Out of all the conventions that happen over the year, I’m always excited for MCM in London. After first attending three years prior, I’ve been hooked on the comic con experience. Once it gets in your blood, it’s too late. It’s got a hold on you. Like a big awesome teddy bear hug. And who doesn’t love all the colour and abundant entertainment that always comes with these types of events?
Over three days at the Excel Exhibition Centre, there was plenty to soak up. The convention was spread out across both sides of the building, taking up numerous halls with masses of merchandise, gaming demos and areas for film and television stars to interact with their fans and sign autographs. Whether you were a fan of manga, video games, or any other vast areas of geek culture/media, you were definitely well catered for.
First off, I want to say that there appeared to be a vast improvement in the way the convention was handled this year, continuing in leaps and bounds with the progress they made of over 2015 to try and handle the ever growing crowds. It was reported that this May event had the highest grossing attendance to date, with just over 133,000 people venturing in and out over the three days! It was impressive that they managed to keep things moving along so smoothly with so many people! The organisation of the ticket lines on the north side of the convention centre made it a lot easier to access, particularly for people disembarking off the DLR, and kept the queues away from the West entrance, which is usually a very busy thoroughfare.
The layout of the convention space in both the ‘N’ and ‘S’ halls were well considered with plenty of space in the walkways – though this was less obvious on Saturday, the busiest day, with the amount of people that trundled through. Unlike previous events, the east side of the centre was fenced off inside around N8/S8, as there was another convention going on at the same time, and while that reduced the overall space, there was still plentiful legroom for the convention itself, including an empty hall opened up to use as a place of rest or even for cosplay shoots.
Speaking of cosplay, it was wonderful to see so many people out in costume, some of which was intricate beyond imagination – a true homage to the franchises they represented, or even a great display of creative genius with different interpretations of characters with a new twist. Wandering around over those three days, you were bound to come across a group gathering of cosplayers showing their love for a particular series or such from games, television, movies, etc… Whether it was for a photo shoot or just to hang out with like-minded individuals and make new friends with the same passions. Cosplay is a fantastic way of bringing people together and quite often inspires and delights regular attendees, adding to their convention experience. Check out our Facebook album to find some of our photos of cosplayers from the event.
Before I forget, here’s a shout out to all the guys at Machinima SBOC who I spent quite a bit of time with at their stall over the weekend. They were such fun, accommodating people who took time out to talk and have a laugh with everybody who popped over to meet them. Thanks guys for the free drinks and awesome swag!
Now, to get onto some nitty-gritty areas of discussion!
There was tightened security at the event this time around, particularly with London being on high alert, so people entering in the event with certain types of props were liable to have them confiscated – e.g. Star Wars lightsabers. There was even the case that they were confiscating things as small as cosplay sewing repair kits with small needles in. I’m sure it was inconvenient for the people who’d had their items taken from them, but it was understandable when it came to props containing metal pieces or those made out of hard materials that could seriously hurt someone if not handled properly. Taking into account that not everybody is silly enough to go swinging their props around willy-nilly, I do sympathise with anyone who had items confiscated, but security have to take precautions and make practical decisions for the safety of other convention goers. If there are any first-hand accounts of this experience at the event, I’d be interested to hear how things were handled.
On another subject, there was a lot of talk about the amount of litter being dumped over the weekend, particularly on the grass area between Excel and the nearby hotels. Needless to say, much disgust was voiced about the whole thing. It wasn’t a pretty sight; and though it wasn’t surprising due to the size of the event, it was certainly avoidable in most cases. Whether it was the fact that a lot of bins were overflowing or just down to idleness, there were alternatives to just leaving the litter all over the place and making life harder for the poor cleaners. A great suggestion I heard while this was a hot topic was that if a few people took a black bag with them rolled up in the pocket of their bag or something, and when they saw that a bin was overflowing, they could set the bag up beside it and encourage others to use it to keep all the litter together in one place where it can be easily removed later. Or, alternatively (and really, the most reasonable idea of all), just keep your litter on you and dispose of it later away from the event (at home or in your hotel if you’re staying locally). It’s these little things that make a huge benefit to everybody; and after all, a cleaner con is a happier con!
Moving on, let’s hit upon another big point of discussion prior to the event: The fencing. This was first seen introduced at the October 2015 event. The primary use of these fences seemed to be for crowd control to handle the congestion by only allowing paid attendees to be on Excel property. It did raise contention with certain people who hadn’t purchased tickets – having no desire to enter the event – and just wanted to visit to hang around with their friends who were attending, and partake in the activities outside. MCM – and pretty much any similar convention – has created a culture not just for people wishing to enter the event for the indoor activities, but also for those who just want to enjoy the atmosphere surrounding the event, and use it as a meeting point to geek out with friends they might rarely get to see outside of such things. Unfortunately, due to MCM’s ever-growing popularity, the numbers of people in attendance – both inside and out – has grown dramatically, and sometimes it can be nigh on impossible to get around with so many people about. It can be quite a claustrophobic experience when you are restricted to a snail’s pace within a huge crowd. Having had problems with overcrowding in the past, the fencing has been one way MCM has tried to control the numbers and make the experience for paid attendees less arduous. It might be somewhat constraining and seemingly unfair, but with some rather questionable behavioural issues from some attendees in the past – paid or not – it has come down to these restrictions for them to try and keep a handle of people in attendance and remove anyone accordingly that breach convention rules.
Speaking of behaviour, it was mostly outside of the event (and beyond MCM’s control) that issues were encountered. It’s not a new thing that people like to party hard over the convention weekend. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone who wants to do enjoy themselves with copious amounts of alcohol in the mix, just as long as they can handle their drink and still have control over their faculties to party safely. It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement of the event and have one drink too many. Though when such over drinking leads to rowdy and irresponsible behaviour, it certainly starts to reflect badly on the event itself. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience standing nearby as someone began vomiting down themselves in a crowded bar area. On top of that, people were taking their drinking close to a local nursery and leaving smashed bottles around the building and the pedestrian walkway. Bad behaviour could end up being detrimental to the running of the event, so please, drink responsibility! There is plenty of fun to be had without getting yourself in a state!
To get away from those difficult topics, let’s round up my thoughts on the event.
All in all, MCM London was very enjoyable. Plentiful good weather – between a few spells of showers, lots of good natured attendees and a genuinely fun atmosphere made the convention experience that extra special. A couple of shout outs to the cosplay conga line that was navigating around the West Entrance amid some funky tunes and the inflatable dinosaur cosplayer who was pottering about – they were some great spectacles!
I would definitely recommend to those who are not so fond of the crowds, or may be less able getting around, or want to attend with small children, that you’d be best suited to visiting the event on the Friday, the least busy of all the days. Trying to get around the event on a Saturday is an arduous task in itself and can be very daunting when you get caught up in a tightly packed sea of people. Sunday can vary with the crowds – it certainly gets busy, but not quite to the extent that Saturday does. It’s worth taking these things account before committing to a particular day at the event. Whatever day you choose, it will certainly be an exciting experience.
MCM is a highly commendable event – a great showcase for anime, comics, television and lots of other geek media! The convention is also held in other cities, including Birmingham and Manchester. If you’ve never been to one of these events before, give it a try! You never know, you may get the con bug, too! (Well, the good con bug… not the one that leads to con flu!) Keep your eyes peeled on MCM’s main website to find out when their next events are taking place.
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