For most cosplayers, con season is the busiest time of the year when it comes to conventions. Every cosplayer’s con season is different, but usually, the busiest time of the year for conventions is the right before, during, and right after summer. My con season was a bit crazy in 2017, so I wanted to talk about some of the events I attended. These are events I ended up attending as a press or cosplay guest, and as a result, I was able to see all sorts of aspects of each event from the inside out. Now that the events are over, I want to share my experiences and information about each event so you can check them out for yourself! In this post, let’s talk about Otakon, held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC!
What Is Otakon?
Otakon is run by the non-profit organization Otakorp, Inc. It is a 3-day annual convention held in July or August. Otakon celebrates Asian pop culture (anime, manga, music, movies, video games…) and its fandom. In 2017, they moved locations from their longtime stay at the Baltimore Convention Center to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. The next Otakon will be held on August 10th-12th, 2018.
What Can You Do There?
There is so much to do at Otakon. Otakon hosts a variety of panels, workshops, photo shoots, concerts, and other events that you can either sit and watch or actively participate in.
You’ll find a very large gaming room that has something for everyone. There are many Japanese arcade games that you can only play at anime conventions—or, of course, in Japan. Otakon’s gaming room has various consoles set up as well—retro consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis, all the way to modern consoles like the PS4 and Nintendo Switch. They host tournaments as well as regular free play. A rule is in place indicating how many rounds attendees can play in a row. This allows everyone to have a chance to play, and also prevents anyone from hogging a game or console.
A Little Shopping
Gaming not your thing? Check out Otakon’s Artist Alley instead! Walk in with no plans to spend money, then walk out poor. Worth it. Otakon always manages to put together a room filled with talented artists who will display their artwork from not just popular series, but classics as well. Pins, keychains, plushies, clothing… and of course, prints and art books.
Need more interaction? Otakon boasts an extensive schedule with a diverse mix of panels. Panel topics range from sewing, to KPOP, to specific fandoms, to anime and manga series, to video games, and so much more. The schedule of panels is posted closer to the convention weekend and is posted online as well as in the Guidebook app for smartphones. Additionally, the app provides reminders leading up to the start of the panel.
There is always something to do at Otakon. Programming usually starts around 8 am and ends around 2 am or so, meaning there’s plenty to do and something for everyone.
How Much Is It?
Memberships for Otakon will vary. If you’re new, or if you buy one of the first 10,000 badges, you will have reduced prices. Then there are standard prices for the weekend. For 2018, Otakon will be introducing Saturday and Sunday badges as well.
Saturday-Sunday badges will be $70 for 2018, while Sunday will be $40. Earlybird badges will be $85 for the weekend, and the standard rate will be $95. Otakorp always updates their social media with what the prices and number of badges sold are throughout the year leading up to their event.
How Do I Get There?
You have various ways of getting there. Otakon does provide an extensive list written by the community of all the options to get there from all over the United States and beyond. If you choose to fly, head to the Reagan National Airport (DCA) which is about 15 minutes south of the convention center.
Flying not your thing? Instead, you can take Amtrak or buses. Train or bus, both end up at Union Station which is one mile east of the convention center.
Driving? Gas and parking are incredibly expensive in this area. You are within walking distance of the National Mall and, yes, the White House. Traffic can be pretty horrendous as a result of the area as well. Be sure to keep these three things in mind as part of your travel plans. Otakon’s All Roads Lead to Otakon page provides detailed instructions and tips for driving down to the convention, as well as ways to combat rush hour and other travel troubles. This page is a must-read and is very useful!
If cosplay is your hobby, Otakon is ready for you. There are many events to partake in as a cosplayer. Some of these events include the photo suite, the masquerade, as well as various panels focusing on cosplay. Programming also contains many panels and workshops that discuss making your own cosplay, pattern making, working with makeup, styling wigs, among others.
The masquerade is always the highlight of any anime convention, Otakon’s being no exception. A full video of 2017’s masquerade is on YouTube filmed by dragonmastrvids.
Need more cosplay? You can always check out the various official and non-official cosplay meet-ups and photo shoots that are hosted by convention attendees throughout the weekend. The difference between official and non-official? Official photoshoots are held in specific locations and moderated by Otakon staff. These locations are the “most desirable” locations due to size, traffic, and lighting. These photoshoots are also posted on the official Otakon schedule. Non-official cosplay photoshoots can be held anywhere and are not posted in the official schedule. However, social media still allows them to be well known and easy to find.
Check out some of the amazing cosplayers that showcased their work in 2017! Click on a photo to view it larger.
2017 brought major changes to Otakon. Their Dealers’ Room and Artists’ Alley both grew in size, as did the convention as a whole. There is now more room to breathe, to sit, and to walk around. An interesting fact: 2017’s attendee count went down 14.49%, from 29,113 in 2016 to 24,894 in 2017. This decrease may be due to the change in location. Such a major change can cause concern and doubt for attendees, understandably so. Otakon hopefuls—fear not! Moving did not change Otakon at all. It is still the same convention you know and love, just bigger and better and with more to enjoy.
The only major change to note between past and present: Otakon Matsuri. Otakon Matsuri used to be held near the Baltimore Convention Center. Many regarded it as a precursor for the convention weekend. Matsuri consisted of contests, music, and comedy performances. Also at Matsuri were booths from many sponsors as well as food stands with plenty to eat. Of course, there were always cosplayers in more casual wear floating around. 2018 brought changes to this event. Otakon Matsuri ran as a cultural track all weekend long. Musical performances, Taiko Drums, yukata contests, D.C. Judo, and tea ceremonies were just a few of the activities that ran during the weekend.
Personally, I have been attending Otakon since 2014. and it has easily become one of my favorite conventions of the year. With friendly staff, amazing programming, great atmosphere, and now an impressive new location… there is no reason to not give Otakon a try. I always leave the event wishing it wasn’t over while simultaneously looking forward to the next year.
No details have been released regarding 2018’s Otakon as of yet, but memberships do begin going on sale Monday, February 26th. Be sure to follow Otakon’s Facebook page as they are very active and wonderful at posting updates.
See you in Washington DC for Otakon 2018!