The beginning of March was when we had the last of the conventions in-person when it was still safe to do so. We had just started to learn of COVID-19. We had seen increased cleaning by the convention center staff and vendors at PAX East (where I’m an enforcer, which is one of the temporary staff members).
For some of us this was the last place we hugged our friends. Before all events were rightly cancelled for safely and many have gone online.
It has been six months of virtual events and my friends and fellow journalists Roland Kelts and Rob Salkowitz have written on the various aspects of the virtual cons, Roland more on the anime side and Rob on the comics side.
Now there are some things missing from each the rise of some virtual fan conventions and small ones. Rob does talk branded events and while the biggest one was DC Fandome, it was not the only one. There were also ones from Funimation and Sentai Filmworks. Also, Roland did point out a con I didn’t hear about Anime Lockdown, which had great content and guests and good viewership numbers.
Each one has been a way to connect with their fanbases and keep the excitement up, connect with fand and keep them going, and announce new products, services etc.
It’s also allowed voice actors and other professionals to host their own online events, their own mini cons and the technology to make these happen at least in some cases.
Watching and Casting
Now anyone who streams on twitch (myself included) knows about this, you mostly do things with your audience. Linda Le (Vampy Bit Me) streams different video games as well as Gundam Builds to engage her community. Linda was already known for cosplay awesomeness, and this is another way that the audience is engaged. (I run a lot in Monster Hunter with Vanessa de Galicia and she has a wonderful and engaging community. She is getting close to partner too.)
Sonny Strait so far has hosted two mini events called SonnyCon and the second one we had the original voice of Bulma Tiffany Vollmer and spoke about Bulma things and how Tiffany is doing being a COVID survivor.
Why I say we is that the SonnyCons have been run completely on my equipment, cast to Sonny’s twitch channel and I am a cohost along with Kristin, using Zoom to broadcast myself and the guests (as well some layout management) so we can have some fun layout things, along with my streamdeck to help some interactivity such as queued up gifs.
This leads to the cons and how they are made, now. In these cases the cons mostly refer to the panels now. I usually referred to this as programming which while a large part of the conventions was not the only thing that people went for (and in some cases never went to programming). More on this later.
In the beginning there were some of the fan and some other pro run mini-cons there was Virtual Pop Expo (that was May 9th and 10th) which was one of the first. This one was hosted by Bernie Bregman (host and one of the people behind some of the most fun afterparty events at SDCC), those hosted by voice actors on their own channels usually on their own twitch channels. These usually run along the same technologies, mostly Zoom.
The technology to virtual events is easy in terms of panels, multiple speakers, even fans can join in in a one time thing (unlike Skype). Mostly with Zoom which has been the go-to. Zoom is then taken as an input into software like OBS and Streamlabs then broadcast to Twitch and/or YouTube which have the easiest to have the highest amount of viewing fans and more ways to watch them.
Multiple ways of viewership are the best way to do things. Some people have Roku and Chromecast enabled TVs (of their own and not shared), some don’t some people have desktops like me (and laptops), some just have laptops, and some just have their phones.
Galaxycon has been using another software StreamYard which has allowed for some useful features with some fan interaction with less programming and plugins needed than for OBS or Streamlabs. It has a sort login viewership, via free ticketing but with a lot of possible add-ons with the interactions of the various guests. It is still viewable on phones and computers and usually GalaxyCon has it done direct on a site through their ticking service.
Otakon used Stage Ten and then broadcast to Twitch.
RTX at home (Rooster Teeth not the Nvidia cards) looks to be run on another platform through their site.
(Anime Expo also ran some programming on Microsoft Teams which acted strange several times I and others tried to use it.)
The largest branded events such as DC Fandome could have built their own systems on top of some of these other platforms and the viewership was on its own site which was similar but more similar on what Funimation did.
For conventions though and this includes the ReedPOP family of conventions have been through Twitch and YouTube. PAX/EGX runs on Twitch and PAX has been broadcasting on Twitch for several years now already, one of the things I do as an enforcer on PAX is help to manage and engage on livestreams. Even then for these years PAX had a global audience who could all tune in and watch at the same time.
This year as we know AX ran on YouTube, Twitch, SDCC was all pre-recorded and released on YouTube, though there was a live aspect with IGN and YouTube.
Livestreaming was something I was always recommending to various cons. Anime Expo did have aspects of a liveshow which our own Kari Lane has hosted, and DragonCon has a variety of things with DragonCon TV, and did this year as well.
A unique thing DragonCon did with streaming which I did not see from anyone else was having a Roku channel. This is how I watched DragonCon mostly, via the Roku channel on my TCL TV with Roku and my Vizio 5.1 soundbar. (For phones DragonCon used Vimeo which has less restrictions on content than YouTube)
The computer and phone are great for interaction but even when you have larger computer screens like I do, you sometimes want to watch things on your TV.
I did both the interact via computer but what where I could I watched on a bigger screen and had the computer muted while I interacted.
There was the on the website chat (which I used and received a few shout out in by the hosts) but when you think about it, this is a limited option.
Yes casting from your computer to your TV is an option but there is the usefulness of having the apps to watch directly. Even if it using Twitch or YouTube to broadcast. This is something I found a little lacking from the branded events, you had to watch it directly on their interface from your computer.
This does make it easier to interact where chat was available but still, just limited to the computer screen. That can make it harder for some families and groups in the future. If they all want to watch something as a group. Most groups now have a number of screens which includes phones. Now when you can cast to a larger screen easily this is great, but in most cases this requires a computer or an app. You can not easy cast from a website on your phone. Plus to have the fullscreen experience you have to keep your phone in landscape mode.
(https://www.androidcentral.com/how-mirror-your-android-screen-chromecast shows how to do the casting to Chromecast method but it is not the best for doing things, plus if you want to interact you can not easily while casting from your phone to TV. Because you have to change how you’re viewing, or do the multiple screens like I was doing, but this is not an optimal way for most people.)
In the future I think virtual branded events should definitely have an app to cast with, it’s totally worth it for the fans. For an economic incentive, the app in itself can lead to more signups for a service and possibly be able to buy individual merch. Like with Fandome pretty much everything leads into HBO Max as that’s where all the shows will be aside from the movies that will come to theaters (whenever that will be again) and we have seen that Disney+ can bring the movies direct to the service, even at a premium.
(Still back on the computer Scener allows people to have watch parties on various services this is something that Funimation uses to engage with their fans. With some services this can be expanded even further for times with the cast.)
The branded events can use their own apps to directly have the watch and cast. This can be passive while another app can allow you chat. Of course, they can just release new apps for the events. ReedPOP had individual apps for their cons, mostly schedules and such but there is a lot of potential for now and in the future. Watch the stream, interact, and cast.
A good amount of people who do cons do also have a 4K TV or at least a Full HD and many also have a Chromecast and/or Roku to watch content. Now the ability to watch how you want to, is very important, especially now.
Watching and being comfortable watching is an important thing. The tools needed to interact with pop culture events and mediums, even more so. This is comes into apps and platforms.
Most have smartphones now so the ability to create and react with content via new content creation is easy, and this helps in the interactive features of cons such as the meet and greets and one on ones. Which helps support the cons, guests, etc. Especially when they run these things on their own channels. And via the apps we can watch, interact, and create. The apps connect so everything is cross platform at least in the consumption, the watch, and certain aspects interact.
That would be best, multiple ways to watch and interact direct, while we also post everything on social at the same time.
Now running a panel is something that would not be recommended running from a phone, but from a decently powered laptop or desktop especially with multiple screens, you can do a lot especially with a team, which what most of the conventions and companies do. (Panelists however can join on from their phones, though this is not recommended, especially for major ones. In the case of the largest events and branded it would be best to make sure your panelists have or are sent a good webcam at minimum.)
With Zoom and such you can easily invite a fans in and then have them leave as you need, making just like the line up for the mic at cons.
While DC Fandome probably had a huge team you don’t really need a large team to make wonderful content. (Again, something most Twitch streamers already know.)
(When we do SonnyCon it is a team, while we all talk together, add, and do things. I am primarily running the tech on my equipment and that includes launching effects including gifs, Kristin is primarily monitoring and moderating chat asking questions as well, and Sonny is our host.)
Now virtual events aren’t new. Nintendo has been doing Nintendo directs and Monster Hunter holds their developer diary as a live premiere event.
Because of their nature they need to be pre-recorded at least in most parts, similar to trailers, premieres etc. They all have to be pre-shot and edited in multiple aspect anyway.
Now the live premiere and interaction, especially with panelists is always a fun thing. If the whole thing is shown all at once people will skip around and just look for the parts they want to see as opposed to whole program.
An exciting in Fandome was seeing our friends in the cosplay sections. My friend Ixchel was shown on Fandom during the Wonder Woman ’84 section with the main cast!
I also spotted my friend Zoe Volf in one of the cosplay sections as Poison Ivy.
This was the kind of excitement we liked with the live event, seeing the unexpected and having the fun things happen, that like cons can be once in a lifetime.
Now after the premiere, the best thing is to leave it up so people can continue to watch, enjoy, and see it when they can (because not everyone is able to watch it when it’s live or the very soon after). In the cases of theorists, analyze as well, checking each frame and sequence for any interesting reference. We see this often with popular games where people will look through each frame from any announcement. People do this for shows and movies too.
Anime Expo only left their content up for less than a week which is unfortunate because there were some really great things and diverse content on there. Such as “BIPOC Actors in Anime.” While there was a live component and this really helped in interactivity, removing the content only hurts in the long run. Because unless some people have backed it up, it could be lost forever.
Before the pandemic and for over a decade now I video the videography and editing for many events large and small, making sure what happened there was documented for future generations, so people could see and hear things for themselves and not only the reports from journalists and other attendees. As I always covered events that had a lot of historical significance but might not have always been well attended, even for people as well known as Stan Lee. Now the room was packed with about 100 people but not widely reported on and there was a lot of wonderful things thing by other seminal people in comics.
If I didn’t do the video there would be very few records of this event and all the wonderful tributes within. This was the feeling I got when learning that Anime Expo was removing their content. SDCC’s is still there and still getting views. DragonCon’s are available on their DragonCon TV, Funimation’s are available on Funimation’s streaming service. The content being here is another point of monetization.
Something strange with SDCC is that since all were pre-recorded why did they have time limits and allow the panelists to upload the extended versions on their channels. The reason why this is strange is because with all of them being pre-recorded and not slamming up against a video time, why were there what seemed like to be arbitrary time limits?
As with cons there and are multiple at the same time, but now with them virtual one of the things that has also happened is being able to watch and interact with multiple events at the same time.
People had to choose before where they went. It was possible to watch some even while at another event or just parts, but at home you can usually watch them all.
Have had all pre-recording. Now the judges have been surprised live and this has allowed all sorts of photos and videos to be shown. Being recorded at home meant that cosplayers had different levels of production.
But it was cool to see the judges reaction every time.
There were even some Online only competitions where my friend Kawaii Mayhem actually placed first:
In these times even competition programs by cosplay guests bring random rockets out of stuff you have such as at FunimationCon:
LIVE Cosplay Showdown: Pro Vs Pro!
Watch top cosplayers Riddle, Phil Mizuno, Dresses and Capes Cosplay, Alicia Marie, face-off LIVE against one another to create a mystery cosplay or prop in less than an hour, with whatever they have at home! The winner will get a $5,000 donation to the charity of their choice!
-The Live Showdown features cosplayers Riddle, Phil Mizuno, DressesandCapes Cosplay, and Alicia Marie.
Was fun to watch.
The people who suffered the most from this are the exhibitors, especially the small ones. We’ve seen a lot of small businesses suffer, and these virtual cons even those that had listings of artists, vendors etc. They haven’t been something that most people have checked out and some of the systems to even try to check them out have not been all that good.
Rob wrote about a cool thing that LightBox Expo did with a Virtual Show 3D show and this can help in some discovery, and has potential but it lacks the interaction with the vendors in some cases and of course the discovery especially for new friends. Now the new friends is tougher and the random interactions that would you have, but discover with vendors and interacting with them as you explore would be a lot of fun and would help vendors.
I suggested a mix of VR and MMO elements “experience is that the exhibit hall can be like an MMO with actual vendors having their wares as assets and be able to interact with fans asking and answering questions in real-time like you can in an MMO. Now for those that want the walking experience, I was thinking of the possible VR component but the VR doesn’t have the multi-screen aspect I was thinking because with the MMO you can watch the programming and shop supporting the vendors, especially the smaller ones.”
The idea with this is to not take away from the panel programming but still be able to find and interact. The exploration would help a lot of vendors and artists. Plus having the ways to have a small “party chat,” even one on one with some in some cases to learn more about things. Think about with cool people like the Lewalds (creators of X-Men The Animated Series), or Sergio Aragonés, and more another cool artists like Christine Shinn.
Now plenty of artists broadcast drawing and art Like Ashley Riot and Christine Shinn and to integrate even the live drawing on Twitch with its own interaction would be cool. Even if it takes them right to twitch (while they are live) which would be similar to like when they are at a con at their booth and table.
Products from these artists and vendors can also be featured like this. Amazon who owns Twitch already does this to a degree with Amazon Live. https://www.amazon.com/live
These features may be coming to Twitch which would be beneficial to smaller vendors as well.
Now vendors and smaller artists may have saved money from not traveling and all the con costs, but there is still the missing interactions the discover and everything else.
An additional thing about how I discovered artists, was when I went to go visit some cosplay friends who were working at these booths. In virtual aspects this would be difficult to do, unless you had what some streamers do and collab on stream, like a kind of live drawing/signing. There is potential. I disagree some with Rob on this “For artists on deadline, manning the booth all day and drawing or commissions all night can be a hell of a way to make a living,” but I would have to talk to more artists about the impact of this. I know a mix of those who are independent and those who work for the bigger comic companies.
I know multiple vendors who make a lot directly at cons. While they do some business online now it was the combo of both that really had them succeeding, some are hurting a lot now, even if they are cutting out the costs of attending events. If they are based near some of the larger cons or are known in a local market, the costs can be reduced. Also I know plenty of people who split the costs in various ways, hotel shares, booth shares, etc.
We will have to see how this develops, but more options, platforms and support for vendors and artist alley is needed.
What Will Grow
The big brands and IP holders can use the branded events and already have to show off items from their stores, Funimation has done this, and Star Wars Celebration showed plenty of licensed items on their streams even when we could do cons.
Lots of licensed merch from the big brands will continue and we’ll see more interactive and immediate buys from the big brands and this includes, some of the larger figure makes such as Good Smile Company, Sideshow, Hasbro, and others.
It is the smaller brands especially those with the expensive licenses that can be hurting the most.
Others thrive from the con interactions.
A good portion of fans have lost jobs and even though people are at home, with the massive job losses, uncertainly of expenses fandom extras, even from some of favorite small creators have been the kind of thing that fans may cut out.
We will keep seeing this develop across the various mediums, in some this also requires cutting some streaming services, even though you want to add more because each service is having its own set of content and less are willing to share across different services.
More and more channels have also been launching ways to connect with fans and provide content, and they will keep doing so, even post pandemic when we can do things in-person again because they are ways to keep fans engaged and channels you can connect with directly. In many cases the costs are not major it is just about keeping the fans engaged and connected.
With Vtubing we might see more at least in part virtual hosts. Several conventions have mascots such as Anime NYC which would be perfect for Vtubing hosting as part of the panel and/or overall event. Some of the current generation of technology is actually pretty accurate for anime style motion tracking of faces and lip flaps and some of it pretty inexpensive such as https://live3d.io/ with artists and other customization it can get more expensive but it can be still very affordable for events. VRoid can help make the models and so can other 3D software. (Live2D is another option.)
Home motion capture is improving so we might see full 3D drawn Avatars and with the voices of some of our favorite properties, some of the actors could perform as their characters and original ones as well.
I can see this growing in the future as well, more ways to engage, even as merch as well with original characters. We’ve seen original IP turned into various merch from the beginning of all things in fandom, comics, video games, etc. (This can also tie into the aspects of influencer markets)
When Cons Do Return Some Concerns
Cons welcome fans and professionals from all over the world. The question is though will people want to and that includes guests from around the world. The US does not have universal health insurance and many creative pros are self employed and sometimes not in the best of health. Going to the doctor can be very difficult even for popular creatives, so in the US we will need universal healthcare that is affordable and a right like other countries.
This is the same for other visiting fans and pros who would be concerned about getting sick, especially if they are immune compromised or have loved ones who are.
International voice actors, comic artists, and video game developers from around the world (and ones from Japan are big with anime conventions) so how can cons ensure that the talent won’t be sick, assuming the US and other countries get COVID under control and have things in place for the next possible pandemic.
That will be the real key when people feel safe returning to events, especially the large ones. Many aspects of the virtual events will continue as the in-between events and there will be more of them, even the big events will still continue to add ways to watch and interact virtually as the systems get better and used more. Because especially monetized in one form or another the virtual aspects allow you to experience things even if not there.
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