Katsucon 2020

Amazing location, amazing cosplay
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Click to watch my Katsucon 2020 video on YouTube
Click to watch my Katsucon 2020 video on YouTube
 
Katsucon is an anime convention held annually at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, USA. It was first held in 1995 making it the seventh oldest anime convention according to this Wikipedia article. With 27 years under its belt and a magnificent hotel as its home for the past ten years, it has become an event beloved by many and is known for attracting amazing cosplayers.
I first attended Katsucon in 2019, which makes me feel very late to the party. Being on the opposite side of the country from me it was very much out of sight, out of mind. It was only because I saw people talking about it online and posting photos and video that I decided to attend. The location is very impressive and I have to think that's a big reason for the quantity and quality of cosplay. If you make an amazing cosplay you want to be seen wearing it at the most amazing place. Other anime conventions have cosplay, obviously, but Katsucon draws the cosplay "elite", if you will. Many cosplay celebrity attend and show off their finest, with cosplay photographers in tow. You can't walk ten feet without seeing something awesome. Despite the size of the resort, it really becomes a struggle to find space to get a good photo. Everyone is vying for that perfect shot at the gazebo, or the ballroom doors, or wherever.
Crowds gather into the night
Crowds gather into the night
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The Convention

The convention space
The convention space
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Katsucon has the advantage of age on its side. Not many anime conventions reach the ripe old age of 27. This means that the staff have learned a lot over the years and know how to put on a solid convention. It has the standard panels and events that you'll find at most anime conventions, but there are so many that the schedule has its own booklet nearly 100 pages long. You could spend the entire weekend in panel rooms and be well entertained. It's also operated like most non-profit anime conventions. Staff are all volunteer. Marketing and merchandise is relatively humble. Money earned from this year's convention goes towards next year's. It has a home brew, down to earth feel because it's operated out of love for all things anime by average people instead of a commercial corporation. I'm just fine with this setup.

Contrast Katsucon with a commercial venture like one of the big comic cons which have more professional marketing and merch, corporate sponsors, celebrity guests, and so on. You can't take one step without feeling like you're being constantly solicited by advertising. They don't have those unique small panels hosted by average folks, just big ones with big guests. One type of convention isn't necessarily better than the other, but they definitely feel different.

I talk a lot about cosplay and video and things other than the convention itself. That's because those are the things I'm interested in and they are why I attend. I don't think I've ever been to a panel event at Katsucon. Besides going to pick up my badge in the registration hall and checking out the rave, I rarely go to the convention side of the hotel. It's quite large and spacious and probably less crowded than the non-convention parts of the hotel. For me it makes a terrible filming location because it's so bland and boring. That's just fine for events, but not for what I'm after. I always peruse the list of events to see if there's anything that might be interesting, but nah. I've been to a lot panels at anime conventions and there's really nothing new for me to see there.

The Great Shutdown

Katsucon 2021 cancellation post
Katsucon 2021 cancellation post
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Katsucon was fortunate to avoid the coronavirus in 2020. Being a February event, it took place a few weeks before everything shut down. It couldn’t avoid it in 2021 of course, and the event was cancelled with many people morning the loss online. To my knowledge there was no online convention either. While my Katsucon 2020 experience wasn't great I still recognize the loss. Despite the overcrowding and vying for space, it is a unique experience where amazing videos and photos are born and the memories grow more valuable over time. I would have attended in 2021 and I even had a room booked at the hotel, but we are all at the mercy of the virus.

The Location

The Atrium is awash in lights at night
The Atrium is awash in lights at night
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The Gaylord National has 2,000 guest rooms, over half a million square feet of convention space, and features a massive glass-enclosed atrium over 200 feet tall. It has elegant marble flooring, a colonial style village on the ground floor, a water fountain, and a gazebo popular for photos. It's no wonder this convention attracts cosplayers. There are so many magnificent photo opportunities, if you can find the space.
A nose bleed view of the Atrium
A nose bleed view of the Atrium
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Two queen atrium view room
Two queen atrium view room
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The guest rooms are quite posh with nice linens and furnishings. The room fees include high speed internet and it's the fastest I've ever seen at a hotel, clocking in at nearly a gigabit! There's a mini-refrigerator, but no microwave. Pro tip: you can use the microwave near the grab and go place on the atrium floor. A coffee maker, TV, hair dryer, and other standard amenities are included. I recommend arriving early on Thursday to avoid long check-in lines. If you're a photographer it will also allow you a chance to get some photos in before the crushing crowds show up.
My first year in attendance I was taking it all in. I walked miles around the resort learning the layout and capturing video of cosplayers. While I generally enjoyed the experience it was also exhausting, overwhelming, and even frustrating. Walking for hours around a large resort, wading through crowds of people, navigating floors of event space, and trying to find a decent location for filming and taking photos really takes a toll. By the end of the three day convention I was physically and mentally done.
Shooting <a alt="Link to @nat_archaic on Instagram" href="https://www.instagram.com/nat_archaic/" target="_blank">@nat_archaic</a>
Shooting @nat_archaic
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Shooting a group of Tinker Bell fairies
Shooting a group of Tinker Bell fairies
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You can't see me ; )
You can't see me ; )
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I wish I could say my second year in 2020 was a better experience, but it was actually worse. The convention seemed even more crowded and it was more difficult to find a good space for video. I often avoided the ballroom floor where many of the cosplayers gather. It was just too crowded. This resulted in me filming far fewer cosplayers, but what I did get was better footage. I just really wanted something better than a background full of random people and bland walls. Outside of the resort it was a little better since the cold weather kept some people inside. There are also some opportunities to shoot away from the convention if you are more adventuresome.
Acrophobics should avoid these elevators!
Acrophobics should avoid these elevators!
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Much could be said about the elevators at the Gaylord National. Anytime you have a full hotel you will have to wait to catch one, but it's honestly not too bad. Each side of the hotel has at least five elevators and the logic they run on seems to be effective. I didn't wait more than a couple of minutes at the worst of times and I could pretty quickly get up to my room and back. On the atrium side you get amazing views through the floor to ceiling glass windows. I'll advise anyone with a serious fear of heights to avoid them. I personally find the room balconies quite scary, especially on the upper floors.

The Cost

Katsucon is easily one of the most expensive conventions for me to attend. I have to travel a long way to get there which means a more expensive plane ticket. Staying at the Gaylord National is expensive. The food is expensive. There's just no convenient way around the cost to attend.
Cost
Airline Flights $428
Ground Transportation $113.13
Hotel $512.88
Meals $133.59
Registration $55.00
Total $1247.60
The transportation cost includes airline flights and Ubers. The $428 flight from Spokane, WA to Ronald Reagan airport wasn't too bad of a price. I spent over $100 in Uber rides, but that was mostly because the airline sent my luggage to a different airport (it's a long story). If I didn't go and pick it up there was no telling when or if the airport would have delivered it to the Gaylord. I was reimbursed for the trouble. There were plenty of Ubers around the Gaylord and at least they were reasonably priced.
Katsucon 2020 room block pricing
Katsucon 2020 room block pricing
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The total cost of a three night stay at the Gaylord National was $1,025.76. At over $340 per night with taxes and fees, a two queen room at the Gaylord National is the most expensive hotel room that I've ever stayed in (DragonCon comes in close though). The rooms officially hold just four people, so even splitting one doesn't make it affordable. I split the cost with my brother since it was just the two of us and we're adults with adult jobs to pay for such expenses. We had an atrium view room which provided a nice perk for an additional cost, but it also came with extra noise. The atrium is a very noisy space when filled with thousands of attendees and that noise easily slips into the room despite the heavy commercial french doors. Additionally, the hotel (not the convention) decided to put on a mini-rave on the atrium floor near the fountain on Saturday evening and it didn't stop until after 2 AM Sunday. That was infuriating and solidified my choice not to book an atrium view room the next time I attend.

Staying at a neighboring hotel is an option, but I've found that the additional 20 minutes (more or less) traveling to and from just isn't worth the marginal savings. Plus, my feet are already killing me after the first day. Those hotels aren't part of the Katsucon room block so the prices can vary depending on when and how you book them.

I wish the food was more affordable. The Gaylord National charged some rather ridiculous prices for their grab and go food. Plain hamburgers were $10. A bagel cost $3-4. A slice of pizza, well, you get it. It's food extortion. The hotel's restaurants have okay prices, but they are very busy and difficult to get into. You can walk out to the National Harbor shopping area and find a good selection of restaurants and some fast food places, but some of them are also expensive and it takes more time to eat out. The best deal is Chipotle with massive burritos for $6.

The Cosplayers

I don't think I need to say anymore about how amazing the cosplayers at Katsucon are. This is genuinely some of the best cosplay you'll see at any anime convention.
<a href="https://www.instagram.com/starbuxx" target="_blank">@starbuxx</a> is Tamamo from Fate/Grand Order
@starbuxx is Tamamo from Fate/Grand Order
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<a href="https://www.instagram.com/torra.zwei" target="_blank">@torra.zwei</a> is Alice from American McGee's Alice
@torra.zwei is Alice from American McGee's Alice
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<a href="https://www.instagram.com/cowbuttcrunchies" target="_blank">@cowbuttcrunchies</a> is Helgasercle from Tree of Savior, a Korean MMO RPG
@cowbuttcrunchies is Helgasercle from Tree of Savior, a Korean MMO RPG
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<a href="https://www.instagram.com/starlitwrld" target="_blank">@starlitwrld</a> is Elsa from Frozen
@starlitwrld is Elsa from Frozen
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<a href="https://www.instagram.com/yayahan" target="_blank">@yayahan</a> is Byleth from Fire Emblem
@yayahan is Byleth from Fire Emblem
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<a href="https://www.instagram.com/crystalfoxcosplay" target="_blank">@crystalfoxcosplay</a> is Roger Rabbit
@crystalfoxcosplay is Roger Rabbit
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<a href="https://www.instagram.com/bindismalls" target="_blank">@bindismalls</a> is Edelgard from Fire Emblem
@bindismalls is Edelgard from Fire Emblem
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<a href="https://www.instagram.com/suteroozu" target="_blank">@suteroozu</a> is Smaug from The Hobbit
@suteroozu is Smaug from The Hobbit
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<a href="https://www.instagram.com/aobittybaby" target="_blank">@aobittybaby</a> is Griffith from Berserk
@aobittybaby is Griffith from Berserk
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<a href="https://www.instagram.com/eveillecosplay" target="_blank">@eveillecosplay</a> is Queen Amidala
@eveillecosplay is Queen Amidala
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<a href="https://www.instagram.com/torra.zwei" target="_blank">@torra.zwei</a> is the Heart Seller from a Hearts for Sale comic
@torra.zwei is the Heart Seller from a Hearts for Sale comic
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<a href="https://www.instagram.com/nat_archaic" target="_blank">@nat_archaic</a> is Triss Merigold from The Witcher
@nat_archaic is Triss Merigold from The Witcher
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<a href="https://www.instagram.com/themoxiemegan" target="_blank">@themoxiemegan</a> and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/_.catalyst._" target="_blank">@_.catalyst._</a> are fairies from <a href="https://www.instagram.com/noflutter" target="_blank">@noflutter</a> Sailor Moon artwork
@themoxiemegan and @_.catalyst._ are fairies from @noflutter Sailor Moon artwork
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<a href="https://www.instagram.com/myratheoncosplay" target="_blank">@myratheoncosplay</a> is Julietta Necromancer by <a href="https://www.instagram.com/sakizoillustrator" target="_blank">@sakizoillustrator</a>
@myratheoncosplay is Julietta Necromancer by @sakizoillustrator
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<a href="https://www.instagram.com/kanstelar" target="_blank">@kanstelar</a> is a Mothman cryptid
@kanstelar is a Mothman cryptid
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<a href="https://www.instagram.com/jessakidding" target="_blank">@jessakidding</a> is Zero Two from Darling in the FRANXX
@jessakidding is Zero Two from Darling in the FRANXX
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<a href="https://www.instagram.com/natly_cosplay" target="_blank">@natly_cosplay</a> is Psycho from Borderlands 3
@natly_cosplay is Psycho from Borderlands 3
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