for its size was present during Ramencon.
That being said, we both noticed that the hotel, the Radisson Holiday Star Plaza, may be the one thing that could hold Ramencon back in its future. The layout is a bit confusing to anyone not familiar with the hotel and its size may not be comfortable should Ramencon experience solid growth in its coming years. Kana also made a good point to note that the panel rooms were at very good size and location but that other areas of the hotel, namely the hallways creating choke points and the awkward placement of the dealer’s hall and artist alley, will need some forethought and rearrangement. In the end, I asked Kana if the convention can still grow comfortably at the Radisson. Her verdict: the convention will probably have another two years before the growth of the convention out lives the size of the Radisson. I have to agree with her on that as well. For all the fun we had attending Ramencon, we don’t want to see it suffer as it gets more popular.
What have we learned from looking back at 2015? Simply put, it’s hard to pinpoint whether a convention has become too big or is too small to enjoy, but generally if your gut tells you something, then generally it’s true. Yes, it sucks when your favorite convention has become so popular that it starts to lose a bit of its original charm. If that happens, then you still have a pretty good tool to combat that: your voice. Use those post-convention surveys or hop into the convention’s feedback forum and tell them how you feel and what your concerns are. Be civil about it, and describe as much as you can so that the convention staff get a feeling of what they can do or what they can add to help everyone avoid that dreaded feeling. Don’t be discouraged if you have an off weekend at your favorite con; chances are that next year will improve. You can always find the fun and good times you’re looking for with a few adjustments to your outlook and some feedback to staff!