Otakon 2018 Review
TL;DR 8.9/10 To be honest this year, despite some minor hiccups that involved my personal situation, it was hard to find fault at all with Otakon. There were some improvements that could have been offered in the way of efficiency, but most of the con operations were extremely smooth. I’m thinking this will be a rather short review based on my experience at this new venue, so let’s see if I can convince you to check out this amazing, large, east coast convention!!
I’ll begin with the limited amount of cons that I experienced. There honestly weren’t too many, and different people had different levels of frustration with most of these.
Volume of Convention Staff: I would always see convention staff running from place to place throughout the convention weekend in the main building, but at the end of the day (bar registration) there never seemed to be enough volunteers to work bag/weapons check, manage growing lines, or to police the different entrances to the convention. At times, some escalators were watched over, at others, there was a complete absence of personnel. I am happy to report that the major convention specific areas (Artists, Dealers, Game/Panel rooms) were policed well the whole weekend, preventing most attempts at ‘ghosting’ at this convention
Parking Prices: Often times on average, if you weren’t paying valet prices and you were within two blocks of the convention center, then you were paying 25 dollars a night for parking, which adds up extremely fast. You also had to be careful about overnight parking (at metro stops and garages) because certain places have closing hours and charge an extremely hefty charge should you need to retrieve your vehicle after them. Apps like Spothero really became lifesavers at this convention, but the high prices for parking still stuck
Security Bag Check: I could be nitpicking, but despite the volume of people who had bags to be checked over the weekend, in my experience bag check went much too quickly. There were times where I was cleared before even opening my bag that made me feel pretty skeptical about the whole process. There was another instance in which there was a bag check station spontaneously implemented at the end of the underground walkway from the Marriott, which caused a humongous traffic jam. There were two people at one table checking bags at the end of the tunnel in the convention center, and while they were actually doing their job appropriately, this caused a very large backup of people
Price: Otakon’s growth has been in an inconsistent trend these past few years with the venue change, but it still remains one of the most expensive cons/weekend on the east coast. Two days will cost you as much as a full weekend at most other conventions, and they just implemented the trial badge option this year. You kind of have to go all in or miss out when it comes to this con
Registration (Process): While staffing was adequate for registration (there were 17 available lines when I went on Friday), and the lines seemed to move remarkably well, getting the actual badge was a small hassle. Despite already being registered as a member of Otakorp (which is essentially what happens any time you buy a badge for the convention and aren’t already a member), they still had to see my license in addition to taking down emergency contacts, and getting my phone number and email address. Again, this wouldn’t have been such a hassle if all of this information wasn’t already listed in my Otakorp profile already available through their website. They didn’t have any way to expedite the process or to pull from that information. It was a bit frustrating
That’s it, now for the positives!!
New Venue: I was skeptical about it at first, but the Walter E. Washington Convention Center was a great choice for Otakon to move into! The expansive space provided much more open walking space than the old Baltimore center had, and that’s simply amazing. There were no less spots to take photos, and having the Marriott connected was just a great benefit for those that were staying there
Dealer’s Room/Artist’s Alley: I combined the two of these because they both floored me the second I entered them. The expansive size of the selling spaces is something I’ve always appreciated about Otakon, and it really feels like they bring the best of the best to showcase in both. Quality and quantity. For the dealer’s room, the Fallout and DBZ pavilions were mind-blowing, and there was an array of flashy colors and merchandise as far as the eye could literally see. This was truly a convention in which you would have to hold tight to your wallet because it would be exceptionally easy for anyone to come out of either of these rooms a hundred dollars lighter, no question
Saturday’s Rave: Regrettably, I wasn’t able to make it to Friday’s night’s rave, but the one on Saturday was extremely enjoyable. Everyone was dancing and in an excellent mood, and the music never did disappoint. My only gripes were that it seemed to be shoved into a corner, and the stage and video screen weren’t room centered. I miss Ota’s three blaring video screens and a central stage that required you to walk downstairs to enter. It felt like an exclusive secret club. Even so, I have no complaints about Saturday’s rave. It was very fun
Alcohol/Party Availability: Afterparty at the Marriott? Lol. No complaints here. I had free happy hour in the Embassy for two hours and drank my fill there for nothing at all. What about you?
Photo Locations (indoor): I am only applying this portion to the inside of the Marriott hotel, because it simply astonished me how long in the day the good lighting from above lasted within the hotel. It was a pretty great place to shoot, even spacious enough for people to use their telephoto lenses without hassle, which was great
Photo Locations (outdoor): With only a few blocks to walk in any direction, there were plenty of locations that could be used for photography, and despite the bustling city all around, I saw many lighting setups, and tons of cosplayers enjoying themselves while shooting outdoors
Game Room: If you went in, then you know. There was something there for everyone. Wait times weren’t too long, even for the more popular machines, and they had arcade classics available from full size rigs to simulators. It was great
Food Availability: Because you are so close to Gallery Place and Chinatown, there ate tons of restaurants nearby to try out, that are not specific to a particular hotel. With that in mind, whatever you had a taste for, from Italian to Cajun to good old Southern Style cuisine, there were many option available for eating at reasonable prices
The People: One of Otakon’s largest draws is that it brings together people from all over the world, and this means people that you haven’t seen in a really long time. I expected it to be more difficult, with the larger venue, but it was relatively simple to find new friends, communicate and arrange meetings with longtime friends, and to simply chill. The vibes around Ota this year were plenty relaxed, and that always works well for me
Metro Access: The convention center was situated a nice distance from both the Mt. Vernon and Gallery Place metro stops, providing nice alternatives to driving if you happened to live closer to either of those areas
In conclusion, it has been quite some time since I’ve attended Otakon (2015), and while pricing was the primary reason in which I decided not to return, I don’t regret going this year at all. It is a fantastic experience, with mostly avoidable flaws, that truly brings together one of the largest subsets of anime and Japanese culture in the United States. It has the right flavor, and checks all of the right boxes for a great summer convention. I would highly recommend returning to the new venue, which still has room for the exponential growth that occurred during the prime years of the convention. 8.9/10
What are your thoughts??? Sound off below!!!