Friday, January 13, 2017

CONVENTION: AMA Cosplay Fest ~ Ringing in 2017 with the Family

I wasn't sure about a con on New Year's Eve. I mean, my NYE tradition consists of watching the 1996 Doctor Who movie and getting blitzed on Scotch and Fanta. But I'm willing to trade out when a con I enjoy working with asks.

Anime Mid-Atlantic has been running in the Hampton Roads area since 2001, and I've been at least attending since it first began -- and staffing in some capacity for most of that. It's grown steadily over the years, to the point that it's actually switching venues for 2017, and organizer Ed Fortner has a great deal of experience in a variety of entertainment industries. (You'll hear his voice around Azeroth if you're a WoW player like me, for example.)

His decision to do a winter convention devoted specifically to cosplay rather than just anime was fascinating to me. Multi-genre cons are hit-or-miss anymore with the state of the con industry (generally you have to actually be a company for it to fly anymore), but with his intent being for it to be more of a friendly party atmosphere than the hustle and bustle of a typical convention weekend, I was game. Besides, they wanted karaoke again, and I'm always up for hosting karaoke.

Karaoke was more a party room than a competition, which was fun.
People tend to be very staunch on whether 'other cosplay' is okay at an anime con. I was once, too. I was a kid. We all were. And I'd get very stinky, as young fans do, about 'the wrong kind of cosplay' getting in the mix. But I'm 35 and over myself now, and I parade Doctor Who costumes around anime cons (and vice-versa) with no concern. That said, I do believe there can be a tendency to want to err on the side of theme -- so having a con that was unabashedly cosplay, with no specific outslines, meant we got to see a lot of everything: anime, US TV, UK TV, cartoons from around the world... even my beloved FNaF.

I NEED to know where to get that plush Freddy tho.
One of the big responses I heard from people opting not to go was that it was on a holiday, and it was unwise to plan a con on a holiday. Which I would normally agree with... except that Cosplay Fest was also a New Year's Eve party. And as much as I enjoyed seeing costumes, running panels, singing with new friends, and hassling old friends, that midnight countdown was honestly some of the most fun I've ever had.

DJ AARock rolling in 2017.

It was a cleverly done setup: main programming became the party room (the party replaced -- or rather 'was' -- the Saturday night dance). The screens ran the actual ball-drop. A mini-concert featuring the guests was held beforehand, as well as a raffle for a variety of awesome prizes. And then it was just... dance brother dance.

(The reason I'm not putting up a lot of photos of that is because I took mostly video... and that video is going into a nice big reel on Sunday. So subscribe to my YouTube channel to see it when it drops... or become a donor on Patreon to get the video a day early!)

Did I miss my usual tradition? Sure. But there was something very heartwarming about ringing in 2017 with my other family -- my con family -- that I've known for more than half my life. Being there with my fellow staffers, with Yunmao Ayakawa (whom I only ever get to see when she's a guest at a local con), with people I've never met but who are of a like mind. Hopefully it's not too visible on anyone's videos, but I was actually tearing up when we hit midnight and I was there in a room full of people that didn't feel forced or awkward.

As for my panels, I got to do a variety of topics -- Doctor Who, anime, publishing. The free-form nature of the subject matter meant that I got to cover a lot of things I enjoy.

Sadly, it's not clear yet whether Cosplay Fest is sustainable. It suffers from the same issue a lot of new events find themselves dealing with: people deciding to 'wait and see,' to hear from friends, and to try going Year 2. What a lot of congoers don't understand is that without that initial support from the curious and on-the-fence, even if just in the form of a day pass, a Year 2 might not be waiting for them at the other side.

It's understandable that a demographic with a limited budget and fairly rigid work/school hours can't just throw in on every con that takes their fancy. I was that person for a very long time. I undersand that.

However, the big cons, the long-standing cons, the fifteenth- and twentieth-year events, the corporate-backed events... they'll be there next year. That's pretty much a given. When you see a little first-year event (albeit in this case an offshoot of a 16-year event) setting out and it catches your eye, consider cashing in on that one instead. Your support and the support of your friends may be what pushes it over the top from a one-time party into an annual do. And if it doesn't, at least you won't have missed it.

I'll be sad if Cosplay Fest can't come back. Understanding, but sad. If a second year isn't feasible, it can be detrimental to the organizers to force it. But if nothing else, I have amazing memories that aren't going anywhere.

The main Anime Mid-Atlantic event will be taking place June 16-18 at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott. Registration is $45 until March 1.