Anime Mid Atlantic 2018 Review – “Same old name, and the game didn’t change”
TL;DR 4.2/10 The experience was nothing like the previous year. The significant drop in attendees, poor layout, and shift in the overall atmosphere was daunting, and almost painful to be a part of. I took 1/4th of the photos that I did last year, Saturday in itself was extremely slow to start, and I truly felt sorry for anyone who paid for a weekend badge expecting Sunday to hold any weight whatsoever.
To make this review a little more interesting, I think I’m going to intersperse most of last year’s pros and pain points, in an effort to showcase the possible differences in my experience. Last year’s review was over 1600 words after trimming the fat; let’s see how this one stacks.
I will begin this with the cons, there were many:
The Hotel: Just like last year, the hotel venue was quite poor indeed. It is not a great site for setting up photo shoots, or cramming in a lot of people. There was STILL signage for renovations going on during the weekend, and even noise complaints from construction that was happening during Friday of the convention. The only set of central elevators was still slow, albeit not shaky (this year), and escalators became stairs again and again, making it cumbersome to travel to the main convention floors, which were the third and fourth levels. Lobby con has arrived here
General Layout/Maps: To piggyback on the first con, the convention layout is also bad. Rather than provide the convention attendees maps with their paper printed schedules, there was exactly one “map” on each level attached to an easel with font even smaller than these words. If you didn’t know where you were going, it was actually embarrassing, because you had to be up close and squint, to even view the locations on those maps. When walking into the hotel on both Thursday and Friday, there was no signage that let me know AMA even existed (But again, signs still up from last year about hotel renovations). I really don’t see how hard it would have been at a bare minimum to at least copy paper maps and hand them to attendees as well, utilizing the large bezels left on the paper schedules to increase the font by a few points. Back to the layout, again, the second floor was basically useless to attendees. The medical department was there, yes, but outside of the bar and the lounge, there was nothing else convention related on the entire floor, which means if you’re going to a panel or an event, you instinctively skip the second floor, and thus end up walking even further, which is a poor move. While it wasn’t as ideal last year either, at least they had con ops, volunteer ops, and a few of the other convention specific rooms on this level. This year is was pretty much the medical wing and lounge
Photo Locations (indoor): 6th floor balcony, 4th floor window, 3rd floor balcony, 3rd floor bridge. Sound familiar? This year in the ‘medical wing’ we discovered a new location, making the 2nd floor worth stopping on, but that’s basically it. Again, if you’re doing group shoots at the actual venue at this con and hoping for good shots of it? Forget it
Food Availability: While my experience eating out in downtown was different this year since storms weren’t ravaging the area, it is still extremely expensive to eat downtown or in the waterside district. They are naturally tourist draws, and as such have higher base prices. I still found myself walking between 15 and 20 minutes (an insider joke for the squad, but more or less still true) up to MacArthur’s third floor food court to get better priced food on more than one occasion
Convention Staff: I didn’t have any particularly bad run ins with staff this year, but what I found from the times that I did interact with them, was that they were extremely disorganized. Even with a walkie-talkie system, there was often only one person that could be called to handle each issue, and my wait times for those issues were often (you guessed it) between 15 and 20 minutes. This made a simple entrance into the dealer’s room very awkward, and it made checking in for my badge rather confusing. Which, it’s safe to mention here, that there was no ‘official’ badge for press outlets this year, which was rather disappointing
The Raves: First off, this is a ‘family friendly’ convention but the raves don’t start until 11pm?!? With the starting time being as late as it was on both nights, it was no secret that they were mostly dead or barebones inside, with a large fraction of those people hanging around rather than dancing. Both nights were truly disappointing, time was much better spent elsewhere
Dealer’s Room: This year’s selection was extremely pitiable, and well over-priced. In comparison to last year, the good figure vendors were nowhere to be seen, and people know how I feel about that. Casting that aside there only tended to be one booth per most vices, aside from apparel, which had four or five vendors present. From the vendors I am close friends with, this was not a great con for selling at all, and the setups for inside the room weren’t close to being idyllic. It was also quite dark inside
Artist’s Alley: Was there even one? I felt that the booths were placed at the end of a large hallway that no one would feel like walking down unless they absolutely had to, and the booths were disorganized as a part of the confusing convention layout. There wasn’t much that caught my eye either. The art show/auction was so small that there wasn’t even a staff member present for the majority of the ten minutes that I spent in there, just to see if I was missing anything. It was cool in that things were completely hand drawn or crafted, but that was mostly it, there was nothing to miss
Sunday: Were you at con? Were you really? Seriously, I spent most of the day watching the Incredibles 2 at MacArthur for extremely cheap instead of actually doing anything at the con. There were no pictures or cosplays to even bother trying to take photos of
The People: Generally, this is always a positive aspect of conventions, but I just wasn’t feeling it this year. Outside of an extremely small select group of people, I didn’t feel the usual welcoming, homely aspect of this smaller convention. I fear the desire to group up and ostracize others outside of the clique is slowly coming to fruition at this con, and to be honest, it just sucks. It doesn’t project the vibe of a place I really want to be, and this has never occurred before
Bookings: Perhaps I didn’t try enough with marketing, or maybe I didn’t spam the groups enough, but I had an extremely low amount of bookings this convention. It was relatively strange because so many people were posting about needing a photographer and having an interest in having good photos taken, but that is not at all what you see posted from most of them. Again, perhaps the fault is truly mine, but this in essence is a huge blow to my desire to return to the con, as it is over 2.5 hours away from where I live
Alcohol Availability: Quite simply put, if you want to play, expect to pay, severely. The bartenders nearby were friendly, the prices of their spirits were not
There were in fact pros to this con as well! They just don’t stack up comparatively to last year at all.
Photos: Last year I went full frame and the difference in image quality was so stunning that I was extremely happy with the photos I took despite the external obstacles like weather that tried to hinder me. This year, that shock factor is gone, but the results are still pleasing, especially for those that had the patience to travel with me to different spots. There were also truly awesome photographers that I shot with that enhanced the experience
Photo Locations (outdoor): Exploring the waterside district and traveling on foot downtown was a good opportunity to take advantage of some really cool architectural elements nearby, and that was a great thing for photo variety. Thankfully, none of the locations were too far to travel on foot, and that made a great experience
Parking Prices: I might be overly used to paying DC/Maryland prices for garages nearby conventions, but even 14 dollars max for a day wasn’t bad in the grand scheme of things. Last year I walked to and from MacArthur and ended up only paying that much for the entire weekend
Nights: Most of the great moments of this convention (and many of the most hilarious quotes) happened when the day was done. I spent tons of this time bonding with people I don’t get to see often, and it made the sting of the much slower paced days hurt less. Eating out with friends was particularly great, and taking time to relax and chill did wonders
Neo Atomic Motor: Still an awesome and really chill Electro/J-rock band. Significantly improved my con when Kouji, the lead vocalist, called me out from pure memory, and we shot the breeze for awhile on the 6th floor balcony, talking about time flying by and the view of the waterside district. There were many moments during the weekend where we ran into each other, and exchanged words of good mirth
So that’s it! In summation, this year at AMA made it clearly apparent the crippling blow that last year’s problems had on future attendance. There were people from even the Norfolk / Hampton Roads area that I know made the trek all the way up to the brand new All Star Comic Con in Tyson’s Corner rather than go to AMA, and that can tell you how much it has changed. The new venue hasn’t brought anything positive in the way of numbers or attendance and last year’s problems were still present. Personally, since I came for photos, I must say that this con did a particularly good job at making me feel unwanted and unwelcome, even without directly having anyone or any group say so. The bookings just aren’t there, and neither is the love anymore. For this reason, I don’t think I’m returning next year 4.2/10
What are your thoughts? Sound off below!!