by Transmute Jun
Last week, Comic Con International (CCI) made an announcement that was surprising to many: the studio signings that will be offered at the upcoming WonderCon (March 23-25) will no longer have participants determined by drawing tickets in a bag, or other in-person method. Instead, the lotteries to attend signings will be done online, in advance of the con, through the Member ID accounts of attendees. To participate, WonderCon attendees must login to their Member IDs, click on the ‘Exclusives’ tab and visit the ‘Exclusives Portal’. (Note that despite the use of the word ‘exclusives’, there are as of yet no exclusives lotteries on the portal, only signing lotteries.)
Those who have tried for signings for WonderCon and San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) know the thrill and agony of drawing for autograph tickets in person. It’s fantastic if you win, and devastating when you do not. What makes a losing draw even more painful is the significant time investment that takes place to line up for the drawings in the first place. At WonderCon that time investment could be hours, while at SDCC that time investment could be an entire day. When you do not draw a winning ticket, that time investment is gone, with nothing to show for it.
No one likes lines, and it seems as if CCI is attempting to deal with the massive lines that their shows generate for some time. Nowhere is this more of an issue than at SDCC, where multi-day lines have almost become the norm for Hall H and the ‘Everything Else’ line (which includes autograph drawings, exclusives drawings and Ballroom 20, among other things). For years, people have been complaining about the length and difficulty of these lines at SDCC Talkback, as well as the host of problems that such long lines seem to generate (line-cutting, ADA status abuse, fights, and even fake wristbands). It has been clear from CCI President John Rogers’ responses at Talkback panels that he too does not like the long lines. But as we all know, wishing doesn’t make things happen, and for lines to go away, significant changes have to be made.
While the issue of lines at WonderCon is not nearly the problem that it is at SDCC, every year the lines at WonderCon grow longer, and the job of managing them becomes more onerous. Instituting an online lottery for studio autograph signings effectively moves these lines from the con itself to an online forum, eliminating many of the problems that the lines caused. While there has been no official statement from CCI, rumors are circulating that this online procedure at WonderCon is a ‘test run’ for doing the same thing at SDCC this summer, or perhaps at the 2019 con.
Knowing this, the prospect of online lotteries for SDCC has become a significant topic of discussion amongst fans, including here on FoCC. The advantages are obvious: no need to line up, no problems with line-cutting, and knowing your schedule in advance of the con. And I don’t think anyone is opposed to getting more sleep in their hotel bed rather than getting up in the wee hours of the morning to join a line. Yet there are many disadvantages to an online lottery system as well. As a group, many FoCC members have expressed their dislike for the idea of an online lottery for signings, and there are various reasons as to why this is the case.
The most significant complaint regarding online lotteries is that they remove the requirement of effort. Many people rarely participated in the lotteries for autograph signings at SDCC and WonderCon because they were unable or unwilling to put in the time and effort to get into the drawing line in the first place. Additionally, people who were able to put in the effort were less willing to do so when success at the drawing wasn’t a sure thing, which sent many otherwise dedicated attendees to other lines, such as those for panels. This naturally limited the pool of attendees who were present for the drawings, and that limited pool contained the most devoted and dedicated fans who were most going to appreciate the opportunity to attend a signing. However, if the only obstacle to entering a lottery becomes clicking a button online, the pool of people participating in the lotteries will grow significantly, and therefore the odds of winning your desired autograph will be significantly reduced. Additionally, people who are only mildly interested or vaguely curious (or possibly even completely uninterested) will be amongst that group of people competing to be a winner of that drawing, so those who eventually win the signing(s) may not actually be fans of the property. Even worse, some of those less interested people may find ‘something better to do’ and decide not to attend the signings at all, even if they have a winning ticket, which effectively denies a fan the opportunity to meet their favorite actor/actress/director/creator.
If this happens regularly, the question will be what happens to the unused capacity of the signing. Will there be a standby line for extra spaces? If so, that just re-creates all of the problems that existed for the onsite in-person lotteries that were present in the first place. Another option would be for CCI to ‘oversell’ the lottery, having more winners than spaces available, to account for no-shows. But then what happens if more ticketed people show than anticipated and they can’t all be accommodated? This would then create long lines for the signings amongst those who have a winning ticket, to ensure that they get to participate. Neither situation is desirable.
There is also the potential issue of scalpers tainting or abusing the process. With the ‘draw from a bag’ system, there were people offering to selling winning wristbands, but the ability to do this was limited because the drawing occurred the same day as the signing, and it was difficult for scalpers to find a buyer, negotiate a price and sell their winning wristbands in the limited time available. But if scalpers win online lotteries and know days or weeks in advance, it might be much easier for them to sell/auction their winning tickets online. People entering the lottery with the intention to sell their opportunity if they win further dilutes the pool of entrants, again lowering the chances that ‘true fans’ will win access to the signings.
Another issue is that line culture has become a pillar of SDCC. People who no longer have to line up for autograph drawings are likely to want to attend panels or offsites instead, which will then send them into other lines. So the remaining lines that exist will only become more crowded due to the increased demand created by the freed up time of former in-person autograph lottery participants, making access to other events more difficult for everyone.
New York Comic Con (NYCC) moved to an online lottery system for both signings and panels a couple of years ago. As a whole, the response from attendees is that this has made it much more difficult for fans to get the signings and panels that they want to see, and attendee sentiment is that these lotteries have had a negative impact on the overall con experience.
It is clear that there are many issues to address. There is no question that CCI’s motives are well-intended; they want to eliminate the problems of long lines and make the con a more pleasant experience for everyone. However, it is important that these lotteries be implemented properly, with serious thought given to the new issues that advance online drawings will create. We at FoCC will be carefully watching these lotteries at WonderCon to see how things proceed and offering suggestions for ways to make the online lotteries truly beneficial to the fans.
What do you think of online lotteries for WonderCon and SDCC? Join the conversation on FoCC!