In the beginning of 2022, we’ve already had some COVID scares at events and huge omicron transmission outside of events. There are many breakthrough cases as well with more to come especially in colder areas, this gave me thoughts of my own experiences at the end of 2021.
In the end months of 2021 many of the larger cons started to open up again, you started to feel safe to go cons as the Delta numbers were going down, people were getting vaccinated more and cons required vaccination and masks. You had to show proof of vaccination, no vaccine meant no entry, which made you feel a lot better. This continues for most events.
When you’re immune-compromised and have immune-compromised family you need to be extra careful.
Starting with local shows is a good idea especially with just returning to cons because local shows have the benefit of less worry on travel. I am local to NYC and two of the largest cons are by me New York Comic Con and AnimeNYC. Both are corporate runs shows run by for-profit companies. Each had a vaccination and mask requirement.
Flying after a positive COVID test is not a possibility with most airlines and the extra quarantine time can be an additional drain on resources if you have to book extra hotel days/accommodations as well as food if you have COVID. I say this as someone who had a few COVID exposure scares as they travelled but more on that later.
There was some virtual fatigue from cons, especially if they were pre-recorded and can be watched at anytime there was a lack of interactivity, which is something that most people became used to from Twitch, YouTube live broadcasts, and Facebook livestreams. Even the shopping experiences were missing that discovery and excitement you feel from cons even from dealers and while some tried some interactive elements but this added to the fatigue. There is a lot feeling of we’ll check it out later (which we’re all still doing) as well as the massive missing of friends especially those you might only see at events, as well as making new ones. The hard part with “check it out later” is compounded when the problems of platforms and the need to be on a computer and anything behind a paywall.
We are in the cast age where we want to watch programming on our TVs either via apps/platforms TV such as Roku, Amazon Fire, Chromecast cast from our phones, or on the phones. Requiring watching from a computer isn’t as easy or enjoyable. Anything proprietary makes it harder and adds to the fatigue because there can be extra steps to enjoying the content. In addition, we are also already paying for various streaming services already and depending on interests there are quite a few to subscribe to. Adding yet another streaming service that you need to pay for adds to the fatigue.
This is different for something interactive where interacting with the community and those interested is part of the fun, now YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook all have these enabled for both their computer forms and apps. Some parts of interactive in virtual cons have been lacking especially for the dealers and artists at the show. Also aside from the chat it can be more difficult to meet new people and you can miss someone because of a lot of running text. MMOs have the method for having that interactivity that can be done with today’s tech affordably.
There was one con I presented at an Italian cosplay convention Cospladya in November that had these MMO elements and interactivity. It’s built on the Coderblock platform and you could explore in their virtual environment MMO style as well customize. CoderBlock’s COO and Cospladya’s organizer is Aura Nuccio who is also a cosplayer (Aura Rinoa). It was a wonderful interactive experience with a lot of potential for interactive virtual events. Virtual events like these will allow for a global audience and global interaction which will allow people to explore events meet they would not be able to. These will be especially important with more COVID spikes and different restrictions on travel. Virtual cons and the potential to do them without fatigue will be most fascinating indeed.
Back To Live Events and all the Concerns
NYCC was my first event back. It was smaller for sure now I was able to go early and get my vaccine wristband early so there were no line problems. Some places did feel packed at some times but was it more like a crowded Costco. This mostly happened at some of the entry points of the cons and some popular events like the masquerade or any super popular panel. This was a common thing I saw at each event. Such as at the Shang-Chi: Cultural Impact and Celebration of Fight Choreography at SDCC.
Even in the crowded panels because there was the vaccine requirement and the mask requirements (though the mask ones were not always followed by everyone) you felt better about the possible risks of COVID than going into stores where they don’t require it. Now we know that some of the staff such as in Target are anti-vax and anti-mask as well as the shoppers.
At the show it is possible to meet new people, have fun with at the programming, explore, find new artists, shops, and in some cases meet people you may have been playing games with online but knew what each other looked like via twitch, discord, etc.
This continued with AnimeNYC who despite a very messed up line situation which caused everyone to wait 3+ hours outside in the cold for vaccine wristbands you could meet new people have fun, etc. The line misstep was the bad part about AnimeNYC. Now it was lot of fun with all the Lupin events, My hero Academia, and the unique kind of programming that AnimeNYC brought in such as Quibic pictures.
The unexpected COVID part of AnimeNYC was that there was some spread of the omicron variant at AnimeNYC and for some for us we learned this after we had travelled as well to another state. There were multiple articles that AnimeNYC could have been a super spreader event as it had 53,000 attendees. I always get a PCR test after any event and travel as to many others but hearing of the new variant especially after traveling out of state was very concerning.
Almost immediately after AnimeNYC I traveled to California for San Diego Comic-Con: Special Edition where I was presenting and helping in various aspects. This is where I learned about the omicron variant spread and started to get the texts about it from the state. I got the PCR and it was negative. This is when though we started to see the spread of omicron which reminded me of what I saw back in March of 2020 at and during PAX East when COVID started to spread.
Comic-Con itself was quite fun even though it was on odd weekend which helped in the reduced capacity, as always it had wonderful programming from diverse creators and for all sorts of interests. It was also a place to have fun with friends in San Diego though it was not quite as immersive as SDCC normally is for SDCC, there were plenty of non-Comic-Con people in the historic Gaslamp near the convention center. Though here including at my panel there were people who despite being masked and more importantly vaccinated had positive COVID tests after which made another rush to get the PCR test and have a high concern for the next event Comic Con LA and returning to NY by plane. The PCR was negative but it still caused quite a bit of concern and worry for myself and other panelists.
Comic Con LA was also a fun one a sort last of the season event being in early December was also fun vaccine requirements of course and it had a second event focused mostly on voice actors AVOX LA inside it as well making a two con event. Both had a variety of programming to offer and AVOX’s expansion into a full event will be quite exciting.
After LACC though this was when we started to see a lot more of the omicron spread it started to really spike in NY mid-December. When I got back it was another PCR, it was negative too but the concern kept being high as I travelled even though the plane was mostly empty.
Each event was fun but it also carried risk, some becoming very surprising and concerning especially with case numbers going up which in turn added the worry despite the wonderful times with friends some who have not been seen in over a year, and some only virtually.
As cons continue to go back to in-person there will be a lot of fun but especially in the winter months there will be risks and possible complications and what if you had to quarantine for 5+ days (now down from 10) if you did have COVID and were from out of state you would have to make arrangements to stay for safety. This is getting more complicated by people who are masked, vaxxed, and in many cases boosted are also getting breakthrough cases of COVID, and the strain it can have on personal resources.
People keep wondering if events will keep going in-person and I say they will for the most part with adjustments made and possibly more cancellations for the safety of going (that includes staff and guests). The biggest things are to watch the COVID numbers in your area and where you plan to go, making sure that you are vaccinated and boosted (making sure to follow health department guidelines at home and for where you’re going), and be flexible for your health and the safety of others.
What will 2022 be like for events?
Events in 2022 will mostly like be less attended by those travelling from far away at least till the spring and summer months when it will be warmer and people will not be as worried about the cold and working to be in places where it is warmer at events.
We’ll see how it all develops with COVID, infections, and more. But I do look forward with more in-person events especially in the summer months where it will be exciting, and it’ll be times we’ll be able enjoy with friends in-person.