Otakon was held at the Baltimore Convention Center from 1999-2016. In 2017, the convention moved to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. So…how was the move? How did the convention transition? Should you attend in 2018? Read on and decide for yourself!
One of the issues at the Baltimore Convention Center (BCC) was how crowded the Dealers’ Room could get. Saturdays became hard to walk through, and it was simply a no-go for anyone with a larger cosplay on. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center (WEWCC) has spread the dealers’ out and opened up the aisles as well to make it easier to navigate and explore.
The entrance to the Dealers’ Room is Hall C and the exit is Hall B — right next to Artists’ Alley. It is now so much easier to navigate through the aisles. Otakon’s map of the Dealers’ Room helps make it easy to locate specific dealers and aisle numbers.
Hall B and C have three sets of bathrooms between the entrance and exit.
Artists’ Alley is now located right next to the Dealers’ Room. At the BCC, the easiest way to get to the artists was through the Dealers’ Room. Once you exited the Dealers’ Room, you would make a right and find the Artists’ Alley. It is now held at Hall A in the WEWCC.
Hall A was also the same location for autographs and the art show. It was well-spaced and easy to walk through and was easy to maneuver around attendees viewing the artists’ booths. There were also two sets of bathrooms: one at the front of Hall A, and one at the back of Hall A.
Otakon always displays their schedules and maps on the Guidebook app, which you can also access on a computer here.
Otakon hosts both official and non-official photoshoots throughout their weekend event. Either type of photoshoot could choose between indoor and outdoor locations. At the BCC, the locations for official shoots were both indoors and outdoors. In the WEWCC, the locations for official shoots were all indoors.
Take a look at the photos below. The first 8 photos are from various locations at the WEWCC in 2017. The next 8 photos are from photoshoots at the BCC during 2014-2016.
Photoshoots – Breakdown
Let’s start with Otakon at the BCC. The infamous McKeldin fountains in Baltimore were torn down and will eventually be turned into a park. As for the indoor fountains at the BCC, they were great during the day. However, once the sun went down, it was hard to get great lighting. There was also the issue of people sitting around the fountains, causing them to be part of the photoshoots whether they were part of it or not. The ideal location was the 2nd-floor terrace that had amazing lighting and an aesthetically pleasing view. Otakon is always held in the middle of the summer which means it gets very hot and humid.
WEWCC has all of the official photoshoots inside. One of the locations is the stairs right when you enter the convention center. There is a lot of foot traffic in the area so it’s easy to find and easy to get an audience. Lighting in the area is great because of all the windows in the front of the building.
Another official location is in a bit of a weird spot — in a hallway near the Dealers’ Room and Artists’ Alley. It’s easy to locate, but photographers will need to bring proper lighting.
The Marriott Hotel has fantastic lighting and many unofficial photoshoots take place there.
Convention Center Adjustments
The first year at a new location is very difficult to get used to. Trying to make your way through the halls and reading maps and guides becomes tricky. If you did not attend Otakon 2017, you will be out of your element initially once you enter the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
The adjoining Hilton Hotel at the BCC was used for various panels and workshops also. At the WEWCC, most of the events are within the convention center itself. However, there is a Marriott attached to the convention center. A few of Otakon’s events take place at the hotel as well. The Marriott is also where press pickup is located, where Otakon Matsuri events take place, and where the Maid Cafe and Otacafé are located.
A major adjustment — the space. The WEWCC is almost double in size to the BCC (BCC = 1,225,000 square feet, WEWCC = 2,300,000 square feet). The double space also does not include the additional space provided by the Marriott. This extra space is an added bonus for every attendee. Looking for space to sit? Or space to charge your phone? Space to eat? Maybe space to take a photo? No worries.
Walter E. Washington Convention Center
The WEWCC has four levels — a lower level, and levels 1-3. The main entrance is on level 1. One major difference between DC vs Baltimore — there is now a bag check. Once you arrive at the WEWCC, you may very well find yourself with a line to enter. This is the opposite of how it was at the BCC, where you could just walk in and show security your badge. Multiple security members are ready to help various people at once.
Worried about “Line Con”? Line Con refers to the various times there have been registration lines wrapping around the Baltimore Convention Center filled with attendees picking up their badges. There didn’t appear to be lines of any kind in the registration area on Thursday. Lines appeared very short for badge pickup, and press check-in was very quick and easy. It seemed like a flawless setup that finally eliminated the infamous Line Con issues of past years.
Otakon has a location page on their website that breaks down the floor plans of each level of the WEWCC as well as the connecting Marriott Hotel. If and when there are updates to rooms and floor plans that will be the page that holds the new layouts.
Location: Baltimore vs DC
There is a lot to do in DC. Otakon is now within walking distance of the National Mall. The White House is a 20-minute walk away. Various hotels, restaurants, bars, and stores are all within walking distance.
Madame Tussauds is a 5-minute drive or 15-minute walk from the WEWCC. Wax figures of all 45 presidents, celebrities, talk show hosts and more are available for fun photos and selfies.
The National Geographic Museum is just west of the WEWCC and has all sorts of events and exhibits that rotate throughout the year.
Located in Chinatown, the Hard Rock Cafe offers delicious food and multiple events and ongoings that happen within their restaurant.
Looking for more? Washington.org has a comprehensive list of things to do. You can scroll through the list via various categories to narrow your search.
Attendees could not walk very far from the Baltimore Convention Center before the area got “sketchy.” The best areas seemed limited to the surrounding area on Pratt Street and a couple of side streets to what restaurants and attractions there were to enjoy.
Detergent was poured into the water of the McKeldin fountain causing it to become a gigantic bubble bath. Those fountains have since been torn down. In its place will be a large park that is still under construction.
Another popular spot was the harbor area where Otakon Matsuri took place. There are many restaurants and attractions to visit there, including It’s Sugar, The Cheesecake Factory, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not, to name a few. That area is known as Harborplace and features other stores as well as events and specials.
Personally, I find there is a lot more to see and do in DC … yet, it is certainly up to each attendee’s opinion.
Otakon in DC: Final Thoughts
I didn’t know how I was going to like Washington DC for Otakon. It is easy to be used to Baltimore, the convention center, and the surrounding area. Many attendees were also used to 20-30 minute car and train rides to the convention, traffic, parking, and walking. Baltimore and the convention center were loved regardless of the commute.
However, now that I have experienced Otakon in Washington DC and at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, there is no better place for this convention to held. The space is wonderful and allows attendees to actually be able to breathe while maneuvering through the various activities scheduled for the weekend. Otakon’s schedule is what attendees expect with their diverse selection of programming and activities. Their Dealers’ Room and Artists’ Alley are easy to walk through and navigate, and it’s easier to stop in front of a booth without blocking traffic.
Of course, with every change of location, it is difficult to gather yourself in a new environment and find your way. It’s an entirely new situation for everyone, so do not feel intimidated or on your own with feeling lost. It seems like everyone is still feeling that way and it will only get better with time.
My experiences at Otakon in Baltimore have always been stellar, but somehow my experience at Otakon in Washington DC was better than all of them combined. If you did not attend the convention last year because of the move, I highly recommend checking it out and deciding for yourself. As a result of the move, Otakon feels bigger and better than ever. Let us know your thoughts about the change in the comments below, and we will see you in August!
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