Thursday, 19 February 2015

My First Con: Part 1

According to Wikipedia, a convention is:

“A convention, in the sense of a meeting, is a gathering of individuals who meet at an arranged place and time in order to discuss or engage in some common interest. The most common conventions are based upon industry, profession, and fandom. Trade conventions typically focus on a particular industry or industry segment, and feature keynote speakers, vendor displays, and other information and activities of interest to the event organizers and attendees.”

If I take the Wikipedia definition to be correct then yes; I have been to conventions before.
However the conventions I had visited in the past were normally showcasing items and discussions about things such as forensics, (my university studies), defence protocols or new tech (previous job roles) and while they had a lovely atmosphere as everyone (including myself) were dressed in a proper respectable fashion, and everyone was polite to each other; there was no life, or excitement to them. I mean the subject matter of these cons were interesting but apart from that it only really got exciting when you got a new business card to look at (and feel envy about how poor yours looked) or the tray of nibbles passed within your reach (no tray was safe).

What I am talking about in this particular post is a Geek Con, a Fandom Con. Call them whatever your will but I am talking about the cons where you get rather large number of geeks from all walks of life, with a massive sliding scale of social awkwardness and cram them into a hotel or expo centre together. Now that ladies, gentleman and others is where things get really exciting.

What I aim to do in this post series is walk you through my experiences of my first con!


Con Name: DragonCon
Location: Atlanta, US
Date of Visit: 29/08/2014-01/09/2014
Fandom’s Covered: All.

DragonCon has been in operation for nearly thirty years, it was first opened in 1987. It showcased to about 1200 fans and included Guest of Honour Michael Moorcock attending his first U.S. convention appearance in twelve years, Robert Asprin and Lynn Abbey, Robert Adams, Richard “Lord British” Garriott, the creator of Ultima, and Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons.

From that one successful day DragonCon grew with each subsequent year as did its fan base with records showing attendee count of 13000 in the year 2000. After the millennium the amount of people attending grew at an astonishing rate with records showing in 2012 over 52000 people graced DragonCon. Numbers have not been published for 2013, 14 or 15.

As the years progressed DragonCon evolved and spread over 3 major hotels based in downtown Atlanta, all within 5 minutes walking distance from each other. It also added in multiple tracks to its original showcase of gaming, and comics to include Gothic/Horror, Robotics, Costuming, Science Fiction Classics, Independent Film, and Young Adult Literature
A full history of DragonCon can be found here:

Day One: What Did I Step In?

So Let me paint you a picture, a 26 year old girl, Kaitlin, who happens to be my girlfriend, bursting at the seams with excitement about the next 3 days. She is excited because ‘It’s DragonCon, and it’s amazing!” And also she knows that this is my first con and wants to show me literally everything about it. I think she would have shown me the mortar of the building if she could. But she would have to wait as we actually had to get to Atlanta first, so we packed our travel clothes, our regular clothes and our costumes for cosplay. Did I happen this was my first time cosplaying too?!

So with a car loaded with food, booze, clothes and fantasy weaponry we were off. I could regale you with tidbits about rural Georgia and the towns I passed through, many of which were used in the filming of The Walking Dead; but I wont. So after about an hour of non-stop nattering with each other and our driver Sam, (who is also attending the con) we reach a free car park and pay for the three days worth of parking.
 So we unload the car and the car park we have chosen caters for the DragonCon Hotels. DragonCon is so large it covers five hotels; the Hilton, Marriot, Hyatt, Sheraton and Westin. Five huge hotels, and we couldn’t get a room in one…..Starting to see the scale now? So as we could not use the regular hotels we hiked all of our gear to one of the overflow hotels (The Double Tree).

So we book into the hotel at roughly 1pm in the afternoon and dump our stuff in our room. We then make our way to the Sheraton to grab our passes for the weekend. So from our hotel we walk to the Sheraton and two things really hit me, one the heat, I mean I know Georgia in August is renowned for being warm but with the sheer amount of people walking around too, it just generated so much more. I was starting to become concerned about wearing a trench coat in a few days, (we’ll get to that later).

The next thing was the sheer number of people attending this con, as mentioned at the start of this post I have attended a lot of conventions but normally the head count is around the 500-2000 mark; not the 50,000 mark. It was strange, we were waiting outside the Sheraton for a friend and I know this is massively stereotyping but you could spot the geeks miles away. Now “Matthew!” you shout, “Surely the costumes gave it away!” you snicker and yes you would be correct.  What I am referring to are the guys and gals in civvie clothes. You could take a geek and non-geek and they would look the same, but you could spot the geek solely based on the electricity in the air and the excitement pulsing from them! It is a cliche but there was energy in the air; heat and dust too but mostly energy. Yes costumes gave it away also.

I stoods here. I did, I did!

So anyway at 1.30pm our friend joined us and as we had already paid for our passes we just had to collect the passes. So we were set to enter the hotel, however Kaitlin and Leslie warned me of ‘THE QUEUE’
Now according to Kaitlin and Leslie, this was an abomination that would suck the very soul from me. I scoffed at their worries. I’m British. I eat Queues for afternoon tea with my sandwiches and crumpets. So I take a breath, steel myself for the queue of the Blue line and enter to hotel  to…….no ruddy queue! There was the security barriers making a slalom the pass booths, but no queue. This surprised the girls as in previous years they had been queuing for over two hours to pick up passes (I assume this is normal for cons?) So after a leisurely stroll I presented my receipt and collected my first ever Con Pass!

So now the magic is really starting to sit in, I have a pass, I have been deemed worthy I AM ONE OF THE GEEKS! What to do with this newfound power, protect the innocent, become a tyrant or reshape the world in my image? We decided to go to the Hilton food plaza and get lunch.

After recharging our batteries we decide to walk around the Hilton and look at the programme for the con to see if there are any panels we didn’t hear about. Now remember this is day one of 3 and already a large number of people were in costume, I specifically recall, the Green Arrow, multiple Deadpools, the entire Survey Corps from Attack on Titan and I viewed many, many more. If I was to list them it would be an entirely new blog post.

So in this free period, I start looking at the programme and the first thing that strikes me is the size of it. I’ve been to week long conventions and the progamme has been 20 maybe 30 pages long. DragonCon’s 2014 programme is 128 pages long and I think maybe 10 of those pages are adverts. The programme lists every guest speak, and I mean EVERY speaker to attend the show, from the big headliners in the main panels to the first time panelists. The DragonCon team want every one of their guests to get equal notoriety and I really like that. I don’t know why but it seems cool that everyone gets a chance. Obviously the headliners get slight preference with longer segments of bio info and pictures, but all registered dealers, tables and panelists get a shout.

So after a leisurely 3 hours of hanging around and dinner in the evening we decide to go to a room party in the Marriott, this part was being held by another friend of ours. Now two things happened which really hit home about how awesome cons are. First of all while waiting for the elevator to get to this room party we saw two relatively known cosplayers, they were famous a few years ago for dressing in camo army fatigues. Except the camo was the carpet of the Marriot Hotel!

These guys, well not only were they there, they had a whole squad in Marriot Camo! So while nattering with them the elevator arrives and we all pour in, note that this is an elevator built to hold 20 people, we probably have about 25 people and an electric jeep squeezed in here; but as the doors are about to close, a red gloved hand stops the door and guess who wanders in, STEVE ROGERS (well a man cosplaying as him). He squeezes into the middle of this overpopulated elevator and says “Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?” I may or may not have internally fangirled, and I’m a guy!

So we enter the party, fun was had, drinks were quaffed, food was eating and we leave late in the night full of merriment and mirth. So we take the walk back to our hotel. Settle in for the night and get ready for a few days of panelling.

Maker, what did I step in!
Stay tuned for Day 2.

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