10:30 am EDT, September 7, 2015

Fan Expo Canada 2015 ups the ante in every way

Naturally, Fan Expo Canada was even bigger this year, and it did its best to improve on previous years’ problems.

Fan Expo Canada is often touted the Canadian version of San Diego Comic Con. It’s the biggest pop culture event in Canada, and third biggest in North America. It attracts almost 130,000 people from all over the globe, and boasts some of the most renowned celebrities, including Stan Lee, Patrick Stewart, Gillian Anderson, and the casts of The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and Orphan Black. There’s even a large comics, gaming, and anime presence, if the television and film areas aren’t your thing.

Like SDCC, and many other conventions for that matter, Fan Expo Canada is a lot of fun, and a great environment. With a continually growing attendance, previous years have had problems keeping events organized. There would be miscommunication among staff and inconsistencies with protocol, causing a lot of annoyance among the Fan Expo fans.

This year however, it seemed they tried to learn from their mistakes, and events ran much smoother. Let’s take a look at the good and the could-be-improved of Fan Expo Canada 2015.

Related: Wizard World Chicago 2015: Large convention, local feel

The Positives

Cosplays

fan expo cosplays

Whatever convention you go to, you are sure to see some fantastic cosplays. Maybe this is more attributed to the types of people that are in fandom, rather than the convention itself, but I digress.

As per usual, cosplaying was at its finest at Fan Expo Canada this year. It ranged from anime, gaming, film, television, and probably even more that I didn’t recognize. You can always count on comic convention nerds to dress up for the party!

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Panels and Photo Ops

fan expo celebrity panel

To no one’s surprise, the panels were lots of fun. It’s always great to see your favorite celebrities in person, and with the right questions and audience, you get some really fun moments.

As for the photo ops, the organization of them was also done well this year, all things considered. There were people complaining about how ‘bad’ the process was, and it’s true that it was quite hectic and crowded, but in all honesty, how else could they have handled it? The space allotted to photo ops wasn’t quite big enough, but the staff did what they could to keep it all moving as swiftly as possible.

Shopping

fan expo canada vendors

There were so many vendors and exhibitors with a huge variety of stuff to buy. Comics, collectibles, artwork, fandom apparel, general apparel, jewelry, toys, buttons, mugs, you name it, it’s there. There were also some unique pieces from various artisans.

Of course though, with all the people that attend the convention, if you see something you like, you have to just get it. There’s not a lot of time for pondering a purchase, you can’t leave and come back later. Odds are it’ll be gone when you get back. Often, there are products that will be at multiple vendors, but you have to be sure of that before you decide to ‘buy tomorrow.’

Attractions

fan expo lego star wars

There was much more to do this year than last year. Among the various panels (celebrity and non-celebrity), the exhibit floor had much more than it has previously.

To name but a few, the LEGO area had its usual impressive LEGO displays as well as free LEGO pieces and instructions to build a small treehouse; Mockingjay: Part 2‘s section allowed you to sit in President Snow’s chair and take a picture, in addition to a feature of ‘becoming a rebel,’ in which your picture would be taken and the Mockingjay symbol would be digitized on it like the promotional posters; The Strain had a virtual reality experience; and of course, there was a lot of free stuff to nab.

The Negatives

Capacity

fan expo canada crowds

In 2014, attendance was at an all time high with over 127 000 guests, while this year’s San Diego Comic Con topped at 130 000. Similar enough attendance rates, right? Now compare that to the actual space allotted to each convention.

SDCC is held in the San Diego Convention Centre, with over 2 million square feet of total space, and an exhibit hall of over 600,000 square feet. Fan Expo Canada has been held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre since 1997 (more or less since the convention began). In 2013, Fan Expo Canada expanded to include both the North and South buildings of the MTCC, rather than just half the centre. Including both buildings, the total space of the MTCC is 600,000 square feet.

Let’s say SDCC doesn’t take up the entire 2 million square feet (as someone who has not gone to SDCC, I have no idea how much of the building is utilized), but the fact remains that the exhibit hall alone is the same size as the entirety of the MTCC. That is most certainly a problem.

It can take about 15 minutes to get from one side of the building to the other. That’s not because the space between is large. It is solely because of crowding. It is quite literally a slow shuffling mass to get from one area to another. Crowding is to be expected but it’s ridiculous that you actually have to account for travel time inside the convention if you need to make a photo op or panel.

Panels

fan expo panel room

The celebrity panels are indeed fun to attend, but to actually get in to one can be a real headache. An effective queuing strategy for larger panels has been difficult to implement. You’re told you can only line up an hour early, but that isn’t enforced all the time, or it’s enforced when you go, but when you come back the line is already 100 people long. The lack of consistency can drive you crazy.

This year there was improvement though. They did consistently clear the rooms, they (mostly) consistently would only have one line up at a time, and they would allow people to line up more than an hour before the panel start time. However, there was not enough staff that paid attention to people starting their ‘own’ lines, and there was still sometimes a lack of consistency due to miscommunication among staff members. It was done much better this year, but there is still room for improvement.

In recent years, Fan Expo has also taken to charging for certain panels. This year you could purchase a ticket to attend a Doctor Who panel, and a Harry Potter panel. Tickets were of varying cost, with higher pricing tickets granting you earlier entry, thus a better seat. The celebrities attending these panels did also have a free, individual panel sometime during the weekend.

This is quite the double-edged sword. On the one hand, having a ticketed system for panels works well because you don’t need to line up hours early to ensure you get in. If you buy a ticket, you get to attend the panel. This helps reduce line crowds since the only people lining up are those that have bought a ticket.

However, this panel ticket cost is in addition to buying a ticket to the convention. Attending the convention is expensive enough, but now you also have to buy a ticket for a panel. Again, there are also free individual panels, but who’s to say that in the future those will still be the case? From the convention’s standpoint, this is about making money, and there will always be people willing to pay the price. It’s all conjecture right now, but it isn’t a stretch to think that paying for panels could be the future.

fan expo canada

Overall, Fan Expo Canada is just one big, fun nerd fest. It can be daunting at times but the organizational improvements this year have helped immensely. There’s lots to do, regardless of your nerdy interests. Even if you can only afford an entrance ticket, there’s still plenty of activities to do for free (as long as you don’t mind waiting in lines) and things to see. It’s a great way to meet people and make new friends, and maybe even gain a new interest!

Related: Indy PopCon 2015: A how-to guide to creating female-friendly conventions (opinion)

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