or, Did You Really Know I Was This Much of a Fucking Nerd? Now You Do.
I recently attended Otakon. If you’re well-adjusted and normal enough to not know what Otakon is, it’s an anime convention that takes place in Baltimore every year in early August. I believe Otakon is the largest such con in America; this year’s attendance cap stood at 30,000. 30,000 people, many of them in ridiculous costumes, milling around the Baltimore Convention Center like cattle to attend workshops and showings of anime series and fighting game tournaments.
I went to the con with a group of friends who all more or less share my severely nerdy interests. Mine tend heavily towards video games – I don’t really know a whole lot about most anime stuff, but I’m a massive fan of some game series and was looking for a few specific items at Otakon’s game dealer booths. My primary purpose in attending Otakon was to spend time with my other nerd friends, though, and that was definitely accomplished. We hit some of the bars at Baltimore’s harbor pretty hard last weekend and mostly hung out, and as a consequence, I didn’t spend much time at the actual con. I did spend some time there, though – much of it in line.
The true ordeal began late Thursday, after we arrived at the Baltimore Convention Center to get our passes from the pre-registration line. The convention center is massive, taking up the entirety of a large block near Baltimore’s harbor district on the corner of East Pratt and Charles Streets. By 7:00 PM, the line already looped several times, snake-like, outside of the front of the center, proceeding then around the whole of the building and wrapping back, where it finally entered through a side door into the center itself. Inside, we could see that the line continued, although to what extent we had no idea.
This is the part where I complain about the sheer incompetence of the con’s staff. Fan convention staffs aren’t generally known for their planning skills, but Otakon was bad even by those standards. We waited in line for nearly four hours, inching towards the doors, only to be told by around 10:30 that in ten minutes the doors would be closed for the night. Behind us, thousands more nerds and misfits were waiting. None of us would get in that night. As it happened, the staff had had severe internet connection problems early that evening and throughout the night that created delays in the processing of entrants – yet they still allowed the line to grow until the very last minute, knowing for hours, as they must have known, that everyone past a certain point wouldn’t be processed that night. We were finally sent home by a couple of staff members who didn’t seem all that apologetic about the screwup; in fact, they seemed to blame us for being stupid enough to think we’d get in that night. So we returned the next morning, spent another three hours in line and finally got our badges.
So was it worth it? Yes, absolutely. Everyone loved Linecon 2014. We stood in the heat and humidity and played our 3DSes, talked to strangers, exchanged Streetpass info and complained about the line. One man (above) quickly made a costume that perfectly summed up the experience (complete with ice-cold DLC – a reference to the now-famous Ice Cold Water Man who sells bottled water to line-standers at Otakon and other Baltimore events.) We got to hear his song about selling ice-cold water and buy water from him. And, of course, there was the con itself once we all got in on Friday, which featured even more lines: lines to the dealers’ room, where I bought my video game nonsense; lines to the artists’ room, where I didn’t buy anything but saw a lot of art being sold; lines to the game room, where I had my ass handed to me in fighting games because I’m not good at them; lines to workshops and showings and other things that none of us attended because they all looked pretty dull. The main attraction of a con is seeing people in costume, and there were a few good ones, but all in all, it was a disappointment – not really very much obscure stuff, which is what I like to look out for. I might have missed them.
Also, you know, all the scantily-clad girls there. That’s another good reason to attend the con, or any con, for that matter.
To be completely honest, I can’t recommend that you attend a fan convention unless you’re spending the time with friends that share your interests or you plan on meeting people there. Otherwise, it would be a massive pain and entirely pointless in any case – most of the stuff in the dealers’ and artists’ rooms can also be found online. The whole point is to spend a weekend in a place where it’s socially acceptable for adults to play dressup and pretend to be their favorite fictional characters, where you can talk to people face-to-face who share your interests. It’s a true escape from the real world, and we all need that sometimes. So despite all the logistical screwups, I did enjoy Otakon, and I might go back – but only if my friends are also planning on it. And only while I’m still young enough not to feel like a creep going there and not having the excuse of having a kid who’s attending.