AVCon 2018 – round up

This year’s AVCon was my tenth year attending the festival and as always I had a lot of fun. It was an enjoyable weekend of cosplay and general geekery with friends as well as soaking up the energy of the Adelaide fan community.

As it was my tenth time, it reminded me of how much AVCon has played a part in the social aspects of my fandom and how many associated firsts I had experienced this past decade: AVCon was my first ever convention back in 2009, in 2010 I entered my very first cosplay competition at AVCon, at AVCon 2013 I was invited to judge my very first cosplay competition.

So the event does hold a special place for me but on top of that, being a locally-run major event is a big deal and something to be proud and supportive of.

While you’re at it you can check out my mate’s video of the weekend here:

AVCon puts on a great show every year even if the level of enjoyment can often vary. This year’s show was no different and AVCon 2018 exceeded most of my expectations…

Now that’s a bit of a back-handed compliment because my expectations leading up to this year’s festival were extremely low. For the first time in years I was not confident about how things would go but I am glad to say they seemingly pulled it together for the most part. I mean they do every year despite the behind the scenes but there’s a lot to unpack here (even more than usual).

My post-con write-ups are primarily a personal account of how my convention experience unfolded, all the good, the bad, and the ugly. Feedback, observations, insights and highlights of my weekend that extend beyond what the usual feedback surveys cover. It also highlights some observations I’ve picked up from others as well as providing a place for people to chime in with their own experiences and potential back and forth with those more knowledgeable.

Understandably, not everyone enjoys my version of “supportive” (even after pulling my punches on last year’s piece). I don’t consider what I do important or vital but I hope it’s at least helpful. Please keep in mind this is done with love and appreciation for AVCon and the hopes that it continues year after year.

Lead up…
According to those in the know, AVCon did not make its money back at its 2017 show. It’s also been alleged that, according to past figures, celebrity guests have had little to no impact on attendance with the exception of the cast of Good Game in 2016 (so the 20,000 that was quoted by the Deputy Lord Mayor of Adelaide at this year’s Friday Night Opening Ceremony was most likely exaggerated and may have come from a PR person who needs to know the difference between “spin” and a lie). Whatever the actual figures were it was enough to cause concern.

Since 2012, AVCon as a niche event (Anime and video games) has fought to remain relevant in the face of broader appeal competition, namely Oz Comic-Con and Supanova, both of which were introduced to Adelaide that year. No doubt that competition, as well as the rising cost of doing business (an unfortunate constant everywhere) were just two of the many factors that had an impact on 2017 and previous. To their credit AVCon continues to soldier on.

I mention this as context because every odd choice made or even proposed during the six months leading up to this year’s festival felt like minor desperation in light of last year’s results.

That’s certainly a harsh assessment but at the same time that desperation is also an understandable reaction. AVCon’s not-for-profit status as well as its volunteer structure has always been admirable in the way that organisers have given up their own time to put together a high-end professional-looking event. It’s always important to remember how impressive an achievement that is.

However, that organisational structure has not only been used as a shield to criticism, it’s also a potential weak point as the event has grown over time.

People gain experience by working for events such as AVCon but that experience then resets itself every time that person leaves after maybe a couple of years to be replaced by someone who also wants to develop their own skills and work up some experience (as opposed to bringing in someone already with skill and experience to manage aspects of the event, which there are a few people). This revolving door of talent and expertise can often cause some whiplash year to year. On the one hand it allows for new voices and ideas to enter the fray but on the other the skill sets behind some parts of the event revert to square one.

The fact that it still works at all is more miracle than anything else.

In fact this year some ideas that were put out there had the fingerprints of individuals who really should not be anywhere near such an event. I was worried that their influence and personalities would somehow derail the event that I’ve enjoyed year after year.

Whatever behind the scenes messes and dramas, very little of that seems to ever seep to the surface and ruin the convention experience front of house (with a few possible minor exceptions over the years).

I lay this out as background because it’s important for people to realise that when I do shine the light on anything, that a) I am aware of these things and take them into consideration and b) before others throw their own criticisms they should be mindful of some of these things too.

So, finally with all that out of the way…

Launch Party
The AVCon launch party was a fun evening as always but this year’s party was perhaps the first manifestations of what was concerning me in regards to “odd choices”.

I like the Seven Stars Hotel as a venue. It’s a great pub and I’ve had many a fantastic meal there but it did feel somewhat small and perhaps a little too laid back for a party of this kind. To be fair, it’s maybe only slightly smaller than last year’s venue, The Crown and Sceptre but it’s also understandable considering the alleged financial outcome of the previous year, in which one would want to reduce costs.

The launch party serves as a useful marketing platform to get fans excited about AVCon at the start of the year by announcing the event theme as well as revealing the new look of the mascots, Ayvee and Switch. It also helps produce promotional content in the form of photos that can be used to circulate across social media: photos of fans smiling and having fun, in cosplay, etc. It all helps to promote the brand.

So the following choice really puzzled me…

Let’s for the moment take this on face value that the Seven Stars Hotel instigated this bizarre restriction. It begs the question as to why? Why would a bar want to restrict its publicity? Because that’s what this is, it’s placing restrictions to the scope and range of promotion.

One possible theory raised by someone just as puzzled as myself was that the hotel had its own photographer. It doesn’t. The Seven Stars doesn’t do what venues like The Austral or The Elephant do in photographing its patrons having fun on weekends and then uploading to social media (it normally saves that for major events and the last time that happened was apparently 2016). That in itself might mean the venue is somehow “camera shy” but why would it then allow camera phones?

That’s the exemption that makes this whole thing smell funky to me. DSLR cameras are wonderful and all but many smartphones feature cameras that are more than adequate at taking great photos in low light, shooting RAW, and at anything up to 20 megapixels. Then you have to wonder if the “similar” part of the restriction also includes standard point-and-click cameras that also offer good quality for an affordable price?

So it isn’t really restricting anything? It’s just too bizarre to make sense.

Admittedly, I never spoke to the management but at least two of the bar staff I asked about it had no idea about the restriction and thought it weird too. That’s certainly not conclusive of anything but I would shudder to think that anyone on the AVCon organising committee thought this was a good idea.

If it were the result of organisers then cynically it looks like a poor attempt to control the content. Not allowing DSLRs or similar means you want to preserve the “high-quality” photos and control what is shown. By allowing camera phones it means you want attendees to post about the event on social media (live videos, Snapchat or Instagram stories, or even just photos that don’t need to be hi res). But that just shows ignorance when it comes to technology as well as a lack of respect to the fans and to the photographers in our community and it just looks petty.

But as I said, I really hope this wasn’t a decision made by anyone at AVCon.

Design and Marketing
On a much more positive note, I really liked the mascot designs for this year. In fact I enjoy the designs most years.

The thing to remember about the theme (this year’s was “evolution”… yeah more on that later) is that it’s a remnant of earlier AVCons and really doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than the direction of the marketing and overall look and in that regard it was nicely implemented. It provides a unique visual style to each year so you can tell by sight which year something was from.

Although, I’m mildly torn about recycling the footage from last year’s commercial. On the one hand it’s a needed cost-cutting measure and a good use of all the cool footage that was taken of some fantastic local cosplayers. It’s economical especially for a not-for-profit and I’m good with that.

On the other hand… you know what I’m not going to bother. Just be mindful how far that footage can go and and how many local cosplayers gave up their time and energy for free to help out with it.

Speaking of videos (and I’m jumping ahead here because I consider it a good look for the brand), AVCon has previously always been very late with video (most content really). The turnaround time for seeing a panel, or a competition has usually been about 6 months and in some cases even 10 months after an events (similar with photos). This, again, is often blamed on the volunteer aspect of the event (one theory is that it’s an attempt to keep AVCon relevant and in the minds of fans throughout the year). This year though, I was pleased to see not only videos from lead up events uploaded in a timely manner but also that the panels and competition, etc were live streamed on YouTube.

Sure, there are a few technical issues, such as the soft audio, one live stream being absent of audio completely, and the stream for a guest panel starting after the panel itself has already begun but overall this is a positive move. Not only does it show that AVCon can keep up with technology but it also shows faith in the local community (there are those who cannot make it to the event for various reasons so allowing them to watch this at home in real-time is quite the consideration).

See, I can say something positive.

Over the next few months there were bits and pieces of info and ideas being bandied about, which did not help with my low expectations but that turned around somewhat.

AVCon Ball
The AVCon Ball was a great night and a lot of fun. Like the Launch Party it’s essentially another marketing platform, this time in the form of a formal piss-up, also to help to promote AVCon and get the local community excited about the upcoming main event a few weeks out. And it’s a fun night in general!

The ball was almost the opposite of the Launch party in that there was a much more vibrant energy to it, absent of bullshit camera restrictions (there was a photobooth set up to use) and even the organisers appeared to be having a legitimately good time. The opportunity to let your hair down with fellow fans is something we almost take for granted.

I guess my only nitpick would be about the venue, The Tivoli Hotel. It’s actually a great venue and I have often enjoyed it, including that night, but if you’re having a party where some of the patrons may rock up in big costumes or wide gowns then The Tivoli was perhaps just a touch cramped for that. Then again it wasn’t a massive issue, which is why it’s only a nitpick.

As successful as it was, rumour has it that the ball almost didn’t happen and there are a few bits and pieces that may support this supposition. In the preceding months, a rather “coscon-esque” idea was being floated around the joint (not an outright terrible idea, just misguided considering recent history), which was meant to be held around late June as a promotional event. When that quietly fell through, and the constant questions about whether or not the Ball was happening, there was a very unassuming post on the Monday following Free Comic Book Day that the final guest announcement would be happening at the Ball (which was the first time the ball was mentioned publicly and most people missed it it was that unassuming). Later a date was set, which happened to be around when that other idea was proposed to be held and it would be another few weeks before a venue was announced (make of that what you will). It’s also been suggested that Press Play may have also been an influencing factor.

It’s a massive assumption to join those dots and say that the other cosplay-based event fell through and then suddenly there was money available for the Ball at the last minute. Regardless, in all honesty the ball was the right way to go because it was a fantastic and fun night that got the community excited for AVCon.

That might have been the positive turning point for me but now let’s finally get to the main event.

Friday Night
I really only attend Friday nights at AVCon to pick up my lanyard so I can have an easier entry on the Saturday morning. There is a story behind this year’s weekend pass, which I’ll get to later, but for now I want to thank the volunteers that helped me out that evening to make sure I got mine.

There was perhaps mass confusion in regards to the entrance and where to get your passes from that night and I want to help clear that up. As an understandable cost-cutting measure, the Western entrance off Montefiore Road that we have been used to the last few years was not hired for the Friday night. Because of that the Adelaide Convention Centre allowed it to be hired out for another event. There may have been some last-minute confusion on this even amongst organisers hence the mad rush at the really old East entrance but to their credit I observed most of the pre-paid ticket holders were being looked after efficiently enough (a slightly longer delay for Gold pass etc) and so credit to the volunteers for being able to rectify that on the fly. If you experienced differently please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Regardless of which convention has one, I tend not to sit in on the Opening Ceremonies. I have done in the past and it’s often not my thing and I usually have cosplay to rush home and finish.

I know a lot of effort goes into these things but take it or leave it. I’m just glad it’s not a 20-something minute countdown (I shit you not this happened one year).

Saturday
I actually stopped off at a garage sale and a closing down sale at 9am on my way to AVCon and spent big on a few collectable bargains so my mood was already pretty good going into the con.

Experience has taught me to always make sure I get my lanyard on the Friday night for an easy walk in on the Saturday morning and once again the lines for that morning was pretty big. I don’t know how fast that line moved or if it was simply a matter of AVCon being that popular (which is a good thing) but it would not have been good for anyone in bulky cosplay. And while long lines are an issue the world over at the most popular conventions, we’re not that big of a city let’s be honest. In any case it’s something to keep in mind.

Volunteers
My direct experience with volunteers this year was mostly positive, a massive improvement over last year’s observations. The previous lot looked as though they were there for a free ride and many didn’t know where things were or how to help attendees. This year was almost the exact opposite with volunteers knowing the layout like the back of their hand, some even going out of their way to point out and inform the punters of various aspects of the con, and some were even apologetic and more than willing to make up for a previous oversight (more on that later).

Yeah it seemed whatever was done this year to train the volunteers it apparently worked. The customer service mentality was at the forefront of that training and it made the weekend better (or it could just be better volunteers).

Whatever organisational issues were in the lead-up, on the day I witnessed volunteers (and organisers) going out of their way and putting in the effort to make things happen. I’d like to think that’s a testament to the training and to the commitment of this year’s bunch of volunteers.

Having said that… whoever was meant to be manning the Information Desk late on the Sunday afternoon seemed to have bailed early. I witnessed far too many attendees and exhibitors in need of help toward the end of day and no one was at the desk. I don’t know the story behind that.

By the way, I completely get the origin of the name (look at the AVCon logo) but does anyone else find it strange that volunteers are called “Invaders”? That trend of conventions using slightly inappropriate and somewhat aggressive names for the face of what is essentially their customer service team will never not be odd.

Cosplay Sentinels
I’m always happy to highlight the work done by The Cosplay Sentinels Project. I’ve said it many times before, they are a big part in the training of volunteers when it comes to the safety of patrons as well as how to handle problematic situations amongst attendees.

In fact this year I witnessed first hand the Sentinels dealing with a number of situations with the care and attention necessary and was once again impressed. Sometimes a dedicated team (with a member whose training involves security and law enforcement) is a good presence to have at such events.

Layout
Apart from the Friday only alteration, not much has changed about the overall layout of the event. Everything was pretty much in their usual places and that helps for most of the AVCon faithful.

One of the big highlights for me is always the big atrium where Artist Alley is located. It’s a wonderful and brightly-lit area and a big space for gathering. Although there may be a few little hiccups that might be solved for next time.

Because so much sunlight comes pouring in, some artists did complain about how overly bright and possibly too warm it was at their tables. When you have to spend hours attending your stall this may be problematic.

Also the bottle-neck at the far end does clog up traffic trying to get anywhere. It’s usually a tactic to get people to slow down and pay attention to those stalls but if everyone is stopped and paying attention then no one is moving so it can also cause issues.

Someone did highlight how good it was to have a dedicated volunteer organiser for Artist Alley. I’ve never been familiar with the specifics of how that is structured but if it’s a new thing then that’s certainly something to keep in mind for following years.

Exhibitors Hall
I like that the dealers room was not crowded and overstuffed as it was in the early days (again a tactic to get punters to slow down and look at the goods) and I can pinpoint the year and organiser who set that standard from here on out too (even after moving on that organiser continued to get calls from vendors who couldn’t get in contact whomever was in charge afterwards).

I do want to address a criticism I’ve seen around the place that there wasn’t enough to buy or that a particular vendor wasn’t present. That’s not necessarily the fault of AVCon but more down to the individual vendors. Ignoring any possible behind the scenes disagreement, AVCon can only do so much to entice vendors to put in the time, money, and effort into setting up a stall. If your favourite seller wasn’t there then maybe take it up with them.

One oddity though was that the Nintendo booth was placed here instead of the actual gaming area.

Games Hall
I don’t normally spend that much time in the gaming area anyways and this year I spent probably less time than usual so others will have to chime in with their experiences on that.

I do want to apologies to those at the Speedrunning stages for walking in front of the audience during their events. To be fair though it looked like a bloody thoroughfare, i.e. a giant path for people to walk though, so in all honesty I would recommend roping that part off next time to avoid the confusion.

Food Area
I don’t recall last year’s selection but there seemed to be a decent range of food this year. I can’t attest to the quality because I don’t usually eat at cons like I used to but I’m appreciative of the range.

However, the food area really does need more seating and tables. This is a problem at a number of cons and seeing the tired masses sitting on the ground in the walkways is not only a bad look but it’s not that great for any special needs patrons that require seating or even cosplayers who need a break (NO, this is NOT a call for private rest areas for cosplayers. Give it a rest!).

Maid Cafe
Again, I didn’t make it to Maid Cafe this year but it always seems to be a popular way for people to enjoy their lunch. I did see quite a few punters line up for it again.

There was apparently a behind-the-scenes change where it was supposedly brought more in line with the rest of the event’s volunteer structure? I don’t know exactly but I would love to hear how people went with it this year and does it compare to previous?

Lower Level
The lower level where the guest signings and anime screenings are located has exploded this year with the official addition of the photo walls. I’ve liked the idea of conventions introducing this properly because it gives many lesser known and fair weather cosplayers a chance to get professional photos from some of the best in the local community.

That being said I’m wondering if there is a better place to house it though?

While I’m on the subject of better placement, I had this observation last year too but failed to follow up on it, it feels as though the voice acting guests were hidden away in the rooms downstairs. In fact that section of the lower floor seemed too quiet (the masses were gathering over at the photo walls). I would love it if these guests were also somewhere upstairs (like the cosplay guests were at the AVCon merch booth). It allows them to be more visible to attendees as well as allow the guests to soak up more of the energy of the convention.

Also can anyone confirm or clarify the complaints about the anime screenings being almost an hour behind schedule?

Guests
I think we had a good selection of celebrity guests for this year’s event. A few of my personal favourites were amongst them (Neil Kaplan is a top bloke and Major Sam is a friend and absolute inspiration).

Booking guests is a difficult task when budget and schedules lining up are taken into consideration but for the moment let me present a few observations on this year and on guests in general…

AVCon has often been hot and cold when it comes to its guest list. Like many other conventions it uses that list as a selling point to attract the fans but it downplays that it does so (a subtle swipe at other events that pretty much rely on guests as an attraction). The low number of guests compared to other events is to do with budget, which is totally understandable (regardless of how anyone involved wants to spin it).

As a cosplayer myself, even I found four cosplay guests slightly overkill. But that’s comparative to the fact there were only six guests overall. The idea that this is a response to fan demand and the lack of cosplay guests last year is somewhat disingenuous. Maybe it’s a budget thing, I mean cosplay guests from interstate would definitely be more affordable than an international guest of course. But it takes up a spot that could’ve been set aside for another guest that would have added some diversity to the line up.

Also, on that, organisers need to be mindful of at least a couple of things:

  • Do your research. Organisers need to be attentive and have their ear to the ground when it comes to being knowledgeable about the various guests and the fan communities they are catering too (this was the mistake made by another short-lived event). Certain guests may have attitude problems or problematic philosophies that are harmful and not a good look for your show. If you have connections then know who to ask about such and such. You don’t want to find out after the fact that someone is a known bully or involved with a crime.

  • Get your contracts and arrangements correct, checked, double-checked, maybe even triple-checked before sending them off. You don’t want to screw over a guest and have potential guests not want to deal with you because that type of mistake gets around.

A few years back I made the observation that if AVCon were to continue in the face of competition then it needed to adjust a few of its structures and in particular the guest photos and signings. Year after year, organisers and the AVCon faithful have bragged and touted the idea that you don’t have to pay extra to see guests like you so at other conventions.

This is actually untrue, because you don’t have to pay extra to see guests in their panels at places like Supanova per se, you only have to pay for photos with them and autographs. And while AVCon has been good to provide this for free in previous years it’s disingenuous to promote it the way they have, bordering on lying, to leave out the fact that fewer guests means their fees can be absorbed by the rest of the con. Something that wasn’t going to last if the event was to keep up with the others.

I got harangued for pointing this out. Oh hey guess what happened this year…?

In previous years you only had to pay if you wanted to take home a print. All the photos would eventually be uploaded to the Facebook page where people were able to download and print off (and if you did that properly the quality would be just fine). But now you have to pay for a token for a photo with a celebrity guest.

At only $10 (for an A5 print mind you) it’s not as pricey as the other cons for sure, the token system is a mild change and the first item signed is still free too but it’s a change nonetheless. A change for the better to be perfectly honest.

The festival has always struggled to some degree or another and keeping photos and autographs completely free was denying AVCon a perfectly legitimate revenue stream. Of course you can still outdo the competition by not charging obscene prices, you just have to be smart about it and do it gradually, the same way ticket prices slowly rise. This is a decent way to get punters used to the idea.

It’s a small change but one that makes me feel vindicated.

Neko Nation
I love Neko Nation and was so pleased to see it announced as the After Dark entertainment this year. I also appreciated that they allowed non pass holders to pay for entry or pay the difference. Club nights like this don’t appeal to everyone and paying full price for AVCon isn’t always appealing for people who just enjoy specific themed club nights so I was impressed with that.

The vibe of the night was up from previous years and I don’t know if that was a direct result of what Neko’s organisers do or simply the brand “Neko Nation” bringing in the punters but I was glad to see so many folks having a great time.

Admittedly, I was only there a short period but I did enjoy what I saw and experienced. The bar on the other hand was way too busy for our liking so a couple of us went to the much quieter Quiz Night bar upstairs and had a few bevvies before returning to Neko.

Drinks were a little over-priced but that’s the Convention Centre for you unfortunately.

My recollection may be off so please chime in and let me know but I thought I read somewhere that this would be the final Neko Nation to come to Adelaide? If true then that’s a damn shame.

Sunday Cosplay Competition
About 95% of my Sunday was taken up by judging the cosplay competition. A role I was honoured to be invited to take part in again after a two year absence but as I alluded to earlier it wasn’t without its ups and downs.

I was asked to help judge the contest a few weeks out from the event and I enthusiastically agreed. That enthusiasm died when I found out they weren’t willing to compensate for my time by even throwing me a complimentary weekend pass like judges have been given in the past (actually I’ve never been compensated for my three previous stints at the judging table for AVCon but others have).

Dejected as I was, I gave them a chance and left it 24 hours, hoping someone on the organising committee might change their mind on their own and rectify it. It didn’t happen so I took to my private social media about it where a number of people spoke up and even went to bat for me to fix the situation. I thank those who went out of their way to do so.

I want to save the nitty gritty of it for another more specific write-up about “paid in exposure” but let’s cover the basics here: if you ask someone to do a day’s worth of work for you then you need to find an appropriate way to compensate them. No excuses.

(FYI: Hybrid World Adelaide next door actually approached me early on and were willing to pay me by the hour that weekend before the idea fell through. So there you go.)

My day started just after 9am and I didn’t complete my duties until about 5pm as scheduled, leaving me about an hour to explore the con.

As far as the competition itself, I am of two minds right now: It went well come show time but I wasn’t overly pleased with the lack of organisation. At the same time I am highly sympathetic to someone new being thrust into a role without appropriate guidance.

Let’s see if I can explain myself without people thinking I’m being nasty.

The first time pre-judging was introduced to the AVCon competition was in 2015. Some have claimed that it was always going to be added but they finally did it and it was allegedly at the insistence of Yaya Han who was a guest that year (whom I also had the honour of judging alongside). So it can be forgiven how messy that first year was. It resulted in a competition that began much later than scheduled but that happens pretty much every year.

For it to still be a last-minute scramble three years later and delay the start of the contest adds credence to what I said before about the resetting of experience. But here’s a very important thing to note: I don’t place the blame on the competition co-ordinator. As I said earlier, volunteers like Rebecca and her team went above and beyond on the day to make sure things went right. And the fact that the competition ran as well as it did at all (albeit behind) is proof of that.

But it wasn’t an easy ride with many a rough bump and the fault of that lies with the lack of tools and guidance available to the competition co-ordinator and I see that as the responsibility of AVCon as an organisation.

No doubt there are a few people about to point the finger at yours truly as I am the more seasoned and experienced with these things. Here’s the thing: I was only asked to judge the competition. Not run it. Again to Rebecca’s credit, in the lead up she did ask for advice about the competition as it was her first time but it wasn’t my place to assume that she was a completely blank slate. How would it look for me to over step my boundaries as “hired talent” and dictate what was needed? By doing so it would’ve meant that I didn’t trust her to do her job and there was zero indication in an email that she couldn’t. Again, she did well given what she had to work with.

Now that it’s after the fact what is it that she had to work with and what’s actually needed?

Cosplay competitions with pre-judging require a few basic elements:

  • A private room to pre-judge, separate from the marshalling and away from other contestants.

  • A table and some chairs for the judges.

  • A chance to chat about each contestant immediately after each session while things are still fresh in their minds.

  • ALL the judges to be present at pre-judging

  • A private place to deliberate at the end of the main show.

Now I could’ve set out these requirements beforehand but again how rude would that have sounded in the lead up? I only joke about being a diva…

Pre-judging was meant to begin at 10am. Organisers were slightly held up by a morning meeting and we were delayed even more when the pre-judging room, which was also the marshalling room, wasn’t set up for us yet. After a quick scramble to get a table we finally got started roughly 20 minutes behind.

Tim aka Piltover City Customs and I were the only judges present. The other two, cosplay guests Major Sam and one of my new favourite people Knitemaya, were stuck at a cosplay guest panel at the time. This pissed me off as well as the others to no end.

Whoever thought to schedule the cosplay panel at the same time as the pre-judging needs to remove themselves from any and every event management ever again. That wasn’t a rookie mistake that was plain stupidity as far as I’m concerned.

The necessity in having all the judges present at pre-judging is being on the same page at the same time and having less to deliberate about at the end because we’ll be able discuss our thoughts during the pre-judging instead of sharing notes at the end. More judges doesn’t speed that up the process because we have to talk to each contestant at the same time not split up duties. This schism is the reason why deliberating at the end took as long as it did because by that time all we should be doing is discussing who should be awarded for the skit but instead we had to go through the whole list of categories, which we could have done during marshalling if we were all there for the beginning.

Want to talk about dedication? Both Knitemaya and Major Sam skipped their lunch break to rush over and assist us.

Until then, Tim and I had to make do and it was going well for the first few contestants. I want to take a moment to thank the cosplayers for being on time, being ready, being patient with us, and being open and forthright with their costume work. It helped us immensely and you all presented some fantastic work.

There is however one exception and in hindsight I think we were too generous. One group either had a malfunction or was not prepared by the time their allocated slot came up. We had to skip over them multiple times and proceed with perhaps a dozen or so other contestants before this group were finally ready. Every time we went back to check it wasted more and more time.

We should have done it then and there but next time I want to propose that if you are not ready for your allocated pre-judging within a reasonable time frame, even if you are preset, then you should be disqualified.

Cosplay malfunctions happen but there is a limit to our patience. You either present it as is or not at all.

By this point we were more than half an hour behind schedule.

Tim and I had to be thorough with the first half of contestants because it was just he and I and we needed to be able to compensate and inform the other two judges of what we observed. So we averaged about 4 to 5 minutes per contestant. Some took longer because they loved to talk and some were less because their cosplays were fairly straightforward.

The room started filling up adding to the difficulty of our job. If the intention of the marshalling room was to be private for pre-judging and we be don by the scheduled marshalling time then that doesn’t work because contestants used the room as a waiting area. As listed above these need to be separate.

We eventually got through every one and at the end we were about 40 minutes behind schedule (we found out the voice actor panel that was happening on the main stage went over time anyway so there’s that).

More scrambling to get the judges’ table ready for the show itself, which I found odd because I do wonder what some organisers thought we were going to do for the duration of the show. But credit to those volunteers for getting that sorted for us and looking after us too.

The main show itself went very well as it usually does apart from the odd tech issue or misread but that too is fairly standard. I enjoyed the show because I always enjoy each and every contestant strutting their stuff on stage but I can also understand some of the complaints by a few that certain moments were a bit dull (I’ll get to that).

I’m not a performer and I have an odd form of stage fright where I go into auto-pilot and don’t remember what I do up there (which you may see in the video). So congratulations to the hosts for a job well done and for keeping the show moving and focused on the cosplayers. I’ve constantly said that a good MC is always a guide up on stage, they direct the focus and never make it about themselves.

Although, I did notice something… in a cosplay contest it’s good to chat to the cosplayer for the benefit of the audience. Asking them one question is ideal as it helps to give context and insight to the costume. Asking a second follow up question isn’t bad but it’s pushing it. Any more than that and it starts to slow down the flow of the show and I think this is what some people were picking up on.

This happened a couple of years ago too and it dragged out the show near-unbearable levels. That year saw a lot of last-minute drop outs (including myself) and I found out later from that year’s hosts that they were directed to stretch things out to help fill the allocated time.

I suspect that’s what happened here too and I think that’s a mistake. Keep it flowing, keep it snappy. If the show finishes ahead of schedule then that’s a good thing because the judges still have to do their final deliberations.

And on that I was surprised once again that people were caught off guard that we needed a private place to discuss things (or that there would need to be a final deliberation). We wouldn’t have needed as long as we did had all four judges been present from the beginning at pre-judging as we would’ve come up with most of the results along the way instead of the end. But I am very proud of how we went about it and of the decisions we made.

In terms of categories, this is a recent observation for me but the more contests I judge the more I’m inclined to agree with my various colleagues over the years that fewer prize spots is not only better for the judges but better as an achievement for the cosplayers. Once upon a time AVCon used to do first, second, and third for its multiple categories but now it does first place and runner up for each category. If we were to do away with runner up it would not only make for a snappier show but also heighten the achievement (no offence to those who did place as runner up).

When Oz Comic-Con and Supanova came to town, AVCon tightened its requirements for what would be allowed in the competition. Before it was anything that had an anime and a video game (even Western properties). Later it was changed to only things with an ORIGIN in anime or video games (even Western properties). With OzCC abandoning Adelaide, AVCon introduced the “pop-culture” winners category and I don’t know if that really works. It only serves to add an extra complication to how things are judged. If you want to open the contest up to regular pop-culture things then just allow them to be eligible for other categories.

Overall, I enjoyed the competition but behind the scenes was a mess. And I’ll reiterate that I don’t see the fault being on the contest organiser or her team, they did the best they could with what they were given as did the judges. This is definitely a case of lessons for next time and my recommendation for anyone on that team who wants to do this again next year is to take what you learned this time around and FIGHT hard to get them next time.

My other recommendation: you don’t need an experienced cosplayer to organise the contest but what you do need is either a list of basics you hand to the person in charge or to find an experienced consultant. Judges are talent for hire, they’re there to judge, not run the contest. These are different things.

I know there’s a lot there but again, the AVCon cosplay contest provided a lot of firsts for me so I and and a few other people I’ve spoken to treat it as our baby (albeit a baby someone else is taking care of but our baby nonetheless).

One final note on the contest: if I am clearly busy working, please don’t fucking stick your head in and start a conversation with me! This adds to the necessity for a private judging room!

That took up most of my Sunday. I had less than an hour left to explore the con before the dealers were due to close and pack up. Walking through that large atrium during and after sunset is actually quite lovely and it’s odd how much I enjoy it year after year seeing the few remaining folks milling about.

I don’t stay for the Closing Ceremony. In the past I did because back then the cosplay competition ran so long the results were announced at the closing ceremony. These days it’s not for me.

I think the cost of parking at the Adelaide Convention Centre went up a little this year. A full day ends up costing me about $28. That becomes rather substantial over two days. Early bird parking is pointless because even if you do get there early enough to be eligible you have to leave before 6pm and that’s before the After Dark entertainment on the Saturday.

Thank you making it this far. The last time I wrote this much for a post-con write-up was actually for an event no one really enjoyed but AVCon is an event I do enjoy every year and despite my grumblings, criticisms, and nitpicks it’s also something I care deeply about, want to see continue in Adelaide, as well as grow and improve.

Some would be quick to suggest that I put my money where my mouth is and actually get involved with the organisational committee and the simple answer to that is: I don’t want to and I know my limits.

Now that should be enough but people being people I’ll put it another way: I’m not a chef yet I’ll speak up if my meal was undercooked or if I get food poisoning.

The sentiment “let’s see you do better” becomes a moot point because AVCon have been asking for feedback.

Don’t think for a moment I am unaware of how much work goes into putting on an event like this especially as it’s not their main job. But that should never be a shield when things do fall to bits and I sincerely hope those who get involved and dive into the deep end can also appreciate that also.

My goal in these write-ups is mainly to prevent complacency.

If someone involved reads this (and I hope reads it thoroughly and understands it) and they go away with an “I’ll show him” attitude then I can only hope that means they do a good job from here on out and produce something great. I don’t care if people want to prove me wrong as long as the end result is beneficial for everyone.

Do the best you can with what you have and produce something great. Not be patted on the back for coasting over the line.

AVCon succeeds most years despite itself. As I said before the months leading up to the big event had me worried with only one slightly positive possible turning point. The chaos behind the scenes rarely rises to the surface but the scuttle butt around the place is that this year it was especially bad. I’m not sure that’s what I picked up on but I did notice something… a certain a shift in power.

The preceding months were accompanied by misguided ideas and an outside influence that should not have been there. That influence was pushed aside and it “felt” as if AVCon was back on track if only for a moment.

Which leads me to an observation someone else made but I can’t unsee. The theme of “evolution” ends up being more ironic than anything else. On the surface, when you really look at it, AVCon didn’t do anything majorly different this year. It put on the same show as last year, and the year before, and so on. And as always it did it well as far as the punters are concerned.

And yet I am told that this year’s show drew in more attendees (I don’t know if that means more than 2017 or more than ever as I don’t have the numbers). So it did better than last year but it didn’t do anything substantially different (despite the early attempts to shake things up).

So what changed?

Well, no offence to the guests but if past numbers are an indication it’s not the guests.

The big thing that changed was the the absence of Oz Comic-Con in Adelaide. Without a major event for the Adelaide fan community early on in the year, we were starved for something and Press Play (as enjoyable as it was) didn’t satisfy that hunger.

Hell, you even saw the Rebel Legion set up shop at AVCon this year and I don’t ever recall them doing so in the last 10 years. I may be wrong on that but certainly not in the last six.

So in the absence of one less competitor in town, all AVCon had to do was stick to its tried and true recipe, maybe finesse it a little, and it would once again succeed. But as was displayed last year, it’s not going to work every time and if a new show does pop up in that “Mad March” gap then AVCon will have to do something to evolve in order to remain relevant.

It does sound like “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” but it’s more about finding your feet and learning how to stand before you can walk again. Maybe next year it’s about learning to run and that means evolving to the needs of the community and not change for the sake of it. It has to be mindful, it has to take into account what the fan community is hungry for and not just catching up to everyone else (Supanova seems to have this issue in some areas). And it has to be driven by people that are passionate about the community and not their event management portfolio.

I love AVCon, call it “tough love” if you will, but it does succeed in spite of itself. It succeeds because there are people behind the scenes who want to produce the best product possible, it does put on the great show because there are those willing to pick up the ball when someone drops it, and it continues to be a fun weekend because the community care enough about it.

Please feel free to share your own experiences or help clarify and fill in the gaps I may have missed. Information is king and helps to enlighten myself and others on the inner workings and better appreciate the work involved.

 

If you enjoyed that nonsense as well as my other work then please consider contributing to my tip jar at http://ko-fi.com/oldtrenchy so I can spend more time turning out more of these word spews.

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