SVCC Year Two: They Figured Out The Logistics
They've got a good base now

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Last year was the birth of Silicon Valley Comic Con. The Bay Area, long starved of a pop culture convention, attended in droves, overwhelming the logistical system they had put in place. While it was a really lovely time, the entire enterprise felt like it was bursting at the seems. Panels were cancelled, no one knew what was happening, there were bottlenecks at every turn. It was a mess. Plus, many of the big boys didn’t even attend.

A lot of that changed in the second year.

The largest and most obvious change is that the convention was more spread out. One of the biggest problems last year was that everything was crammed into the McEnery Convention Center. Like, everything. There was the showroom, which had check-in points at every door, and then there were the panels right outside. The large hall, where all the big panels resided, was directly across the way from the showroom.

So you’d have people filtering in and out of the showroom, and then you’d have them press up against a big line of people waiting for William Shatner. It was chaotic, and volunteers looked exasperated and overwhelmed. They had no clue what they were doing, and it was not their fault. It was clear their logistics didn’t account for the amount of people that attended.

One of the problems was the check-in and check-out system. It used an RFID-equippbed band that you tapped against a console thing. When it beeps, you enter and exit. Simple, but not so simple when the check-in points are pressed up against the showroom floor, which means that there were huge lines to get out. This year, they decided to move the check-in stations outside of the convention, giving them more space to actually form lines without people feeling like they’re going to suffocate. Plus, they decided not to give VIPs and press RFID bands, which means less people checking in and out, which frees up even more space.

They also moved the big events across the street at the Civic National Center, a fairly large theater with a good sound system. You can fit more people in there, and you can also free up the big line for that event from pressing up against the showroom and making everyone feel like they’re being squeezed.

And then there’s the panels. Last year, there were way too many panels. It felt like they were just asking random people to host panels; it felt like it was an open mic. First con-goer to round up some friends and speak gets to host a panel on whatever! Woo! This year it was a little different. There were less panels, so they didn’t need to use all the rooms. They could focus on more interesting panels in bigger rooms, packing in more people and keeping things feeling more comfortable for everyone.

The final problem with last year was that there wasn’t much to do other than looking at a bunch of independent artists and local sellers. Nothing wrong with that, I must have spend $300 on stuff from indie artists and local sellers in my three days this year. It’s my kryptonite, it really is. But for a successful con, you need a balance. You need interesting panels to give people a break from walking around, you need shopping, and you need experiences.

This year, the experiences were much better. Warner Bros, who had a sad booth last year, came back with something much more interesting. They gave away a bunch of free stuff all weekend, and they always had a fairly long line soaking people up. Acura was also there showing off their new NSX with some kind of motion simulator that had an hour plus line (sorry, that’s too long for me). The big guns were NASA though, who had the center of the convention all to themselves, with real NASA scientists and engineers explaining all kinds of things about science and space. On a weekend that included the March for Science, this was incredible.

Silicon Valley Comic Con doesn’t just want to be something that celebrates pop culture, it wants to celebrate science. It wants to meet in the middle, especially as Steve Wozniak explained last year: technology makes us feel like superheroes.

And that was only inside the convention center. Silicon Valley Comic Con extended outside this year, with a massive outdoor event that included free cotton candy, plenty of food trucks, movie screenings, stand-up comedy shows and two more big players: Facebook and PlayStation. While Facebook showed off some VR demos to get people excited about VR, PlayStation showed off a bunch of video games and even hosting a tournament for Injustice 2 (winner stays on role, if you win a couple matches in a row you get a cool prize).

Big, huge corporations weren’t the only draw. SVCC managed to get Grant Gustin, star of The Flash, to show up to his first comic con. Big stars aren’t the be-all, end-all of comic cons, but they do provide these conventions with jolts of energy, and he certainly did that. The excitement to meet him was palpable on his day, and it’s clear everyone knew the dude was there. There were so many Flash shirts and cosplayers that day that it dawned on me what an incredible mistake Warners is making by not linking their TV and movie universes.

The second year of Comic Con was not perfect. It’s clear they’re going to continually have growing pains as they rapidly try to accommodate how many people want to come to SVCC. There were also a few panels that took too long, causing delays and stressing volunteers the eff out. I was in line for the Gina Torres panel and clearly heard, along with my fellow line-standers, about drama between volunteers and getting us into the room on time. Keep it away from us next year, ya?

More than anything, it really feels like SVCC has something here. The people are passionate as always, and are ready to have a great time. The crew behind it all is learning on the fly and trying to adjust to a rapidly growing fanbase. There were some big vendors and guests this year, and it’s hard not to feel like it’ll only get bigger and more interesting next year.

 

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