Why Otakon 2015 Shrunk

I was reading the ANN Forums thread for this post. Why? Because reading the Otakon boards on the same topic doesn’t get you the same kind of discussion, and I’m not sure where else I can read to see people chime in with their 2c. The key takeaway in the forum was that Bronycon, which is the MLP con that runs in Baltimore just before Otakon (traditionally the week before) had about a 500-people increase. Most people attribute to the decline in Otakon’s attendance between 2014 and 2015 to also several other factors such as the pre-reg issues this and last year, the price increase, and the less-than-stellar guest list, and most of these were unmentioned in the ANN column.

The Bronycon increase is important as a control, because that con, presumably, has a similar age and location demo as Otakon, and I’m assuming it did not have a price hike or a prereg debacle. Maybe there are some factors that made it different than Otakon in the context of this discussion, but it’s hard to see them at a glance.


That ANN Ask Justin article is basically, fear mongering, according to a certain person who is a big Eva nerd. I partly agree with him after that factoid. Partly only because I don’t think Justin is wrong in his central point, just the way that post came across seemed that way. Maybe it’s just my confirmation bias, but nobody I went to the con with was that concerned about the Baltimore riots in August. We were definitely concerned about it in May, but it helps that I know somebody who works in the City and he is pretty much not concerned since the riot days. I certainly didn’t pay it any mind while I was there, as I never go out of the inner harbor anyway. If that article was fear-monger-y, it was likely unintentional and reflects Justin’s personal biases.

I would have believed aforementioned Eva nerd less if that ANN article had facts to justify that the con attendance dropped not because of other things unrelated to the civil unrest (and I understand why Justin wasn’t thinking about these other things), or in general, based less on hearsay (and not even hearsay of insiders or people in a position to “know”). For example, anecdote about the pool of blood is simply unnecessary and, why is it even there? I can see why some may accuse that article of fear mongering.

The real reason, I think, has more to do with other events and cons. Justin applied his experience with AX and how after years of failure people still came back, and that’s sensible. Despite fare increases, botching pre-reg and at-con reg, screwing up line control, dicking with GOH treatment, endless management drama, and countless other screw-ups, AX kept growing. Maybe this is why he didn’t list any of the factors Otakon goers thought that could attribute to the issue. Unlike any other US cons though, AX is in a very different boat, as there’s nothing quite like it. Now that it has rocketed out in terms of star power, compared to any other North American con, it can afford to keep screwing up and people will continue to return. AX is also located in the largest asian nerd demo region in North America, which guarantees lots of interested attendees at any given year.

Otakon, on the other hand, now seems to fall in line with cons like Anime Boston, ACen, Anime North, and even Anime Next when it comes to guests and attendance. And unlike the US Northeast, and despite the repeated attempts at starting something, SoCal remains firmly in AX’s grasp, as it distinguishes itself from the other non-anime, mega nerd events in the area. Otakon locals can get their fix from established and familiar events like Magfest, Katsucon and Anime USA, and that’s not to mention the smaller ones in the area. People in a 2-hour radius have a lot of options, including cons down south, up to Boston, or even Toronto/Montreal (which both have 20000+ anime cons now!). Even if you go by the numbers, The DC metro area is 3rd largest in the US and the SD/LA metro area is the largest. The demand out west is much larger and less supplied, so to speak, than the one in DC/Baltimore.

And this is a relatively recent thing. Just going back 5-6 years, other than Katsucon, these other events were nascent and unremarkable. As there is only so much nerd money in this pot, and with the new Otakon price hike in 2015 ($100 at door), it’s going to hit a point where people will stop coming because of all these factors, including the persistent crowding due to the con outgrowing the facilities and other perceived negative experiences.

So my hypo is simply that the con-goer landscape in 2015 is drastically different than even 2010. There are more events that vie for our disposable incomes. Con-goers are more sensitive to pricing and other negative factors such as how a con is run. Not to mention, at some level, AX anecdotes don’t apply to Otakon? One common thing that comes up is the increased fees for Otakon as compared to AX. AX 2015 had a $60 entrance fee for 4 days while it hosts paid large events (like the Masquerade). But it’s an apples-and-oranges thing as even if you don’t go to any of the paid events there is plenty else, free, to do at AX. (I mean, %-wise, most AX attendees probably don’t go to these paid events, as the largest of these halls only hold like a 5th of the total attendees?). I’m not entirely convinced that one AX admission dollar goes less far than one Otakon admission dollar. It’s probably close value-wise, which makes the cheaper of the two much more attractive.

Another factor that could have impacted the Otakon attendance is the fact that Otakon this  year ran in July, which is the same month as E3, SDCC and AX. That’s a packed month if you are from the west coast. And I feel the people who are most likely rattled by Baltimore’s rough patch since the riots are most likely people from way out there…

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