10Best: Cool Cons across North America

  • slide 1

    Cons 101

    Cons are annual conventions that cater to a broad swath of geeks. Any subject that interests them (you?) probably has a con for it somewhere in North America. There’s definitely a multi-genre con out there that has you covered. At these events you can gawk all the costumed attendees (cosplayers), participate in gaming tournaments, or enjoy the myriad of panels and events planned for each unique con. Here’s a list of a couple dozen cons to get you started.

    Photo courtesy of vladeb

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    A-kon: Dallas, TX

    A-Kon is the yearly gathering of all anime fans in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and beyond. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of spiky-haired animated protagonists, A-Kon has a lot more than just anime to keep its fans coming back year after year. Martial arts demonstrations, Dance-Dance Revolution competitions, and panels with popular American artists, authors, and voice actors are just a few of the things on the programming block.

    Photo courtesy of Steve Rainwater

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    More about A-kon

    A-Kon takes place the first week of June, so pack for warm weather. Also, as with most cons, weekend passes go quickly! (2012's A-Kon boasted well over 21,000 attendees over just a three-day event).  If you’re super early to the sign-up list (about four months prior to the start of the con) you can volunteer to be part of the event staff. As a matter of fact, most cons are staffed almost entirely by dedicated volunteers.

    Photo courtesy of Steve Rainwater

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    ACEN: Chicago, IL

    If you’re a Midwestern anime fan, then you’re in luck. In addition to Ohayocon in Columbus, Ohio, there’s Anime Central in the Windy City, also known as A-Kon. This event draws around 25,000 people each year. It’s one of the largest anime conventions in North America and one could argue it has the most swagger to boot. That Blues Brothers inspired logo is hard to beat.  Click here for best value restaurants in Chicago.  

    Photo courtesy of Andrew Evans

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    Dragon Con: Atlanta, GA

    Atlanta is the host of Dragon Con, one of the biggest multi-genre cons east of the Mississippi. With 57,000+ in attendance it’s always a heck of a spectacle. Atlanta even shuts down a few downtown streets on the Saturday morning before Labor Day for a parade of costumed fans. Dragon Con is widely spread out, across five hotel exhibition halls, so bring your walking shoes.

    Photo courtesy of Andrew Guyton

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    BlizzCon: Anaheim, CA

    Yes, Blizzard Entertainment has its own con. The legendary video game company has such famous titles as World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo to its name, so it shouldn’t be that surprising that BlizzCon rakes in 26,000 attendees. If you’re a fan of Blizzard games, this is where you can learn what to look forward to from them in the coming months

    Photo courtesy of Brendan C

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    Mega Con: Orlando, FL

    This winter haven of a con takes place in central Florida during the month of February, so it makes for the best con to visit if you want to stave off cabin fever. Mega Con began in 1993, making it one of the old breed of cons, and it sees 45,000 fans in its halls at the Orange County Convention Center.

    Photo courtesy of Jared Koumentis

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    VidCon: Anaheim, CA

    VidCon is one of the newest cons to hit the scene. First organized by youtube star and author John Green in 2010, VidCon has expanded from just 1,400 attendees to 18,000 in 2014. VidCon focuses on the new fandoms that have massed around Youtube stars in recent years and has big names from the video site such as Philip DeFranco, Shane Dawson, and the vlogbrothers John and Hank Green participating in panels and Q&A sessions.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Dugdale

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    All-Con: Dallas, TX

    As its name suggests, All-Con covers fandoms spanning sci-fi, anime, fantasy, comics, and more facets of geek culture. The con is held in March at the Crowne Plaza North Dallas, and thankfully this all encompassing con is relatively small in scale with attendance at under 5,000.

    Photo courtesy of Alex Archambault

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    Wonder Con: Anaheim, CA

    This multi-genre con brings in 46,000 fans from all walks of life every April. It calls the Anaheim Convention Center home since 2012. However, Wonder Con has been in operation since 1987, making one of the old guard in the con culture. For a taste of a con culture for the first timer, this is quite possibly the best con to dive headfirst into.

    Photo courtesy of Mooshuu

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    Penny Arcade Expo Prime: Seattle, WA

    PAX Prime was first held in 2004 by the creators of the Penny Arcade webcomic who wanted a con that focused equally on video gaming on consoles and PCs as well as tabletop gaming. In just ten short years the con has expanded to over 70,000 attendees. If you’re nowhere near Seattle, then don’t worry. . .

    Photo courtesy of Darwin Yamamoto

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    Penny Arcade Expo East: Boston, MA

    PAX East has the same idea as PAX Prime, and the con has since expanded not only to Boston, but also Melbourne, Australia and San Antonio. PAX East has gotten so huge that the event planners don’t even bother to release attendance figures anymore. Game tournaments and press releases are common at both PAX Prime and East, so if you want to get the inside scoop, this is the place to do it (short of E3. . .)

    Photo courtesy of Laura Bittner

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    Electronic Entertainment Expo: Los Angeles, CA

    E3, as it is known to most in the gaming industry, is a weeklong event in which all of gaming’s biggest names and industry leaders gather to show off what they have coming up in the future. Many a console war has been won and lost in the trenches of E3 and if you’re looking to play the hottest new game months before its even out, this is the place to be. One catch though, you need a press pass or a special guest pass to get in.

    Photo courtesy of The Conmunity - Pop Culture Geek

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    Rooster Teeth Expo: Austin, TX

    The immensely popular Roster Teeth internet production studio gained fame in the mid 2000’s with its Red vs Blue series.  On top of having its own social media site, Rooster Teeth also launched RTX in 2011 with just 600 attendees, but now the con is a huge affair with over 30,000 flocking to Austin.  The events mostly revolve around video gaming.

    Photo courtesy of Tronnic photos

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    More about Rooster Teeth Expo

    Since Rooster Teeth made its original series with the Xbox console, the hardware manufacturer often releases playable demos at RTX first before they ever hit the floors of any con or store. Some of the most successful game franchises ever, such as Halo and Assassin’s Creed, hit RTX well before anywhere else.

    Photo courtesy of Tronnic photos

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    Gen Con: Indianapolis, IN

    Gen Con stands for Geneva Convention which is a play on words referring to the Geneva war treaties and Lake Geneva near where the con was held. Gen Con is the biggest table-top gaming con in the US and the largest tournament for many trading card games, like Magic: The Gathering and Yu-gi-oh, which are hosted here. Nearly 50,000 attended in 2013 and the con seems to only be getting bigger.

    Photo courtesy of Pure Geekery

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    Anime Expo: Los Angeles, CA

    The largest anime con in North America, AX is hosted in the Los Angeles Convention center and takes in 80,000 attendees over the course of four days during July 4th weekend. The con is more multi-genre than most anime cons, with arcades being built for the event as well as concert halls and battle of the band competitions being held.

    Photo courtesy of Michael Ocampo

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    Comic Con International: San Diego, CA

    Perhaps the con to end all cons is Comic Con International which pulled in over 130,000 people last year across its four day event schedule in late July. It was first held in 1970 as a strictly comic based event, but now it is a true multi-genre con with A-list celebrities on the roster and more panels than you can imagine.

    Photo courtesy of Heather Paul

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    More about Comic Con

    Comic Con International was the con to put all cons on the map, bringing this then-obscure culture to the mainstream. Today, many cons make nation-wide news and bring in millions of dollars of economic activity to their host cities. If you can only go to one con in your life, this is the one to double down on.

    Photo courtesy of chrisjortiz

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    Comic Con New York: New York City, NY

    The east coast equivalent of the San Diego event is in NYC and still opens its gate for over 100,000 people. Many of the same celebrities and industry big-wigs that do the west coast event make the effort to attend the NYC con as well, so you’re not missing out on much if this is the one you decide to attend.

    Photo courtesy of Rodney Brown

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    Sakura Con: Seattle, WA

    This Anime Gaming con is set on Easter weekend and calls the Washington State Convention & Trade Center home. While Sakura Con does cater to video gaming and trading card gaming, most of the games on the show floor are tied into an anime is some way or another, so this is definitely one for the diehard otakus.

    Photo courtesy of tales of a wandering youkai

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    Fan Expo Canada: Toronto, ON

    FanEx is the biggest con in Canada and one of the biggest in North America overall. More than 90,000 people flock to this multi-genre convention at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in August. If you have a passport and live in Canada or the Great Lakes region of the US, this is a must visit for any con-goer.

    Photo courtesy of Kay Pike

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    Otakon: Baltimore, MD

    With 32,000 in attendance, Otakon is the second largest anime convention in the US. The Baltimore Convention Center will host the event until 2017 when Otakon will shift down to Washington DC, and a second Otakon will be held in Las Vegas starting in 2014.

    Photo courtesy of Lucius Kwok

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    The Official Star Trek Convention: Las Vegas, NV

    Every first weekend of August, Las Vegas becomes the mecca of Star Trek fans worldwide. With panels consisting of actors from the original series as well as the Next Generation, it’s a feast for the eyes of any true Trekkie. This may be very tightly focused on one particular fandom, but it’s one of the most well known cons in the world.

    Photo courtesy of Magic Madzik

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    Emerald City Comicon: Seattle, WA

    Having nothing to do with the Comic Cons of San Diego or NYC, Emerald City is more tightly focused on comics, but there are sections of the con devoted to tabletop gaming. With over 63,000 fans attending this con, it firmly cements Seattle as the Con Capital of the US.

    Photo courtesy of Seattle Geekly

About Matthew Henson

Matthew Henson is a racing enthusiast living in historic Greenville, SC. Having spent every summer of his childhood going to local racetracks with his grandfather and uncle - both of whom drove race cars they built themselves - Matthew developed a love of NASCAR and all motorsports early on. Several of the major races Matthew has attended are an easy day trip from home.  Greenville lies halfway between Charlotte Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, and in the dead center of the southeastern motorsports network.  

Some people have to search for what they love, but Matthew was born into it. 

Read more about Matthew Henson here.

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