I last attended Manchester MCM Expo two years ago and the changes since then have been so broad and staggering that it’s hard to recognize the event for what it was.
There are always improvements to be made, feedback to be absorbed, and problems to be corrected. What this year’s Expo has shown me is that the organizers have listened and are working to make their events even better. The improvements over 2012’s event are exponential, and if Manchester Expo continues to improve the way it has done so far, then it seems set to become a major event in the convention scene.
Back in 2012 the entire event was contained within one room of the Manchester Central Convention Centre leading to intense crowding. Even as a fit and healthy, able-bodied adult with little fear of confined spaces, I found myself made nervous by the crowds which often left me pinned in position and completely unable to move for minutes at at time. Looking at merchandise stalls required having to fight through masses of bodies, and late in the afternoon one aisle had to be closed off by security because there were too many people down it. Attending with children or with a disability would have been exceedingly difficult if not downright dangerous.
This year several major improvements have been made which have vastly improved the show.
- The event has now spread over an even larger area of the Convention Centre. This year the main hall (which previously held the entire event) only held merchandise stalls, Comic Zone, the Robot Wars arena, and a seating area. Autographs, photo shoots, and the Cosplay Zone were moved into a second room while talks were held in the venue’s auditorium which holds over 800 people.
- The event has now been spread over two days in hopes of easing crowds. This, combined with the extra space afforded by utilizing additional rooms, made the event much more manageable. Although it was always busy, the rooms never felt dangerously overcrowded as they have done in the past and I saw many attendees in wheelchairs or with pushchairs moving around with relative ease.
- Food and drink were much more readily available with numerous small stands dotted around the seating areas. Many of these only sold cold drinks and snacks which kept queues to a minimum by removing the wait for hot drinks to be made. I never waited more than two minutes to buy a cold drink even at the height of Saturday’s crowds—an unimaginable blessing when wearing a hot costume. Staff were also wandering the venue wearing drink dispensers and ice cream carts were set up inside the main hall.
- Enormous space was given over to seating areas in cooler parts of the building. There was always space to sit down and rest without feeling like you were blocking access or having to leave the building. This was especially important on Saturday when almost constant rain kept the vast majority of attendees indoors for the duration of the event. I attended two fandom meetups over the weekend and we had lots of space to sit and talk amongst ourselves without getting in the way.
All these factors combined to make the event one of the most pleasurable I have ever attended, and one I would feel comfortable bringing a child to.
Holding talks in the auditorium, naturally equipped with a full sound system, meant that those on stage could be heard clearly by everyone in attendance, and the event’s organizers kept attendees updated with regular tweets throughout the day.
When the auditorium was packed out for the cosplay masquerades, staff on the floor and on stage worked together to quickly organize the audience and make additional seating available which allowed those stuck outside the room to enter and be seated quickly.
Of course there are always issues at such a large events and this was no exception. The venue suffered from poor signposting which left some people confused about the location of the auditorium and signing areas. A Borderlands: The Pre Sequel play area attracted long lines which ended up wrapped around the room, limiting access in that section of the hall, and pricing was unclear for some of the celebrity attendees who were signing autographs.
I was also disappointed that despite massively increasing coverage of these issues, a clear anti-harassment policy was not in place either in the building itself, or within the printed show guides handed out to attendees on arrival. On the positive side, the anti-bullying campaign I Cosplay were in attendance.
The biggest issue, however, was around entry into the convention itself. Although those with advance purchase tickets managed to enter fairly quickly, the pay-on-the-day queue lasted many hours and was wrapped all the way around the building. Due to the rain, many attendees found their costumes destroyed or severely damaged before they were able to enter.
It is difficult to come up with a solution for the queuing problems. As the event continues to grow in popularity and in exposure, so the crowds wishing to attend will also grow resulting in consistently long queues even as the venue expands capacity and staffing to help people get inside faster.
This year’s weather was a major source of distress for many, however erecting marquees to completely surround a 23,000 meter square building in case of rain is rather impractical, and Expo has grown so much that all indoor space large enough to hold a queue is taken over by the event itself.
Next year I would love to see an increase in the number of talks, a clear anti-harassment policy in place, and some bigger names present. Whatever happens, I can be sure that I will be heading back in 2015, but before then be sure to take a look at our 2014 cosplay gallery, especially if you’re a fan of Hannibal, Welcome to Night Vale, Futurama, and Wicked!
GeekMom received entry to this event for review purposes.