Geek Babble- Youmacon 2015

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The last time I attended Youmacon, I pledged that I would return, but travel by airplane. After all, 12 hours of driving does take its toll on both driver and passengers, in terms of stress and time, not to mention money. I basically broke that promise since the driving and logistic figures were a bit more in my favor this time. There was a lot to like about Youmacon 2013, though 2014 saw the implementation of an egregious weapons rule and many reports of theft, and I was also hoping that the flaws of 2013 would be partially addressed.

Now, my lingering impression of Youmacon from 2013 was one where the staff remained disconnected from the attendees, and communication was pretty dismal. The website was updated only sparingly, and most news was spread through the unofficial Facebook group. This seemed to be the case again this year, but at least the registration system had been changed to a one-step purchase process rather than a two-step redemption process. The hotel booking procedure, however, was beyond pathetic. See, the room block at the Marriott Renaissance Center (the main convention hotel) was not locked down until a certain date to give all attendees an equal chance to book at the same time, so many attendees were booking the hotel over the phone several months before an official announcement had been made. Now, this can be chalked up to either an oversight on Youmacon’s hotel staff or just inadequate communication, but this would not be the only stain on the administration. The only overflow hotel listed on the convention website was a Holiday Inn, and there was never mention of any room block with the Greektown Casino hotel, the Doubletree, the Westin, or my preferred choice, the Crowne Plaza. In fact, to book the Youmacon Crowne Plaza room block, the procedure was to randomly call the Crowne Plaza throughout the year, hope you called when the room block was available, and got routed to the correct representative.

As for the convention itself, it still remains a split venue between the Cobo Convention Center and the General Motors Renaissance Center, which is thankful since one can feel the growth in the number of attendees this year versus 2013, and the crowd is thus naturally split, with an easy 15-minute walk between venues. The newly refurbished Cobo Convention Center was used for more events this year versus 2013, and events did run past midnight whereas previously the building would just close down. Also refreshing was the atmosphere of Detroit in 2015 versus 2013, as there were more members of the public out and about this year and the convention didn’t have the feeling of being a small pocket of life in a desolate wasteland. Also thankful was the weather, since the lighting on Friday and Saturday was excellent for photography, it only rained on Saturday afternoon and evening and temperatures were in the mid to upper 60s on Sunday.

Cobo's renovation included some eye-catching screens on the side walls
Cobo’s renovation included some eye-catching screens on the side walls

Picking up one’s badge was a breeze, taking approximately 1 hour on Thursday evening, and badge pickup started 30 minutes earlier than in 2013. However, Youmacon still does not mail out badges, so those who did not preregister had to wait until late Friday morning/early Friday afternoon to obtain a badge, and the line was exponentially longer than Thursday evening. Badges this year were again generic, and one had to physically write in one’s badge name rather than have them preprinted, which felt chintzy. However, one useful thing that Youmacon implemented was an option to purchase passes for the Detroit People Mover monorail system online or by telephone for $8 the whole weekend, rather than wait until one was at the convention itself. On the other hand, one thing that Youmacon still hasn’t changed is how the con doesn’t wake up or start until later, as evidenced by the same 2:00 PM opening time for the dealers room on Friday and the fact that the Renaissance Center was quite deserted on Saturday at 10:00 AM. The dealers room was bigger than in 2013, with a good variety of merchandise, though pricing as usual was pretty appalling and the size of the room was much smaller than Anime Weekend Atlanta’s. The artists alley, like Anime Weekend Atlanta, was tiny, though a few artists did catch my eye. The other thing that caught my eye was the cosplay, though this year has been one where I did not recognize a vast majority of them. The standard of construction has increased, and Youmacon thankfully remains a convention where creativity is expressed moreso than other conventions, so one doesn’t drown in a sea of commonality and boredom.

Rare cosplays abound, such as this Mayoi Hachikuji cosplayer from Bakemonogatari Rare cosplays abound, such as this Mayoi Hachikuji cosplayer from Bakemonogatari

Beyond that, there were a few bright spots this year compared with 2013. The photoshoot schedule was previously nonexistent in 2013, but this year, two individuals decided to take it upon themselves to implement a registration system, schedule block, and heavily promote their system via Facebook and the forums, so they deserve special commendations. Unfortunately, the schedule which was put on the website and Facebook did not make it into the official paper handbook distributed at the convention, the photoshoot locations listed had extremely confusing descriptions, and were not listed on the maps, resulting in multiple instances of attendees getting lost or missing photoshoots. Hopefully the photoshoot procedure continues for next year with improvements, since Youmacon’s venue makes for some excellent photography opportunities, both private and public, and it would be so disappointing to let it go to waste. Also thankful were the photoshoot and main convention schedules getting released 3-4 weeks before the convention instead of just 4-5 days before. However, criticism shall be directed at the person who decided to make the flimsy paper handbook out of the same material used for newspapers, to the person who decided to omit a grid schedule layout by time, and to the person who omitted an alphabetized panel list. These are easy fixes, and while there are cost reasons for printing out the schedule with flimsy paper per staff responses, these schedules are used multiple times throughout the whole weekend and are thrown around bags and hotel rooms, not read for 30 minutes and then thrown in the garbage. The other policy I have to criticize would be regarding the panels. See, staff decided that it would not be a good idea for attendees to sit in the room before panelists arrived or make announcements that one could go into the room when panels began, so lines were formed outside panel rooms with attendees standing instead of sitting in unused chairs. No communication was provided to attendees to enter the room, as if the room staff were just given guard roles, which also was the case for staff guarding the elevator for the Marriott Renaissance Center. The one interaction I had was a dismal one, as the woman decided to block me from getting to the elevator like an opposing player at a basketball or football game while interrogating me rather than ask me to wait and start the formation of a line.

One event I did go to this year was the maid café, an event held between 3:00 PM and 6:00 PM on Friday only and cost $10 per person. However, things went wrong from the getgo. Tickets were sold in 30-minute blocks, and there were more tickets printed than chairs available in the café, a result of the hotel not allocating enough chairs for the event. My two friends and I had purchased 3:00 PM tickets instead got seated around 3:50 PM, and we had to leave early to change to catch a 5:00 PM photoshoot. However, the staff at the maid café deserve a special shoutout, since despite the mixup, they remained friendly and cheerful, doing their best to give everyone a grand experience. The $10 entrance fee got you tasty food and drinks, though only for those wanting sweets. Should the mixup issue with the hotel and ticketing issues get resolved, this would be a must-attend event.

So much for 3:00 PM...
So much for 3:00 PM…

So all in all, Youmacon was a marked improvement for 2015 versus 2013, but it’s still not perfect and there are problems. Thankfully the weapons policy did not cause issues with me during the convention, despite cosplaying two characters with swords and one with a hammer. The hotel situation was completely unacceptable, the paper schedule was rubbish, the maid café was flawed, the staff was abrasive, and some of the times used for operations ought to be changed for an improved convention experience. Youmacon seems to be the polar opposite of Anime Weekend Atlanta, being a convention where the main assets of are the attendees and creative cosplays, with the weak points being administration, operations, and communication. However, there has been progress made, especially in the areas of the photoshoots, registration, and scheduling. This is a convention where one attends to first spend time with friends, then attend whatever convention events suit your fancy to make new friends, and is one of a few conventions to occur in the fourth quarter, directly opposite many other major conventions. Would I return again? Absolutely. Would I recommend this convention for newcomers? Absolutely. Even if you don’t know anyone. Would I drive again? Absolutely.

 

For photos, check out my Flickr gallery here.  Photoshoots attended include D. Gray Man and the furry photoshoot.

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