Fan Expo 2022

Are Conventions Like Fan Expo More Important Post-COVID?

Whatever the case, we need more gaming conventions in Canada.

As the days and months bleed on into what will become years and decades, the COVID pandemic continues. And it continues to remind us about what has changed since the early rumblings of its arrival in February of 2020.

We’ve all been trapped in a news cycle that’s been such doom and gloom you wonder how it could possibly get any worse. For myself, quite literally, my job is to transcribe the daily news cycle.

So how about we focus on some positives in this feature, okay?

The nerd culture community has seen an incredible return to form this week with Gamescom internationally and Fan Expo closer to home. And while the earlier focused entirely on the medium of entertainment it’s named for. The latter branched out to all forms of media. However, in the times post-COVID, I’m arguing that conventions have never been more intrinsically linked in one aspect: community… con-munity, I guess?

Sorry, puns are the worst!

Now look, COVID has nearly grievously wounded convention culture. We have the inevitable “super-spreader” designations, the repressed longing for connection leading to overcrowded show floors, and finally, the struggle of making everyone feel safe and included at a time when so many are feeling either.

This brings me to the focus of this feature. In a time when everything convention-related feels so large and unorganized, this year’s Fan Expo has reminded me that what we so badly need to feel is close and connected.

Fan Expo in short order

I’ll start with some constructive criticism. This was a Fan Expo unlike any I’ve experienced since I started going when I moved to Toronto a decade ago. Fan Expo is a festival that has always felt as though it’s been a lavish event to celebrate literally anything one can be a fan of, with Toronto Comic Con standing as a tighter-knit celebration of local fan culture. Yet, this year’s main Saturday event felt like an exercise in seeing exactly how many people fit into the Metro Toronto Convention Centre with some modicum of safety remaining intact.

But to get at the heart of why Fan Expo returning is of importance requires us to take a short form: why do we consider putting ourselves in harm’s way for such an event?

I think that it has to do with the act of being a part of a community that is bigger than us.

Modern-day fan events like Fan Expo have grown without a doubt from the humble comic book convention. Now, it ages me to consider there is an entire generation that has only pop culture memories of comic book conventions being seen as the year’s only form of socialization for recluse nerds. The MCU and Big Bang Theory idea of a nerd put that to bed almost two decades ago.

While I think that the fan convention is still very much for those who know how to browse comics bins on the sales floor or talk with the generations of talent that spread across Artist Alley, it’s moved to a point where as long as you are a fan of something enough, you’ll find a connection.

See the people through the lines

Now, let’s add some positive reinforcement to the mix, okay?

It’s fine to feel good about associating with large groups of people again so long as you have done your COVID due diligence and you follow social etiquette.

Out of the game?

Let’s talk about one aspect of this year’s Fan Expo that has some of us worried that this might be game over. It’s video gaming… sorry for the poor pun usage!

Now I realize that this year’s Fan Expo fell on the same weekend, and German Gamescom returned as well, so gaming companies were forced to focus their attention on that international showcase and convention, but here in Toronto, gaming companies didn’t really show up for Fan Expo.

Brad Shankar of MobileSyrup puts the lack of gaming content at Fan Expo this year into better words than I can. So here’s his recent article.

And Toronto feels like it’s losing game conventions.

Brad mentions EGLX in his article, which is a festival we here at Console Creature are extremely familiar with as we’ve been a part of all of them, doing interviews with indie devs, covering the Canadian R6S scene, and stopping for photos and conversations with a lot of you regulars — which is something we never take for granted. With EGLX’s parent company, Enthusiast Gaming’s, recent pivot to the Web3.0 and crypto market, it’s starting to feel unlikely that EGLX will ever be a space for gamers again.

Which is something we know all too well. Being a gaming convention fan in Toronto constantly feels like asking your friends if there’s a Next Level or a Northern Battle Arena coming up this year.

I’ll be fair and say that while the overall product of The Ex has gone down in recent years, the inclusion of The Gaming Garage, which does so much to celebrate Canadian gamers, feels like it could be an answer. But it’s one that, much like early comic book conventions, is still finding its footing and relying on passionate community members to build it.

Keeping up with the Comm-Dashians

Before I continue, I want to apologize once again for a terrible pun. [Editor’s note: the pun was so bad I decided to share how bad it was with you, the reader.] This one isn’t even a proper pun, which is the lowest form of communication! But the largest thing to come out of conventions is community.

As I’ve already said, the desire for community is the reason we rise above awkward emotions and our own personal harm.

For those passionate enough to be a part of a community, I think this was a Fan Expo unlike any other.

It may have been a smaller overall guestlist and footprint, but it wasn’t lacking in terms of the local Canadian community that turned out. And I observed so many people making the most of that.

There were season cosplayers sharing chatter and tips with those who learned the craft during the lockdown.

Half-century comic collectors helping children navigate the bins.

Professional esports players joining LANS with local beer leagues.

My own wife even braved a whole day of anxiety-inducing crowds just to make it to the “Evening With The Hobbits” panel — where she fawned over The Hobbits while I was just starstruck to be in the same room as Sam Maggs. She’s my favourite games writer on The Citidel!

The “fandemic” will be what you make it

Like every convention, there must be an end to this article. So let’s wrap things up and bookend all this. 

I want to spring term on you: “fandemic”

Gone — for now — is the era of the pandemic. Let’s safely go forward in getting back to the things we were doing before. Let’s also commit to continuing to develop and practice the skills and hobbies we’ve developed over these past couple of years. Let’s all support each other and be safe and effective fans of one another. Now is the beginning of our fandemic. May it not end any time soon.

It can’t be left unsaid that this year’s Fan Expo was overcrowded and not safe. But that’s not the first time it’s been that way. Many people will remember the year it got shut down by the fire marshal. It may have outgrown Toronto’s Metro Toronto Convention Centre, but this may be the perfect opportunity to move into smaller events throughout the year. Speaking to Brad’s article, as well as the CNE Gaming Garage, there’s a hunger for gaming events. And smaller, more focused events are a great way to build strong communities, which is the basis of the fandemic, if you ask me.