Friday, November 20, 2015

The Good and Bad of Dragon Con 2015 by Jeff Francis

Dragon Con 2015 is now in the history books, and I have to say that I had a great time. Now that the con is over and that I've finally gotten over my con crud (three weeks of the worst flu I had in years!), I can sit back and think about the highs and the lows of the convention. This year saw a lot of big name guests from some of the biggest geek shows on the air, such as Arrow and The Flash, but Dragon Con also astounds with its sheer diversity of tracks, panels, guests, and activities. Let's take a look at the good and bad of Dragon Con 2015.

Let's start off with a few good features of Dragon Con this year. While the overall attendance was higher, it seemed that the congestion was less during the con (however, I'm not talking about the lines to get into popular panels). The main reason that I could see for this was that the convention and hotels made a concerted effort to check badges and room keys during the days and nights of the con as opposed to just the nighttime, which was the case in the past. I really love this practice as it keeps the rubberneckers out of the con and clogging up the convention area. I've seen people bitch online about this practice because they just wanted to hang out and party with friends. My answer to that is that I don't give a damn. I literally save up the entire year to go to Dragon Con, and it represents my Christmas, birthday, and annual vacation all wrapped up in one event. I'm not spending about $1500 in food, fuel, hotel room, and other incidentals to have my con experience affected by a bunch of people who can't be bothered to buy a single day pass.

The other good thing I noticed this year at Dragon Con was that the layout seems better. I love that the Walk of Fame is in the Marriott as it puts it smack dab in the middle of the convention. This allows me to quickly run in and see if a particular star is in there between panels or before I run back to my room to grab some grub. I've heard some people expressing a desire to move it to a distant location, which would be a huge mistake. Something as important as the autograph area needs to be kept in a central location. Plus, it makes sense as it's easier to move the guests to and from the panels and back to their autograph tables. The only time I really encountered extremely heavy crowds was on Friday, which is to be expected as that's the first day of the convention. Another good layout decision was moving the blood drive location. In the past, it had been located at the major traffic chokepoint in the Marriott, which made it a nightmare moving through that area. The traffic has cleared noticeably since the blood drive was moved.

Now let's move on to some of the bad things about Dragon Con 2015. I've said that I like the location and layout of the Walk of Fame, but there can be a major problem with this convention feature. The volunteers really need to up their game and make sure that people getting autographs are not wasting a ton of time while doing so. Personally, I figure a minute or two is ample to express your feelings, shake their hand, and get an autograph. If there's no line, then it's okay to talk longer. However, I once again encountered oblivious people who are incredibly rude while I was waiting to get an autograph, specifically from Stephanie Leonidas of the Defiance TV show. I saw that there were only about twenty people in line for her, so I hopped onto the end. The guy getting her autograph talked to her for about ten minutes before leaving. I was literally fuming but did not realize that this guy was the soul of brevity in regards to those who followed him. After he left, other people would literally talk for fifteen minutes or longer while getting an autograph. A group of three younger (mid 20s) people were actually pumping her to get a guy that they were with a job in the industry. They even turned around and explained this to everybody in line behind them, and who were fuming along with me, that this is what they were trying to do and thanked us for our patience. Again, I never cease to be surprised by how rude some people can be. I don't blame Stephanie Leonidas as she was extremely nice and probably felt uncomfortable telling someone to shut up and leave because people have been waiting for over an hour behind them. I do blame her handler (the person who takes the money) and the Dragon Con volunteer who was watching the line. I talked to the volunteer and expressed my frustration over the situation, and she replied that it was hard for them to keep track of how long someone had been up talking to the guest. This is utter crap as she had an unimpeded view of the table and had a watch. Basically, it boiled down that the volunteer didn't want to cause a confrontation. Dragon Con really needs to post some Walk of Fame guidelines about time lengths and then enforce them. Standing in line for so long really killed my feet (especially after I had just stood in line for over an hour to get Jim Butcher's autograph), and the fact that this happened on Friday really did impact my walking around the convention for the rest of the weekend.

Another bad thing about Dragon Con 2015 was the lack of clear directions on where lines began or ended for particular rooms. I missed getting into a The Flash panel because the line I got into was not the official line but everybody assumed it was. Another problem occurred at the Hyatt where we were told that the line for a room did not start in the main open area but that we had to go up to the main lobby and then go outside the building. I really recommend Dragon Con spend a few dollars to print out some very large signs advertising facts like this so that several hundred people don't all have to individually go up and ask the guy at the door where the hell the line starts at. Another sign outside the building would be helpful to so people could know where exactly to go. As anyone who's been to Dragon Con knows, once you step out on the street, it can get pretty chaotic. C'mon, Dragon Con, spend a few hundred bucks and have some signs made to cut down on the confusion.

My last beef with Dragon Con has to deal with politics. One of the things I enjoy about Dragon Con is that I can leave all the real world hassles (like bills, work, and politics) behind and just enjoy geek culture and talk about shows, movies, comics, and anime. I don't mind if there's a panel on politics or some social issue as long as it is revealed in the program guide. I hate being ambushed by political talk during an event or panel when all I want to do is focus on cool geek stuff. A case in point was the Gonzoroo III: A Musical Quizodyssey on Saturday night that was supposed to be a variety show of singers and skits. I sat down in there before trying to get into the Dirty Dirty Con Con Game Game Show Show (which I didn't because the line was insanely long by the time I got there). I had been to several of these in the past and had always enjoyed myself. I liked the first few acts that I saw, but then a guy came out (I don't know who he was) and said, "We're all social justice warriors here, right? Who else would be at Dragon Con?" Needless to day, I'm not a social justice warrior. I'm a very conservative, religious person who is also into comics, sci-fi, fantasy, monster movies, and gaming. My father, who was even more right-wing than me, was the one who introduced me to Tolkien and even Harry Potter. What followed was several acts all bashing conservatives and Christians while I was stuck in the middle of a crowded row with no way of getting out. To say that this really killed my Dragon Con high for the night is an understatement. It always bugs me when people assume that you're of a political, ideological, or religious orientation just because you're a geek. New flash, geeks come in all shapes and sizes. Now if the program guide had said that politics was going to be part of the show, I would have not been as upset because I had been warned in advance. I've been to panels where politics or social issues were talked about, and I've enjoyed them (even if I disagreed with some of them) because I knew what I was going into. Personally, I think the best thing is to do what I was raised to do, which is not talk about politics or religion in polite company because somebody was inevitably going to get pissed off. I liked the response given by Adam Baldwin, one of the few working conservative actors in Hollywood, a few years back at one of his panels. When asked to discuss politics during the Q&A, he declined by saying that conventions and fan panels are not the proper venue to talk about politics and that he would rather talk about the shows or movies people were interested in. I really don't want to hear any politics (liberal, conservative, or anything else) at Dragon Con because, just for one damn weekend, I just want to cast off the shackles of the real world and have some fun.

Now, don't let my gripes give you the impression I had a bad time. I actually had a tremendous time at Dragon Con 2015, even though I was unable to go to everything I wanted to. But then again, who does? I wanted to go to the gathering of the Needless Things website, but my feet were in absolute agony and hoofing it down to the Sheraton was a definite no-go. I went to a lot of great panels: Julian Glover, Bitten, classic Battlestar Galactica, 2001 cast, Warehouse 13, Venture Bros. Defiance (curse you, SyFy, for cancelling the show right after the con!), Stargate universe panel, Match Game of the 25th Century (the interaction between Gil Gerard, John Barrowman, and Sylvester McCoy was hilarious and amazing), and Hank West & The Smokin' Hots and met a bunch of cool people. I really got a kick out of talking to Greg Bryk from Bitten as he recognized my Cobra logo hat, so we talked about GI Joe for about five minutes or so (there was nobody else in line). I can't wait for next year, but I will definitely be getting a flu shot before I go. Overall, I managed to snag eight autographs, which is well worth having to eat ramen noodles for a month or two. My hope is that Dragon Con continues to implement policies that make the convention better and cut down on the practices that put a damper on the festivities. I also wish that the convention would give a larger room to the American Sci-Fi Classics track! What were your highs and lows of Dragon Con 2015?

Jeff Francis has been a lifelong geek, be it for toys, comics, Star Trek, D&D, classic horror, or Doctor Who. He once owned a game shop for over a decade and has been an online gaming journalist for over seven years by the moniker of Jeffprime. You can visit his personal website at Starbasegeek.com to read more of his mad ramblings.


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