By: Peggy Sue Wood | @pswediting
Hi, Everyone! This month has been one of my busiest so far, and part of that is due to my traveling from Southern California to Oregon for fun and academic/professional purposes.
I’ve split this into two reviews, the first being strictly for attending the convention and the second for paneling. I did this because I felt like both were distinctive experiences in their own way and kind of long, so please bear with me.
First things first, it is hard to beat a $80 weekend price tag for a convention of this size. Going from Day 1-3, then it totals at about $27 a day for entry. Though if you are looking at just a 1-Day ticket, the price is closer to about $50 (depending on the day), but even that feels well priced given how much there is to do once you reach the convention. For example, there is a gaming hall, cosplay events, programs/panels, and vendors in addition to multiple places to grab food. I was actually surprised and happy to find that a good amount of space was allocated for attendees to rest and interact, too, though that is expected for most medium-sized conventions like this one.
Overall, I found Kumoricon to be well worth the travel and stay costs. Now, I ended up in a room at the Hyatt Regency, which hosted some rooms for the convention due to knowing people working for Kumoricon, so my experience is different. For example, my room was at a discount because of who I was rooming with, but even talking with other attendees that stayed at close but cheaper hotels seemed to conclusively be content and describe that they felt like it was worth the stay/travel costs.
Portland, at least near the convention center, felt safe to me. Regularly, I found myself walking back and forth between the hotel and convention center at early and late hours with little fear of my surroundings. Admittedly, I used to live in Portland, so my familiarity may have contributed to that feeling, but I saw many other convention goers doing the same, often alone too, so I’m going to assume that my experience was not exactly singular for this one.
I know that there were a few incidents at and around the convention, which are to be expected with any convention of this size. I think the most common were with mask mandates being enforced at the convention and Covid checks that not everyone was ready for despite warnings on the website and email notifications prior. However, for a convention of this size, I was shocked at how safe I felt and how easy it was to navigate the space.
I’ve been to many conventions before and often feel like I criticize the high attendance rates while not highlighting enough how often this plays into more significant problems like uncomfortable, accidental touching or accessibility issues for attendees. Seeing how the inside space was so well-managed for this convention really showed me how much more many smaller conventions close to me in LA County could be doing to remove these issues.
I did hear that the lines outside for Covid checking were long and hazardous because of the cold weather, but I think that this is something they were actively working on and could have addressed better had they had a larger staff. The issue of staffing seemed to be a major component to the convention’s problems and something that people were complaining about regularly.
As a note on this, and in support of my thoughts throughout the convention, the board for the convention at the “Rant & Rave” program hosted at the end of the convention addressed that they had a much smaller staff than usual due to people dropping last minute and other changes, which they felt contributed to some of the issues that happened this year.
I never really encountered the issue, so I can’t speak much more on it–but for future attendees who mostly complained about the lines: I highly recommend coming early in the morning to get in. I often arrived at the doors when they opened up (7:30-8:30 AM) and rarely encountered any line. I also came on Day 0 to get my badge, so it wasn’t that bad of a wait. Waiting to eat even a half hour before or after noon for lunch can also save a lot of time on waiting in lines. I understand that this may not be feasible for some, but for those that can, I recommend that you do to make it easier on yourself.
Unlike many Southern California conventions, programming did not go too late at night, which I appreciate. Most people were out of the building by 9 PM each night, and definitely by midnight, people were gone since panels and events would close (plus security would tell people it was done for the night). The overall environment just felt very safe and comfortable. I appreciated that the convention center was also never too cold or too hot, as it often feels like the AC is on blast when I attend conventions in California.
Registration, as usual, had long lines but did move quickly if you were in general registration. Anyone with a special pass (VIP, ADA, Panelist, etc.) was definitely in a shorter line, but one that barely moved during the whole convention. Likely due to wifi issues, which I will touch on later.
Beyond registration, I can’t say I was ecstatic about many of the panels and programming. I’m not much of a cosplayer or crafter anymore, and it felt like most of the panels played towards those interests, but from what I was seeing, many of the attendees were overall happy with the panel experiences. There were also a lot of options for those kinds of panels, along with anime viewings and previews. I certainly was happy with the few that I attended, but my interests are more academic, so I admit that I really only attended about a handful of the over course of the three days.
The best part of the convention, for me, was the Vendors Hall and Artist Alley. I’ll be honest–I mostly attend conventions for merchandise, education, and friend meet-ups (in that order of priority for me). I rarely go to the game centers, cosplay group meet-ups, or sit-down meals during convention time because I love shopping for my semi-obscure favorites. (Y’all can just ignore me shuffling around convention centers as I seek out a potentially nonexistent official Inga Bear Plush from Un-Go or another Nyanko-sensei from Natsume Yuujinchou to add to my collection.)
The Vendors Hall for this convention was awesome. As a mid-tier, still on the small side, convention, they were able to have Artist Alley in the same space as the Venders, which meant shopping could be done mostly in one space. Everything was nicely spaced out, too, so that there weren’t a lot of accessibility issues (at least not from what I could see).
I would add that though the spacing was nice, I didn’t like the layout. I actually found many of the rows to be confusing because there was no clear signage for where one newly lettered row/column began and where another ended.
The space was in a sort of cubic C of V, meaning they could have better-defined neat rows and columns without trouble. What likely prevented this was the added spaces for people to sit and eat, among a few other oddly placed events (like meet-and-greets/autographing) being in the same room, those kinds of things became impossible, or maybe there was some other behind-the-scenes issue with planning space usage? I am not sure.
I think that, ultimately, a bit more clear separation between these areas (seating for food, autographing, and shopping) would have really benefited the space and benefited attendees. It would have made finding the people I wanted to revisit easier, but this was not a major issue.
One of the things I really enjoyed about the convention is that I felt like many of the vendors were consistently priced. There was not a lot of undercutting or overpricing, in my opinion. Definitely costly; for example, larger/medium-sized plushies were on the $50 to $80+ side, with most of the smaller plushies at $20-$25. Interestingly though, the typical $20 shirt price seemed a bit less (closer to $15), which was nice.
Artist Alley also felt a little pricy, but ultimately worth it and fair. I always like to look comparatively at the official merch costs vs. fan-art costs. The two, in my opinion, should be relatively the same in price at conventions. So, if most of the vendors had $15-$20 tags on things like keychains, Artist Alley creators deserve a matching rate. Of course, for more elaborate or higher quality things, the cost goes up, just like with anything else.
I spent a lot at this convention–way more than I ever thought I would. I found two creators that happened to be selling for my current favorite series (Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint) and basically went back every day to buy the same merchandise again… and again… and then made an online purchase from one of the creators… Ultimately it led me to be a very happy camper with a very sad wallet, but I never crossed my budget, which was nice.
Back to programming for a moment: it would have been good if an announcement or notice on the website/socials/app had gone out that the most accurate place to look for programs and hours is the app rather than the paper handout distributed with registration/picking up your ticket.
I’m sure there was some sort of a notice, but I don’t think that was clearly communicated enough (like, put it on the homepage or something). I say this because I had a discussion with a few attendees who had never downloaded the app and had asked multiple people where events had been moved to since the paper program wasn’t accurate as the day progressed.
The convention center did have wifi, by the way, but it didn’t work throughout the convention. The processing was just too slow for the number of people on it–both the free-to-guests wifi and the wifi that vendors were using to try and process card payments. Even the computers at registration trying to handle badge pick-up/purchasing seemed to have trouble, likely also due to the wifi issues. This is less of a convention criticism and more one toward the convention center as, at this point, there isn’t much of a reason a convention center of that size has problems accommodating the number of visitors there. I have been too much larger and smaller convention spaces with way more people that still had enough wifi for a YouTube video on my phone or a call home (though not necessarily enough for a FaceTime or Netflix movie).
It was a really strange experience for part of the convention because of the dropped signal. I basically entered dead zones throughout the space wherein texts wouldn’t come in or out, not to mention phone calls.
Overall, it was a fantastic convention. Frankly, probably one of the best experiences I’ve had in years. I would much rather attend a smaller or mid-tier convention like this moving forward than attend bigger ones like Anime Expo, if only because it felt more manageable and relaxing as an attendee than anything else.
I like to enjoy conventions, and so often, I feel like I haven’t been able to just soak in the fun of the experience. All of the problems I’ve described here are small (in my opinion) and seem to stem from a need for more volunteers/employees or from the convention space needing to step up a bit more.
With how over-taxed the employees/volunteers seemed, I’m not surprised a few things slipped through. Frankly, I prefer that we miss those small things, like reminders about the app being the priority for schedule checking, if it means that the bigger things, like the app being updated consistently and clearly, get handled in an appropriate and timely manner.
10+/10 Would Recommend!
I plan to attend again next year, and I plan to submit again. This was an incredible experience that reminded me why I love and want to attend conventions in the first place, which I seemed to have somewhat forgotten as conventions have tied into my work/professional interests.
So, thank you for such a great weekend, Kumoricon!