For the past 6 years, the only Otakon I knew was the Otakon that resided in Baltimore, MD at the Baltimore Convention Center. I remember walking from the Marriott hotel on the corner to the Royal farms for chicken wings and milkshakes or the time the sky fell and my friend and I walked in the rain to get back to our hotel room; her holding up her ballgown skirt and me making sure my sandals didn’t slip off my feet in the heavy downpour. Even though I am from MD, going to Baltimore for Otakon was like a mini vacation for me, so when it was announced that in 2017 Otakon was moving D.C., I had my reservations. Almost a full week has passed since the first Otakon in D.C. was in session and any reservations I had went away once I made it past bag check.
Otakon this year was held at the Walter E. Convention Center and the connection hotel, the Marriott Marquis. The Walter E. Convention Center has been a venue for various auto shows and has been the home of AwesomeCon for the past 5 years. In this piece, I’ve broken down my con weekend into the 3 official days of Otakon through the eyes of a casual congoer and a member of the press.
Day 1 (Friday): Casual cosplay and interviews
On Friday, I ran around as a casual Nick Wilde. Even though I was conducting “business,” I still wanted to be a part of the fun. Before the fun could actually begin, there was bag check or what I called BagcheckCon. This year was the first year Otakon had a bag check. According to Otakon, it was because of the venue’s newly implemented policy. I went through the bag check line in the Marriott Marquis and the line was LONG! If you remember how the infamous LineCon in Baltimore, the bag check in the Marquis was just like that. It wrapped outside of the building and looped a few times in the hotel lobby, and had a mini loop once you made it downstairs. Even though it was annoying and caused me to miss a panel, I forgave it because this is a new venue and new rules so naturally there will be hiccups.
After I made it past BagcheckCon, I wondered around the convention center itself to see other cosplayers and get a feel of the atmosphere of Otakon; honestly it felt the same as Baltimore but with more elbow room and space to breathe. I didn’t get too far because no sooner after I got comfortable, I received an email from Otakon Press relations saying that members of the press are allowed to get a walk-through of the Dealer’s Room before it opened to the rest of the con. After heading back to the press lounge in the Marriott Marquis then walking back to the convention center with the group, we made our way down to the Dealer’s room. For those who didn’t attend Otakon but have attended AwesomeCon, the Dealer’s room is in the same location except Otakon’s is a bit bigger! It was divided up into different areas. There was the vendor area which is self-explanatory, the industry area which was all the big names in anime such as FUNimation and Aniplex, and the food court and food stations that come with the venue.
I skipped out on the tour a smidge early to attend a panel with Simon Tam, the frontman of The Slants. For the sake of this piece, I won’t go into full detail of The Slants and their court case. I wanted to attend the panel to hear Tam’s point-of-view and why he wanted to fight to the U.S. Patent and Trademark office all the way to the Supreme Court. The panel was insightful and he is very intelligent. I’ll say my full thoughts for another day.
Later that evening, I was granted a press interview with Man at Arms: Reforged!! It was my first interview on behalf of PCU and they were so much fun! Check them out on their YouTube channel that I linked if you haven’t already.
Day 2 (Saturday): Umbreon meets Asuka cosplay, Panel Hopping, and Shopping!
Saturday was a very chill day of congoing so no much happened. Since Otakon had more space this year with the giant convention center AND the equally spacious hotel, Marriott Marquis, they were able to stretch out and have more panels. To me, Otakon in the past had a lot of panels but this year the amount had to have doubled. There was always something going on and there were a lot of updates to the schedule. Using the Guidebook app was convenient when it came to updates and cancellations, but the downside was I heard that the updates messed with some people’s to-do lists and notifications. But back to the panels, this year it felt like the panels were had more diversity than previous years. To make a small comparison, at BlerDCon, the panels were VERY diverse and represented a lot of groups and people. Now, Otakon is still far off from that much diversity but this year was a step in the right direction with some LGBTQ+ panels and panels that talked about race.
Otakon usual has a lot of photoshoots, a good chunk being unofficial, but due to additional space there were TONS of shoots this year and that was exciting! Granted, a lot were scheduled around the same time and they weren’t in similar areas, but it was still nice to know a lot of shoots that might’ve been unofficial were on the official Otakon schedule.
As far as the Dealer’s Room and Artist Alley goes, per usual Otakon kept them separate. As I said before, the Dealer’s Room had organized all the vendors and those from the industry in a way that no one was encroaching on someone’s space. There was definitely a lot more space so no one was bumping into each other while trying to look at someone’s merch which was great. The industry folks didn’t blend in with the vendors so they were able to really showcase their products and have cosplay models. In the Dealer’s Room, there are a few food stations and a food court with seating; think of a food court in a mall. The convention center as a whole has plenty of places to get food and a pretty decent variety.
Day 3 (Sunday): After-Rave hangover and last minute shopping
I’ll start off by saying that the rave this year was great! It was great because the space they chose had a lot more air vents so it wasn’t has hot as it was at BCC. If you went to the raves at BCC, you know it was fun but a mess! Remember when the condensation from the ceiling would drip onto people? If you don’t, you never stayed long enough. Anyway, for reference, the rave was in part of the space AwesomeCon used for their registration and badge pick-up. The music was a fun mix of EDM, house, and local DC music and DJs!
After struggle busing my way out of bed, I went to con to get in some last minute shopping. I went back to the Dealer’s room, but I mainly wanted to go to Artist Alley. All weekend, I didn’t visit Artist Alley until Sunday. I was going to stop by Saturday night, but there was a leak in Artist Alley. In an official Otakon press release, they said:
“At 8PM a torrential rainstorm took place. I personally witnessed it come down. Sometime between then and 8:05 water started coming in from the ceiling of Artist Alley. We have confirmed with the convention center management that this was due to a back-up of water from the roof drainage system. To be clear, the water was rain run-off, NOT sewage, or a gas leak, or any other thing that has been passed around.”
Just like with the Dealer’s Room, Artist Alley had a lot of space to move around and look! It felt great to be able to look at booths and art without feeling like you’re stepping on someone or getting crowded by someone. Some of my favorite artists who I was looking for were not there, I assume they either couldn’t make it to DC or afford the increase in booth prices; either way, there were a lot of talented artists as usual and I didn’t leave empty handed. There seemed to be a theme of foiled/metallic or holographic art and I LOVED it!
Despite some learning curves and hiccups such as bag check and things, Otakon in D.C. was great! There were a lot of panels to go to, the Dealer’s Room and Artist Alley were nicely packed with great vendors and artists, and the venue was a great choice! The Walter E. Convention Center is a nicely designed and modern venue that made getting around easy to some degree. I loved the digital boards, all the clearly visible signs, and maps that were displayed to help congoers find where they needed or wanted to be. I’ll admit it is a tricky building to navigate around and I did hear some people in the halls complain, but it’s just like any venue; there is a needed learning curve not just for Otakon but for us as congoers too. When I first went to Otakon in Baltimore, I didn’t know how to maneuver my way around unless I had my friends with me because they were used to the space and knew the turns and shortcuts. Same with Walter E., it’s going to take some time to get used to it.
I’m not sure of the attendance count for this year, Otakon Press said that it will be released next weekend, but whatever the number there was more than enough space for everyone to be comfortable and not shoulder to shoulder. At BCC, attendance floated between 29-31k and the center was definitely a tight fit for all those congoers. No matter where you were going, there was also shoulder to shoulder human traffic UNLESS you were going to the rave or a late night panel. As a cosplayer, I never felt comfortable doing a huge and elaborate ballroom dress or huge weapon because I KNEW FOR A FACT someone would hit me and there goes my hard work. The hallways a bigger so foot traffic wasn’t horrible unless someone stopped someone for a picture; which they had rules for on that so there. ALSO…there were gender neutral bathrooms. That was a pleasant sight to see. I’m not sure if there were quiet rooms or breastfeeding rooms, but if not those would also be nice to have as well.
Price of Otakon, yes, it was steep, and I can see why it was to some degree. We essentially got 2 venues, the Center and the Marriott Marquis, and all the extra amenities that came with each venue, but it would be nice if they offered day passes instead of a solid weekend pass.
Overall, learning curve aside, Otakon in D.C was impressive and I can’t wait to see what they do next year and what they learned from the mini hiccups. The dates for next year are August 10-12, 2018!