CosplayLive’s CosCon (from the Archive)

Originally posted on Facebook here 11-03-2015

I needed a few days to collect my thoughts but if I had to summarise, Cosplay Live’s CosCon was a decent concept but with highly-flawed execution.

I will say that I didn’t have a terrible time because I got to catch up with friends and see some fantastic cosplays. Anyone that knows me knows how much I will support such people but despite that and my original enthusiasm about the potential for a cosplay convention and even taking into account that this is a first-time event, the end result was no where near the goals set out due to a variety of organisational shortcomings.

The most noticeable thing about the day was the lack of people. With ticket sales capped at 3000 the actual crowd figure fell way short of that with my best and generous estimation being less than 200 people including panelists and organisers. Many have attributed such low numbers to the busy nature of ‘Mad March‘ here in Adelaide or the struggles of a first time event but the size of the venue indicates more than just timing, let alone optimism or miscalculation.

Let’s look at some numbers…

AVCon‘s first time at the Convention Centre in 2009 brought in roughly 4000.

Supanova‘s first time in Adelaide in 2012 drew a crowd of approximately 9000 over its weekend.

Both of these conventions not only have a history and a following but also appeal to a wider audience of gamers, anime fans, comic book readers, and other genre fans respectively.

The only other convention to happen in Adelaide during ‘Mad March‘ was Armageddon Expo‘s one and only time here in 2011. Not only was it in March but it was also on the same weekend as Soundwave. Their supposedly low attendance because of these factors was comparable to Supanova‘s first time. Again, another convention with a history and a wider appeal.

Even if you take into account the dodgy ‘attendance math’ of some conventions and focus on the smallest figure there (AVCon‘s) it isn’t realistic to expect that many people would be interested in cosplay. It doesn’t even cover the curious casual (which there were a few present).

I cannot comment with certainty on the advertising done via television, radio, and paper because I haven’t been paying attention to these mediums as of late but I do wonder as I am noticing so many posts and comments from people who did not know this was on until after the fact. Most cons are able to slowly grow because of word of mouth and social media but new events do not have that luxury especially when it’s targeted at a relatively small demographic.

Delays in the ticketing system are another potential reason for the low attendance too resulting in only a three week sales window but the original plan of selling them the month before the event anyway was also a misjudgement. Going by the social media posts I deduce that the decision to sell tickets at GameTraders outlets were an after thought because of the delay. If only they had put that in place sooner because not everyone can buy online especially the younger demographic so even if the online system was not ready you’ve at least got bricks and mortar retailers that could pick up that slack earlier. Had it been much earlier organisers could have made changes to the venue if need be In fact I would’ve assumed the ticket pre-registration process would’ve been some sort of indicator in of itself.

Considering what was actually on offer at CosCon if should have been obvious that a smaller room would be more appropriate, whether it be a smaller space at the ACC or somewhere like the German Club. The larger room was also not utilised effectively. So much empty space, which could have been taken up by vendors, or artists. There wasn’t even a GameTraders stall to sell you the Worbla that you are watching people demonstrate there. I’ve heard various reasons for the lack of vendors but they are ultimately for naught because there wasn’t enough there for punters in the first place.

I love the idea of panels where people share their knowledge, I even like the idea of the various photobooths manned by Adelaide’s most talented photographers but to have them compete with the large stage and two smaller stages are mistakes other cons have made in the past and since rectified. You can’t run an effective demo at your stall if the PA from across the room is interrupting you all the time.

I had no problem with the content of the panels I did see but their setup left a lot to be desired. Think of the shopping mall demonstrations where someone is demonstrating the latest vegetable slicer to a small audience standing around in front of their stall. There was no indication as to when a panel was starting apart from the website schedule, no seating for the 45-minute demonstrations, and despite my photos many of the panel areas were very dimly lit. If you’ve ever run a workshop, or taught a class, then you know that comfort is key to a more conducive educational experience. The ‘shopping mall demo’ comparison is really only suitable if you are simply trying to sell something. Obviously if these were in separate rooms there would be nothing to fill the big hall but treating them like stalls would be better if they were set up further apart and with seating.

Cosplay Contest
Despite a couple of technical issues, I really enjoyed the cosplay contest primarily because of the work that was on show and I was also impressed by the prize money on offer. Admittedly, I am biased here but I was also very impressed with JusZ Cosplay as host of the contest and wholeheartedly suggest she emcee more events in future. She was a natural on stage, knew how to utilise her space, her attitude and enthusiasm was at just the right level, knew how to engage with the audience, and most importantly she was straight to the point. Too often at conventions we see hosts that draw things out and blow smoke under the guise of ‘showmanship’. A good host who is confident enough to go up on stage is also confident enough to NOT make it about themselves.

I was put into a rather bad mood before the contest began when one of the organisers stood upon stage and DEMANDED all panels and photobooths stop what they were scheduled to do and attend the main stage to fill out the audience for the contest. I found this absolutely rude and condescending for all those involved. I support all the cosplayers that are brave enough to step up on that stage but I CHOOSE to do so. Just because you were unable to attract appropriate numbers does not mean we should be ‘forced’ to anything there just to make your photos look better.

Originally, I was cynical about the fashion show style of format with snippets of random music being played as the cosplayer traversed the catwalk but I quickly convinced myself it was suitable because the music fills in the silence and to a point adds to the atmosphere. Unfortunately,that sort of forethought was not given to the choice of random music especially when a track containing coarse language blared over the speaker for one of the cosplayers. This was a glaring oversight for a public all-ages event.

Predicting that I am the only one to admit this I also have great issue with the rule that allows costumes that have already won at previous contests to be eligible to win again in this contest. Admittedly, it’s always tough to not only fill the numbers but also keep track of all the winners across cons and cities but every contest has this limit on good faith to make things fair for all participants. I would reconsider this next time and just go with the numbers you get. I would rather few contestants than any unfairness.

The only other niggling concern I had is the same concern I have for AVCon’s cosplay contest:the stairs. Many cosplays are bulky and cumbersome. Knowing full well that is the case it puzzles me to see such a narrow set of stairs and railings leading up to the stage. AVCon at least has a wheelchair lift or the steps at the front of the catwalk, other cons have open and fewer steps. But to see contestants struggle to even fit between the railing was another oversight in the planning.

Everyone did a great job on stage and looked fantastic. Seeing so many people get up there was a joy and they all looked like they had fun.

The contest began at 3:30pm but by 3pm they were already handing out passes to the After Party for free and I knew of at least one attendee that was furious about this because she had bought her ticket to it.

After Party
PLEASE NOTE: I have been informed that CosplayLive are offering refunds to all those that purchased an After Party ticket. If you have not been contacted about it I suggest you contact them to process the refund.

From the get-go the After Party was a bad idea.

In of itself, a party with music, alcohol, and reasonable food is usually good enough for a simple guy like myself and I did have fun hanging out with mates for the short time I was there but as a separate cost of $48.50 it was not worth it. For all the unusual hype, the After Party really wasn’t as exciting as promised and it didn’t surpass what we have already seen at AVCon‘s after dark events.

My best estimate for the time I was there was perhaps 60 people. Not terrible in itself considering the CosCon turnout but certainly not what was expected. Now while they did eventually start handing out free drink vouchers the original deal was for ONE free drink. Considering the original cost of entry that’s not exactly a bargain but I was outraged to discover that Coopers Pale Ale was $8 a stubbie… a LOCAL beer! Imagine the overall cost for that night out if I had paid for my ticket.

It was always going to be a tough sell and I brought up this concern early on in the feedback process. People are already spending $33 on half a day of a brand new event, they are not likely to fork out much more for a party especially that much for a (again) new untested event. The separate and greater cost for the After Party tickets also gives people pause for concern: if they only buy the CosCon ticket are they only getting half the experience? $80 for the ‘full’ experience is way too much for a day no matter how much you justify what they are supposedly getting for it and especially when you compare that to multiple day conventions. But in general many seemed turned off by the price including myself. I only got mine from a friend who was giving theirs away because they simply weren’t interested (they were part of a panel so they didn’t pay for theirs).

The cost and the way it was promoted also made it appear that the After Party was the main selling point of the convention. Even on the day we were continually reminded about how much time, money, and effort was spent on it, which puzzled me. Surely the daytime CosCon should have been the priority, the draw card of the community with its workshops and photobooths and I suspect this lack of focus is why we have the situation we do.

It’s neither here nor there but as far as preferences go I wish they had announced the cosplay contest winners before the after party. I can assume the reasons why they did it this way but in the end the only thing that truly bothered me about it was how long and drawn out it was. In a party atmosphere it’s best to just get to the point, present the prizes, and let people get back to their fun.

Big congratulations to the winners by the way and especially to first place. Very well deserved.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I didn’t have a terrible time and I am glad others had fun too. I enjoyed catching up with friends, seeing people’s work, and taking photos as well as being in costume as I do but for all the potential it fell way short of the mark that it cannot be considered a successful proof of concept. The lack of focus appears to be indicative of how Cosplay Live perceives the cosplay community and cosplay itself.

Cosplay Live
12 months ago when I first heard about CosplayLive and a convention all about cosplay I was very excited. I spent months telling friends about it and even had to defend it from those made bitter by the imagined notion that their particular interests were already being downplayed at cons in favour of cosplay.

Cosplay is growing and evolving. Anyone that follows my Page knows how much I try and advocate a more accepting attitude about the changes the hobby is going through as it attains a presence in the mainstream. Cosplay Live is a response to those changes and seemed like it was addressing a need.

Then I saw this…

That second sentence concerns me and it permeates throughout most of CosplayLive‘s image.

The cosplay community around the world has spent the last few years reminding itself that cosplay is about fun and expression while downplaying the celebrity aspects, the currency attached to photoshoots, and the chase for ‘likes’ and followers despite what social media would have you believe.

And while the products and services provided by GameTraders and CosplayLive have potential appeal to segments of the local community, ultimately their attitude displays a lack of understanding of its audience and in the process alienates large segments of that same community. When they go on about cosplayers feeling like a celebrities or superstars, naming a photography package “Fame and Glory”, the red carpet entrance at the Launch Party, encouraging people to build their portfolio, and to take things to the “next level” they are no longer addressing the vast majority of cosplayers that do so for the simple fun of it. This is all standard marketing strategy where you don’t promote a product but instead you promote the experience.

Sadly, it’s the wrong experience and not one the majority of the community are looking for.

CosplayLive and its CosCon still have a great deal of potential but if it’s to return next year let alone still exist as an entity by the end of this year then it needs to accept its mistakes and overhaul all its ideas and attitudes instead of ‘saving face’. A focus on workshops and professional photography is an excellent idea but it needs to be a focus on just that and it needs to be grounded, humble, and realistic about it. This turnabout is completely possible but the effort needs to be made.

For those that have made it this far I congratulate you. Those of you that think that I am being too negative and instead I should be more supportive of local events let me remind you: I would not have been there if I wasn’t supportive. I spent $33 on a ticket and another $20 on parking. I spent time repairing my costume for the day and then wore said cumbersome costume as well as a girdle around the main hall for 5 hours in 4 inch platforms while losing at least a kilo in sweat. In that time I also took over 400 photos because I appreciate the effort people put into their costumes. I subsequently spent the next day processing most of those photos and uploaded them for all to see in TWO different locations and made sure to tag people’s pages if I knew them. And to top it off I spent two days writing up all this so that all of you could be informed and aware of the situation AND so that change can happen if future events are to be held. THAT is how supportive I am of the local cosplay community and its events.

I will never begrudge anyone for aiming big.  But it needs to be done with focus and a clear understanding of the target.

ADDENDUM: It’s now 2018 and leading up to one of my favourite local conventions and I am witnessing many of these failed ideas being recycled and repackaged for said event because they’ve turned to some of the very same people who were behind CosplayLive. This worries me a great deal (as well as many others) because it does not bode well for an already struggling for an event that means a lot to me.

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