This past weekend, I attended ACen for the first time. ACen was actually one of the first anime conventions I ever heard of, but due to scheduling conflicts, financial issues, and other whatsits, I have never successfully made it up to ACen.
ACen is an annual three-day anime convention located in Rosemont, Illinois…just outside of Chicago. It is the largest Midwest anime convention and the third-largest anime convention in North America (overshadowed only by Anime Expo and A-Kon). This year’s installment ran from May 19th-21st.
Despite being a frequent con attendee and con featured guest, I am accustomed to medium-sized cons, which feature around 1000-5000 attendees. These are nice sized conventions, in my opinion. They are large enough to afford nice convention centres and hotel rooms, large enough to avoid their attendees from growing bored, and large enough to keep panel rooms packed.
I look back at many large convention experiences with cringe and annoyance. My first convention was ColossalCon in 2008, and I remember standing in a one-hour line to get into the vendor’s room. I remember standing in a 90-minute line to get into various panels. Really, most of my memories of that con were of standing in lines. No, thank you.
My next attempt at a large convention was as a panelist at 2016’s OhayoCon. Staff was set out all over the halls trying to direct traffic and failing. People had to literally sit on top of one another to eat at the cafeteria. Even to find different locations, we would often have one staff member direct us to one part of the convention centre, only to arrive there and have another staff member direct us to the other side of the very large convention centre.
Large conventions just don’t sit well with me. I don’t go to cons to feel confused and wait in lines all day.
Luckily, ACen escapes this torture.
My friends have begged me to attend ACen for years, telling me that it wasn’t like other cons, especially large cons. I now see why.
For as large of a con as it is, ACen is an extremely well-organized and well-managed convention. Their staff is polite and informed. Their Vendor Room is large and spacious, so people are not cramped while looking for their next purchases. There was an up-to-date free app for those who left their guidebooks in the hotel. The convention centre was also large enough to avoid feelings of claustrophobia and numerous traffic jams in the hallway.
Even better, the convention was laid out methodically! Things made sense to be put where they were. The lobby held the photo shoots. Artist’s Alley was connected to the Vendor Room. The restrooms are plentiful and clearly labeled. The panel rooms are in numerical order. Staff was present everywhere for questions without being overbearing. The registration line even moved extremely fast, to avoid a backup of people on opening day.
Attendees were treated to gifts throughout the convention, including free anime backpacks to carry around swag and sweaters. If that’s not a way to make your attendees feel welcomed, then I don’t know what is.
Lastly, all congoers know about the horrors of “con funk”. Put simply: many attendees (especially adolescents) forget how to take a shower and use a bar of soap throughout the convention. Or how to use deodorant. Or how to brush their teeth. This leads to many terrible smells as the weekend treks on, culminating with wafting stenches on Sunday morning as rave sweat properly settles into people’s armpits.
I don’t understand how people can neglect proper hygiene…but that’s a different story for a different day, and all congoers have experienced the perils of con funk at some time.
Surprisingly, there was very little of it at ACen. Even on Sunday. The hotels provided a lot of free soap in all of the rooms, so maybe this was why. But even in the AMAZING Arcade Room (which featured everything from Overwatch stations, SNES and Sega Genesis consoles, three DDR machines, a giant stage with Rock Band instruments, and a plethora of actual arcade machines), things smelled wonderful. The Arcade Room was well-ventilated with refreshing A/C, unlimited free water was offered, and gamers were respectful to one another. And no one stank.
If you cannot tell, I will definitely be adding ACen to my must-attend list from here on out, and I am planning on running panels for ACen 2018! Whether you love small cons, large cons, or something in-between, I highly recommend attending ACen for a large con experience with a small con feel!
You can learn more by visiting their website: http://acen.org/.