In 1987, six gentlemen had an idea to pool their resources from their local sci-fi and gaming club to create a gathering place for geek culture to flourish. The convention would be named after one of these gentlemen’s computer, The Dragon, and thus Dragon Con was born. Fast forward 30 iterations later and Dragon Con is the largest geek convention and party of the east coast. With Dragon Con turning 30 the same year as I, my friends and I felt it was time for me to dive into a much larger convention to experience the scene on a scale much larger than I ever have.
But how did Dragon Con 2016 actually measure up? Read on to see for yourselves!
Apparently, to enjoy Dragon Con to the fullest, you will need some preparation to get started. First off is the ticket, like most cons you get a larger discount the further out you purchase them. I was convinced to pre-purchase my ticket 7 months in advance for $110 to receive a postcard ticket in the mail shortly afterwards. My hotel room was covered as my friends snatched it shortly after they were made available for reservation. With these two major items covered, the waiting period started. About 2 months before the start, I received the Dragon Con 2016 Progress Report in the mail. This 64 page booklet detailed all guests, vendors, and workshops that were confirmed for the convention. This booklet was only reinforced with the release of the Dragon Con App for smart phones (ios and android), which allowed you to see the constantly updating schedule of times, see other friends’ schedules, and get detailed maps of all seven of the hotels that the con stretched across.
After reviewing and recording all that I wanted to see, the day arrived and so did I in ATL on Thursday. Immediately, it was bluntly apparent that Downtown ATL was celebrating Dragon Con and welcoming con-goers. The streets have large colorful banners, there are volunteers littering the streets directing people, and even the locals are engaging with cosplayers and badged goers. With proof of purchase in hand, we headed to the Sheraton Downtown (one of MANY host hotels) for our badges. The process, unlike most cons I’ve been, was over in less than 15 minutes from when I enter the door. Most people I spoke with later that arrived on Friday and even Saturday said it took no longer than 25-30 minutes at the longest; a feat when you consider smaller cons take just about as long to a smaller number. This is, of course, only MY experience. Yours may differ.
The one thing I must mention as a precaution is the amount of walking you must be willing to endure to attend this event. As mentioned before, the convention now covers seven hotels: Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atlanta Hilton and Towers, Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, Westin Peachtree Plaza, and AmericasMart. Some of these hotels have sky bridges that connect them together while others are separated by a walk of a few blocks distance. One of the difficult things for me was to time panels apart with enough time to not only make the distance, but to get a decent spot in the line. Leading to my next point, Dragon Con Line Simulator 2016 edition should be created and marketed on Steam as you can wait in lines that wrap around entire buildings for hours. Depending on who’s running a panel, you’ll need to wait in line for at least an hour. Combo this with the fact that there are new panels every hour or so and you’ll need to prioritize who you want to see more. Bring a good pair of shoes, a bottle or two of water, and your patience if panel running is your thing.
The best thing I can mention about Dragon Con is the fact that you should never be bored. All panels and workshops are broken down by tracks, genres or overall topic, and each track is assigned to a floor or section of a hotel. Each of these have new panels each hour or so with a mixture of fan and professional speakers. If you’re not feeling up to panels, you can hop over to the AmericasMart buildings for some more action. In building one, you have all the gaming and I mean ALL of it. On the first floor they have pencil and paper RPGs with dedicated timeslots and GMs playing ever RPG I could think of. One the second floor, they had the entire floor marked off for tabletop and video gaming. This is where I spent a great majority of my time. One half of the floor is shared with video gaming and board games, the other half is sectioned off for TCG and miniatures. The options available to you at any hour of the day are staggering and there was always people available to play and teach you their favorite. Across the sky bridge is the vendors, four floors of everything purchasable from rave gear to leather corsets, anime figurines to cosplay wigs, and original artwork to your own customized lightsaber. Once all that is said and done, you can go back to your hotel room, turn on the TV, and watch Dragon Con TV, Dragon Con’s personalized TV channel to watch panels from years past, interviews, and puppet skits as you rest your weary feet.
It goes without saying that Dragon Con is notorious for its partying, which to this day has not changed. The darker (and often more fun) side of the con is how many people you can notice walking around the con with alcohol on their breath or a flask in their pocket during the day. The closer to the night you get, the more apparent it is that people are drinking and having the times of their lives. My interactions were always positive with them as most if not all intoxicated people wanted people to drink or party with. Each hotel is gladly willing to serve you, there are entire ballrooms designated for drinking parties set to themes. Officers and security will gently remind people in and out of con to put away hard liquors if they were not purchased in hotel, but the overall atmosphere of not only the hotels, but downtown ATL is that it is a party and no one is to be hurt. I was even able to sample the Dragon Con bucket, a tasty concoction of fruit juice and rum that can really sneak up on you. My advice, watch for them to mix a new batch and get it as the alcohol settles to the bottom for the most bang for your buck.
The Bottom Line
Go to Dragon Con. The beast known as the dragon needs to be experienced just once for you to understand what a large con has to offer. There are so many things to do, some many things to eat, to many people to talk to, and not enough time and coffee to make your body survive it all. Dragon Con is one of the largest and most successful conventions in the United States for a reason; it has the space, it has the fan base, and it has the funding to make it all happen and more. Save up, bring plenty of water and snacks, and put some good insoles in your shoes: The dragon is waiting.
Staff Correspondent: Nerd Nation Magazine