Winterfest, Ai-Kon’s annual mini-convention, happened this past weekend at the Delta Hotel. A smaller venue, to be certain… but hotels are certainly not a strange location for a convention to happen. In previous years, this scaled down event’s primary draw has been the calm and relaxing atmosphere which is something that is so rare for a convention. It’s been such a pleasant and peaceful break to spend a day surrounded by anime goodness. So I’ve been looking forward to Winterfest for a while – especially with how hectic the past few months have been.
The truth is… this year kind of lost its charm. The relaxed, calm atmosphere was killed by the crowded confines of the hotel. You see, before the event was sort of spread out in different sections of the convention centre – so you’d see people walking around and relaxing and there was a ton of space… but this year it was confined to one relatively small floor in a relatively small hotel. It just felt very hyper and almost claustrophobic, really.
The showing room and panel room both showed some major improvements, with better seating and layouts and a better selection of events – even if there were only a few activities to my particular tastes. That’s always the risk when you only run a single showing room – the limited variety means things are less likely to cater to any individual. Which is why it baffles me that they didn’t try to get more space. But just as a final note on the panels… Manitoba Mando’s panel on armor was even better this year than last year – a definite highlight of the entire event.
When the event happened at the convention centre, the entire convention centre became part of Winterfest as people randomly lounged in chairs or on benches or gathered in odd corners to chat. So when you cut the amount of hall space down by so much… people will have to use the rooms, so you’ll need more of them. I assumed that them moving to the hotel was a way to get more space for less, since the convention centre is probably expensive… not to get less space overall… but no, they kept the same number of rooms and just killed the amount of extra space. A puzzling decision.
They did announce recently that the convention sold out and they had to turn people away… which I hope is a sign that the event is growing, not just that they cut their max down. But it took them literally hours to get people into the convention. That is, unless you pre-bought your tickets. If you pre-bought, it took them minutes. We went to a panel that took ~2 hours at the start of the event, and when we got out the line was still extending out of the hotel and onto the skywalk. Sign of growth or sign of organization failures, it’s hard to say. But it certainly can’t have been fun for those in line either way.
The vendor room was a strange place. It was absurdly packed, but nobody really seemed excited for much. They had some fairly well-known local artists and vendors, but they all seemed to just be selling their scraps. There were a lot of tables, but a lot of them seemed really lacking in content for sale…
It’s hard to say if this miniature event just suffered from being rushed or whether it was just a test of some ideas that simply didn’t pan out as well as they had hoped… but whatever it was, Winterfest was too small to really pass as a proper convention but tried too hard to duplicate that feeling and it just didn’t work. I was hoping for calm and relaxing and social, and I got hectic and cramped but without much content.