Conventions, otherwise known as cons, are getting pretty popular these days, with the largest anime conventions having around 50,000 attendees. So first off, what does one do at an anime convention, specifically? That is the question that I get asked most by people who aren’t familiar with conventions at all. The answer is that you do pretty much whatever you want; pick your poison. Though it’s going to primarily focus on anime, at the larger cons there will almost always be video game and table top gaming tournaments and some comic-based memorabilia available as well. There is almost always a costume contest full of amazing hand-crafted costumes, which contestants sign up for beforehand and compete in on Saturday, usually. Even between numerous panels, concerts, autograph sessions, and anime screenings, there are always the extensive Dealers’ Room and Artists’ Alley to explore. The line item list of daily events for a recent con, Anime Weekend Atlanta (AWA), was 26 pages long once it was printed. There’s no shortage of entertainment at a weekend-long convention and to decide what you want to do you simply have to find the list of events online, when available, or at the beginning of the con and start studying.
The bigger question is: how do we get the most out of a convention? The answer to that depends on what you want to do there. The good thing about large cons is that there is almost always something to be doing. Marc Smazik, Drew Sutton, and Richard Hoelscher, who are affiliated with another Atlanta convention, Seishun-Con, which takes place in June, did a very informative panel at AWA 2013 on how to attend a convention “like a boss.” Being old hats at attending cons, as panelists, directors, and simply attendees, they had some great advice on how to get the most out of your con.
- Be prepared, but have a contingency plan.
- Study the itinerary.
- Try not to care too much about your friend(s)’ plans.
- Make your hotel reservations and check in to the hotel early.
- Sign up for hotel loyalty programs.
- Request a low level floor.
- Pick up your badge on Thursday night, if possible.
- Get plenty of sleep and food.
- Wear good (aka comfortable) shoes.
- Shower. Every day.
Preparation and Attendance
First and foremost, be prepared. Almost as importantly, remember that planning is essential, but also that plans will almost always fall through. I’ve only been to four conventions and I already know this to be true. You can make as fool-proof a plan as you want, but something will happen that throws a wrench in the works. Maybe a panel’s time slot will be changed, meaning you’re going to have to choose between two panels you were going to be able to attend before the swap. Maybe you didn’t realize how far in advance you needed to line up for a panel on a Saturday afternoon and arrive too late, only to be told by the event staff that the panel is already full. Whatever happens to change your plans, understand that the plan you come up with is never going to be set in stone. You can either have contingency plans, or just understand that sometimes you may end up having downtime you weren’t expecting to have.
Which leads to the concept of down time at cons. While there is pretty much always something to be doing, it gets exhausting to have a jam-packed schedule for three or four days straight. Attending back-to-back panels is almost impossible at large cons because lines start to form outside of panel rooms almost as soon as the people attending the previous panel get inside. So when you’re planning your day, take into account that even if it seems like you may be able to get from one panel that ends at four to another that starts at that same time, there may not be room for you once you get there. If there are panels you absolutely have to see, get there early to make sure you get a spot. For the costume contest, the line starts a couple hours before the actual contest, so definitely make sure to get into that line early so you get a good seat. Even at small conventions, it’s a good idea to get to your top events early because while there may not be as many people to accommodate, the rooms are generally smaller and there’s still a chance of not getting a seat.
And the lines themselves? That can be a major frustration. Sometimes the event staff get to the line late and attempt to organize it by creating a new starting point that wasn’t the point that attendees started lining up at when they got there. This can be, as you can imagine, extremely frustrating. All you can do is politely point out to the event staff that certain people had been waiting longer than others and that they deserve to be at the front of the line. Sometimes your fellow con-goers will band together with you to straighten things out. Other times they won’t. Some conventions are better organized than others and some event staff cares more about fairness than others. If you don’t get into a panel or event because of uncontrolled line jumpers or other line mishaps, just find another panel or event to attend and move on.
Another type of line to be aware of is the badge line. There’s a reason we suggest you get your badge on Thursday if you can. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a convention on Saturday morning and having to wait in line for hours just to get access to the convention. Most conventions strongly suggest that their patrons pre-register online and/or purchase/pick up their badges on Thursday. Friday and Saturday mornings will be the busiest times to pick up badges, so it is best to avoid those times. Picking up a badge later in the afternoon on Friday or Saturday, or even in the evening, will mean there will likely be a much shorter line.
Set aside some time to just explore the con and people watch, too, especially if it’s your first convention. It’s actually a really good idea to take some time when you first arrive at the convention to just walk around and figure out where everything is located. AWA didn’t have too a complicated layout, but some other cons of around the same size (like Ohayocon in Columbus, OH) seem a bit like a maze.
Hotels and Reservations
There are three main things to remember when considering staying in a hotel for a convention: (1) Get your hotel room as early as possible, (2) Check in early, and (3) Sign up for the hotel loyalty program. The most convenient thing to do is to stay in the hotel that is hosting the convention. The best way to ensure that you get a room at the con hotel is to reserve your room early and check in/arrive to the hotel as early as possible. Convention hotels sell out completely pretty far in advance, so if you definitely want to stay in the con hotel, you’ll need to make your reservations early. Reservations, surprisingly, don’t always ensure you a room in the hotel, as sometimes hotels can get overbooked. Checking in early in the morning or even staying Thursday night is the best way to make sure you don’t lose your room. If you travel often and think it might be worth it to sign up for a hotel loyalty program, that’s a great way to get hotel perks and further ensure that you’ll definitely have a room reserved come con weekend. One other simple trick to make your convention a success is to request a room on a low floor. At large conventions, elevetors and stairways can be jam packed with attendees trying to get back and forth to their rooms. Having a room on a lower floor allows you to get back and forth to your own room with ease.
Noms and Zs
Wondering what the food is like at a convention? Expensive is the word most attendees would choose to describe it. While most large cons have some type of food court, the food will likely be high priced. (Higher priced than even your normal food court food, that is.) The best way to avoid pricey food (and more of those dreaded lines) is to bring food with you to the hotel. That way, if you get hungry during the con you can simply run back to your room and grab a bite to eat before heading right back down into the thrall. Bringing all of your food for the weekend can save you a lot of money and wasted time searching for something to eat in or around the hotel. So pack that cooler to the hilt and hit the room when your stomach starts rumbling.
As for sleep, make sure you get at least a little. Burning yourself out on the first day isn’t a good idea, because then you’ll miss all of the fun the next night! There are a lot of people and a lot of walking at cons, so being well-rested is a plus. Then again, you know your limits and how little sleep you can get to function like a proper human being. If that’s only three hours, then knock yourself out!
Convention Odds and Ends
Lastly, some minor, random stuff.
Wearing comfortable shoes is highly recommended. Even if you’re cosplaying, which makes it difficult, try to wear the most comfortable shoes possible. Conventions can be spread out across huge spaces and even multiple buildings, so you’re going to be doing a lot of walking back and forth. Dress shoes that pinch or platforms that make you want to have your feet removed are not going to make for a fun day.
It seems funny, but showering is not a joke. I can attest that there are some people that attend conventions who think it’s alright to forego a shower. It’s not. No one wants to smell you, and you shouldn’t want to smell bad. Shower. Every. Day. That’s all I’ll say about that.
Looking for conventions in your area? Check out animecons.com for information on upcoming conventions in your area!