Otakon 2017 Review -- Bigger and Better in DC?

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Otakon 2017 Review -- Bigger and Better in DC?

Postby ClosetOtaku » Sun Aug 13, 2017 5:06 pm

In 2014, Otakon announced it was moving from Baltimore to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC in 2017. The news disappointed a number of attendees, some of whom vowed never to return (unless of course the convention came back to Baltimore). In my mind, the move was both justified and timely; the Baltimore facility is in desperate need of renovation, and Baltimore city is not nearly as welcoming as it has been in past years. (I've been attending Otakon since 2004, and other conventions in Baltimore since the mid-80s).

So, how did DC work out for Otakon?

On the plus side, the Convention Center is much more spacious and generally better laid out than the BCC. It handled what I am estimating to be about 20,000 attendees fairly well. The best evidence I can cite is that I never had to wait in any substantial line to get into either the Dealer's Room or the Artists' Alley (although I am aware that, at one point on Saturday, there were problems with the Artist Alley access after the Dealer's Room closed; I am not certain what the nature of those problems were), and I never felt cramped either walking through the venue or waiting to get into a panel or workshop.

About a third of the convention activities (my guess, I may be off on this) took place in the Marriott, which (like the BCC and the Hilton) could be accessed via tunnel or outside by crossing a street. This was a nice setup, but...

Okay, the first drawback: bag checks. The DC Convention Center has a policy concerning back checks and, despite being forewarned, the first day turned out to be a disaster for some attendees. I decided to come to the convention without a bag, and was able to cruise through the security checkpoints without delay, but I was the exception to the rule.

Now, that also produced a secondary effect: an initial reluctance to leave the DC Convention Center once you were in there. Aside from the fact that the Marriott was outside the security perimeter and so you had to re-submit to a bag check going back into the Center, you were also held a little bit hostage when it came to food. Otakon tried to remedy this to some degree with a number of food venues, more than the BCC has ever had back in the day, with more variety and a lot of thematic (read Japanese) cuisine.

I found the food vastly overpriced, and the quality ranged from mediocre to ghastly. The good news was/is there are a number of places to eat outside of the Convention Center, many within a reasonable walk; the bad news is (a) security checks and (b) tropical downpours dissuaded attempts on my part and the part of others. But that is a lesson to be learned.

I enjoyed quite a few panels this year, and thought the Dealer's Room and Artist Alley were well-organized and easy to maneuver in. However, I noted an exceptional number of cancellations and what I perceived was a schedule not quite tightly as packed in years past. I do not know the rationale behind this. None of the panels that I wanted to attend were cancelled, I was able to get into all of them, and line control (which has always been my biggest gripe at Otakon) was surprisingly better than in the past. It may have been because of fewer attendees, less crowding, less interest, etc.

I don't do the concerts, the dance/rave, or a lot of the ceremonies, so I can't comment on those. This was the first year that I did not even go into the Video Gaming room (simply because I packed my schedule with other stuff). I did see the AMVs -- the crop was weaker than in previous years, and the sound in the Marriott Marquis room was very poor (compared to Video 1 at BCC).

I quite enjoyed the subtitled version of "In this Corner of the World", and think it is a slightly less depressing tale than "Grave of the Fireflies", although both have certain commonalities. I was happy that Otakon not only was able to show the film, but also brought in Maruyama (the producer) and Matubara (the animation director) to introduce the film and host a Q&A session afterwards.

A note on logistics: I rode the Metro on Friday and drove to DC both Saturday and Sunday. The Metro drops you off at the doorstep to the Convention Center (although you do have to walk around the building to get to the only open street entrance). I parked in two different garages within about a three-minute walk from Otakon at rates comparable to Baltimore.

Overall Impression

The Otakon staff has a lot of work to do to improve the shortfalls of Otakon in DC -- but I would say, on the whole, the facilities are much better; the panels that I attended were well-run, on time, and did not suffer from the excess of confusion and line-jumping I've experienced in the past; the tenor of the attendees was pretty good (though perhaps subdued). Since the DC venue is much closer to my home, my travel time was cut down substantially, and I was able to attend Sunday (something I didn't always do in Baltimore). Overall, my experience was positive, with some caveats, and I think the move to DC will pay off with larger crowds in the future.
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Re: Otakon 2017 Review -- Bigger and Better in DC?

Postby ClosetOtaku » Tue Aug 29, 2017 10:11 am

Official attendance figure for Otakon 2017 was just announced: 24,894. This is the lowest attendance since 2007, and a 15% drop from last year; it remains to be seen if some of the attendees from the Baltimore era will return.
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