Otakon 2016 was held August 12th -- 14th at the Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore, MD
The end of an era.
When in was announced way back when in 1998 that Otakon would be moving the the Baltimore Convention Center for 1999 it was a big deal. At the time anime conventions were almost exclusively held in hotels with convention facilities. To move into a dedicated convention space was a sign that anime and anime conventions were getting genuinely popular. It was still a year before Cartoon Network would air Gundam Wing and other anime as part of the Toonami block, but it was clear anime was becoming a hobby that people would hear about outside dedicated college clubs and internet newsgroups.
At the time Otakon only got the eastern half of the convention center and shared it with a religious convention being held the same weekend. Over the years Otakon would quickly expand not only into the whole convention facility but play a role in the construction of the Hilton with its associated convention space on what was for a long time a large parking lot. And Otakon needed it. By the time the Hilton was finished Otakon was pulling in upwards of 30,000 memberships a year and was pushing the BCC to its limits. (For comparison, the American Physical Society uses the whole BCC and only has 9,000 or so attendees, and it's still fully utilized.)
So now it's time for Otakon to move as (among st other reasons) the planned renovation of the BCC will make the available space too meager for Otakon's needs and may take years to complete if the space currently occupied by the Sheraton is to become part of a new hotel/arena/convention space. The DC convention center is much larger and arguably more accessible but may lack hotel space in the area and food options. But it will allow Otakon to grow after years of fairly small growth. With the popularity of food trucks over the last few years Washington DC may actually offer more affordable food options than Baltimore for attendees.
But whatever pros and cons will come with the move for a lot of long-time attendees this signals the end of an era. One attendee shared a tweet during the masquerade indicating that they were only as old as the convention itself and had never known Otakon to be anywhere else. It's been home for better or worse and a lot has happened here. I've gone through several phases of life myself while Otakon has been at the BCC and anime conventions are certainly different than they used to be. When Otakon moved to the BCC most online interaction was either over direct message clients like AIM and ICQ or email lists like the Cosplay Mailing List. You would meet people at the convention and then find them online to keep in contact. These days its the opposite with people meeting online via social media and going to conventions to see each other in person.
My own favorite memory from Otakon was years ago (when I was probably between undergraduate and graduate schools) and I bought ice cream from the trucks outside and brought it in to the fountain area to share with everybody late Saturday night. It was a place you could count on meeting people because it was a de facto hangout spot. People seemed to want to be around their fellow fans a lot more at the time. This year the area was mostly desolate.
Otakon has changed and will grow.
I've spent a few years at Otakon doing relatively few events other than the major concerts and guest appearances. This wasn't one of those years. Even after 18 years at the BCC Otakon managed to provide a lot of interesting programming. There was a Gen Urobuchi fan panel about his work and themes that made me want to go home and watch Exiled from Paradise, which is a more recent work of his. The Overwatch cosplay photo shoot was so big it had to be moved outside and there were probably 100 people just taking pictures on top of the 40 or so cosplayers from the game. When it was time for a break I had a chance to watch some of the non-AMV content music videos in the dedicated theater.
The musical guests this year (Yui Makino, Michi, and band All Off, among others) all had great shows and really fit what you'd expect at an anime convention. In addition to being a singer and pianist Makino debuted as a voice actor in the TSUBASA CHRoNiCLE movie. Her concert was a bit short at about 40 minutes playtime. This left more time for the following autograph session. Michi took over the masquerade halftime show and had performed a few songs to the cosplay crowd. Though most of the audience was a little lukewarm in the reception it was clear she had a few big fans right up front who must have had more energy than everybody else combined. And they showed it. The Sunday concert featured ALL OFF who perform the ED song for "Mob Psycho 100."
The AMV content suffered a server crash at some point which eliminated at least the feed to the overflow room and may have delayed the presentation. It otherwise ran smoothly with a lot of quality entries. It's clear that as more and more video editing software and power is available that the editing quality will go up. But the directing and style have increased as well. Each video that was in the contest would have been clearly best in show at the time Otakon moved to the BCC. Likewise, the masquerade went off very well, too. The hall cosplay segment came first with a series of walk-ons featuring some impressive costumes. A non-entry dance skit followed by the same crew that comes back every year. And for this last year in Baltimore, they really pulled out all the stops and put on a really great performance. We then had the contest proper with about 20 entries of costumes and skits together.
I probably spent more time taking cosplay pictures than everything else combined though and managed to come out with close to 2000 photos, though that includes a substantial portion of concert photos, too. The BCC is certainly not the best place to do photography but there's certainly some spots that work fairly well if you know where to look. The very high heat and humidity kept people indoors for the most part and the terrace was only sparsely populated. Likewise the few outdoor spots (such as the harbor fountains, BoA fountains, and Hyatt Patio) that people might have used were vacant, some of them under construction and renovation. Of course more intrepid cosplayers found places in the various hotels, along with the air conditioning, to shoot. I look forward to seeing what people have found!
Otakon will be moving to the Washington DC Convention Center in 2017 which has almost twice the floor space (2.3 vs about 1.2 million square feet), and will be there for the foreseeable future. Whether or not it moves back to Baltimore is anybody's guess, but with tens of millions of dollars in attendee revenue for the host city anything can happen. The future of the BCC is uncertain and with the convention likely to grow into its new home even the future BCC may not be able to handle Otakon. How things will go with hotels, food options, and other issues important to con-goes remains to be seen. There will be undoubtedly be growing pains. But Otakon's done a great job over the last 18 years in Baltimore, I'm sure it'll do even more great things in Washington, DC.
Otakon 2017 will be held August 11th -- 13th at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC