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Photo from the huge annual cosplay led parade on Saturday in the middle of the city during Dragon Con.

I’d consider myself a seasoned convention goer. Having gone to SDCC four times, NYCC once, and a few other smaller conventions—I’m very familiar with the environment. It’s an environment and atmosphere that I love more than anything. This year though, I got to discover something for the first time: Dragon Con.

Having been a resident of Georgia for almost two years, it’s a shame that I haven’t already visited the annual gathering. Founded in 1987, Dragon Con has been a staple for not only the convention community but Georgia as a whole. Dragon Con draws in huge crowds—not only locally, but from around the world. In fact, I would say it rivals the big conventions like SDCC and NYCC in popularity. Why does a seemingly random convention in Georgia draw such a big crowd? Well quite frankly—there’s nothing quite like it.

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Attendees fill the Marriott Host Hotel as they hustle around the convention. Photo taken by Russ Milheim.

Dragon Con has a very unique set up. The entire convention is spread out in the middle of downtown Atlanta between five “host hotels.” These hotels are where a majority of the action happens—stuff like panels, parties, autographs, photo ops, etc. These host hotels are also where a majority of its attendees stay over the course of the weekend. This makes for the staple experience for Dragon Con: a 24/7 non-stop celebration of the culture. That’s right…24/7. After the exhibit halls have closed, and the panels are over, the party has really just begun. You can find countless people socializing in the lobbies of each hotel, grabbing some drinks at the hotel bar. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to casually converse with one of the visiting talents. From the moment the convention starts on Thursday, it never truly ends until Tuesday morning.

As I heard it lovingly referred to, Dragon Con is the nerd’s, Mardi Gras. Don’t fret, however, if partying isn’t in your wheelhouse, there’s plenty at the convention to see and do otherwise. Let’s start by talking about their panels. I was quite surprised after sitting through a few myself to see just how casual the whole experience is. More so than other conventions, the celebrities and talents seem far more laid back and relaxed. This leads to a really neat, intimate environment with some of your favorite people as they pretty much just have a conversation with the room. On top of that, it’s extremely easy to get yourself in the right place for a question—so talking to your idols can be done with ease. Some of my favorite panels of the weekend that I attended were that with the cast of American Gods (you would not believe the energy that Ricky Whittle has), The 100, and a solo panel with Jason Issacs. Now while I heap praise on the setting and feel of the panels, given the nature of them all being hour-long Q&A’s, it’s easy to get panel burn out. It’s a good thing that the, even more to see and do.

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Night At The Aquarium. Photo taken by Russ Milheim.

You can socialize, you be a part of fun intimate panels, but what else is there to do? Well really the list goes on and on—but let’s talk about meeting the talent. Dragon Con’s set-up here is something called The Hall of Fame. This is essentially a ballroom where all of the visiting talent come and set up their tables, offering autographs and selfies for a price (lemme tell you, the prices are skyrocketing to a ridiculous high. I really do wish the talent and their agents would reign it back just a bit). The room is surprisingly small for what its purpose is. In fact, a few times the entrance to the Walk Of Fame had to be shutdown due to the room occupancy limit being reached. The pro to a smaller room, is that you are in close proximity with all of these amazing celebrities at almost all points—even if you aren’t standing in line for them. It’s another area where Dragon Con gains this unique sense of intimacy when it comes to your experience. As for the Photo Ops, while I didn’t personality get to experience Dragon Con’s set up, they do offer the same experience here that many other conventions provide.

Now you can’t have a convention without a proper exhibit floor. Dragon Con’s take on this is a massive Vendor/Artist Hall that takes up four floors of a nearby building. Having been to SDCC more than a few times, massive vendor halls are nothing new—but I was certainly surprised at the size that Dragon-Con offered. Not only was it four entire floors, but they were all packed with unique and fun offerings that you’d only find at a Con. One of my favorite impulse purchases of the weekend was that of the mystery box lightsaber from Ultra Sabers. It was like the lightsaber chose me, and it was a fun experience—not to mention the quality of the item is pretty impressive.  That aside though, there’s no way you won’t find interesting items or artists waiting for your attention.

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Cosplayers enjoy the scenic views at the Georgia Aquarium. Photo taken by Russ Milheim.

Now, outside of the convention itself, what events can be found? While the offering is not quite the same as the huge commercial offerings of SDCC and NYCC, Dragon-Con does have a few tricks up its sleeves. For one, there is the annual Dragon-Con parade on Saturday. This a parade where hundreds of cosplayers walk down the streets of downtown Atlanta, showing off their intricately made costumes. One thing at the heart of Dragon Con’s existence is the labor and love that the attendees give to their cosplay—and this couldn’t be made any clearer through the parade. It’s a very fun, and festive environment, as everybody celebrates the culture. Another big event that is held during the weekend is the Night At The Georgia Aquarium.  This event is a huge social event, once again fueled by the love and dedication of cosplay, that takes place in an extraordinary and unique environment. Attendees are essentially given the entire aquarium to walk around and look at the animals, get great photo opportunities, and take part in a huge Cosplay Contest.

With all of that said, there was still so many things that Dragon-Con offered that I did not get the chance to see.  They offer around the clock tabletop/board game opportunities, video gaming competitions, specialized learning tracks, big published authors, and so much more.  If you are a seasoned convention goer, but somehow have not heard or gone to Dragon Con, I highly recommend that you seek it out. Even if you a new comer to the scene, Dragon Con has something for everyone to enjoy—and truly provides one of the most unique convention experiences.

Bonus Notes:

  • Now there was a lot of praise in this article, but I felt that I needed to bring up a particular downside to the Convention, in hopes that maybe it can be bettered in the future. Finding schedules of the guests you want to see, and other events, was an extremely difficult, if not sometimes impossible task. Even with a dedicated app, it was very hard to find a simple page with all of the information I needed. An update to how their website, and the app, displays all of this is much needed—and would better the already great experience of Dragon-Con.
  • Ending on a positive note, Dragon Con is certainly a convention that truly benefits from visiting with your friends.  So grab as many friends as you can next time you go and visit.