— By Ross Gardiner, Contributor —
Now in its 31st year, Dragon Con in Atlanta is one of the premiere geek, sci-fi and fantasy culture cons in the world. With a focus more honed on the fan experience than its counterpart in San Diego, Dragon Con has developed a beloved and evangelical following in the con world.
Housed in a cluster of hotels and convention centers in Atlanta’s downtown district, Dragon Con completely takes over the city center with its 80,000+ attendees showcasing their outlandish costumes and good-natured vibes to the tune of around $70 million over the weekend.
We were caught in the whirlwind of Dragon Con over the last five days and had a blast! These were some of the highlights of this long-standing logistical feat.
Dragon Con is located in the center of Atlanta, housed in a connected web of hotels and conference suites. The Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, Westin, Sheraton, and AmericasMart all play host to the panels and festivities throughout the weekend.
While being dizzyingly expansive, Dragon Con is very easy to navigate. There are abundant info desks, well-versed security staff and, failing that, many of the patrons have been to Dragon Con so many times that simply asking around will certainly see you right.
There are thousands of things to do at Dragon Con, and they plumb the weirdest and most wonderful depths of geekdom. While being far from an active fan of geek culture, I found myself with plenty of options in the program schedule and official app. With short film screenings, live renditions of Rocky Horror, panels about cyber warfare, cartoon intro sing-alongs, and hours and hours of A-grade people-watching, this was a weekend packed with plenty of things to do.
Managing the flow of 80,000 people through a network of hotels is no mean feat, but the organizers have done a sterling job of making sure that the crowds flow without blocking up the entrances and exits, the foyers or the skybridge connecting the venues.
One hallmark of Dragon Con’s logistical savviness is clearing out the rooms after every panel, allowing the traffic to keep flowing around healthily and avoiding the problem of fans parking the bus in certain rooms all day.
Dragon Con organizers also pay acute attention to making the event as accessible as possible for its patrons with disabilities, with all 2,500 volunteer staff said to be trained in assisting those with physical and mental challenges. This widespread inclusivity is one of the most endearing elements of the event.
It’s no secret that San Diego’s Comicon has the most star power of all the geek culture cons, with nearby Hollywood using the event as the launch pad for many of its summer blockbusters. But what Dragon Con lacks in stars—Stan Lee was arguably this year’s flagship speaker after Game of Thrones’ star Lena Headey was forced to cancel due to scheduling conflicts—it more than makes up for in its focus on the fan experience.
With narrow-deep programming which puts the fan experience at the center of the discussion, Dragon Con engages its audience and encourages debate on a mass scale like no other con. Founded by superfans, it has always stayed true to its roots as a fan-focused event, and even at its busiest, still has a strong intimacy.
It’s a Party!
Make no mistake, this is a party. It’s like Bonnaroo for the geek world. When the lights go down and the R-rated horror movie screenings get started, things get weird at Dragon Con! The floor of the Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt turn into dance floors, and various pieces of costume are shed, dispelling any notion that this is just a place for people to come and nerd out.