Con Diary: Reflections on SDCC 2016 by Transmute Jun

By: Transmute Jun

I’ve been attending SDCC since 2008, so I’m definitely not a newbie. Yet things at this con seem to change every year, and 2016 was no exception. This biggest change this year was the use of RFID badges, which seems to have worked out well for the majority of attendees. I made my life much easier by having a retractable cord badge clip, which meant that I didn’t have to bend down awkwardly every time I passed a scanner.

The ticket draw line for Star Trek: Beyond.
The ticket draw line for Star Trek: Beyond.

Preview Night was less hectic this year. Don’t get me wrong: there were still lines for the good stuff, but it seemed like no lines were capped. I was able to get into every line I wanted, although some of them were quite long. Correction: I was never able to get into the X-Men Escape Room, as they were always out of fastpasses whenever I went by during the entire con. Swag was present on the exhibit floor, but definitely less than in previous years. I’ve seen this trend every year since I started attending. Continuing with this pattern, the swag from offsites in the Gaslamp and around the convention center was quite good, and most of the long offsite lines did result in something worthwhile.

Mr. Robot offsite
Mr. Robot offsite

Ah yes, the lines. While everyone expects long lines to get into Hall H, Ballroom 20, and the Sails (in the morning), the lines at the offsites went off the rails this year. The line for the Game of Thrones offsite was far bigger than in previous years, perhaps because the first 500 attendees every day received a Funko Pop. I gave up on getting into the Mr. Robot offsite, because I just couldn’t stand waiting so long in the sweltering heat that enveloped San Diego during this con (more about the weather later).

We only got into the Abigail (from Fear: The Walking Dead) because we arrived early. As usual, the line situation for offsites got worse as word spread, so lines on Friday were worse than on Thursday, lines on Saturday were worse than on Friday… you get the picture. However there were a few ‘hidden gems’ that didn’t see nearly as much traffic as other offsites, such as the Neil DeGrasse Tyson VR experience in the Hilton Gaslamp, and ConX on the peninsula behind Seaport Village. Offsites are a significant part of the con experience, and as a result people are devoting more and more time to them.
The Abigail.
The Abigail.

The two most popular offsites were the Conan shows (where the standby line started so early, you would have thought they were lining up for Hall H) and the Star Trek: Beyond movie premiere (where thousands of people baked in the sun for hours to have a chance of attending). Nerd HQ also drew in its fair share of attendees: both gamers (who enjoyed the exhibits on the main floor) and people who were attending panels.

Conan chats with the cast of Silicon Valley during a commercial break.
Conan chats with the cast of Silicon Valley during a commercial break.

Hall H lines started earlier this year, which wasn’t really a surprise for most people. The good news is that the wristband system has been refined, and distribution is now down to a science. The bad news is that there were two ‘unofficial’ Saturday Next Day Lines, resulting in a kerfuffle amongst attendees before everything was sorted out. CCI either needs to make provisions for people lining up more than 24 hours in advance, or employ security to keep people away until that time. The current system isn’t going to cut it.

The panels themselves were similar to prior years. Not to say that the material was the same (although in some cases, such as Quick Draw or Starship Smackdown, things don’t really change much from year to year) but that the quality and types of panels seemed consistent with the past couple of years. I was in Hall H on Friday, and the panels were worth the wait I had put in. I never made it into Ballroom 20, but I did get into 6A and 6BCF a couple of times, with good results. Occasionally, a panel didn’t meet my expectations, but then there were others that blew me away, so it all evened out in the end.

John Barrowman meets a fan at his autograph signing in the Sails.
John Barrowman meets a fan at his autograph signing in the Sails.

I don’t really spend much time on big celebrity autographs, but I did find myself in a few signings on Sunday for authors. These signings went smoothly and were run similarly to previous years. New for me this year, I found myself in an unexpected ‘random drawing’ for John Barrowman’s autograph Sunday around lunchtime. Until the day before, the booth sponsoring the signing had insisted that I should simply show up in the Sails, with no ticket or wristband needed. But on Sunday morning CCI decided that a random draw should be instituted instead. With no warning or advance notice, I was just happy that I was able to draw that winning ticket on my first try. Given how many different procedures there are for autographs, it would be nice if CCI would announce the policies in advance and then stick to them. Changing things mid-show is only going to create hassles for both attendees and security.

Inside Nerd HQ

The biggest surprise of the con for me was actually the crowds on Sunday. The exhibit floor was packed to the gills, and even the lower-numbered aisles which are usually somewhat clear were standing room only. My guess is that this was because of the weather. Yes, the weather. I can’t complete my reflections of SDCC without dwelling on the most un-California-like humidity we all experienced during the con. The temperatures themselves were reasonable, in the high 70s and occasionally touching 80, but the humidity made any kind of outside activity torturous and sweat-drenched. I suspect that many more people were fed up with the weather, opting to stay inside the large, air-conditioned convention center on Sunday. I also believe that the intense humidity was the cause of the lower levels of cosplay we saw this year. There were cosplayers, but they weren’t roaming as much as I have seen in the past, and there were many fewer of them, as a percentage of the overall attendee population. I myself usually cosplay for at least 4 of the 5 days, but this year cut it down to 2, because of the uncomfortable weather. The day I wore my heaviest cosplay, I spent most of my time inside the convention center, refusing to wander around outside, knowing that it would be miserable. I sincerely hope that next year we are back to the usual dry California summer!

Of course, the best part of all was being able to meet up with my friends from FoCC, and hanging out with them during the con. The forum lanyards many of us wear made people easy to spot, and I ran into some people whom I would not have recognized without them. It’s great to have an instant circle of friends with whom to chat and network.

Overall, while there were a few negatives, SDCC 2016 was a fantastic experience for me, and I am already looking forward to 2017.

Transmute Jun

Transmute Jun has an addiction to pop culture conventions, and attends as many as she can each year. When she's not traveling, she likes to stay at home reading a good book, playing a video game, or binge-watching a TV show. She can be bribed with pizza, Coke Zero and Belgian milk chocolate.