POTTERVERSE CON: Where the Magic is Fantastic.
In its second year of existence, Potterverse Con has left the Baltimore Harbor and gained a new home at the Bethesda North Mariott in Rockville, MD. And much like Professor Albus Dumbledore’s beloved Phoenix Fawkes, it has risen in its new home to be a very well run Con.
Everything about Potterverse Con shows signs of being well planned and thought out. The hotel is a half block walk from the White Flint stop on the red line. It has ample parking (something that All Star Comic Con, for all the many things they did right, struggled with) and is five minutes from the intersection of I270 and the Beltway, enabling people who are in MD, DC or VA to easily arrive at the venue. The hotel itself benefits from having a small conference center built next to it, with seamless access from the hotel. It is located two block away from the Pike and Rose development, providing guests with a full access to a plethora of dining, shopping and a movie theater.
But most importantly, it is well run and fun.
From the moment I entered the hotel, I was greeted by staff who directed me toward the Con. And there were always staff at different entry points. The staff were more than just volunteers tasked with directing traffic: they were knowledgeable and courteous. Each major stairwell or escalator had a Map of the layout of the Con, with Main Halls and rooms clearly identified. Each room had large printed signs indicating if that room was ‘Salon A’, or ‘Children’s Programming’, and the outside of each room was equipped with an electronic screen indicating what activity was taking place in that room at that time.
The Con was divided up into two levels, with the Main Hall and vendors on the top floor, and on the bottom floor were Panel rooms, along with Photops, Information and Main Registration, Children’s programming and even a small medical room. Everything was thought out in advance. The vendors were so much more than sellers of old comic books and toys. These was a Henna artist (busy at all times) and craftsmen, selling items made in leather, glass, paper, wood, clay and other mediums. They were divided up between a main hallway, a secondary hallway, and a main vendor room where at one end guests had tables for signing. It was a great way to ensure a flow of traffic without people being jammed up.
The panels were all well attended and had very good subject matter (Examples: “Beyond Fantastic Beasts: Recreating and Expanding upon Existing Myths and Lore”; Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts: The Power of Myth & Magic”) led by very good moderators Cat Smith, David James Gras and Dr. Arnold Blumberg. Smith and Blumberg also did double duty as hosts for the talks with the celebrity guests with Cat Smith getting the call for the main guest, Dan Fogler. Smith was the Max Scherzer of this moderator rotation and warmed up the crowd until there were more questions than time allocated for Fogler to answer them all. And Dan Fogler was a game participant in encouraging people to ask him questions by handing out a comic book to each person who asked him a question. He was very funny, friendly and the ideal guest you want at a Con.
Some of the many things that Potterverse did well:
Location, Location, Location. This was a FANTASTIC location! Easy to get to from MD, VA and DC. As mentioned before, there was a metro stop a half a block away. Lots of parking. Plenty of amenities nearby. Lots of space and natural light. Huge win all around. There are other cons who - as they grow in future years - should consider looking at this space.
Signs and Staff Everywhere. You always knew where everything was and where you were going at Potterverse. In an inspired move, the back of the attendee pass had a layout of both floors of the con. From the moment you entered the hotel, there were staff waiting to direct you to the Con. And these were well trained staff who handled every question I made of them. Each escalator or stairwell had a layout of the Con to help guide people. The front of each room had a large sign identifying what room that was. Each room had a screen identifying what talk was happening at that time in the room.
Superior Market Place. Far too many Cons just have endless booths of old comic books. Potterverse had a Market Place, with 62 vendors and craftsmen, selling hand made items in wood, metal, paper, clay and other materials. The market place filled up a room, and two long corridors.
Discounts with area vendors. Potterverse arranged for discounts with 22 eateries within a three block radius of the hotel, including popular places like The Baked Bear, Nando Peri’s, Kung Fu Tea, Whole Foods and others. The program guide had a map with the location of each establishment, along with staff recommendations. This is something larger Cons such as Otakon or AwesomeCon, should consider adopting.
Children’s Programming was a hit. Many Cons don’t give children’s programming the attention they should. Not so at Potterverse. From Quidditch matches to Harry Potter Yoga, kids had a large room to claim as their own, with its own unique entertainment. The roar of children laughing on Saturday evening at the Quidditch match (involving long tables, ping pong balls, and rings) threatened to drown out the panel next door.
PhotoOps well organized. The PhotoOps for guests were well organized. People were given a time slot, and then were led to a room to wait - seated to be called in an orderly fashion to the room where photos were being taken. Once the picture was taken, you were immediately handed your printout. Unlike other Cons, you were NOT charged for a Jpeg: you could go to the photographers website and simply download your picture a few hours later. A very nice change of pace.
Excellent Panels. From panels with the guests to panels on subject matter such as Myth and Lore, I could have spent all my time just at the panels. There were not many of them, but quality was chosen over quantity. The panel of Trevor Butterfield was especially fascinating because of the stories he shared of being a background extra in the original Star Wars trilogy. Having played multiple characters himself (one of the better known ones being the Reptilian bounty hunter Bossk), he revealed that there were a core 25 actors who were asked time and again to play multiple roles in all three movies: more than just background but less than a speaking role. Sadly, many of that core group have passed on.
Now, there is always something that a Con can strive to improve upon, and Potterverse had one.
The Cosplay Contest. While there were many good examples of Cosplay throughout the Con, because of the nature of the Con, it was limited to characters within the Harry Potter Universe. That artificially limits the number of cosplayers who might have attended but did not because their cosplay is not set in the Harry Potter world. Also, because the event was described as ‘Wizards and Witches Fancy Dress Parade’, it may not have been clear that this was an actual cosplay contest. I think this can easily be remedied by:
* Calling it either a ‘Cosplay Masquerade Ball’, or something with the word
* Make the contest have ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Non Potter’ categories for competition.
* In addition to entry for Potterverse next year, offer a small financial incentive. Have your staff comment to anyone in Cosplay how good they look and encourage them to join the cosplay contest.
* Move the start time up. The good news for Potterverse is that it attracts a lot of families and kids, which means a built in audience for years to come (and the Fantastic Beasts movies should help keep the flame alive). But it also means families can’t stay for the start time of 8:00 PM. By moving up the start time, it allows them to both attend and compete.
Much like its sister Con, RegenerationWho, Pottterverse Con is well run and has a bright future ahead. They are both niche cons focused on a specific universe of characters, but both universes show no sign of slowing down. The first year at the new location was a success, and I believe word of mouth around the new location will attract future attendance growth next year. How much they wish to grow is up to the Con organizers.
I give this magically fantastic Con an +A.