by Kayla Coursey
photography by Jeff Jonez
repost from September 15th
August 28th through the 30th, Charlottesville hosted OmegaCon, a convention for gaming and anime, where fans can come together, play games, dress up, and buy merchandise.
“The best way to think of it is a blend between a tradeshow, a conference, and a festival,” said Mindy Bowen, one of the directors of OmegaCon. This convention and other similar events host a variety of talented individuals with a focus on gaming and anime. However, the convention attracted attention from fans of many other types of media.
One of the most famous conventions is International Comic-Con: San Diego, or more commonly San Diego Comic-Con or SDCC. In 2010, more than 130,000 comic and popular art fans flooded the San Diego Convention Center for the event, which now extends to many of the hotels and bars in the immediate area.
Despite its current success, it, like many other significant Pop Culture events, had humble beginnings.
The first Comic-Con, then called San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Con, was hosted in the basement of the US Grant Hotel in San Diego, California, and saw over 300 fans. It was organized by Shel Dorf, Ken Kreuger, and Richard Alf, with appearances from artist Jack Kirby, as well as science fiction authors Ray Bradbury and A. E. van Vogt.
The convention had a bright future, and expanded to include other types and genres of media, including movies, horror, card games, and fantasy. It has set the framework for every pop cultural convention to follow.
Conventions, following the style of the first San Diego Comic-Con, typically have a screening room, where fans can get a sneak peak of the newest work from their favorite franchise, give direct feedback about series concepts, or just watch their favorite show. Panels are also common, where content creators or fans can lead discussions about their favorite series or topic. There are also areas for vendors, content creators, and dealers to sell, share, or promote their merchandise.
Strong transition to our local convention – wrench us there.
Charlottesville hosts its own convention called OmegaCon. While significantly smaller and younger than giants like San Diego Comic-Con, it shares many features. Writers, composers, and artists come and speak at the convention, merchandise is sold, and fans find a place where they can meet other fans .
The origin story of the small Charlottesville convention began with Mindy Bowen, Alice Slawson, and local gaming store The End Games. “They (The End Games) had financial outlook,” said Bowen, “Alice (Slawson) had the creativity and fun and community and engagement part, and I had the operations and the cold, boring part that no one can understand, and I don’t even sometimes. And then we started.”
Bowen felt it was important that there be a convention held in central Virginia, as most other conferences and conventions were in DC and made the events much more of a financial strain on the talented individuals in the area. She thought, “Well why don’t we have a conference down here in cville, everything always goes to DC… We have a lot of creative and smart people here.” Because locations like DC are so expensive, having a convention right in our backyard makes the event much more accessible.
She then proposed the idea of a gaming conference to her friend Slawson, who wanted to start an anime convention in the area. The two then began to search for third partner to help cover the expenses of running the convention. They found The End Games, who wanted to start a tabletop gaming event in the area as well. Bowen, Slawson, and The End Games formed a natural triangle and combined videogames, anime, and tabletop games to create OmegaCon.
OmegaCon began in 2013 at the Holiday Inn on Emmet Street, with spaces for console and PC gaming, tabletop gaming, anime screening, vendors, and panels.
“The first year we expected fifty people. Our wildest, craziest dreams were 300 people,” Bowen recalled.
At the end of the weekend, they sold exactly 599 tickets.
“The second year went really poorly operationally, but we did still see growth, and people still seemed like they had a really good time,” said Bowen. The event saw 875 people walk through the doors at Main Street Arena, including volunteers and ticket-buyers.
The third year, this year, was hosted at John Paul Jones Arena and saw the biggest crowd yet, with 825 ticket purchases and an additional 150 vendors, speakers, and staff.
It also saw very different physical organization from previous years. JPJ management needed to know where each machine was plugged in, and everything had to fit strict safety regulations.
“A convention needs to be a very flexible thing, where anything can go anywhere,” Bowen said, “but that’s not how JPJ works.”
Despite any potential hurdles, the convention came together and provided an enjoyable experience for the ‘nerd’ community.
The convention took place in the upper floor hall, balcony, and food areas, providing a circular shape to the entire convention. Tabletop game areas were set up directly across from the main entrance, with tables to buy tickets and notable artists in the lobby area as well.
Going in either direction, the hall was lined with artists and merchandise dealers, as well as event rooms on either side. In the hallway to the left, dozens of computers were lined along floor to ceiling windows for PC gaming. In the hallway to the right, dozens of televisions were set up for other video games.
At the end of the left hallway was the Maid Cafe, a popular feature and snack stop of the convention that began at last year’s convention. The back hall was a quiet area, with extra tables for resting and more tabletop games and a screening room for anime.
“There are a lot of communities…at a convention who are coming together and learning about each other,” Bowen said. “Going to a convention will reflect just how diverse the community is.”
Conventions become a temporary home for those who attend. Hundreds of fans of different media gather together in a sometimes cramped convention center. The groups begin to merge and become a part of the bigger convention community. They end up waiting in lines, eating food, and interacting with individuals outside of their “fandom,” (basically – though this definition is not comprehensive – a cultural interest group) while in other environments, they might never have talked at all.
“It was all the people who liked the same thing as I like that I got to meet and just talk to,” said Alex Krecek (11), who attended the convention this year.
Events like this hold a lot of importance for many members of nerd communities.
“I know there’s a lot of people in the community that get very depressed, very down, who are made fun of,” Bowen said. “But they can come to the convention and they can learn to be strong and there are other people like them who love them and are forgiving and not judgmental.”