I have survived my first DragonCon. It’s probably not my last one, but I have to have a good reason to go back.
Much of DragonCon is fantastic. Lots of incredible costumes. Lots of cool stuff to buy. Lots of interesting panels. Lots of celebrities. Lots of parties. All of this is great.
Thanks to the generosity of Van Allen Plexico and Brett Brooks, my books were on display in the Artists Alley section. None sold, but a bunch of bookmarks were given out. It can’t hurt, and since I didn’t actually pay anything it’s a net win.
I got to see several friends up for Dragon Awards. Some won, some lost, but it’s still cool to realize the quality of writers I’m earning a place among. I had a great time hanging out with Barflies. I should have actually spent more time with them and other writers and publishers.
The Hyatt House, where I stayed, had a fantastic staff, and my roommates, who I’d never met prior to Thursday, were all pleasant to deal with, even though five of us squeezed into a suite.
I gamed a lot, playing in four Pathfinder Society scenarios including two specials, which are a blast. I also played in an ad-hoc game on Thursday which was hilarious. I was the second to die. This will come as no shock but it was because my character couldn’t keep his mouth shut. I also played in some random games in the large gaming area. Cards Against Humanity is always fun, especially with the alcohol flowing, and DragonCon is one huge party.
But the execution of the event seemed oddly amateurish. As if this wasn’t the 30th time they ran this, but the first or second.
For example, I spent most of my time gaming once I figured out I wouldn’t be needed in a booth. I decided to play Pathfinder Society, and so I looked for PFS registration area. This was on the 2nd floor of America’s Mart Building 1, in the far corner, about as far from the entrance as could be.
That’s not necessarily a problem, but the directions on the boards and the app weren’t terribly clear, and the actual Pathfinder Society games were on the 1st floor of that building. There was room enough for the registration area to be in that same room, but for some reason they chose to put those tables up a floor on the other side of a big building.
Since the biggest complaint I have relates to traffic control, it will come as no surprise I look at this particular weirdness as emblematic of the con. All of those who wanted to just play Pathfinder Society could have been arranged in one particular area, but by setting things up as they did, it added congestion at the one set of escalators available.
Unfortunately, this was not the worst traffic control mistake they made. DragonCon runs along a ridge in downtown Atlanta. The hill is substantial, but there are walkways between buildings and other things that ameliorate such problems. Still, it’s not easy to get around, and climbing up and down that ridge can suck.
The vendors were all placed in the America’s Mart, Building 2, which was a fine choice in many ways. It certainly had room enough. However, it was located at the far end of the con at the bottom of the ridge. Again, with walkways and such it’s not a big deal. Also, the main entrance was on the upper side of the building, which was closest to the other convention buildings.
But there was apparently a problem with this arrangement and in the middle of the con they suddenly shunted all access to the vendors to the downhill, farther side of the building. This meant you had to go up three extra sets of escalators. Oh, and those walkways? They closed them off.
Let me repeat. In the middle of the con they closed off all entrances to the building that held the vendors but the farthest, least convenient entrance possible.
All of the maps that said where to go to see the vendors became instantly wrong. Few of the people doing traffic control knew the exact directions. To get to the vendors, one had to hunt at the far end of the con to find the one way in.
This is again where the amateurish appearance comes to the forefront. It is not like they haven’t used these buildings before. It is, after all, the 30th time they’ve had this event in Atlanta. I get that it has grown and they’ve had to adjust, but it seems incredible to me that they couldn’t anticipate the traffic flow.
By comparison, GenCon, which is similar in size, manages all of this nicely. It’s busy and there are people everywhere, but you know where to go and they are much more efficient with their traffic flow.
I get it. I get that 80,000 people are hard to deal with. However, closing off all but one of the six or so available entrances to a huge building does not seem like a good answer to me. They also did this to America’s Mart Building 1, which held all of the gaming.
Clearly they could afford people to check badges at every door, because all of the closed entrances had people stationed there turning attendees away. No, for some reason, they were convinced that restricting access to one door on each of these two buildings would provide the most efficient traffic flow.
Given that I spent most of the con in these two buildings, I’m particularly frustrated by this. I will say, other parts of the con might have had better traffic flow, though it didn’t seem like it from what little I saw. I saw a lot of miscommunication amongst people working the con. Some confusion is to be expected, but not as much as I saw, especially related to traffic flow.
Again, I should emphasize that there was much to enjoy. Best cosplay con I’ve seen, no doubt. I really enjoyed the gaming that played.
But they do not seem to have a good handle on the logistics of 80,000 people. It’s a tough thing, alright, but other places have managed.
Perhaps the answer is to move DragonCon to Indianapolis, which could handle it just like it handles GenCon. Maybe there are solutions in Atlanta. I don’t know enough to even guess at solutions. What I do know is that their ConCom needs to figure that out.
Will I go back? Maybe. I’m inquiring on different room options and prices for next year to weigh the choice. I’m likely to go if I’m ever fortunate enough to be a finalist for a Dragon Award. I do have friends there I enjoy, including some new gaming friends.
There’s definitely fun to be had at DragonCon, but it’s an open question whether it’s worth the expense and hassle. We shall see.