Just my 2c on Otakon Vegas, the newly announced convention in Jan. 2014, the offshoot of Otakon (in Baltimore). In short, it’s still too early to say.
I think the concept of Otakon Vegas makes sense. If you want a convincing argument, reading the FAQ part of their site is an almost-bullet-point list of the common worries being addressed spot on. Otakon also sent 3 dudes on the ANNCast this week, and that’s a pretty good listen if you are into what the character of Otakon. Otakon, in my mind, separates from other cons because it feels like a con that is focused on the “anime” part of an anime con. It’s executed in that way–I can feel it, after all these years of attending. There’s a focus and a purpose, and the con is planned around it. There are also a lot of weird constraints that you never really have to worry about but end up making things difficult. If you listened to the ANNCast they’ll go into things like why streaming the con becomes a problem. (It also kind of explains why there was a DVD of L’arc~en~ciel concert, but Aya Hirano only got pictures of her at the Aquarium and walking around town from this summer.) It’s also about the slightly weird stuff about membership where when you attend Otakon (Prime, to cop PAX terminology), you are really a member of Otacorp attending its annual membership meeting. This means Otakon Vegas is more like a non-Otakon anime con in that sense–it’s going to be small and run by weird Otakon bros (as characterized by the ANNCast) who will use it as a lab to hone their 20+year of collective con-running prowess.
I think the Maid Cafe is a great example, so I’ll rehash it here. That’s basically what we should be expecting of Otakon Vegas. The story about the Maid Cafe is that for years on end, Otakon attendees (and staffers) wanted a maid cafe. Other local cons had it–Anime USA being the most outstanding example–but for a lot of different reasons, it wasn’t possible. Well, mainly one reason: serving food in their programming required some kind of labor contract trigger involving the union who work the con center to be a part of it. This stopped being a problem when the Hilton opened up and became part of the BCC complex. You can definitely serve food in the hotel on your own, and so this is partly why Otakon had its very first maid cafe last year. However a 30k-attendee con means you can’t really do a maid cafe without working out the logistics to deal with the crowd. I remember NYAF’s maid cafe–that was pretty sad. Otakon’s was somewhat better, from what I can tell by hearsay. I say hearsay because I join more than half of the people who wanted to attend the maid cafe–the more-than-half of people who couldn’t get in. It’s “too successful” but it’s more because that kind of activity just doesn’t scale with this size of a con. So to do a con Maid Cafe right, you gotta set it up with not only the right kind expertise, without the contract constraints, but also scaled to the size of the con. This is where a brand new con comes in, and I guess it could apply to all sorts of other programs that Otakon may not offer today.
The other problem, also mentioned on the ANNCast, is one of logistics, when Zac brought up the point about how the con has outgrown its locale. Rather, it’s more about time, not so much size. I can tell you by hearsay that Otakon struggles with the idea of a 4-day con for some time now. As someone who plans for cons pretty hard and pretty far advanced, I can tell you by non-hearsay that it’s much harder to write up Otakon’s schedule because it’s much more jam packed than, say, AX’s. AX has that extra day to spread things out, to enable its high-capacity rooms to host more and larger programming. Not to mention it’s just more spread out physically (despite its much larger headcount). Otakon, in contrast, has consistently much better panels, but it’s more compressed and thus it feels like that con always have rooms too small for the programs it has–all because its big rooms can only host so many panels in a day, and there’s all this additional logistics problem with programming as a result of having less time to juggle more dynamic programming. By beginning from scratch, Otakon Vegas can do more stuff with less sort of the logistical constraint that comes with a 30k con, not just one of supply and demand.
There’s another angle to this. Similar to the Music Fest, Otakon Vegas is naturally another venue for Otakon to work with its Japanese contacts, to build its brand, to bring more JP guests overseas. It’s Otakon, so I expect at least this much. It’s also why I think Otakon Vegas is going to be financially not-a-major factor in terms of its impact to Otakon and its existing affiliated events, because it can possibly run cheaper than a small con of the same size due to economy of scale and other leverages as a spin-off con. Actually, the way how LV is being pitched to Otacorp in the podcasts seem to suggest something possibly revealing…
A little reverse engineering can tell you just where a con places its priority–in contracting the location, taking care of its staff, spending money to wrangle lines, bringing over oversea guests of honor, and balanced with its membership fees… I think the saying goes where your money is, your mind is there also? I believe that applies to a membership-run con like Otakon 100%. In due time, when Otakon Vegas begin to announce its detail plans, guests and events, we’ll find out for sure what this new con will really be.
PS. Otakon has, in years past, a marketing issue. You can kind of tell that with Otakon Vegas they are trying to make this marking thing work, at least a little.