Otakon 2014 Wrap 2: It’s a Raid

I tried to get “Cyber Cyber” or “Mountain Explosion” into the blog post title to no avail. I want to just kind of finish up the Otakon experience write-down here but also segue into a bigger notion of cons being fan-organized endavors that require a lot of what goes for well-organized commercial enterprises (eg., mid-size companies).

Boss Azumin

I mean in terms of staff headcout, Otakon and has enough staff and gofers to make up a mid-size company. I want to evoke the raid concept–maybe for you that’s Naxx 40 or something WOW-ish. Or maybe we’re talking about 100-200-man type outdoor rumps back in EQ times (or FFXI, for those who play it). Or worse you have server-crashing EVE skirmishes that can take up even more warm bodies (and bots) behind the screen. In all of these cases some amount of organization is paramount for a group greater than size N to be able to still accomplish something complicated enough, with enough effectiveness to worth everyone’s while. It’s doubly so when we are talking a “PVP” sense. For any challenge or objective we can probably break them down into manageable-sized tasks. “Top off the tank” or “don’t stand in the fire” for example. You could think the same thing about cons, such as “don’t block the hallway” or “hold the ‘end of line’ sign at the end of pre-reg line.”  At some level, you organize similar or related sets of tasks and assign them to a group of people who deal with them. Like “melee DPS group” or “autograph department”  or “accounting.” I mean, it’s the same principles here for any normal company or organization.

This is kind of the reason why when, say, AX, fired a bunch of department heads and long-time staffers a few years back, it was not only a big deal, it’s a bigger deal than what most people think it can be. Imagine you have some good-going raid group and the new guild leader just removed everyone who had a leadership role. It isn’t to say the people who came back to replace them doesn’t know what they were doing necessarily, but it’s going to be a new experience for them running AX. There’s always a learning curve. This isn’t as severe in a MMORPG setting but the same things happen. You wipe and rely on the people who were there before to help the new leaders find the grooves and niches they were meant to replace. AX’s volunteers do this work, too.

Of course, turnover happens regardless of drastic situations or not. People join and leave any given company, and bigger it gets the more often it happens. This is where guilds fall apart because it’s typically not serious business so a smooth transition depends largely on existing members being flexible enough to work with the new members. But outside of commonly-expected protocols there are little to no structure or process to help newcomers out. Of course, this is kind of the organizational view. Guilds often take a more mentor-style approach where people who join guilds were already “auditioned” before they join by people who know the newcomer. In those cases when someone joins the guild they would already know what is expected of him or her, most of the time. This is a similar approach most cons take–from gofer to staffer, basically.

On the flip side you have companies, you have laws mandating how employees should be treated, especially in cases where they join or leave the company. There is an expectation of certain level of professionalism in those situations. There are rules to follow, bottom lines to guide macro behaviors, and other competitive and regulatory guidelines on how a company behave. I think that’s why I’m trying to evoke that sense of the raid for cons. Both of those things don’t have that expectation of professionalism to the degree that people running those organizations are really up to themselves to figure things out. It’s easy to lose not just the people who will lead others in one way or another, but the notion of how things are even organized to begin with, how people should behave, and the general character of the thing.

What prompted me to digress is basically the way Otakon did its concerts. And it goes for other cons like it. I think they allowed ALTIMA to put on a good show, but for the audience up front it was a bit ruined when they decided to put press and special needs front and center. It just isn’t how you are suppose to do it. Put press, special needs and VIPs to the side. It’s something I’ve whined about before for other cons over the years (as in, 10+ years), because it’s important for an act to see people responding to their  music, and when the average anime con crowd is already a bunch of slackass potato sacks, you gotta let those who are willing to stand and cheer be seen up front. Putting press (who are there professionally, so work with them to not get in the way of the performance) and people who can’t stand up physically in front seems like a nice gesture but ultimately an inexperienced one. Put it in other words, no professional venues do it this way. Try buying some accessibility tickets for Babymetal or Miku or Lady Gaga and see where they put you. That’s where cons should put their accessibility folks.

Let’s put aside that doing things like putting all the sit-down types right up front and put all the stand-up guys behind them look bad for the con and shows that the con is kind of unprofessional about where to seat people, or that it impacts the performance tangibly, the fact that I’m ranting about this in 2014 is a regression. I know Anime North, AnimeNext, AX and ACen all did this right in 2014, because I was there for at least one major JP music guest’s shows at each one of those cons. I know Otakon used to do this correctly, until this year. I had a nice side view at Kanno’s Piano Me, as press, for example. That was fine and well.

Why didn’t things work out that way this year? I can only think it’s because of Otakon’s department turnover leaving details like this fall through the cracks, while they deal with the special show Yoshiki had to put on in the same event space on Sunday.

This is where I make a huge plea to Anime Expo to not suck. AX, believe it or not,  has the best setup for an anime con in terms of music performances. Otakon has really two options for external concert space, and neither are really a good fit. The Arena is too big for anyone not L’arc-en-Ciel (maybe not even VAMPS can get that many warm bodies in there). If JAM Project packs out Anime Boston for 2-3k and Otakon at about 4k back in 2008, it makes a perfect fit for a venue the size of Nokia Theater. Both crowds are arguably too big for the other alternative, Ram’s Head, and even if they aren’t, Ram’s Head is located too far from the con venue. On top of that, there’s Club Nokia, which can probably fit about 1k eventers. All you need to do is saunter across Staples Center to get to the Nokia Plaza, a pretty swanky space actually, and get to the venues. For Otakon, you have to walk 20 minutes or so, following the right path, in order to get to Ram’s Head. Or up a couple city blocks to the First Mariner. Nothing wrong with those walks per se, but it’s definitely nowhere as nice.

All of that means the BCC halls will be ideal compromises for Otakon’s live shows. Which means we’ll be at Otakon’s mercy where to sit. Which means we’ll be at the mercy of people who may be inexperienced about seating people at a concert.

To go back to the AX plea bit. After this year’s AX I’m having serious doubt at AX’s ability to treat its Japanese music guests with the respect I expect from a professional anime con in the US. It’s more than just the incidents involving Kurinoko or how Angela got shafted in regards to what the audience can get from their performances, or that itchy Momoi blog post, or any other various issues with GOHs in AX’s history, no matter who was at the helm of GR or AX or whatever. It’s just that I don’t see this respect when I see how things are planned out to showcase these guests or what attendees and others. It’s like a half-assed raid.

With all that whine, I think it’s good time to turn to stuff we can constructively help cons with, as fans. Part of it is actually be constructive about whining, so I might just write a blurb about how to at least engage the local con communities in the form of at least, letting cons know who are good guests! It’s the least you and I can do, and not enough of us even try.

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