Could Become A Main Event of Southern Cons
I have written before about how much I enjoy small conventions for the camaraderie they foster among fellow geeks, and I’ve equally lauded the larger conventions for their ability to attract interesting vendors and bring in big-name guests. What I have not yet written about is the small convention that has the potential to become a large con, and Pensacon looks to be a member of that rare breed of convention that can and will move into the larger convention circuit based on my experience of its inaugural weekend.
Being new to the state of Florida, I found out about the convention via a billboard on the highway, which is not something I have seen with previous conventions. Admittedly, the conventions I attend tend to be fairly well established, so it may be that Pensacon’s staff decided to do more active promotion for their brand new convention. Regardless, I found it to be an effective strategy at least as far as highway drivers were concerned. Pensacon priced itself sensibly at least as far as pricing for other conventions I have attended indicates. Pre-order weekend passes ran at $75 for the three-day convention, while one day passes cost $30.
For your $75 or $30, Pensacon provided a wide variety of activities. In addition to the panel discussions, the convention featured a blood drive, zombie run, panels, workshops, solid video gaming, twenty-four hour table top gaming, and some Thursday night kick off events for the over-21 crowd. I think I was most stunned when I noticed a ‘wedding’ blocked off on Saturday afternoon in the Crowne Plaza Grand Hotel. Intrigued, I wandered over to check it out, only to be able to glimpse at the wedding from the door as someone exited. Apparently, the wedding was pretty popular. Given that it was Star Wars themed and that Billy Dee Williams of Lando Calrissian fame was a convention guest, I will leave it to my readers to guess why that might have been.
Though the convention billed itself as being located at the Crowne Plaza Grand Hotel, most of the events took place at the adjacent hockey stadium, which yielded some interesting results. The dealer’s floor was located directly on the hockey rink, leading to both weight and number of person limits that necessitated closing of the dealers floor. Considering that dealers come to these events in order to sell wares and do so best when there is a constant stream of potential customers, I am not persuaded that the venue chosen was the best place for the vendors.
Additionally, it was a very small vendors space, and the local division of the 501st had a booth offering attendees the opportunity to take photos with the cosplayers, creating traffic jams, so it was a little more difficult to navigate. Add to that the additional traffic of people coming from the third floor food court, and as a result, I did a single tour of the vendor floor.
I did appreciate the food court. So many conventions do not have the facilities on site to feed attendees (Dragoncon, I’m looking at you), resulting in hungry, vaguely cranky people during the day and slightly more intoxicated people at night. Seeing a convention with onsite food was a pleasant change. Also, the stadium seating affords excellent people-watching real estate while snacking on a hotdog or pretzel. The convention also provided cash bars located throughout the space, featuring beers or liquors, including a fair number of convention-themed drinks. Clearly, someone thought this out carefully.
The panel selection looked to be mostly fan based, though there were some big name stars who spoke, including the aforementioned Billy Dee Williams. I nipped into a panel featuring Simon Fisher-Becker, tempted in by the reference to a Dalek in the panel’s title only to discover that it was the worst example of death by Powerpoint I have ever encountered. The highlight was a picture of his cat, and I only wish I was exaggerating. There was some terrific cosplay, including the best Space Marine I have ever seen, and I loved the small rooms for the Walk of Fame. I ended up being close enough to Burn Gorman to be heckled while passing through the room.
All in all, Pensacon ended up being a remarkably solid convention, and I think the convention can only be expected to improve as the years go on despite some of the difficulties presented by the venue.