SDCC 2022: A Con’s Rebirth

by Transmute Jun

The process of coming back from COVID has been a long one, and it is still not over yet. But in the world of pop culture cons, San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) 2022 (held July 21-24) was a giant leap forward back to normalcy. Yes, there was a vaccine/negative test requirement, both at the con and at many offsites. Yes, masks were required within the convention center (as well as at off-site offical convention panels) and at one of the offsites. But outside of these restrictions, this convention very much felt like SDCC of old, complete with celebrities, fabulous sights and events, and large crowds.

There were definitely fewer people in attendance (likely due to last minute cancellations as a result of rising COVID case numbers) but it was almost a perfect level of crowds: enough to entice the larger panels and activations, yet the extra room and availability of events felt good. Attendees never had to squeeze elbow-to-elbow when crossing the Exhibit Floor. With a few notable exceptions, most panels had walk-in availability, even for some of the most popular shows. Severance, The Walking Dead, and Lord of the Rings all had empty seats at the back of the room during their panels, and many attendees with whom FoCC Blog spoke appreciated the ease of seeing such presentations.

The Rock takes over Hall H on Saturday

Of course, there were exceptions, most notably for what might have been the most exciting Saturday ever in Hall H. Fully-loaded with top tier panels such as Marvel, DC and House of the Dragon (Game of Thrones prequel series), access to this famed hall on Saturday was the hottest ticket of the entire con. Of course, this popularity caused problems for those who wished to line up in advance. Many of these issues stemmed from lack of security monitoring the ADA line, allowing too many people to wait and not capping the line. Those who had waited for hours and did not receive a wristband were understandably angry, and they argued with Comic Con International (CCI) staff, delaying the distribution of wristbands for the main line for hours.

Additionally, the ADA attendees were not properly monitored going into the hall, and many of them were let in first, taking up the majority of the front section, rather than sitting in assigned ADA seats. This left those who had waited for days in the main line much further back, creating more resentment. This was the major topic of discussion at the Talkback panel, so CCI is aware of the issues involved. Hopefully, next year appropriate security will be assigned to the ADA line, to cap it when it gets to a pre-established number of  people, and there will be more monitoring as ADA enter the hall, such that these attendees will be escorted to appropriate ADA seating.

Hall H

One improvement (although some may not view it as such) was that security was much more aggressive this year in chasing away Hall H lines that formed early. This meant that people were not lining up days in advance of panels. Of course, the flip side to this was that there was more frustration and aggression on the part of attendees (particularly those attempting to line up for Saturday Hall H).

A big negative of the Hall H experience was that the metal detectors and bag checks were back. This caused massive backups, particularly in the mornings when wristbanded people were attempting to rejoin their line groups. Not only were these checks ineffective, such measures were not required anywhere else in the convention center, and as such, the entire affair was regarded by many as ‘security theatre’. Hopefully, CCI will understand the inconsistencies and impracticalities of such checks and eliminate them next year.

There were a handful of other panels in other rooms that were full, including Marvel Animation, The Orville and Critical Role. Hall H Sunday suddenly became a popular location when Funko held a panel at the end of the day and gave out exclusive Pop! figures to all attendees, causing the line to be capped.

Fortunately, other lines seemed to be under control and much more reasonable. Ballroom 20 was a walk-in every morning, and the lines in the Sails for autographs and for the Exhibit Hall for exclusives were manageable.

At the offsites, lines were often long, but not outrageous. Many offsites instituted reservation systems, which was well-received by attendees. Some, such as Paramount’s 10 Forward Lounge, even had a per person cost attached, which further served to manage attendance. For more about SDCC 2022 offsites, check out this article.

The Orville panel (with Seth MacFarlane attending virtually)

Of course, COVID cancelations also extended to exhibitors and studios. The Nathan Fillion Rookie panel, for which many attendees were excited, turned out to be entirely virtual (which had not been announced in advance), causing some angry attendees to get up and leave the room in disgust. Highly anticipated panels such as Riverdale and Chucky were canceled with the now-dreaded ‘abundance of caution’ excuse. A few panels had bigger name guests attending remotely, with other participants attending in person. Fortunately, such occurrences were rare. Another improvement was that the majority of panelists did not wear masks, which made it much easier for attendees to see and hear the guests.

While there were some missing booths on the Exhibit Floor (notably Warner Bros.  and DC), there was still plenty of excitement to be had. Netflix and HBO Max in particular had long lines for their swag giveaways, with attendees being awarded pins, bags, and even passes to panels and offsites. The trend over the past few (pre-COVID) years has been for the larger studios to put more of their effort into offsite activations, rather than the Exhibit Floor, so this shift almost felt natural and expected.

Another trend over the past decade has been a move to more streaming content (as compared to network television and theatrical films). This continued at SDCC 2022, with studios such as Apple TV+, Disney+/Hulu, Netflix, Paramount+, and Amazon Prime Video having a massive presence both inside and outside the convention center. Yet electronic gaming still made itself known, with Blizzard anchoring a large corner of the Exhibit Hall and Nintendo Switch having the ‘hot ticket’ offsite at the PetCo Interactive Zone.

However, the biggest indicator that SDCC was getting back to normal was the wealth of possibilities available. Attendees had to make difficult choices. Staying in a panel room all day meant missing other desired panels or experiencing some offsites. Most attendees with whom FoCC Blog spoke felt that they had not done ‘everything’ that they wanted, mostly because of the abundance of choice and length of lines (for offsites and Hall H). Yes, some things were missing, but unlike Comic Con Special Edition last November, there was plenty from which to choose. And ultimately, that is the hallmark of SDCC: there is so much going on that it is impossible to do everything. On the flip side, if there was something that could not be achieved (due to a long line or other issues) then there was always something else going on that was equally exciting.

At the Talkback panel, CCI announced that the pre-registration badge sale (for returning attendees) for the 2023 con would take place in September or October. Given the great time that attendees had in 2022, it is very likely that fans will be returning to lock in a place for next year.

Did you attend SDCC 2022? Join the conversation on the FoCC forums!

Transmute Jun

Transmute Jun has an addiction to pop culture conventions, and attends as many as she can each year. When she's not traveling, she likes to stay at home reading a good book, playing a video game, or binge-watching a TV show. She can be bribed with pizza, Coke Zero and Belgian milk chocolate.

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