July 19, 2012
News for ConnectiCon 2012:
ConnectiCon 2012 Convention Reportby Patrick Delahanty, Executive Producer, AnimeCons.com and FanCons.com
I attended my first ConnectiCon back in 2004. It was the convention's second year and I went down with a fellow Anime Boston staff member to promote Anime Boston 2005 and collect pre-registrations. At the time, it was a small event held at the University of Hartford, but it went pretty well and everyone seemed to have a nice time. I can remember sitting at the Anime Boston table and looking over to see Bob May and Peter Mayhew signing autographs and ending the day by watching the cosplay contest.
Fast forward 8 years and I'm now attending my 9th ConnectiCon. It has been held at Hartford's Connecticut Convention Center ever since the convention center opened in 2005 and the convention now hosts over 10,000 attendees who are a cross section of fandom. ConnectiCon isn't just an anime convention, but also caters to sci-fi, fantasy, and comic fans, furries, and gamers as well. The convention also has a well-deserved reputation for being friendly to web comics.
Throughout the years, ConnectiCon has seen some good years and some bad years. Unfortunately, this 10th year was one of the bad ones.
In the last few years, ConnectiCon has seemed to suffer through some growing pains. As the convention grew, it continued to be run as if it was a small convention. Naturally, as a convention grows, you would expect the staff to grow proportionally with the organization structure adapting as needed. Yet if you look at the ConnectiCon program guide for 2012, you can find the chairman, Matt Daigle, still responsible for 4 other positions rather than delegating them to others. Staff have continually mentioned to me over the last few years how they have to go through him for approval on many things, so it appears there continues to be a bottleneck there. From the staff list, there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of growth over the last few years either.
Now that this year's convention is over, the floodgates have opened on the Internet. The thing that most attendees on various forms of social media appear to have an issue with is the attitude of some this year's convention staff. Now, I've been to over 100 conventions and seeing people complain that staff was rude is really nothing new. Normally, it seems to just be an issue of someone saying, "Stand against the wall" instead of, "Could everyone line up against the wall, please?" However, not only have I never seen so many people with similar complaints at a convention this large, but this is also the first time that I have actually witnessed rude staff with my own eyes.
On Saturday afternoon, there was a photoshoot for Doctor Who scheduled for 3pm. A group of about 50 people met up at the bottom of the stairs by registration. It wasn't long until the group's organizer arrived and informed us that we would be heading downstairs to the ground floor where ConnectiCon staff had said we could assemble for photos. Less than a minute after we got there, the group's organizer was told by several convention center staff members in suits that we were not allowed to gather there. While I was not able to hear the conversation, they drove her to tears in under 30 seconds. The convention center staff directed us upstairs to the ballroom level, so we all followed their instructions and headed up. The group found an open area against a wall and began to pose for photos. At this point, I was joined by my AnimeCons TV co-host, Elizabeth.
After getting through a few groups of photos, we heard shouting. This was not simply a raised voice to get the attention of everyone over the crowd noise, this was clearly angry rage shouting like you might hear if someone was about to murder someone. The hair on my arm stood up and my eyes opened wide as I looked over at Elizabeth with surprise. It only lasted a few seconds and then the person came into view as he stormed through the middle of the photo shoot and off to the left. He was a bearded man in his mid-30's with dirty blonde hair wearing a ConnectiCon staff black polo shirt. Unfortunately, he was not wearing a badge or we would have reported his name and completely unacceptable behavior, but all we can do is give a description. There is absolutely no excuse for anyone on staff to go into a full-on rage at any attendees.
I found out later that the convention staff needed the Doctor Who group to move so that they could have an event line in the space we occupied, but at no point did anyone on staff ever address the crowd. I certainly was not aware we were in the way. There was nobody in the area before we arrived and no indication that it was going to be used for a line. Had someone on staff stepped forward and addressed us in a polite manner, we happily would have complied and found a new spot. Unfortunately, the only indication we got that there was an issue was the raging staff member, something I had never seen before in a total of over 300 days spent at fan conventions.
Unfortunately for ConnectiCon, this was not my only negative experience of the convention.
In last year's review of the convention on AnimeCons TV, I spoke about the masquerade running long due to lengthy host segments in between every performance. Not only did that continue to be a problem this year, sending the masquerade nearly an hour past its 9:30pm end time, but it was decided (against the advisement of the masquerade organizer) to show music video winners between some of the performances. Usually conventions will use these to stall while the masquerade judges deliberate on awards. However, since there were only a few videos left to show during the judges' deliberation, they ran out and had to stall while the judges quickly finished selecting the awards. As a result of the masquerade running late, Super Art Fight, which was scheduled to start after the masquerade, ended up starting much later than planned.
As I indicated on AnimeCons TV last year, this is a very easy problem to fix. If you see the masquerade is running long, cut out the between-performance banter! And, of course, the music video winners need to go back to the end so that the judges can use that time to decide on the masquerade performance winners.
This year, the dealers' room was reduced in size and moved to the back of one of the exhibit halls. This meant that one of the convention center's concession stands was located inside the dealers' room not far from the entrance. This might not seem like a problem...until you buy food with your arms full. The tables for eating were on the other side of a wall and the dealers' room exit was on the opposite side of the room. If you wanted to get from the concession stand to the tables, you had to walk through the dealers' room and then back through the online media guest area, fighting crowds the whole way. I pleaded with the staff at the dealers' room entrance to let me and my armload of food through, but she was having none of that and made me walk around the long way. I won't fault her for following orders, but the ConnectiCon organizers really should have given more thought to traffic flow before placing the dealers' room exit as far away as possible from the concession stand. If they allowed two-way traffic or moved the dealers' room away from the concession stand, it wouldn't have been an issue.
Another problem which ConnectiCon suffers from is an apparent stagnation with its methods to deliver information. The web site doesn't get updated as frequently as some other conventions, but it was a lot better for 2012 than it was for 2011 when it hardly got updated at all. However, the ConnectiCon Twitter hasn't had a post since December. The convention's printed program guide seems to be mostly a copy-paste job every year since 2009. (It's pretty obviously using the same steampunk interior design ever since 2009's steampunk cover.) It even still has my same bio reprinted every year which has become more and more out-of-date. I've actually been surprised to find it in the program guide for at least the last three years since it hasn't been included on the web site and nobody's ever asked for an updated copy.
One improvement this year was the availability of a "pocket program guide" that contained schedule grids for the weekend. However, they must have large pockets because this 9"x4" guide unfolds into a giant 24"x36" sheet. Some of the schedule grids use rather large fonts, so the whole thing probably could have been made smaller and more convenient.
At the very least, it would have been nice to see maps of the facility on their pocket program guide...especially since, for some unknown reason, ConnectiCon has decided to not use the Connecticut Convention Center's room numbering and went with its own numbering scheme. This means, for example, that Panel 6 isn't in room 6...it's in room 21. By renaming their rooms, they have invalidated all of the convention center's signage and made it harder to find the programming.
For several years, I've been saying how ConnectiCon just doesn't seem to learn from its own mistakes. Perhaps it isn't even noticing them. With a lot of negative feedback coming in from attendees, hopefully this is the year that they'll take notice, fix the problems, and come back stronger for ConnectiCon 2013. That's why I'm writing about them here. I'm not trying slam the convention. I said wonderful things about it in our podcast back in 2010, but I feel I need to help them realize where the problems are so that they can be fixed!
The convention certainly wasn't all bad. I enjoyed hosting Anime Unscripted with some of the voice actor guests, I had fun judging the masquerade, meeting other cosplayers is always a blast, and Elizabeth and I thought the Community panel was "coolcoolcool". I know a lot of the staff members personally and they work hard to put on a good convention. I also know it breaks their hearts to hear so many people saying negative things, but ultimately there are problems. The problems are not insurmountable. With just a bit of spit and polish, I'm certain the next convention will see a remarkable improvement.