Manila Pop Culture Convention: An Overpriced Bazaar

More events are popping out as 2019 draws to its end, and with the absence of Asia Pop Comic-Con this year, some are trying to fill in the massive hole left by the said event to satisfy the hunger of geeks for an epic pop culture experience. Enter the Manila Pop Culture Convention, which aimed to be mainly an event for geeks by geeks, or as what they are trying to say based on their official Facebook page. Based on what they are promoting, they were featuring two existing events; LARO Convention which is an event catered for tabletop gaming and RetroCon, an event that focuses on nostalgia drive filled with vintage collectibles and exhibits, plus two major tabletop events; the Magic: The Gathering Gold Rush and Conclave 2019. The Manila Pop Culture Convention, or also known as ManiPopCon by the organizers, happened last November 16 to 17 at The Tent, Solaire Resort and Casino in Paranaque City.

We went there to see if this could be a promising event that geeks can finally find as their new event haven as we have seen some new events that showed great potential (you can read our Event Aftermath of Coslandia 2019). Unfortunately, it seems like one of the biggest mistakes that we made. Now, it’s time to elaborate on the things that we have experienced.

The first noticeable problem is the venue itself, Solaire is a 5-star hotel & casino which means everything inside, including food and drinks, will be expensive, and getting there will be a difficult quest for an ordinary commuter, going there via Grab or taxi cab can cost you around PhP 400 – 700 depending on your location, now double that up to include your fare going back home. Using the free shuttle service from the Mall of Asia is only available for those who have a Solaire membership, so you are out of luck if this is your first time visiting the venue.

The event venue inside the casino can be spotted with the hanging banner at the entrance along with the ‘ticket booth’, as if turns out, there were no tickets being sold at the booth and it is only meant to give attendees a stamp upon showing their tickets. The actual place to purchase tickets can be found at the TicketWorld booth, located on the second floor and you have to walk towards the end of the hallway, it will take you 6-10 minutes to get there and head back to the event entrance area. Attendees wouldn’t notice it as there were no signage nor instructions on where to buy tickets as a walk-in. Not placing a ticket selling booth near the entrance is a big no-no even if the security instructs them on where to find the actual selling area, as it increases the chance for walk-ins never to return with a purchased ticket.

Second is the ticket price, for an event that has a PHP 400 (which we discovered is actually PHP 418 after purchasing a ticket at TicketWorld, in which it was never advertised that there is a price increase for walk-ins) price tag, one will expect that the event will be a high caliber one in terms of quality and content. Sadly to say, we were very disappointed with what we saw inside and more of this will be explained in the latter part of this article. There were no special perks or door freebies for those who purchased a ticket and enter the event, which you could usually get from other major conventions as a simple way to consolidate on the high ticket price, or as some would say an event souvenir. So if you go there just to experience the event, you’ll just leave the event empty-handed.

Next on the issues that we encountered is the quality of their presentation. Right upon walking through the empty hallway in the event venue, we knew something was not going well, and as we were greeted with the uninspiring welcome arch, which confirmed our greatest fear. A misprinted tarpaulin plastered on the arch and photo wall could spell that the organizers are not taking the event and even their sponsors very seriously. This was never pulled out during the event and having subpar signage right at the entrance can reflect the overall quality of the actual event.

The stage area was very underwhelming, though having a large LED screen was a great idea to have a better visual presentation during stage segments, the organizers didn’t seem to test the screen before the opening of the event. The entire screen only displayed jumbled images that made it look like a giant-sized jigsaw puzzle that would have been a fun idea as an interactive puzzle game for the audience to participate, but it is more of a major production flop than a stage attraction. It rendered the stage screen useless for the entire day making it less appealing for attendees to notice what is happening on stage. Fortunately, the screen was finally fixed on the second day though it could have been very much prevented if organizers actually checked their production setup during their ingress.

 

Once inside the proper event venue, most of the booths have their own shell booth setup, a common staple for exhibitors, though putting most of the shell booths right in front makes it feel that event area is cramped and it blocks out the visibility of the other booths surrounding or behind them. Having shell booths has its advantage in terms of security so to maximize the space inside, proper placement is required. Some of the booths that have actual quality were from Cignal for their video gaming content with matching announcer/caster to keep any existing crowd entertained, Sky Cable with their line of promotions for HBO and Archery Attack for their shooting range and an arena for archery duels. The food area is located at the far end of the event area, and we wouldn’t notice it until we went halfway through the tournament area. The setup inside does not make it feel like you are inside a pop culture convention, but rather more of a market bazaar that you would find during the holidays.

Next on the list is their content, ManiPopCon lacked any ways to inform on what exactly attendees can expect inside. There was no list of activities displayed inside the venue nor even a proper floor plan on what booths are inside for easy navigation. Attendees go inside blindly and it will take them less than 5 minutes to realize that there is nothing happening inside that would make them stay, expect only if the attendee is a participant of the Magic: The Gathering Gold Rush or the Conclave attraction, or if they just want to stay a bit longer so that the PHP 400 they spent would have some actual use.

There are only two interesting attractions that are worthwhile and had an actual crowd but they are only for a select audience, and these are the Magic: The Gathering Gold Rush by Ludus (the distributor of Magic: The Gathering) and Conclave 2019 by Greasy Snitches. Conclave is a massive Dungeons & Dragons campaign where participants reaching to almost a hundred can join a large-scale dungeon campaign, imagine joining a large dungeon raid from your favorite MMOs but in pen & paper style. Gold Rush is a major Magic: The Gathering tournament where high prize pools are at stake, with expected hundreds of players participating in it. Though these two event attractions are certainly worth the time and are interesting if the attendee is either a competitive MTG player or an active D&D player, otherwise it will only leave them clueless on what’s happening. If you are a casual tabletop player, there are several booths from Local Game Stores that are selling booster packs, card singles and other tabletop games and accessories.

Stage activities were lackluster, there are no schedules being advertised on what’s going to happen on stage, leaving the audience clueless that will decrease their interest to watch. There were panel discussions prepared but with ongoing tournaments happening at the same time where the majority of the actual attendees are participants, the segments were neglected.

Some booths, especially on the RetroCon section, are somewhat empty, there were no labels on the shell booths, meaning these weren’t occupied, this was a missed opportunity to move some of their exhibitors to a much visible area that could help add more foot traffic for the exhibitors as most occupied exhibitors are hidden beside the venue walls or behind other shell booths. Some even closed their booths as early as 5:00 PM due to the low number of attendees that are interacting with them.

There was an actual Artist Alley that focuses on young and aspiring illustrators, but due to the lack of information inside the event, plus the poor floor plan setup, you might miss them if you only do a stroll at the middle and did not notice the other booths at the edges of the venue. The Food Section is a huge letdown, as there is only one food selection and that is from Solaire. Though there is nothing wrong with dining for Solaire’s choice of food selection inside the event (as they are just so darn good), their menu is pretty expensive and not suitable for their target audience, you can’t expect the attendees to fork PHP 350 for a small snack every time they get hungry. Sadly the only way to get affordable food and drinks is from the outside, there is the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf café just along the hallway (5 minute walk) if you enough budget for their selections or you have to leave the Solaire Resort compound and drive/walk a couple of kilometers (45 minutes to more than an hour) to the nearest fast-food and convenience store. It is a major red flag for your target audience if they are already spending a lot on the ticket price and transport expenses, now what more can they spend on the actual items being sold inside.

ManiPopCon made a ton of vague announcements and uninformative details on their social media page in regards to what’s in store for attendees. They made announcements on art and designer toys that will be available on certain booths and that’s it, they mentioned the ticket price once or twice from their barrage of posts and there was a lack of details on what other things a geek of a certain interest would be interested of. Proper visual banners on their announcements could have helped boost their reach to the audience that they are aiming for.

To sum it all up, Manila Pop Culture Convention was a major disaster, if not for the MTG Gold Rush and Conclave happening at the same place, the event would’ve been called a ghost town. But having the two attractions didn’t even help at all for the exhibitors and sponsors inside, as all of the participants were busy with the competition, they pay little or no interest in checking out the other attractions. And after observing the attendees the entire day, it turns out that almost the entire count of them are participants, meaning the entire audience is purely tabletop communities. The event could have just focused to become a pure tabletop event rather than trying to be something it can’t really deliver, the actual community that they only need is already there.  The tabletop community (especially from Magic: The Gathering, KeyForge, Dungeons & Dragons, Combatron, etc.) is a passionate group and deserved a great event dedicated for them, ManiPopCon could have been that event if only they just focus on that particular part, there is no need to be overly ambitious and overcharge everyone.

For an event that has a hefty ticket price, it’s already considered a rip-off based on the quality and content they provided to the geek community. Some geek events, especially from small anime conventions to community events with a ticket price of PHP 200 below or even those with free admission can produce better quality of presentation and attraction than what ManiPopCon had offered. It never felt like it was a genuine geek convention by heart, it was more of an overpriced tiangge (market or bazaar in Filipino) that many people never actually heard of.

There are better options in choosing a proper venue for ManiPopCon, Solaire is not one of them. There are malls, there are convention areas that are accessible to any mode of transportation, choosing Solaire as a venue does not make an event premium if it lacked quality and content.

The organizers seem to have little or no knowledge of how to handle a convention, as a lot of these could have been avoided if they actually know what they are doing. It feels that despite being branded as an event catered towards different fandom or geekdom as they may say, it’s only targeted towards a specific audience. What’s more ironic is that despite promoting RetroCon as one of its event highlights, there was an actual ongoing RetroCon happening at Fisher Mall in Quezon City on the same weekend, and there was no mention of them having a presence in ManiPopCon if based on their social media page (their event admission is free by the way).

Having a lot of flaws on the first event is normal to every organizer, however, creating an event with no basic knowledge of what actually you want to do in your event is not an excuse. It has become a major flaw to new organizers in which they wouldn’t last for a second or third event

It’s such a shame and with utter disappointment as someone who had experience in supporting and organizing events for several years to see such an event to flop so hard, especially for someone who is starting to appreciate the tabletop community, the organizers were very lucky that not many people are aware that their event actually exists. However, I feel bad for the exhibitors, sponsors and creators that supported the event only to be left with dismay on the investment and time they have wasted.  I do hope that the organizers were only unprepared in creating the event and were not misguided on the idea that making events is the easiest way to earn money in which many have tried with the same mindset and failed. And if they do plan to continue making another one for next year, they have plenty of things to learn and understand to avoid creating another mess.

The tabletop community deserved better, the geek community deserved better, the people who attended and supported ManiPopCon deserved better.

 

 

During the time of the creation of this article,  a recent post from the official Facebook page of ManiPopCon surfaced at around midnight. Though may it be intentional or not, such post could show the immaturity and lack of professionalism of an organizer, though it did not mention the individual or group that drew flak about the event right before the time of this publication. We do hope the organizers would change the tone of their post as this can damage their reputation to future sponsors and partners.

 

 

 

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