Convention Fans @ Zenkaikon 2009: Convention Report
This past Saturday, Convention Fans ventured out to King of Prussia, PA to attend Zenkaikon 2009. While we did have fun and got to hang out with some cool people, the convention was experiencing some severe overcrowding issues. I don’t think anyone expected that the turnout would be as big as it was, nor do I think the staff anticipated just how insufficient the hotel space would be. Below is a breakdown of the highlights, along with some suggestions for improvement. And course, there are plenty of cosplay photos to go along with this report.
- The hotel has plenty of free parking. One of the first things attendees and vendors deal with is the parking situation, and it really helps when there is ample free parking close to the facility.
- I cannot say enough about the performance by cosplay/J-Pop singer Reni Mimura. Not to be cliché, but if you looked “cute” up in the dictionary, her picture should be there. I’m not sure if it was the bunny ears, her smile, or her barely understandable “Engrish,” but I completely fell in love with her. Seriously, “cute” is the only suitable word to describe her. If you don’t believe me, just check out this YouTube video of her from another recent performance.
- There were so many great cosplayers. Cosplay was a real focus at Zenkaikon, and we saw fans of all ages participating. There were children as young as five and six years old wearing costumes. Additionally, the Zenkaikon staff running the cosplay events were helpful, friendly, and organized. We actually got to sit in on the individual cosplay craftsmanship contest judging (with the contestants’ permission), and we learned a lot about the process. Thanks again to the convention’s cosplay staff!
- The convention never had a dull moment. Whether it was open gaming, contests, panels, tournaments, or good old fashioned panel discussions, Zenkaikon had plenty of activities going on. From start to finish on Saturday, attendees were engaged and participationg in what the con had to offer.
- The pre-convention communication was excellent. The website was always being updated to reflect new and important information. The PR staff did a great job of keeping the press in the loop. Staff members responded quickly to the SEPTA strike with a travel contingency plan. When it came to dealing with pre-registration, staff kept the website updated with a running tally of leftover tickets, and then used Twitter to update during the convention.
- The Radisson Valley Forge Hotel was not a good choice for the location. While I understand that it was larger than last year, it was no where near large enough to accommodate the 1500 people at the convention on Saturday. Not only that, but the layout of the hotel resulted in a frustrating traffic jam at the main stairway, where people were going in and out and trying to pick up pre-registration. The ballroom wasn’t big enough for the main events, and the smaller rooms weren’t big enough either. The dining area that was set up could barely fit more than 35-45 people. Moving around felt impossible. There were queue lines everywhere, and no real place for them to go.
- Pre-registration pick up and day-of ticket purchases moved painfully slow. The Convention Fans team arrived at 9 a.m., and the line wrapped throughout the bottom floor of the hotel, up the stairs, and then around the hotel outside. It was like something you’d see at a large con like Otakon or Dragon*con. It was just unreal. We talked to a group who drove from New York (5+ hours) who arrived at 9 a.m., and then waited in line for two hours before being told Saturday had sold out. They were allowed to stay in line to buy Sunday passes, and that took another two hours. This was not an isolated incident. We talked to a lot of attendees who spent numerous hours in line, both pre-registered attendees and day-of purchasers. There were lots of very unhappy people, who spent a quarter of their day in line.
- The mean age of attendees was somewhere around 15 or 16 years old. Now, I’m sure we’ll catch some flack for listing this as a negative, but some of these children were loud, obnoxious, and sometimes rude. Also, I’ve never seen such a mess left behind by attendees at a convention. There were plenty of trash cans, so there’s really no excuse for it. Add to the mess the yelling, screaming, running, random hugging of strangers, shrieking, and chaos, and you can see why this was a “negative” aspect of the convention.
Despite some of the problems the convention experienced, it did look like most people were having fun once they got their registration taken care of. I saw a lot of smiles, and plenty of laughter. However, not everyone was happy. I watched quite a few people leave in disgust over the line situation at the start of the con.
We did enjoy ourselves, but that was mostly because of the “magic” press badge, which allowed us VIP access to the convention. We didn’t have to wait in the same queue lines as attendees, and that made our experience drastically different than that of the average con-goer. My partner, Richard, and I both agreed that if we had paid to attend the convention as a regular attendee, we’d be pretty darn mad at the overcrowding situation. But, we didn’t, and so we had a pretty good time.
We really enjoyed the performance by Reni Mimura, and the Create Your Own RPG in an Hour panel with David Hill of Machine Age Productions. If asked back for 2010, we’d definitely want to return.
And one final thing I’d like to note: Zenkaikon has already said they have plans to move to a larger location next year. They were also quick to apologize for the problems with pre-registration pick up and day-of ticket sales. An apology doesn’t change what happened, but I must give kudos to the staff for recognizing that there was a problem, and that they want to correct it for the future. So many conventions never learn from their mistakes, and I am confident that Zenkaikon 2010 will show lots of improvement.