July continued its line-up of events that will quench any con-goers thirst for geek conventions, and on the last leg of that month, CONQuest did not shy away from going big.
CONQuest made its Manila debut at the SMX Convention Center last July 23 to 24, fans from the gaming, cosplay and pop culture scene flocked to the event for a weekend of non-stop geek fandom. Organized by Acadarena, the organizers aren’t new to the scene as they have been doing this for several years in Iloilo and became an instant fan favorite. We look at the recent event to see how it went and if it could be the next big thing in the geek event scene.
No Walk-ins, please
With the ongoing pandemic, event organizers are being extra careful not to overcrowd their events to prevent infection spikes. In this case, events like CONQuest offer pre-purchase tickets that can be purchased online, with ticket availability starting a few months ahead, giving more time for attendees to save up. It won’t be a surprise if online ticket pre-purchases will become a norm with the benefits weighing higher in this practice, however, it may take more time for the majority of con-goers to adapt to the new approach as they still have the old habit of going to an event at the last minute.
But despite tickets selling out weeks before the event started, the organizers were still generous to allocate additional tickets in very limited amounts in the final week just before D-day, giving allowance for last-minute purchases.
An Impressive Line-up of both local and international guests
CONQuest brought in international guests from the content creation and gaming scene, and the reception was astounding. Known personalities such as Kyedae, LiliPichu, Nekkopii, Bao and more graced the fans with their utmost love and gamers weren’t left out as Genshin Impact voice actors Anne Yatco, Ratana and Christian Banas were brought in and welcomed by the gaming community. You don’t get to see that number of personalities being featured in a single event, especially on the gaming side that showcased a mainstream game.
And another plus side of the event that I really applaud them for is the highlight of the local talents, giving them the same spotlight as the international guests. Fans get to meet and greet the local greats such as Gloco, JiConyo, Liui Aquino, Een Mercado, Kang Dupet, Riku and more. That’s something you don’t see much from any events before that provides the same spotlight for both local and international guests, they go on the same stage for their scheduled presence and have the same level of promotions. Hopefully, this will become a norm for other events to follow suit.
Handling the crowd
It’s a no-brainer that any successful event is expected to have a large crowd falling in line to enter, not to mention a frequent headache for organizers in maintaining a faster rate of ticket processing to keep lines short. CONQuest seems to be prepared for this as it has a two-step process in the venue, with the first for security inspections at the main entrance and the second at one of the function halls for ticket tier sorting and pass claiming, so despite the endless lines throughout the weekend, the pacing is fast that people are already inside the event proper in less than an hour. And once attendees have claimed their passes, re-entry is already a breeze.
Though the organizers managed to handle the lines at the entrance, there are some setbacks in terms of crowd control within the event area. There are frequent cases at the Community Area on the upper floor where there are crowd congestions in the creations area and Community Stage, there aren’t any visible crew or bouncers to control the crowd, and there are already instances where attendees waiting for a program on stage have already occupied the nearby exhibitors’ spaces. There was already an incident of a child experiencing an anxiety attack due to the large crowd and the ground rumbling from the audience cheering at the stage area, fortunately, exhibitors within the area assisted the child and parent, and on the following day, a response team including a medic was finally stationed at the upper level to prevent another similar case.
Organizers were very much overwhelmed by the huge crowd and hopefully, they will be able to allocate more staff to handle crowd control for their future events of this magnitude.
Some booths are out of place
The great approach by CONQuest is how they separate their attractions, akin to what Toycon did in 2019. The major brands and sponsors in tech, gaming and esports are on the lower level while the community-focused activities, retailers and artists are on the upper level. It was a smart move to separate different interests and allow more exposure to the small entrepreneurs in their dedicated place.
The setup was still far from perfect, there are some booths that are obviously out of place in the Community Area that do not even represent a community but more on selling their services that provide little to no interest from the con-goers. This also added a layer of inconvenience as a specific booth has its own stage complete with lights and sounds, as a result, the lights for the affected function room were dimmed just to complement that booth. That would mean less visibility and lighting for nearby booths which makes it difficult for them to perform their community-related activities.
Those certain booths should be placed at the lower level along with other partners and sponsor exhibitors and not in community-centric areas. It’s not that surprising that some brands would go the extra mile to gain the upper hand for more foot traffic even if it compromises the others, or in some cases, it could be a last-minute addition to the event where organizers have to compromise their original layout. In the end, organizers shoulder set the rules to keep things fair for everyone.
The Community Stage can be a standalone area like how they did with the Alliance stage (and even similar with the Just Dance area) at the opposite end of the Community Area as there should be proper dividers to lessen the loud noises and even prevent them on occupying nearby areas that can disrupt attendees from other booths.
Another concern is the placement of the guest booths at the back portion of the Crafters Quarters. There isn’t enough space for fans to line up as it gets crowded fast that it can mix up the other lines from the next guest booth, they could have placed it between the Community Stage and Retro Game Area for a large space to allow more people to queue up.
The community is the real winner
The Community Area was no doubt, the biggest highlight at the event for great reasons. The entire upper floor is dedicated to gaming, cosplay and anime fans that just wanted to hang out and have fun with fellow con-goers, you could say that it was like a haven for their fandom. There are two different stages stationed at each end of the function rooms with different programs catering from serious discussions on esports to highlights of the event’s guests.
The Retro Arcade can be found in the middle where everyone can experience the older gaming consoles as well as try out some of the classic music rhythm games, beside them is a section for Osu! where fans of the music rhythm game can compete in a tournament or just chill with fellow Osu! players. Right in front of the community stage is the tabletop zone where Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering players can sit down and have some friendly matches or join any campaigns being hosted by dungeon masters at certain tables.
The Crafters Quarters is a paradise for anything fandom, and yes, there will be tons of sticker and fanart merchandise of the current popular games and anime (for sure it’s going to be Genshin Impact and Spy x Family) and other merchandise sellers that offer their own creation of artisan keycaps, mousepads, wooden pads and desktops, then on the other side are the anime figures and prop swords from the most affordable to the most premium.
There’s another fun surprise if you head to the other part of the function rooms, this is separated from the larger portion of the Community Area. The Just Dance stage is a combined place for attendees to rest and an open stage for everyone to participate in dancing along with the Just Dance community. The vibe is welcoming as you enter, it’s either you just sit down and relax or dance with fellow congoers and make new friends.
The lower area still has some great attractions, such as Predator for their promotion of the Predator League and Asus Republic of Gamers for the big reveal of the ROG Phone 6, and let us not forget Acadarena’s campus gaming league Alliance Games, and other tech and esports brands that showcased their own gimmicks and promotions. It’s the same vibe as your usual tech exhibitions and as close to the level of ESGS.
Not really a gaming convention, but a Community convention
The drawback that I noticed in CONQuest is the lack of game exhibits, sure it has several esports brands and their Alliance Game finals matches, but I only saw one booth for Ragnarok Online and two independent game developers (Good Knight and Goblin Stone), and those aren’t a handful. It’ll be nice if they can bring the bigger game publishers for next year.
However, after looking back at their event features, I think that they don’t need to focus much on the game exhibition aspect, they already provided what their actual audience wanted; a place for them to enjoy as a community. CONQuest already provided the experience with their long list of guests interacting with their fans, several activities that are found at the Community Arena and non-stop stage activities for both entertainment and academics.
CONQuest has already showcased an incredible experience, something that is a reminiscence to great events like Asia Pop Comic Con and ESGS, something that is catered towards students and to the younger generation, and they finally hit that sweet spot. Very few events could land so well in giving what their community truly deserves, and I hope they continue that streak.
It may have visible flaws, but this is more of a learning experience for the organizers that can be improved for next year. The success of CONQuest can lead to bringing more brands and partners into the gaming and pop culture scene, we can hope that they could bring in the likes of Netflix, PlayStation and even Clover for 2023. Well, who knows, that’s a big possibility now that they reached over 33,000 attendees at their very first Manila event.