A Conventions Primer: E3, AX, and More

DBZ Kakarot @ E3 2019

I went to my first anime convention at the age of 15, in 1999. It was Anime Expo, the biggest anime con out there (and yeah, lots of “big ‘con'” jokes were made) – a whopping 6,400 people attended that year to see guests like Mari Iijima and Yoko Kanno, along with guests from the US anime world like Gilles Poitras. Things haven’t changed THAT much: guests, screenings, masquerade contests…

Except nowadays, Anime Expo draws over 100,000 attendees.

I’d bet a good number of you reading have either been to or at least considered attending an anime con, whether it’s a big national/international show or your local event. Have you ever thought about how conventions actually function?

Running a convention is a metric ton of work, that’s obvious to anyone who’s ever volunteered or known someone who did. But here are a few things about conventions and con management that you may not have known:

Monster Hunter @ E3 2019
  • Exhibitors have to pay a bunch of extra money beyond just the space rental, usually even Artist Alley folks. The two biggest costs you would never have thought of are electricity (you don’t get to just plug in for free!) and drayage, which is literally the unloading of your stuff into the convention hall and is union work in the US, so nearly a universal charge for exhibitors.
  • Most venues require a high price for events/exhibitors to bring in their own food. A con can’t just offer up a snack bar without paying a bunch of extra cash to the event space, because the venue wants to make money off of this (and can guarantee the safety of their own food). At E3, for example, we had lunches catered in for booth staff…provided by the event. Let me tell you, the LA Convention Center makes a crappy pizza.
  • Ever wonder how high-profile convention guests get around the show without getting mobbed? Nearly every convention center has a system of back halls and tunnels and stuff for staff and guests to get around with. Kinda like Disneyland!
  • This one’s probably obvious to most people, but I do run into folks who don’t realize this: guests at anime cons are paid to be there, usually by the con themselves although exhibitors may sometimes bring (and pay) their own guests. Comic cons, where guests are more likely to be charging for autographs and/or photos, may be different on this point, but for anime cons it’s pretty consistent.
  • E3 and Anime Expo use the same space – the Los Angeles Convention Center. It was weird going to my first E3 and feeling simultaneously like the new kid in school AND like I was at homecoming.
  • People working booths for big companies at shows may be full-time employees of that company, or contractors hired for just that event. That’s part of why you can get such inconsistent answers about things from different people at an exhibitor booth.
  • There are perks to being an exhibitor, but not as many as you’d think! At E3 this year, being an exhibitor gave me access to the exhibit hall before it opened…but I still had to line up for stuff. That’s why the only thing I did was the Final Fantasy VII hands-on; I only had one day that I didn’t do the first shift, and by the time the show floor was open to more people (even just media/industry non-exhibitors) the lines were crazy long and didn’t fit into my work schedule. (Networking is key here. If you know someone at a booth you wanna do stuff at, you can sometimes leverage that to get into stuff…but they’re gonna leverage right back, so be prepared!)
  • Press perks are also heavily network-dependent. Some conventions will give press priority access to industry panels, but in my experience most of the time you have to know someone at the company whose panel you’re attending, show up early, and get in with them.

So…there’s some random insider info on conventions. Is there anything else you’d like to know?

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