Back at full swing
If the anime community is a high school, then Katsucon is the homecoming prom. It’s the big event that everyone looks forward to. People dress up in their best outfits and get pictures taken. Hopefully all that con-crunching has paid off. Some people party late into the night and do things they kind of regret, if they can remember it at all. Maybe it will become a fun story to tell years later. Conventions are supposed to be fun after all. Whether that means partying, cosplaying, or attending panels – we all have different ways of having fun.
By my estimation, Katsucon has returned to pre-pandemic attendance levels. It felt just about as crowded as the 2020 event. Crowding is both good and bad. It’s good for the convention’s bottom line, but bad for people just trying to move around. As large as the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center is, it has some tight spots and people tend to congregate in certain areas. Speaking with a staff member who is privy to registration information, they told me they were at 2020 pre-registration numbers. If the at-the-door sales were up then they might have beat 2020 numbers. Katsucon doesn’t often announce attendance numbers and I haven’t heard anything official for 2023. Someone claiming to be staff said the communications director reported 25,400 attendees and 700 staff. Way to go Katsucon!
The crowds are a key factor which affects how fun the con is. The long queue for registration is often the first thing people experience. It starts in the long hallway of the convention center before going into the switchbacks in the registration hall. It’s the number one complaint about Katsucon and a rather poor first impression of the con which could be easily avoided by mailing badges. Most of the conventions that I attend now offer badge shipping and there’s really no excuse for not doing it. My guess is there’s a long-time embedded staff member who’s too stuck in their ways to change. It’s rather incredible to think that one person’s refusal to change is responsible for so many attendees’ bad experiences. This is all supposition on my part since I have no direct knowledge, but I can’t think of any other reason for it.
Beyond the registration line, the crowding makes it hard to enjoy the beautiful venue. It’s one of the top reasons why people attend Katsucon. The dramatic doors and gold curtains on the gazebo level are now an iconic part of the convention. If you didn’t get a photo there, did you even attend? The gazebo itself, no matter how impressive it may or may not be, is also an icon. This year there was a rumor that someone 💩 in the gazebo. I guess that’s some kind of next-level status 🤷. On the serious side, the crowding really does make it a less enjoyable experience. It is perhaps an unspoken goal of every convention to grow and gain more attendees. The point is to reach as many people as possible, right? There comes a point, though, where you reach capacity and are forced to make a change.
Too Big for the Gaylord National?
While Katsucon may not technically be at capacity in the Gaylord National (said to hold 30,000 attendees), parts of the venue certainly are. The gazebo level for sure, and the atrium floor as well. All those nice photography locations are swamped with photographers and cosplayers vying for space. It kind of seems ridiculous that we keep coming back year after year even though we know what it’s like. If it continues to grow it will reach a tipping point. As much as I hate to say it, Katsucon might have to move away from the Gaylord National. I know.
“What a terrible thought!” “Say it ain’t so!”
People would be in tears. Some might even protest. It would be utter chaos and destruction! Overturned vehicles and bonfires in the streets. Cats and dogs living together! But seriously, that’s what the future holds unless they cap the event. The alternative would be to move to a larger venue. If they stay in the D.C. Metro area that would likely be the Walter E. Washington convention center. Home to Awesomecon and Otakon, you can read my opinion of that location here.
Katsucon attempted some form of crowd management on the gazebo level. They cordoned off the area with tension belts and had staff posted at the entrances at each end. I suppose this was intended to keep traffic moving around the gazebo area while also limiting gazebo access to registered attendees. Whether it was successful or not is unclear. The belts quickly gained a hole in the middle and people basically walked freely in and out. It was more of an annoyance than anything. Similarly annoying was the mask policy. Anime conventions are one of the few places where masks are still required, but why? I flew on two planes, walked through airports, took multiple Uber rides, and visited with friends all without wearing a mask. However, once I step into the venue I was expected to don a mask. While there was some light enforcement by Katsucon staff, many people just didn't wear one. Additionally, most of the hotel staff didn't wear masks. Clearly this was a Katsucon requirement and not a State, County, or hotel requirement.
It's Not All About Cosplay(just mostly 😆)
If you’re not into the cosplay scene you can still be entertained by the panels and events. Katsucon has all the common anime convention things such as panels, karaoke, anime viewing rooms, anime music videos, maid café, formal ball, special guests, a vendor hall and artist alley. This year they introduced industry workshop panels featuring special guest panelists. These events were ticketed and cost $25-40 per panel. While some people complained about the additional cost, most of these events were sold out. I’m not a huge fan of vendor halls, but they can be fun to look around. There were some interesting booths this year. One had custom ocarinas (Zelda flutes) and sheet music. There were booths from Famore Cutlery, an Industry Panel sponsor, and some others as well. It’s nice to see these companies finding value in the anime convention scene.
As someone whose content revolves around cosplay, I rarely attend panels. Before I made cosplay videos I attended like a normal person, sitting in panels and going to the main events. It was an okay experience, but not as much fun as cosplay. Katsucon is known for being a cosplay-centric convention and I'd be curious to hear how various members of the organization feel about that. Cosplay is great and all - anyone can do it - but along with the neat costumes and body positivity comes clout chasing, gate keeping, social comparisons and infighting. These things are much less attractive. It’s all part and parcel of cosplaying in today’s world. Social media has turned it into a money-making venture for some and that brings competition and alters motivations. The advent of sites like OnlyFans.com has some seeking out new subscribers by strutting their stuff at conventions. Some cosplayers have booths in the vendor hall. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this. The casual attendee can appreciate the cosplayers regardless and having a booth allows fans to meet them in an organized way. Bad behavior can reflect poorly on the reputation of a convention though. Some cosplayers have been know to accept payment to step on you, whip you, or even spit on you. This has led conventions to draft rules around these kinds of things and you can see how it could sour the relationship between cosplayers and convention organizers. Katsucon would certainly never condone such behavior and isn’t responsible for it if it occurs within the walls of the venue.
For the most part, people cosplay because it’s tremendously fun and they enjoy sharing it with others. It really does bring people together and has created many happy memories. Always remember that they are people just like you and I and they deserve the same respect you’d give to anyone else. Please ask before taking a photo and definitely don’t touch them without their permission. Heck, I won’t even touch someone’s dog without asking for permission.
My goal for recording video at Katsucon was to get some beautiful shots without getting dragged down by the overcrowding. This meant shooting on Thursday when it was much less crowded and avoiding certain areas during times of high traffic. It’s frustrating to shoot on the atrium floor. There’s very little space and people are all over your backgrounds. I shot in some emergency exit areas where there was very little traffic, but I also shot on the gazebo and in front of the large ballroom doors where it gets crowded. I have to be where the people are. It just takes some skill to frame the shot to keep the background mostly clear. I have to say thank you to my friend @images_by_jc for inviting me to shoot with his cosplay friends. I almost never plan shoots at conventions, even though they are a good way to get guaranteed shots. My usual method is to walk around and randomly find people to film. He messaged me throughout the weekend to shoot with him and I got some great shots with some great cosplayers that way. Also, I want to give a big thanks to my brother for holding my light stand the whole weekend. Katsucon has a strict no-light stand policy which is actively enforced. @paulorusaphoto held my light faithfully and to great effect. Good lighting makes a big difference. If you haven’t already, please take a few minutes to watch my video. As always, a massive thank you to all of the people I filmed at Katsucon. You make what I do possible and I appreciate your time and efforts.