November 1, 2011

Convention Advice: What Exactly Goes On at a Convention?

Also Known As: "What will I do to keep busy?  or "Is this show worth my hard-earned money?"

After lurking on convention forums for what seems like FOREVER, I've noticed an up and coming trend. A lot of people are new to the convention scene, and appear to be confused or overwhelmed by all the information they see. Instead of combing the website or forums looking for knowledge, they'll quickly post in one of the generic forums:

"Hi, I've never been to a convention before. Can anybody tell me what goes on at a convention? Like, in great detail? I want to make sure I'm going to the right place. Kthxbai."

After I've stopped twitching after reading this post for the umpteenth billionth time, I sit back and go, "Hey somebody should just list out general things that actually happen at anime cons! Would make the world like 10 TIME NICER". So I'll do just that. Right here. For you all. If I miss anything PLEASE PLEASE let me know! I'd love to have a comprehensive list of activities at conventions.

There are a lot of things that happen at conventions, and the reason why this question makes me twitch is because the response post would have to be like 3 pages long. So let's start with the list!

  1. Dealer Hall
  2. Artist's Alley
  3. Panels / Workshops
  4. Competition
  5. Game Area
  6. Photoshoots / Gatherings
  7. Entertainment
  8. Dances

Ahhh the dealer hall. This is a place where professional vendors, shops, and the like are able to present and sell their wares. Think of it like a mini version of a mall full of anime, video game, and Japanese-inspired memorabilia. You'll see anything from DVDs and Manga, to artbooks, clothing, costumes, wigs, figures (large, small, popular, obscure), props, wallscrolls, posters, and egads so much more.

Depending on the size of the convention, the dealer hall might be a huge arena or it could be one large banquet room at a hotel. I've been to both kinds.

Many people come to conventions with the intention of spending money. They usually do it here. The dealer hall is usually a place of bustling activity regardless of the size, and typically is only open until about 6 or 7 pm.

If you are looking for official items from your favorite shows or books, this is the place to do it.


Artist's Alley is kind of like a smaller, homemade version of the dealer hall. Here you will find all of the individual artists who enjoy anime, manga, videogames and more and have taken up the call to be their own shop. 

Artists will have all sorts of random things you can't find anywhere else. There are traditional and digital artists, selling prints or taking commission requests, they'll have buttons, cell phone charms, various jewelry and gear and they can even have pillows, scarves, sculpture, bead sprites and the like.

Artist's Alley is a place where anything is possible to find - sometimes you'll find really obscure characters or items that you'd never be able to find in the dealer hall, or you could have somebody draw your favorite Original Character for a fee.

A lot of congoers forget this Alley exists. I say take a gander through it - you never know what you'll find.


This is the main bulk of entertainment and keeping yourself busy at a convention. A panel is like a short 1-2 hour "class". There are, of course, variants on what types of panels there are at a convention.
  1. Fan Panels
    The "Fan Panel" is usually a one hour session discussing a particular show, movie, genre, and the like. The presenter will go over the concept of what the show/movie/genre is and then go more in depth. These panels can range anywhere from "What is Hetalia" to "The innerworkings of Shinji's Mind".
  2. Informative / Classroom Panels
    These panels are the type I am giving when presenting at a con, these are also the ones I'm most likely to attend as well. Informative/Classroom panels are there to present to you a tutorial of sorts on how to do something, or history on a particular culture and the like. It's not there to gush how much you love Ed from Fullmetal Alchemist, but instead is there to teach you something new. You can learn things like, basics of cosplay, how to put a kimono on, how to put together a proper bento, how to draw, etc

    As you can see, you can usually spot one of these panels if it talks about "How To" something.

    I actually learned a lot about cosplay from these kinds of panels.
  3. Open Forum Panels
    I've found these more common at shows like Gencon where it's more a collection of creative minds and energy as opposed to fan celebration Anime Cons tend to be (neither is superior, both have ups and downs).

    They will contain 2-5 people up at the front of the room, and instead of a lecture they will discuss topics (usually prompted by questions from the crowd or general emcee). Attendees can get advice, humorous stories, and general information from these panels.
  4. "Game Show" Panels
    Some panels like to play games - literally! These types of panels will feature audience participation and have things like trivia or games that require eye hand coordination. Prizes are sometimes given, and really they're there to have a good time.

    Some panels like this I've seen/heard of: Anime Jeopardy, Anime Pictionary, Name that Theme Song, Mario Party, and a bunch more I can't remember at this time.
  5. Workshops
    Workshops are a lot like Informative / Classroom panels, except usually these have you making something AT the panel. They will run longer than 1 hour - I've seen some up to 3 hours long.

    You'll learn how to make something, and with materials provided, you'll get to make it too, and take it with you.

    NOTE: these panels often have a supply fee.


Looking for the thrill of competition? Well you can do that at conventions. There are two major types of competitions that I've seen at shows - Masquerade/Cosplay and Game Tournaments.

The Masquerade is a judge costume competition where cosplayers work hard and fight to win one of the shows coveted trophies. Nowadays, most judging is done before the actual "Stage Competition", and there are craftsmanship and performance categories. Craftsmanship competition will focus on the technical skill of creating a costume. Performance will focus on what a single or group of cosplayers do on stage.

All of these are shown at the "Masquerade" where you'll see the performances in action, the craftsmanships strut their stuff on stage, and see who wins the trophies for that year! One of the most anticipated events of a lot of conventions.

I'm also biased because I a.) compete, and b.) judge these types of competitions. (I can talk about both in EXCESSIVE detail, sooooo I'll just stop while I'm ahead.)

Only some of the conventions I've been to have hosted videogame tournaments. It's something I'm not very familiar with, but I hear Smash Brothers, Soul Calibur, and Marvel vs Capcom tend to be favorites right now. Maybe even some Blaze Blue.


This is an area I'm relatively unfamiliar with, but a lot of conventions will have a "gaming" area. It's usually a big room filled with arcade machines, consoles, and electronic games that an attendee can enter the room and play to their hearts delight!

Sometimes playing might cost money, but from my understanding it's set up so you don't have to.

NOTE: This does not count things like Battletech pods. Those are separate items which cost money to do.


For both cosplayers, congoers, and photographers, conventions will help set up and organize "Photoshoot Gatherings." These are designated times and places that a group of people who are dressed in cosplay of a particular artist, show, or whatever will get together, and can get pictures taken of them en masse.

If you're looking for pictures of only certain things, photoshoots are GREAT places to get this done. You'll also get to see people typically interacting as their characters, and let me tell you - it makes for some great hilarity.

Cosplayers - it's a great place to meet people who like the same things you do! Same thing for those who aren't dressed, but really like the subject/show/artist. It's a great way to meet people.


There's been an uptick in various types of entertainment you can see at conventions. Often there will be dances (see entry below), but there will also be concerts, the masquerade, comedians and more. 

The Masquerade is usually the "costume competition" where you will be presented with all of the entries for competition, sometimes a small half-time show, and then award presentations.

There are also the finalists in Anime Music Videos that are usually shown at certain times, as well as the finalists of Game Tournaments.

Other than that, there are usually a few rooms dedicated to showing movies, shows, fansubs, or what have you that relate to the convention - so if you're tired of learning/walking/whatever, you can find a room with something you'd want to see, and take a seat and rest. 


Mmm. Dances. *gets out old man cane. Sits on porch* Dances at conventions and I have not gotten along very well lately. BUT I DIGRESS.

There are usually two types of dances held at conventions - there is a masked/formal ball, and a technopop dance (I refuse to call them raves, out of courtesy for the people who attend them).

The formal ball is a dance where you'll have instrumental (be it live or pre-recorded), and some soundtrack music from games and shows. The dress code is obviously formal, but nice cosplays count too. It's a great way to spend an evening elegantly. It's also fun when you know or meet somebody who can teach you how to dance things like waltzes. Good times.

The "Technopop" dance (for lack of a better term), is another dance that's held but features more techno, beat, remixes and such. Often attendees will wear neon-colored clothing, rainbow clothing, anything made from a glowstick, etc. They are also usually referred to as "The Rave".

I don't go to these, so I can't really give you many details. If you do go, please, post here, or drop me an email or something.

Have any other events you attend at conventions? POST HERE! I'd love to add it to my list.

No comments:

Post a Comment