Throughout the past weekend, I spent my time in Downtown Indianapolis at PopCon Indy. I cannot believe that PopCon is now in its 9th year as an event as it only seems like yesterday that the Kickstarter for the show was up and running but here we are. Over the last 9 years, PopCon has had its share of ups & downs with, in my opinion, the 2016 edition of PopCon being its best yet. For those that may not remember, PopCon 2016 had everything from a full-on wrestling show, the GFuel E-Sports arena, and also Kevin Smith with his daughter Harley there to attend the premiere of their movie, Yoga Hosers.
I feel that there has yet to be a PopCon that has come close to providing all that amount of entertainment in one weekend and sure, an argument can be made about the prior year with Markiplier coming to PopCon in only their second year as a convention which saw a crazy turnout that not even PopCon themselves expected. Yet here we are in 2022 and PopCon has been trying in some ways while failing in a few others to be as good as they once were.
A few major events were going on this year in which three of them involved a competition. The PopCon International Film Festival made its return in which filmmakers from around the world showed up to share their newest movies and compete in several different categories. The Ultimate Cosplay Championship showcased several amazing forms of cosplay and from what I heard from a few people at PopCon’s Sunday feedback panel was that it was the best one the convention has had yet. A few of the other competitions were the PopCon Podcast Awards which seemed to be rather under the radar compared to years past and a first for PopCon which was the Reboot Virtual Reality Game Dev Awards in which game developer Clique Games, well-known for their VR game “Rogue Ascent” put together for the convention.
However, the biggest draw for this year’s event was the PopCon Squid Game, which was very, and I mean very, loosely based on the hit Netflix TV show. The prize was something I’ve never heard of before in the convention industry, a lifetime 3-Day badge to PopCon. This was something that I had the opportunity to participate in and it saw quite a great turnout of people. The competition involved several different games such as being able to quickly complete a maze on a piece of paper in the shape of one of the many icons PopCon uses for the various genres it covers, a massive Connect Four 1-on-1 battle, a trivia challenge set in the form of the bridge episode, a Mario Kart 8 Semi-Final and a battle of Wario Ware on the Switch to determine the winner.
While the guests were plenty this year, I found myself only knowing two of them which were Roger Craig Smith (voice of Sonic the Hedgehog & Ezio from Assassins Creed) and actor Tom Arnold. Typically I know far more of the guests than that and I did notice that there weren’t many people visiting the guests this year, at least from what I saw with the times I spent over in that section compared to previous years.
What I will say is that PopCon did have its largest vendor hall yet this year and it showed with the number of vendors spread throughout the exhibit halls. There were a few chocolate vendors and several artists as well as some local YouTubers such as The Normies and RTTV. While I did enjoy just how big the space was for vendors I feel that PopCon could do a better job of keeping vendors grouped and it didn’t have that “Artist Alley” feel that I’ve seen at other shows. PopCon always does a great job of providing plenty of local vendors from the area and there was no lack of those seen here.
One other thing that I appreciated was PopCon bringing the podcasters back into the vendor hall by way of the Podcast Stage. I’ve always thought that the live podcast shows should be done inside of the vendor hall and this was a great decision by PopCon to put the podcast stage inside and right next to where all the celebrity guests were at.
Speaking of the layout, I thought the layout of the vendor hall this year was the best it’s ever been and it made going through the vendor hall an even easier experience. What I did not enjoy was how far away most of the panel rooms were from the vendor hall itself. The placement this year that PopCon was given was the exhibit halls directly in the middle of the Indiana Convention Center which may be easy to access it still puts them far from the panel rooms themselves. However, this is not the fault of PopCon as they don’t get much of a say in where they can have their convention be placed each year.
A few of my complaints are that PopCon needs to have their app come back and make it easier to track where panels are and even the ability to feature an interactive map with the ability to make your schedule. Also, I feel that while PopCon is trying to get back to how great their convention was back in 2015 and 2016 they failed to even have an afterparty this year which I feel is an important thing for a show to have is a way in which attendees can hang out but it not need to be about a specific thing such as a panel because panels don’t feel like a hangout spot. I hope to see more fun things such as karaoke, afterparties at local places that don’t necessarily need to be at a bar like Gate 10 back in 2018 for instance, or even have local food trucks come out and make use of Georgia Street in some way which would be yet another great way for people to make friends outside of other events.
I believe PopCon is trying to get back to that spotlight again and that if they can find more activities and major events or even work with local E-Sports leagues in the area to have major gaming competitions or tournaments. PopCon did do a great job by bringing a Drag Race/Drag Queen competition to PopCon all put together by Oriana Peron from The Backdoor in Bloomington, Indiana which will be making its return to PopCon next year. I’d love to see even bigger names in the form of guests return along with more voice acting panels, Twitch streamers, more famous YouTubers as well as more game developers what I enjoyed about this year was seeing so many virtual reality and game devs.
While this wasn’t PopCon at its absolute best, it’s getting there and I know that while the pandemic back in 2020 didn’t help things so much I do have nothing but hope and support for PopCon to continue to get even better as I have had the pleasure of attending every single PopCon in Indianapolis, I know what they are capable of and for being a convention that is running locally and not backed by a corporation, there is only so much they can do which is why I will never compare them to bigger conventions, but only to themselves.