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State of the Con: Anime Expo 2018

By: Mithrandiel

Anime Expo (AX) 2018 has come and gone, and I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the hits, and misses, that this year’s con had compared to previous years. This will also serve as an update to my Premier Fan Experience guide from 2016.

What Worked

Mailing Out Badges

The Problem: Last year AX was plagued with some logistical nightmares (arguably of their own making) that resulted in a 4-6 hour wait on Saturday, with the line literally stretching over a mile into some unsavory parts of the downtown LA area. Disappointed fans lost most of their day waiting for their badge, and others were rightly concerned for their safety as they found themselves lined up far, far away from the main convention hall.

The Solution: Beginning this year, AX mailed out all 4-day badges, as long as attendees registered by a certain date, and agreed to provide their shipping address. This significantly reduced lines for badge pickup, as most of the fans in line either registered in the last two months, or were just getting a single-day badge. Fans happily made their way to the convention starting with Day 0, badges in hand, thanks to this new policy. One that I imagine AX will continue to utilize going forward.

More Entrances

The Problem: Not only was the registration line exceedingly long last year, people found themselves waiting 30 minutes to an hour just to get into the hall due to restrictive entries and accompanying bag checks.

The Solution: Opening many, many more doors. While there was still an initial rush in the morning, this was usually hammered out within the first hour, and guests visiting later in the day were often greeted by a much shorter line. Furthermore, if you didn’t have a bag, you could travel even faster!

App Notifications

The Problem: The AX app was helpful last year, but sometimes it was difficult to stay on top of last minute schedule changes, or be reminded of upcoming events.

The Solution: The app integrated many more push notifications, including panel cancellations, weather warnings and more.

More Cosplay Gathering Spots & Good Signage

The Problem: AX brings thousands and thousands of cosplayers together, and naturally they want to get together and have an awesome photo shoot with like-minded cosplayers. In previous years, the cosplay gathering spots were more limited, and they could easily be overrun by larger-than-average groups. This was frustrating for groups looking for a place to host some socializing and photo sessions.

The Solution: More cosplay gathering spots were made available near the JW Marriott, which were definitely utilized. It was easy enough to find the spots, and I think that it created a much better experience for cosplayers as a whole.

What Hurt

Wristband Events

The Problem: Many of this year’s biggest draws, including the MHA movie premiere, Jojo’s Official Panel, and the Attack on Titan 3 debut, were subject to a new process that was puzzling and frustrating, particularly to Premier fans and Press outlets. To attend the event, you needed to first pick up a wristband. There are no special privileges when it comes to picking up a wristband, whether you paid $70 for your badge of $415. Obviously, the lines for the wristbands were exceedingly long. Even more perplexing was that once a wristband was acquired, priority entry was recognized. So that begs the question: why make Premier fans, who have paid hundreds of dollars for an elevated experience, wait in a general line for hours when you’re going to let them get in first at the actual event anyways? There are just so many ways this could have been handled more effectively. Two immediately jump to mind:

  1. Allow Premier fans to have a separate line for picking up a wristband or,
  2. Provide the Premier Lounge with wristbands that they can pick up at their convenience

The wristband events definitely rubbed a lot of people the wrong way – including a number of Press members, who also were not provided any indication of this new policy until the convention had started.

I understand the appeal of ticketing/limiting events like this. However, if they’re going to continue to do so, they will need to revisit the wristband distribution policy. As a result, I would not recommend a Premier Fan badge until this issue is addressed.

Inconsistent Line Management

The Problem: This is actually a problem that continues to come up, but I wanted to make sure to recognize it here. Essentially, different volunteers often had different answers as to where a particular line was. Not only that, some rooms were getting filled much earlier than the schedule indicated, meaning that Premier fans that showed up to the room within the allotted time were directed to the general line.

Now, I understand that AX is a large convention. Very large (we’ll get to that in a minute) – and with a literal army of volunteers to help run the event, it can be challenging to get everyone on the same page. Something that might help is a practice I noticed at PAX West: on the back of every staff badge is a “cheat sheet” that goes over the different badge types and perks in a nutshell. If “Premier Fan” is identified as being given priority access (and a separate entrance maybe?) to panels, there shouldn’t be any confusion when one walks up and shows their badge. There’s nothing more frustrating than paying $400+ for a badge and not having the promised perks delivered. It seemed to be more frequent this year, which is unfortunate.

So. Many. People.

The Problem: Last year, AX unique attendance broke 107,000 people. The highest-ever attendance certainly compounded the registration issues, but it also made for a very packed convention hall. While AX has stated before that there is in fact a cap on attendance, this year it certainly felt like that cap needs to come down a bit.

This was most apparent in the West Hall, where the Main Events hall, Live Programming 1 (a large panel room) and Entertainment hall all reside. Sometimes events would get out at the same time, and the result was a crushing and dangerous flow of bodies that eventually would come to a standstill.

Of course, this also has the effect of making general panels less accessible for regular 4-day attendees. Being bounced from one capped event to another, panels that typically wouldn’t be full found attendees filling the seats because their first, second, and third preferences had all been filled already.

Nobody Knows What To Do With Press

The Problem: Admittedly, this last one is coming from some frustration that I experienced along with other press members. Last year it was pretty straightforward: arrive at a panel 15 minutes early, take your place alongside premier fans and enjoy early access in exchange for coverage of the convention. This year, every panel appeared to have a different set of rules. Despite the AX Press Relations best attempts, by day 3 we were approaching each event with some caution, hoping that the panel was complying with the proper priority order for entry, and that it hadn’t suddenly become a wristband event (as it happened with the Jojo panel).

What’s even more perplexing about the whole situation is that many of the rooms already had reserved press seating. 2-3 rows that were marked off for press members with approved badges. I’m hoping that by next year this is an uncontested and consistent policy in order to promote smoother coverage of the con.

Final Thoughts

When I first attended Anime Expo as a Premier fan in 2016, it was one of the best convention experiences of my life. I had the chance to meet some amazing guests, see exclusive premieres, and shop to my heart’s content on day 1 in a much quieter and thinner Exhibit Hall. 2017 was my first year as press, and I was thoroughly impressed yet again.

Therefore, you can imagine my frustration as these positive experiences began to be clouded by the denials and disorganized nature of this year’s AX. It’s certainly our intention to return to AX in 2019 as Press once again (if they’ll have us).

Until next time – I’m interested in seeing AX’s official response to this year’s feedback, and what policies they plan on having in place for 2019. See you then!

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    2 Pings/Trackbacks for "State of the Con: Anime Expo 2018"
    1. […] Update (7/8/18): An updated version of “The State of the Con” has been published, you can find my thoughts here. […]

    2. […] Update (7/8/18): An updated version of “The State of the Con” has been published, you can find my thoughts here. […]

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