EXCLUSIVE: KATSUCON is where Cosplayers bring their ‘A’ Game
There are many Cons these days, celebrating a wide diversity of interests from fantasy to science. But few are as amazingly beautiful, both in Cosplayers and in setting, as Katsucon.
Katsucon is the equivalent of New York Fashion week for Cosplayers on the East Coast. In the Washington DC area since 1995, it has moved around different site locations until it finally settled in 2010 on its current host site: The Gaylord Convention Hotel and Convention Center. It’s a match made in heaven. The Gaylord provides a perfect environment for Cosplayers to show off their skills. An abundance of natural light from the glass canopy that covers their very large atrium provides for ideal settings. And immediately outside are manicured lawns with water fountains, and a walkway next to the river with a pier. It is a setting any Con would love to have at their disposal.
The Gaylord is in the middle of a recently built urban community with an abundance of stores, restaurants, other hotels, and, most importantly, several parking garages. It is easily accessible by car from VA, MD and DC, and even offers access by water taxi. The hotel and convention center were all built at the same time as part of the same buildout so access is seemless from one to the other. It is a large hotel with a multi-tier atrium with several stairs, escalators and elevators. It can handle a crowd, which is a good thing because Katsucon is still growing.
The impetus for Katsucon’s several moves has been its own success: it continues to grow. According to Wikipedia, they have not released attendance numbers since 2016. But what started as a convention of 500 in 2005, has grown to at least 17,000 in 2016. In 2018 that number was easily reached, and likely exceeded. Breakout sessions between panels and talks threatened to overwhelm the main convention corridors at peak times. Even late into Sunday the Atrium was buzzing with cosplayers as if it were a Saturday. The host facilities were clearly pushed, but they were able to meet the demand.
The Cosplay level has attracted a horde of professional photographers eager to capture images of the cosplayers. Photography equipment worth several thousands of dollars were on display as pictures were snapped both in and outside of the building. The Con organizes by the hour photography opportunities by themes near the hotel indoor fountain, and while these were taken advantage of, spontaneous professional photography sessions were popping up all over.
For those not wanting to engage in cosplay or photography, there is a wealth of programming that both goes till the early morning, and starts up again in the early morning. There is also a cavernous video game room which can satisfy any gamer. The Con breaks out merchants and artists into separate rooms which works very well to allow people to focus their shopping. The Con makes smart use of staff and white boards to control the flow of people in and out of each room by designating separate entrances for entry and departure.
The hotel has two sets of rooms: those facing the indoor atrium, and those facing the back of the building. Attendees should always try to get one of the rooms facing indoors. The view from one of the balconies of the sea of cosplayers spread out through the entire inside lobby is worth the price. The hotel has wisely restricted use of elevators to guests who have room keys, which enables the elevators to be less tied up by guests simply riding up and down to enjoy the view. Attendees are not simply Anime or Manga cosplayers; in fact, a simple turn of the head would easily allow anyone to spot cosplayers from star Trek, Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Stranger Things or any number of shows that are not directly related to Anime.
In terms of what the Con does very well:
The location is a game winner. It’s a beautiful hotel with an ideal setting. Not only was the hotel built together with the convention center, it boasts a huge glass atrium, with multiple tiers, next to a body of water. This is a far cry from your typical convention center which is located in the middle of a city. Presidents Day weekend is also a great time for the Con, because it allows guests to stay an extra day without feeling they have to rush out on Sunday afternoon to be back at work or school on Monday. Superb planning by the organizers.
The hotel and the Con work very well together. At check out time on Sunday, the hotel could not keep everyone’s luggage at their bell stand. So they designated a large corridor in the convention center for people to leave their luggage after checking out, and had staff watching the luggage, which was organized in alphabetical rows.
The variety of both artists and merchants is large. These are not just simple vendors of old comics or toys. There are vendors displaying impressive work in clothing, leather, metal and other areas of craftsmanship. And it helps people focus what they are looking for to have them in separate rooms. They also wisely use different entrances for entering or leaving to help keep the flow of people steady.
They make good use of their social media. They have a dedicated site on flickr for guests to share their pictures, and likewise allow for feedback from attendees on the facebook page.
They have a closing ceremony where they solicit feedback from attendees about how well they did. This is a great idea to hear directly from their guests how they felt the Con was run.
And things to tweak:
With so many photographers present, it would be easy to think everyone wants their picture taken. This is not always the case. They should have several signs reinforcing the fact that cosplay is not consent.
The Con is pushing capacity at the Gaylord. The ebb and flow is aided when the weather is nice and people can spill outside. But that was not the case on Saturday. The Con needs to consider soon whether they are going to start capping the number of attendees.
From an operations and logistics point of view, for a Con this large you can’t have registration serving as the sole place for people to ask for information. Set up a secondary information booth near the water fountains where most of your attendees congregate. Make it easier, not harder, for people to ask questions about the Con.
Improved maps and signage is needed to help move guests around. Each floor should have a white Board with an easel near the top of the steps indicating what rooms/activities are located on that floor (Ex: this floor, Operations, Lost and Found, Autographs). The maps need to be redesigned to better reflect the multiple floors that have Con activities.
The Gaylord immediately charges guests for the first night of a booked stay. Most hotels only charge you once you arrive and checkout the Gaylord charges one night up front. This can be a nasty surprise on someone’s credit card.
While there is parking, it can get expensive to park there, as an all day parking rate can run up to $20 per day. The con could consider renting a bus and (for a fee) offer transportation to the nearest metro stop twice on Friday for arrivals and twice on Sunday for departures.
There is a growing number of professional photographers who are not attending the Con but increasing their portfolios by just taking pictures within the hotel atrium. This in turn is starting to make it difficult to move around, especially when they have with them large pieces of equipment. The Con should consider allowing photography to only be taken by people who have a Con badge. Or sell at a lower price a badge that allows for photography inside the Atrium but not to attend any of the Con functions.
Katsucon is a growing convention worth staying for the full three days. It brings out the best in Cosplayers who attend. The setting is one many Cons can only dream of. I give Katsucon a B+ for beautiful.