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Blerdcon 2021 Review

Blerdcon 2021 "The First Con on Your Calendar" Review

TL;DR: 7/10 After a year away due to the pandemic, and a little under six months to plan, Blerdcon is back, bringing with it an aura that is unapologetically Black, and it does what it does best in that space, battling it out tooth and nail with the repercussions of the pandemic to craft an epic convention experience of its own. So how was the “first con back on your calendar”? Read on to find out. In its fourth iteration, Blerdcon has received feedback from previous years in order to buffer its message of inclusiveness and fellowship amongst underrepresented populace in the nerd and cosplay communities. This however, does not absolve the con from some of the negatives that still seem to affect the con year over year. Here are some that I experienced through the weekend: • Panel spacing / Seating availability: A big disappointment for the weekend came in the form of panels having standing room only, or no space at all to hold more members, even after the rooms were supposedly widened to support fewer panels being offered overall, covid protocol, and social distancing. Popular events like the cosplay contest and comedy shows were set in smaller rooms which filled even ten minutes before their start, resulting in me missing at least two panels that I wanted to visit during the weekend. To be clear, while it is amazing to have a packed room as a panelist, as an attendee, missing out on a panel or performance, or show even when arriving early to said event, is very disheartening

Water stations: Something that hasn’t changed over the years is the availability of public water stations, especially on the lobby level of the convention. For the temperatures that crested 85 degrees most of the weekend, it’s tough to realize that you would potentially have to walk all the way to the main convention space for a quick drink of water. This may not be an issue for some, but for cosplayers toughing it out in the already hot temperatures, it’s a different story

Registration: Unfortunately, unlike previous years, I can’t praise the registration process for being quick and efficient. This year was a 45 minute wait for a badge during non-peak hours, in cramped and close quarters. Part of the line included going down an escalator, and then clogging up a hallway meant for elevators for disability access. While I understand that the vaccination record requirement would increase the wait time, line management, and the overall placement of registration in generally needs to be reconsidered in the future

Prop Check: A step backwards, this year it was back to extremely long zip ties for the majority of the weekend. Yes, they could be cut to a more manageable length, but I much prefer the colored gaffers tape they used in years past, both for easy visibility, and for keeping the prop itself undamaged while still being comfortable to hold

Wristbands?!: In addition to the badge for the event, you also had to show a wristband that was a one time “lose or remove it and too bad” situation, which didn’t make much sense to me. Especially since the badge to this con came in the form of a face mask, I wasn’t sure what the purpose of it was? The wristband was also uncomfortable for cosplay, and as far as I know, provided no additional benefit or functionality

The Hotel Music “Sounds”: This is an interesting one that I’ve never put on a review before, but I was on the 15th floor of the Hyatt and I could still hear the music being played on levels beneath the lobby at all hours of the night. As an attendee with an abnormal sleep schedule, this is fine and dandy, but it is definitely something to note if trying to turn in early for the night, or if rooming on one of the lower floors. This also caused inconveniences with some of the rhythm based gaming offered by Magfest, forcing them to place Rock Band in the absolute corner of the hotel, just for it to be audible enough to enjoy

Photo locations: This too remains unchanged from years past, and is more a product of Blerdcon’s location, rather than a factor that can immediately be adjusted. However, as a photographer, I must say that the available locations to shoot this year with good lighting were even less than in the past. With the outdoor setup of the cars, food trucks, and stage, not only were there not many places to conduct private shoots, but even meeting up for group shoots became somewhat of a disaster, especially with it raining on Saturday of the convention

Merch hall: The array of booths and artists was somewhat unsatisfying this year. I know that COVID restrictions had their hand in it, but it was an entirely new ballgame walking through the dealer’s area, expecting figures and snacks and games, and finding a shortage of all three

No Virtual Access: It was a bit disappointing that given the seating arrangements and the swiftness in which the smaller panel spaces filled, that there was no virtual access available or streamed for general attendees, even for the more popular events hosted in the main ballroom. During one of my favorite Blerdcons in the past, I was able to sit in my room within the Hyatt with friends, eating food and watching the comedy show on my laptop even though the room had been filled, and I did feel unconsidered for that option this year. I later heard rumors that this access was reserved for VIP members (though I could be corrected on that information), and if so, it is a bit depressing that other measures were not taken due to the limited programming schedule overall

Schedule release: Imagine trying to plan cosplays, photo shoots, and mealtimes for a convention when there’s no schedule available for it until scarcely a week until the actual event occurs. I don’t know of any cons who wait to make their schedule available that close to the event, without giving attendees proper times to plan, especially since cosplay and photography as well are big pieces of what make anime conventions anime conventions

“The Raves”: While not necessarily a downside, I was surprised that the mixes offered for the glow party and pre-dawn were far less a fusion of anime, house, and hip hop; and almost exclusively rap music. The reason I bring it up, is because among other things, the raves/parties at Blerdcon are much different than anywhere else, so if you were expecting to jam out to your favorite techno tunes, or if you weren’t expecting a surprise twerking contest to come out of nowhere, these things are commonplace at Blerdcon, for better or for worse With all that being said, the con also addressed some things that were missing in years past, and I would be remiss not to mention those along with all of the pros of the con from my personal experience. Check it out: • A/C Issues: While not perfect, I can say that the Hyatt’s internal hotel temperature and ventilation was in fact much improved over 2019. Even though I still kept my room thermostat on the lowest possible setting all weekend long to combat the heat, the air conditioning in the convention areas was comparable to the surrounding hotels, especially given the thousands of occupants it had. It was a very welcome upgrade

Cell Reception: In previous reviews, I had to mention that cell service on the main convention floor was absolutely horrible, but I noticed a significant improvement there this year. Yes, going into rooms on the basement level effectively wiped out most cellular signals, but this year that outage did not extend across the entire level of the building, so that at least in the common basement areas, it was possible to make calls and to reach out to friends

Parking: Use Spot Hero. Seriously, use it. I spent less than the price of one night of valet parking for the Hyatt to park all weekend long, and I was literally a minute walk away from the convention. There are plenty of nearby garages to use, just plan accordingly to save lots of money

COVID Precautions: I was extremely impressed with the precautions set in place by the convention to be COVID safe, and the realistic efforts they made to enforce them. The presence of sanitation stations (that were not empty) were everywhere, there were people placed to lightly remind (and enforce) wearing a mask in the convention areas at all times, and signs to remind people to socially distance where possible, along with the vaccination mandate that was imposed and strictly followed by the convention. I’m not saying things were in an idealistic world for every single COVID restriction and rule set in place here, but I am saying that for a convention that highlighted the importance of things like the mask and vaccination mandate for indoor convention spaces, that this was the way to do it

Dat Badge / B.B.E: Blerdcon is no stranger to having some of the best badge designs out there. They’re so good that I gave it the BBE moniker, which stands for “Big Badge Energy” if you didn’t know. This year it was a mask, which in and of itself, is a really cool idea for being one of the first conventions to come back after the brunt of the pandemic. However, Blerdcon took it one step further, and even made part of the badge glow in the dark, which along with adjustable sides and room for additional filtration, made it less of a hassle to wear than expected. It also synergized extremely well with the advertised glow party, accessible for free to attendees on Friday night. One of the greatest things that I will continue to write about Blerdcon is that when wearing your attendee badge, or even having it with you, there is a tangible feeling of belonging that extends into feeling safe and supported during the convention that’s so much greater than you feel at other cons. You don’t just feel like someone who paid to attend an event, you truly feel like part of it, and a contributor to the cultural significance of why a convention like this is so extremely important. You feel compelled to talk to and meet new people, to show love and respect for other cosplayers and guests, and to simply be yourself

Card Games and Tabletop: This was a really nice convention to chill in the tabletop area with other DnD players and card gamers (shoutouts to the Yugioh! crew) and feel very comfortable. The tables were well spaced, and a variety of games for all ages were taking place throughout the weekend. I was really happy to be a part of that this year

Alcohol / Party Availability: Plenty of fun to go around this year as well. From what I saw in the dances, things seemed to be much more controlled when it came to open drinking, and that made things safer for everyone. If you were in certain convention groups, then you know that the party life at Blerdcon is exceptional, and the hotel bar is also good for a quick drink stop if you didn’t bring anything yourself

Family Friendly: Blerdcon isn’t just a safe space for adults and teens, but it’s a great place to get your kids involved in the community as well! With informative panels, a great selection of food, and plenty of games to play, Blerdcon provides an excellent space that you don’t have to be afraid to bring the kids to

So Fresh and So Clean: Have you ever heard people in droves praising an event for lack of B.O. and general convention stank? Have you heard those same things with a con that also had 85+ degree temperatures for the whole weekend? Well you’ve found the mecca. Outside of the parties (which, let’s be real, having hundreds of people in a crowd is bound to produce some smells) and full elevators, I didn’t have any problems with excessive body odor the whole weekend. Big win

Support: In the way of dealer’s room/merchant’s hall and artist’s alley, I was very pleased to see tons of support and diversity with small, but also local businesses. Writers were well represented in addition to independent artists, clothing and prop vendors, print sellers, and music representatives. This is not even mentioning the epic in house barbershop or the food truck rally, neither of which I ever saw unoccupied. These efforts extended out into the HBCU community as well, bringing dozens of attendees from places like Howard University and Bowie State University to the convention as well. I think it’s awesome that this con showcases such a great level of support to local small businesses and wish that more conventions would follow Blerdcon’s example with community outreach and representation

The Food Truck Rally: Combining delicious meals with local business support and excellent music brought with the help of Quirkchat, Blerdcon has some of the best food options within an arm's reach of the convention hotel. Even when waiting in line, the music artists who took the outside stage provided entertainment, and there were sweet options available outdoors not only to beat the heat, but for vegans and vegetarians as well. With options expanded from previous years, and proper preparation (no unexpected closures due to surprise supply shortages, amen!), it’s impossible to attend Blerdcon without eating well, and feeling even better that you’re supporting local businesses in addition

The Atmosphere: Aside from two major events (which I won’t go into detail for the purposes of this review), both before and after the con, its online presence in con groups felt full of positivity and support, and that radiated through the entire building during the convention weekend. We all know of the exceptionally large divide than can exist between newcomers and professionals when it comes to elitism in cosplay, especially at the east coast giant events like Katsucon and Otakon, yet, one thing I can say separates Blerdcon, is that this rift, which is most often an issue of perception rather than actual animosity, does not exist at this event. People are welcoming, accepting and open, whether they’re an award winning masters-level cosplayer, or if they’ve just put together their first cosplay. No matter your age, sex, race or nationality, there were smiles throughout, and it was an easy place to make new friends as well. People don’t treat you strangely for having a differing skillset when it comes to cosplay, whether you spent 5 hours or 500 on your final piece. Because of that, it is much easier to feel involved in the community, and not stuck behind a wall of fear when it comes to approaching, or feeling accepted by those who have been in the cosplay community longer than you, and I think that’s important for attendees to recognize In the end, Blerdcon sits at a strange position this year, most notably crippled by COVID in the matters of attendance, vendors, programming, and overall participation, yet what it brings to the table is an experience that still remains unlike any other in the convention spaces that I’ve been to. The con does not apologize for being an open, safe space for people of color, and for others as well that are underrepresented in both the cosplay and nerd communities. It is a con that supports local businesses, shows love to the POC community both far and wide, and sticks to its guns when weaving a cultural experience into a convention that is easily capable of being loved by all. As a cosplayer, photographer, and general attendee, some of the drawbacks are hard to ignore, most notably the lack of photo shoot locations, panel spaces and the reduced number and variety of vendors, however, I think next year will be a more complete representation of what Blerdcon truly has to offer. It is clear that they continue to make their confident steps forward as they grow through any adversities that arise and they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. So if you’re looking for a con to kick back, enjoy some excellent food, and have a jumpin’ party after the itis is done with you, then Blerdcon is still the place to be, and you will certainly be welcomed. 7/10

Thoughts? Sound off in the comments below and let me know what you think!!

#DarkfoxPhotography #blerdcon2021 #blerdcon #convention #music #gaming #awesome #adventure #fun #review

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