Friday, November 21, 2014

Nix Tempestas Erat Calidus!

So two weeks ago I went to Blizzcon 2014. I've been to a few comic conventions, both as a guest and as a visitor, and so while there are obvious differences between comic books and video games I thought I knew what to expect. I didn't.
First things first: Blizzcon 2014 was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed myself. I didn't play a single video game there, but it was still pretty cool. They announced a new video game at the show: Overwatch, Blizzard's first new IP (intellectual property) in 16 years.
They also had a pretty neat panel for the upcoming Warcraft movie, directed by Duncan Jones, announced the next expansion for Starcraft II (Legacy of the Void), talked what's to come for Diablo 3 and Hearthstone, gave us more info on Heroes of the Storm, and also had a ton of stuff featuring the new World of Warcraft expansion: Warlords of Draenor, which was released the following week.

That's all pretty fun stuff if you're a gamer or a Blizzard Entertainment fan, which I am. But even without all that, I and the guys I was with couldn't help comparing Blizzcon 2014 to other comic conventions we'd been to. Astonishingly enough, there are a number of things that I think comic conventions could learn from Blizzcon.

1. At Blizzcon everyone was so damn nice! 
OK, this isn't meaning to imply that there aren't nice people at comic conventions. Far from it. But think about this for a second: at Blizzcon the ratio of men to women was fairly balanced and ethnically-speaking very diverse. This makes a bit of sense, in 2009 a Nielson Report found that in America women 25 and older made up the largest block of "gamers". During that same time frame the ratio of American men to American women playing World of Warcraft was fairly balanced as well. And despite the whole Gamergate nonsense going on, I didn't see or hear about a single one of those idiots at the convention.
It hit us in that moment that the gamer community is a whole lot different than the comics community, even though so many of those people lie in both camps. One reason, I believe, is that while the video games are the main feature of Blizzcon, the gamers are the stars while at a comic convention the stars are the property creators. There are a ton of gamers who could regularly beat the creators of those games at their own creation, so when they go to a show they can feel like a badass. And then, at the show, they are celebrated for being a part of the community. I've seen too many tables at a comic convention where the creator looked like he was doing fans a favor by being there.
There should be a greater celebration of the fans that drive the market at comic conventions.

2. The Blizzcon Convention floor was well designed.
First off, at Blizzcon they had the A/C humming! With the hundreds of computers they had running, the temperature had to stay constant so they didn't overheat. A pleasant side-effect was that guests stayed fairly cool as well. Sometimes when I leave a comic convention I feel like a sweaty ball of Stank and can't do anything until I've showered off the ConCrud.
Second, the lighting and decor was top-notch. They wanted the games to be the focus, and so the walkway lighting...didn't exist. There were times that I was standing in the dark with a bunch of other people, waiting in line to buy a beer (Oh yeah. They sold beer on the convention floor. Awesome.) The darkness didn't cause as many problems as you might think. There was still the occasional moment when you'd bump into someone, but you just gave a polite "Excuse me" and moved on. No big deal.
Now, I recognize that it's a little different for comic conventions. For one thing, the artists in Artist Alley need to be able to see, and there's a lot more face to face interaction than at a gaming convention. But there's some value to be had in trying to figure out a way to control the lighting at a comic convention to be something other than those bright, harsh halogen gym lights.
When I walked into Blizzcon, it was a little like walking into another world. They had a stage set up for Hearthstone that looked like the tavern of an inn from World of Warcraft. They had huge, life-like statues of characters that had made them famous. They controlled what you were able to look at, and they controlled what you saw when you looked. There's some value in that mindset to be had when determining the layout and look of a comic convention floor, I think.

3. The Cosplay supported the product. 
I've definitely seen more cosplay at other conventions, but the quality of cosplay at Blizzcon was, in general, far superior to any other convention I'd been to. But one thing that Blizzard did, which I thought was genius, is hire cosplayers to dress up as Overwatch characters to support the announcement of the new game.
I've seen a lot of Comics vs Cosplay discussions when it comes to comic conventions. I don't see why they can't help each other. Cosplay, whether you like it or not, has become a profession for some people. They have booths at shows to sell prints, and they walk the floor to get pictures. What would be awesome to see is a professionally-hired Spiderman at the Marvel booth, or a professionally-hired Deadpool as the line organizer for the Rob Leifeld signing.
Even better, what I'd love to see is smaller creators working out deals with cosplayers who would be at the show to come up with cosplay for their books, and then they cross-promote the hell out of each other.
First, it would put an end to the various discussions about whether cosplay is killing comic conventions. Second, it would validate the fans who come to conventions dressed up as their favorite character. I've definitely seen and heard comments about fans who dress up but look vaguely like the amorphous-blob version of the character. God, can you imagine how much courage that takes!?
Rather than being made fun of, they should feel encouraged to show up dressed as their favorite character. I think that hiring cosplayers to help promote the product is a step in the right direction. It implies an acceptance of anyone wearing a costume.

Anyone else go to Blizzcon and noticed something the wished comic conventions would do (like serve beer on the convention floor)? Or did you wish Blizzcon did something more like comic conventions? Drop a line in the comments and share.
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