Dragon Con has come and gone for another year. The thirtieth year, in fact. Thirty years of massive geek gatherings with friends, celebrities, panels, games, shopping, and copious amounts of booze. And I’ve returned to make the case on whether or not you should give it a shot for its thirty first year. Got to read to find out!
What is Dragon Con? Dragon Con is a four-day (really five and arguably six) science fiction and fantasy convention that takes over Atlanta, GA every Labor Day weekend. The convention fills five of the city’s largest hotels, a mall, and the streets of Atlanta as thousands of fans celebrate their favorite fandoms. Everything under the sun is represented: massively popular film and television, fervently-followed and long-ended series, comic books, advanced science, magic shows, gaming (both table top and digital), and so much more. Celebrities from all across popular culture come out for Q&As and autograph signings. Massive ballroom dances and parties run throughout the night. Dragon Con even shuts down downtown Atlanta streets for a massive parade on the Saturday morning of the con. If you’re somehow awake for it, it’s a sight to behold.
Attendance topped over 70,000 people, with a good number of those being present for the entire weekend. Adding in public onlookers and employees servicing the attendees in the con’s massive footprint makes the true number even harder to calculate.
That’s a lot of people. Why would you want to deal with that? It’s a good question because traversing the crowds for four days straight will truly push even the slightest introverts of us to our limits. To answer that, you have to ask yourself: what do you want to do?
Do you want to see celebrities? Dragon Con has that with hundreds of guests from all facets of nerdom. You can see Daredevil’s Charlie Cox, geeky musician Jonathan Coulton, famed fantasy artist Larry Elmore, the original Red Ranger Austin St. John, and Family Feud announcer/NSYNC member Joey Fatone. Someone for everyone.
Do you want programming? Dragon Con has programming for days with over 40 different categories of content – called tracks – all full enough to be conventions on their own. Plenty of mainstream areas, such as American Sci-Fi and Fantasy Media, Comics, Star Wars AND Star Trek. But there are also more eclectic areas like Electronic Frontiers Forums for technology and activism, Xtrack for the paranormal and government conspiracists, Wrestling events, and Filk singing. (Sci-fi/fantasy fandom songs. It’s a thing.)
Do you like costumes? Thousands of cosplayers from across the country come to show off their months and years of efforts in meticulous and creative costumes. Full body mech suits like Reinhardt in the still-fairly-new Overwatch game. Or an army of Deadpools. Costuming is such a part of Dragon Con’s culture that people cosplay Dragon Con itself. The former carpet of the Marriott Marquis hotel has become the pattern of clothing, costumes, lanyards, and even power wheel vehicles.
Do you like gaming? Dragon Con has 24-hour table-top gaming and video gaming. This year actually introduced a new arcade of import rhythm and fighting games, which is Dragon Con’s biggest, or at least most visible, effort to amp up the digital side of its gaming in years.
Do you like parties? Dragon Con is a weekend of moving parties. Music, dancing, drinking, and a good time is never far away. If you like a more chilled party, that might be a bit harder to find, but they do exist. (I’m definitely not giving away my favorite hole in the wall, unless you ask nicely) But if you like wall-to-wall people dancing and chatting and fawning over magnificent costumes together, Dragon Con has you covered.
Basically Dragon Con has a lot going on, so finding something you’re interested in isn’t difficult. The difficult part is GETTING TO IT.
Events’ filling up at Dragon Con is a regular occurrence. If you want to get to a panel, plan to get in line an hour before hand. If it’s a big celebrity panel, plan for two hours. Even presentations without named guests get packed quickly. Even seasoned con goers can be surprised to find that they just missed the line cut off by a few people. That said, people will often leave early, allowing people to get in maybe halfway into an event so you miss some but not all. Plus big guest panels and contests often re-broadcast or even live broadcast on Dragon Con’s inter-connected hotel channel DCTV, which for the first time this year offered streaming for $10.
Then there’s the location. For the most part, Dragon Con’s different content tracks do a good job staying pretty stationary by building. You like anime or animation, the Hyatt is your hotel. You like Star Trek, stick to the Sheraton. You like science and technology, hit up the Hilton. You like shopping? All the dealers and artists have finally been consolidated in one of the Americas Mart buildings. Dragon Con just doesn’t do a great job indicating this though. Pretty much the only way is to look at the schedule and realize the pattern of locations. Plus there are random exceptions when something needs a large ballroom and scheduling necessitates that it goes into another building than usual, which is understandable but still a pain.
The biggest flaw with this year’s content locating fell to gaming. Most of gaming was moved to a portion of the Americas Mart, but not all. Console gaming was located in the Westin hotel for an additional charge on top of your already $100+ badge. And an old school video game and pinball arcade was in the artist alley that actually closed at night. Here’s hoping those areas are better consolidated next year because a whole building dedicated to 24-hour gaming of all kinds sounds amazing.
And if crowds do bother you, moving around the convention will stress you out. This year did feel like there were improvements in traffic flow, particularly in the sky bridges, but it could all have been a differencing in my timing from year to year. As long as the content location stays pretty steady and that’s what you want to do all weekend, staying put will alleviate this worry. Good luck finding a seat in the food court though.
More than any other year, I realized the effort that’s really needed in making the most of your Dragon Con. Even months before, it’s a mad dash to get rooms. Combing through the schedule, sticking to your plan, meeting everyone you intend to meet, and going everywhere you need to go. It’s a lot of work. And it’s very easily all dashed, so you have to deal with that. It’s easy to get discouraged, to feel that the con is no fun because you can’t get into events or meet the guests or see everyone you’d like to. I’ve been there. Heck, I’ve been there a couple of times over this weekend. But does that mean that Dragon Con has gotten too big, too massive to enjoy it?
Nope. As with any convention, as with any event or experience, it’s what you make of it that makes it matter. Thanks to a pushy friend, I actually had a make-shift cosplay on Friday night that was incredibly embarrassing but still a great time. I didn’t get to see all the friends I would like to, but I did see several from across the country I don’t see often and even made new ones. I played a lot of games, saw great art, and had chance celebrity encounters.
There are improvements to be made from the convention, sure. I’d like gaming more consolidated. I’d like programming by location to be a more apparent thing, especially in the app. (Dear lord, please add “Events by Building” next year!). Information distribution on a whole could be more proactive and pervasive so that we don’t miss what we want to do. Still, I tried new things and new content and had a great time. Better yet, I came away with ways to make next year even better.
Dragon Con leaves me feeling that way every year. While I didn’t get to do as much as I wanted next year, that just makes me want to try harder next year.
That’s a hallmark of a great con – the depression of leaving and the excitement of doing it all again next year. Being more involved. Doing it differently. Doing it better. Doing it more.
That’s Dragon Con. If more than simply going to a convention, you like doing a convention, If you like making an experience more than having one, it’s definitely the con for you.