Guest Convention Reporter
Otakon will always have a special place in my heart. It is therefore with great sadness that I write this review about the last Otakon in Baltimore. Charm City: you will be missed.
Otakon started at Penn State all the way up at State College, Pennsylvania but it’s clear after 17 years in Baltimore Otakon has made this city home.
Baltimore has been in the news recently in a not so good light however as most locals can attest charm city has a way of putting its’ best foot forward. Especially with the inner harbor area where the convention is held. For cosplayers it is about as good a venue as you can get. Within walking distance you have a picturesque harbor, national monuments, and a modern city skyline. A perfect back drop for a typical cosplay photography routine.
Being next to two stadiums city organizers have their work cut out for them. When I drove into the city on Thursday night I found myself awash in a sea of humanity as both NFL and MLB games were on right next door to the convention center. As usual the Baltimore city police did an excellent job at keeping traffic flowing .
Baltimore has a ton of hotels either right next to or near the convention center. The city also has an excellent bus system for shuttling con goers to and fro. I stayed at the Hyatt Regency. The internet was great this year. High speed and never any lag which was surprising. Compared to how internet was in previous years I’m glad to see the national chains are finally getting it right. At one point the elevator got stuck but they got us out within 15 minutes.
Like last year Otakon did online registration and shipped badges ahead of time to all con goers for the first time ever. You can still register in person but now the line is quite literally about 15 minutes long at its’ peak.
The convention center got rid of the stairs on the east side of the convention center three years ago and has since also removed the skywalks on the east side. This was for increased security but it did increase pedestrian traffic on the ground. In general though attendance seemed to be down this year as they had increased the price of registration. There seemed to be a lot less people in general in and around the main places where cosplayers congregate. Gophers were excellent this year at keeping lines out of the way and in general things seemed way more organized this year than I had seen previously. As usual the convention center itself is huge and more than easily accommodates whatever the organizers throw at it. The dealer room, game room, artist alley, AMV contest hall, and dance hall were all more than big enough for each of those events. If anything the smaller convention center rooms were overflowing with too many panel attendees however that is part of the reason for the move to DC next year.
This year press got to go into the dealer room before it was open to the general public. We were taken in through a staff side entrance an hour before the room was to be opened for everyone. Many of the vendors still hadn’t fully setup at 11 AM but were mostly ready by noon when the doors opened. I took plenty of pictures of the room being empty. In general the typical dealer room wares were sold. I noticed a distinct lack of airsoft which I had seen in previous years. I’m not sure if this was specific to this year but it’s clear that they wanted to err on the side of caution and keep it banned.
This year was extremely hot. Each day was a high of 98 F and the “feels like” temperature was hovering around 111 F at times. I went to the Naruto midday Saturday shoot on the balcony of the third floor of the convention center and I found myself soaked in sweat after only a few minutes outside. I could not imagine what it was like for people in full body heavy costumes. Still…. There were many incredible cosplays and the convention center did an admirable job keeping the inside a reasonable 75 F for the most part. Many meet ups moved indoors for this reason.
As usual there were many cosplay meet ups in hotel lobbies and the like. The talent that comes out to Otakon is word class. Being the biggest east coast anime convention brings people from all over the world. My room mates flew in from California and easily did at least 15 cosplays between the two of them.
No matter what your fandom is there was some representation of it in the halls of the Baltimore Convention Center. From obscure jrpgs to mainstream American scifi. Overwatch seemed to be this year’s cosplay fad.
Baltimore has a ton of amazing restaurants in the Inner Harbor area. At least 15 sushi places and two well very well-known Ramen restaurants make attending Otakon a blast for any foodie. Unfortunately having this many Otaku in one place causes all these places to be packed all weekend long. For those who want to eat on the cheap you can easily just walk to a nearby Subway and get foot long sandwiches all weekend long. There are actually 10 subways within 5 blocks of the convention center and a few are 24/7 so if you get hungry late at night being in the middle of a major city helps. Otherwise the typical convention center food rules apply. Overpriced convention center food is available in the dealer room as well as the second and third floors of the convention center. Personally though, I prefer to skip the overpriced convention center sushi drenched in spicy mayo.
Baltimore is home to one of the most robust rave scenes on the east coast. The same community also organizes a bunch of local festivals including Big Dub, Moonrise, Nightmare Fest, and Dreamscape. Otakon taps into this by pulling DJs from this scene to do the Friday and Saturday night raves. It’s typical for street vendors to be selling led glow toys right outside during all of this.
If raving isn’t your thing the bars and restaurants around the inner harbor stay open till 2 AM. The convention center itself was extremely lively with cosplayers and in-general otaku just having fun chilling and hanging out in the lobbies even a little bit past two.
Just be careful walking away from the inner harbor. Tons of pan handlers and shady characters not too far from the convention center area. There are some shady strip clubs only three blocks away going uphill away from the harbor.
Organizers will have their work cut out for them in DC next year to live up to how great a venue the Baltimore Convention Center has been for the past 17 years. Despite its’ smaller size the Baltimore convention center was at the literal center of Baltimore public life. Surrounded by major sports stadiums, the cities’ financial district, and tourist focal point allowed Otakon to benefit from the many food and social communities already in place. For cosplayers the location was a veritable smorgasbord of shooting locations. 2016 was no different. A success convention anyway you cut it.
Otakon 2017 is being held in Washington D.C. In contrast from Baltimore the DC convention center is located exactly 0.9 miles from The White House, 0.8 miles from the National Mall, 1.4 miles from the United States Capitol, and 2.1 miles from the Potomac River, the closest body of water to the convention center. While this certainly adds an air of authenticity to the cosplay possibilities it doesn’t really create much variety for cosplayers, who might not want to schlep for miles on foot in the August heat for some pictures. Looking into the food selection around the area I found myself thinking “this is a place I would take a congressman I wanted to schmooze, not a bunch of my nerd friends”. Over time I have no doubt we’ll call DC our own but I think at first we will find ourselves dealing with a city made for politicians and lobbyists, not nerds.