Every Labor Day weekend a mass of geeks descend on Atlanta Georgia for Dragon*Con. What had started humbly as a Dungeon & Dragons con has steamrolled into a convention that takes over 5 of the major hotels in downtown Atlanta and spills into the neighboring towns of Buckhead and Marietta. College football fans attempting to see the SEC Kickoff are often fighting for yardage against teeming masses of cosplayers who have claimed Atlanta for their own.
Dragon*Con has become my annual can’t miss con, now in rotation with Megacon in Orlando. There are tracks for any and every thing that geeks are into. Comic books, movies, video games, technology & space, role playing games, british television, anime, hentai, voice acting, puppetry, ect…Chances are that if you are a fan of something, someone has a panel set up for it.
If you have never been to Dragon*Con, or may not have heard of it, allow me to paint a brief picture for you. There are five major hotels in the center of downtown Atlanta that host the panels and a quarter the fans: the Marriot Marquis, the Hyatt, the Hilton, the Sheraton, and the Westin. The vendors and exhibit halls are now held in a separate Americasmart Building downtown. During the hours of 8-6 various panels are held in all 5 hotels. the after hours are known as Dragon*Con after dark. When all the hard core cosplayers come out, and the adult themed panels are also held. From Friday until Monday afternoon approximately 60,000 people continually attend panels and party at various hotel lobbies for a con that basically doesn’t sleep.
Differences – There were a few main differences at the con this year as opposed to my 2012 experience:
In 2012 all of the shopping was confined to the basement levels of the Marriott Marquis. I have been to 3rd world trading markets, and they were more spacious and had a higher degree of olfactory pleasantness than what was down there. The basement was only about 6 feet high, and there was no room to navigate down aisles.
Luckily this year the vendors were all moved to the Americasmart building and were spread among the first two floors. The aisles were wide, and despite the throngs of people, it was still pleasant enough to walk through and actually enjoy looking through the various wares without the pressures of people all around you.
The Art Show is a unique feature that can be found on the 2nd level of the Hyatt. Right next to the ballroom where the Artist Alley is the art show, where craftsmen and artists can display their crafts and their artwork. This year it was actually filled with a variety of artwork and mediums that you would not normally see at a convention. Various paintings, armor, sculptures and even beadwork was on display for all to see. The best feature was being able to bid on the artwork so if you liked something enough, you could take it home.
Among one of the more pleasant changes this year was the line management. Last year (2012) I dared to stand in line for a Lord of the Rings panel that had stretch in a giant line around an entire block for about 2-3 hours. This year (2013) I attempted to go to several big name panels and the amount of con workers who came to supervise the line and repeat the rules for standing in line (yes there are rules) was quite good and prevented any mid-line scuffles and kept the panels flowing on time. I was amazed that the thousands of people had been successfully herded in and out of the ballrooms for the larger panels without a serious lag in the schedule.
This is a strange observation, but when I attended in 2012, there was a huge variety of single con goers and swinging parties all over Atlanta. Once the sun retreats, the lobbies of the hotels become swamped with pools of cosplayers all drinking, taking each other’s pictures and mingling. This year I noticed more couples that attended this year, and the swinging feeling of the partying single-con attendee was overwritten by the pairs of cosplayers and couples that were holding hands and celebrating their fandom together.
Another improvement was with the panels, the guests, and the questions asked of the panelists. Last year I was ready to revoke everyone’s right to ask a question by Sunday. the panelists seemed either under-qualified at their panels, or were uninterested in engaging with fans. This year the science and tech panels were full of industry experts who gave great advice on Q&A sessions. The celebrities who anchored the Battlestar Galactia, Doctor Who, Futurama and Voice Acting panels were all engaging with fans, and the fans were asking questions that prompted real answers and not regurgitated drivel you could hear on commentary tracks from DVDs.
- Admiral Adama leading a crowd of 1,000 Battlestar Galactica fans in “So Say We All!”
- The voice of Futurama goofing around on stage – Futurama will have a crossover episode with the Simpsons next season.
- Ed Asner laying down some funny improv with Phil Lamar and Rob Paulsen
- Singing the intro to the MST3K theme song with 1,000 other fans during the movie marathon night Saturday
Least Favorite Moments
- Waiting in a thunderstorm for a panel, and then being ushered into a freezing ballroom
- Spending over 45 minutes on a trip on the MARTA (I hate wasting time)
- If you can, stay at a hotel close to the action. Dragon*Con never really sleeps, and the better parts of it are best left at night when everyone comes out to hang out and show off their costumes.
- Don’t try and do everything. There are about 500+ panels and sights to see. Make use of the mobile app’s calendar feature and try and pace yourself. It’s a long four days, and several of the large panels will be held again.
- Double book your calendar. You could be on one side of Atlanta while the panel you want to go to is on the other. Don’t sweat it. Again there is plenty to do, so try and find 3-4 things to do per hour and you will always have something at hand to do.
- Be friendly in line. Lines are a natural occurrence at any con, and with Dragon*Con you are most likely going to meet some great people. Don’t be afraid to come out of your shell and introduce yourself. You are always among friends.
This con continues to grow in popularity and offers a bounty of panels to attend, people to see and experiences to be had. I’m glad I go every year, and I always have a great time for all four days.