Atlanta's biggest anime convention
MomoCon is the Southeastern United States’ largest gaming and anime convention. Based in Atlanta, GA, this large convention gathered a record-breaking 48,000 attendees this year. That’s a significant number for an anime convention and enough to put it in the top 5 by attendance. Held at the giant Georgia World Congress Center, it has plenty of room to grow.
Considering the size of Atlanta, it’s surprising that it doesn’t have more than a handful of anime and fan conventions. MomoCon is the biggest convention in the anime and gaming community, followed by Anime Weekend Atlanta. And then there’s DragonCon – the behemoth fan, comic, anime, everything con. I guess with cons of this caliber there’s not much room for anything else.
MomoCon is homegrown in Atlanta. It’s a convention operated by people who love anime and gaming. After splitting off from a college anime club, it hosted its first event in 2005 and grew significantly in its first 10 years. It's not backed by big corporate sponsors, although it certainly could draw them if it wanted to. You won’t see the massive displays in the vendor hall like you do at Anime Expo or Anime NYC. If you visit the “About” page on the MomoCon website (link), you can read the story of how it began and understand why they call their staff “family”. It’s a “labor of love” or a convention “by fans, for fans”, or some other cliché but true saying. As I’ve written in other articles, this type of organizational structure has its advantages and disadvantages, but in this instance it’s a net positive.
From the perspective of a seasoned attendee, MomoCon seems to have things figured out. No con is perfect, of course, but things seemed to go smoothly. Registration is front and center when you enter the building. I didn’t see long queues for registration like some conventions have. There was a large queue for the vendor hall, though. There were lots of vendors and no less than three rows of Itasha cars. I’ve never seen that many gathered in one place before. Once the doors opened the queue dispersed quickly.
The main events area sits in-between the gaming area and the vendor hall. It was sectioned off by curtains, so I’d be surprised if it was home to loud concerts or dances. That would spill right into the gaming area. As I recall, there was a dance, or rave, but it was in a different part of the convention center.
Gaming at MomoCon included all the common types of gaming like tabletop, console, PC, and free-play arcade games. There were quite a few pinball machines, DDR, and other interactive types where you beat the drums or wave your hands. I’m not a gamer, so I basically walked around the room, snapped some photos, and left. While there is certainly a lot of space dedicated to gaming, the nuances of it are lost on me.
Likewise, I have little interest in autographs, celebrities, or guests. There were guests and there were queues set up, as you would see at any con. Whether they charged for signatures or photos, I don’t know. It seemed that the size of the guest area relative to the size of the con was less than other cons, but that’s just my unscientific estimation. I was not aware of how many foreign guests were present. Having lots of foreign guests is one thing that can make a convention stand out from the average con.
The Georgia World Conference Center, or GWCC, is one of the largest civic convention centers in the USA. The center is divided into buildings A, B, and C. MomoCon used all or most of Building B and some of A. It’s hard to fathom 3.9 million square feet of space. You can’t tell how big it is from the outside due to the layout. It occupies multiple floors which are easily traversed by escalator or elevators. There are multiple entry points and no security checks, which is convenient. It’s part of a complex which includes the 21,000 seat State Farm Arena and 42,500 seat Mercedes-Benz Stadium. This is an important note since there were events which overlapped MomoCon, driving up parking prices to $60 per day! The seven-story parking structure is beneath the outdoor courtyard between the buildings, creating a cavernous space which feels like the Mines of Moria from The Lord of the Rings. I used that space for dramatic effect in my video.
The vendor hall, artist alley, and gaming areas are down, down, down the escalators in the massive Building B. This space seems to go on and on and on. It’s like walking the length of three football fields. Smaller event rooms are spread out along the walkways. There’s a food court on the main level not too far from registration and smaller food vendors on the vendor hall level.
From a photography perspective, there’s not a lot to say about the buildings. Both the interior and exterior are unremarkable. The interior is clean and has a good amount of natural light streaming through the windows. Just outside the main entrance is a large wall of faux green plants which I thought looked very ugly. Some of the walls are concrete with glass block. Some are structural steel with large panes of glass. The rest of the outdoor area is concrete pavers and understated modernist landscaping. There is a nice outdoor space down near the vendor hall with pools and fountains. It’s not very large so it can be easily taken up by other photographers.
I found some very interesting places to shoot in the parking garage. It has an angled wall that descends all seven stories. At the bottom are rows of lights which illuminate the wall at night. Behind it is a cave-like space and adjacent is the large, cavernous space I mentioned earlier. On the far corner is an elevated walkway leading to the Mercedez-Bens Stadium. It gives off post-apocalyptic vibes and the MARTA runs underneath it, giving you a chance to get the moving trains in your shot.
Hotels and Getting There
The GWCC is so large that no matter which hotel you stay at, you’ll have to walk some distance to enter the con. This is downtown Atlanta, so you have your pick of places to stay. The closest hotel, which is technically attached, is the Omni. It’s part of the complex and has two separate towers across the street from one another. I highly recommend booking this hotel for ease of access. There are a few other hotels in the area, but they are at least a couple of city blocks away.
You can stay at one of the DragonCon host hotels if you want to. The nearest is the Westin. If you’re familiar with DragonCon, the GWCC is on the other side of Centennial Park, near the aquarium. Nothing is very far away, but there’s always the MARTA if you decide it is. The GWCC station is one stop away from Five Points station on the east-west line.
If you’re flying in, you should have no problems finding flights. ATL is the busiest airport in the USA and is one of the largest. It’s a major hub for Delta and all the major airlines have multiple daily (or redeye) flights there. Even my hometown, which is a secondary city for air travel, has direct flights to ATL. Taking the MARTA to downtown Atlanta is a reliable, quick, and affordable option, but I chose to Uber since it was more convenient and surprisingly not too expensive. As with any big city, I don’t recommend traveling alone, especially at night. There is a large homeless population in downtown Atlanta and with that comes all the issues of drug abuse and mental health.
There were many people in cosplay, of course, but I restrained myself to shooting less of them to reduce my backlog. Creating videos is time consuming, especially when attending back-to-back conventions. I managed to find some interesting locations for shooting and avoided the crowds as much as possible. Many thanks to both MomoCon and all the cosplayers I met that weekend.