Mixed feelings about Otakon's impending move to Washington

For many attending Otakon, it's hard to think of the Japanese and East Asian anime and pop culture convention without associating it with the city of Baltimore, where it has been held since 1999.

But in 2017, the popular three-day event will move to Washington. For some of those at this weekend's mass gathering, the notion was bittersweet: They generally agreed that the convention had outgrown the Baltimore Convention Center, but worried about longer drives, more expensive hotels and the loss of familiarity.

"When it moves to Washington, it's going to have the same concept but not the same feeling," said Chuck McIlvaine, a 22-year-old from York, Pa., sporting a spiky pink wig as Natsu Dragneel, a character from the Japanese manga series "Fairy Tail." "Baltimore is Otakon's home."

Otakon's organizers announced the plan to move last year, citing uncertain renovation plans for the Baltimore Convention Center and asserting that the space had "not aged gracefully." The 2.3 million-square-foot Walter E. Washington Convention Center, where the event will move, is nearly twice the size of the Baltimore Convention Center and was built more recently.

Organizers said the event, for which many fans dress up as characters from comic books, video games or television shows, will stay in Washington for at least five years, but have not ruled out the possibility of a return to Baltimore if the city gets a new or expanded convention center.

Some said this year's event, which by midday Saturday was nearly sold out of its 35,000-person capacity for the weekend, felt cramped.

"It seems harder to walk around," said Alice Schaefer, 36, of New Jersey, who dressed up as Edward Kenway, a pirate from the Assassin's Creed video game, and carried a long flagpole that she said she accidentally bumped people with repeatedly in the crowded venue.

Organizers apologized Friday for communication glitches that left thousands standing in line for hours Thursday waiting to pick up their event passes. Many attendees began calling the event "line con" because of the lengthy waits.

Some saw those issues as a sign the convention needed to move.

"When I first heard about [the move] I was kind of disappointed," Schaefer said. "But after this year, the whole mood of the con is soured. I think it's ready for a change."

Mallory Beth Wing, 28, of Philadelphia said she thought the move could spur the growth of similar conventions along the East Coast and allow some to become more accepting of the attendees who dress up in costume, known as cosplayers. She said she saw it as a positive that the event had grown so popular that it needed more space.

"It was bound to happen," said Wing, who wore chain mail, heavy boots and a red scarf as Bethany Hawke from the Dragon Age video game. "It was a good run for Baltimore."

But Wing said she was unsure whether the convention would run smoothly in Washington. "The amount of space doesn't make for quality sometimes," she said.

Chris Kmieciak, 23, came from upstate New York and said he had "heard a lot of rumors that the traffic is really bad" in Washington. He and Amanda Root, 24, also thought the event had outgrown Baltimore, but had a sense of nostalgia about the city.

"We've become used to this place now," Kmieciak said. "It's like another home."

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