The Confusing, Disconnected World That is ToyCon Pop Life 2017

Pop Life Esports.

June ended and July started with a big bang as the Philippines biggest and long-running annual toy, hobbies, and collectibles convention enters another year in an exciting showcase of toys, hobbies and collectibles, and did I mention toys, hobbies and collectibles because I cannot stress this long enough…

Or is it?

For its previous 14 years, ToyCon has been looked up as the “hub” for toy lovers, collectors and enthusiasts from all walks of life as many gather to celebrate the global cultural interest that will never ever grow old, Toys, hence the name ToyCon. However, for these past 2 years, ToyCon has entered a state of metamorphosis as it tries to evolve from just being the “go to” event for Toy lovers into an event that celebrates Popular Culture in general, which earned solid effort during its initial attempt last year, 2016, and tried to continue with the hype, or whatever is left of it, this year, in a motto which states “To go where no Con has ever gone before”, for the ones that are held by local organizers that is, but with sad results.

Now before you go on and say “Aw man, here come you guys again, ruining the fun out of everythin’ with yo’ criticisms and stuff, you haterszx” we’d like to stress the fact that ToyCon 2017 was still generally a very fun experience, getting to meet people who share the same interests, at the very least, enjoying some of the highlights, and being surrounded by toys, lots and lots of toys, which is everyone, or at least most of us, lifelong dream back when we were young, and one of the few dreams that we refuse to let go even if we live to up to a century.

But if ToyCon 2017 was fun then what went wrong?

While there may be a lot to nitpick from the ground up let me just briefly say that ToyCon, with all the halls and function rooms that the organizers occupied at the event venue that is the SMX Convention Center, did not feel as unified as it attempted to be with a lot of last minute follow-ups, the delayed info releases and the weird event area setups *cough, 3 performance stages in two halls *cough, and the feeling of “I’m gonna pay PHP 500 for a one-day ticket and aside from the usual binge shopping of toys, I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting at this event for today” kinda feel.

See, ToyCon 2017 tried to up their game for this year with a good lineup of celebrity guests with notable ones being Kevin McNally a.k.a Joshamee Gibbs, Captain Jack Sparrow’s side-kick in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise, Karen Fukuhara, who played Katana in Suicide Squad, and Cas Anvar, the voice behind Assassin’s Creed’s Altaïr ibn-La’Ahad, plus a few others. Normally, you would expect signing sessions, stage performances or stage time, and the usual meet & greet spots for events which invite celebrities, which did happen at ToyCon 2017 ALTHOUGH the audience had to wait until the later hours of Day 1 to find out the schedule for all the celebrity related activities that were mentioned.

Must be posted late for Time Travellers

Main stage, of course every convention has a main stage, from gaming to pop culture, specially when a certain Pop Culture event introduced the idea of having multiple stages which utilized multiple event halls,  each catering to separate interests such as one for performance groups, one where the celebrities and personalities get to talk to their fans, and one where groups and communities can share their insights and thoughts regarding common interests to, well, their fellow peers.

One huge change with ToyCon this year is that the organizers actually went on and rented almost all of the halls at the SMX Convention center, and introduced multiple event stages aside from the main stage such as the performance stage and a stage reserved for content creators, which really sounds interesting and exciting since there were tons of content to enjoy, that is, if you had any idea who or what happens in what stage, except the Main Stage of course, since the main stage schedule was posted AFTER some of the stage activities were already done.

Also, for an event that utilized almost all of the halls and function rooms of a thousand-square meter convention complex, you would expect multiple areas where different content is offered to the attendees which will then cater to interests outside of Toys and give people “go to” spots where they can hang-out with peers that share the same love for whatever that is, right?

But instead, the expectations:

Which seems pretty darn logical by the way.

Were crushed by a very sad reality..

Sizes are not to scale but you get the picture.

There was also a small stage awkwardly located near the dining area which also served as the” main stage” during the early hours of Day 1 but let’s just leave it at that but the bottom line is IT WAS WEIRDLY CONFUSING.

Now I did mention the presence of celebrities in ToyCon right? A lineup which tried to one up the previous year’s which had Krisitan Nair, Game of Thrones’ Hodor as one the main highlighted guest, but for an event that is more than a decade old and celebrates Toys and collectibles one would be expecting more Toy Brands, with emphasis on BRANDS not sellers, to join the celebration, and there were, brands like Funko, Bandai, Kotobukiya, and, wait, that’s it, Funko, Bandai and Kotobukiya.

Kotobukiya’s booth at ToyCon 2017

So you might ask, “are toy brands really that important to be at ToyCon just because it’s a toy event, what’s wrong with only having 3 major toy brands?” and I would answer “well my friend ask yourself the same exact question, over and over and over”. Look, bottom line is, I’m not saying that inviting celebrities, having content creators, and maybe getting more halls is a bad thing but at the least try and live up to what the event was and is all about, and that is an event that is held and endeared for the love of toys.

While of course there are retailers who sell toys of different shapes and sizes, there were people in the Toy Gallery who were showing off their mecha collections and waifu shrines anime character figures, but, given its long run, ToyCon could have been the one true hub of toy lovers and a new platform for more toy brands to bring exclusives, show off what’s next in their lineup, and sell more toys directly to collectors by working with retailers instead of becoming this tryhard Pop Culture event which, at least for this year, felt like 2 events both clashing and trying to work together happening in one venue.

There is this huge divide of interest in ToyCon 2017 which is largely evident with where the crowd spent most of their time and that is with what we refer to as the “ToyCon” side, where most of the toys were in contrast to this huge, dark room areas which had mini-toy galleries for some reason and compressed 3 big stages in 2 open halls. If ToyCon really wanted to go where no Con has ever gone before then they could have improved on the formula that they utilized back in their 2015 event rather than gunning for the weird, awkward setup which we are somehow supposed to enjoy this year.

Evolving a brand should elevate it to a higher state and not change it overnight which will dangerously alienate your decade-following crowd and create this weird, brand identity crisis where no one knows what it is anymore, is it ToyCon, the event which celebrated the love of toys, hobbies, and collectibles, or some new Pop Culture convention which tries to copy the format and formula of a new brand which “challenged” its status, even though each had their own interest niches? Heck even game developers and publishers were present at ToyCon, for noble reasons I believe, but felt out of place as there was absolutely next to zero information that Gaming or, as what they’d like to call it “Esports” was there.

Had fun playing Garrison:Archangel though, it was cool, also since it employs Fighting Game mechanics, I think you can call it an Esport?

Look, like I said, for all it’s worth, ToyCon 2017 was still a very fun event that still had the spirit of good ol’ ToyCon trying to stay alive even with the sudden and awkward metamorphosis that the brand or event is trying to undergo, and with that being said, the event, in its new baby steps towards becoming a “con where no con has gone” or whatever you or they like to describe it, should still try and remember what made ToyCon, well, ToyCon. It doesn’t need to force itself into becoming what it clearly isn’t but rather, take their tried and tested formula, add some new spices into the mix and become better and better while still retaining its identity which it built throughout its 16-year run.

Although it had its major misses in its ongoing metamorphosis, ToyCon was still an overall fun experience  and we’re still looking forward to next year and see where this new evolution takes us next.

 

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