We all miss in-person conventions, right? Despite the crowds, con crud, travel costs, everything bad — we miss in-person conventions. Being in a shared space with hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands of people, all enjoying pop culture in different ways. While many conventions have tried to move online, it’s been less than successful — where’s the urgency, the drive to keep moving to the next panel, the surprise interactions with old friends and new? I’ve been missing that, craving it, really.
My first convention experience was a small one, in Columbus, OH—Marcon. It was when I was 17. It was a regional convention, mainly organized by and around Ohio nerds and geeks. It was the first place I ever found Babylon 5 fans, and so many of my adventures there couldn’t have been replicated online. The Masquerade, the interactive panels, the expo floor—while many in-person conventions that have transitioned online have attempted all three of those things, it gets difficult to interact with as a con-goer, in my experience. You have to open this tab, then that tab, then another tab—and if the panels are all recorded, what’s the point of necessarily being first in line for them anyway?
My most recent convention experience was really more of a conference—AWP, or the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. It is generally a massive conference held all around the country, and it is generally a place for networking. I attended this year virtually, mainly on the recommendation of a friend, and I quickly found myself both overwhelmed and underwhelmed by the options and lack of options available to me. There’s nothing like being in-person, really, and this proved that. When you’re in-person, all your attention is drawn to what you’re experiencing; when you’re online, you’re pulled in so many different directions.
The first convention I reported on for The Beat was New York Comic Con in 2019—the last NYCC before all this began. I had a marvelous experience, rushing from panel to panel, fully investigating the expo floor and the artists’ alley, and being awed by just how many people Javits can hold. I’m moving to the West Coast soon, for school, and I don’t know when I’ll be back to NYCC again, and that breaks my heart. NYCC was my first big convention, and while I attended online in 2020, urgently taking notes and photographs for panel coverage wasn’t as essential, since I could just rewind and rewatch the panels for all the details.
One of my favorite conventions is RTX, Rooster Teeth’s formerly annual Expo, which I’ve been to three times. Austin is hot in the summer, of course, but it’s well worth the trip, and I enjoyed getting to cosplay in-person and run through the various convention halls trying to get a seat in a panel. Like I said initially, there’s an urgency that’s entirely lacking with these online conventions and which can’t be duplicated.
As a Star Trek fan, hearing that ReedPop is going to launch a new Star Trek convention, Star Trek: Mission Chicago in 2022, makes me wonder if we will get back to normal someday. I’ll be there for sure if I can make it from my home in California. As with all things during these times, we’ll just have to wait and see, which requires patience—not a virtue I, or many others, possess. Maybe that’s why I prefer urgency.