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Event Review : MCM London May 2022

My name is Doc, and I go by Tasogarecos on social media. I’ve been attending MCM London for 12 years now, and have attended multiple other conventions through the years as well.

MCM London is a 3-day convention, running Friday to Sunday, located at the Excel in London, on the Isle of Dogs. It is run by Reedpop, who also run and organise many other events in the U.K. and abroad. A small history lesson: Reedpop took over just before the COVID-19 Pandemic started, in October 2019.

As Douglas Adams once said: “This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move,” but more on that later.

I attended MCM for all three days, staying in London to attend – not a cheap process but for a cosplayer, the most simple. The May weekend ticket price was £65; a reduction from the £85 of October 2021. Ticket prices are something I will come to later, as they are a bone of contention in the community right now!

MCM follows a generic convention format – halls with sellers big and small and their wares, activities to engage you, a main stage for panels and smaller stages for more intimate discussions and panels, and more food than you could eat in a week. There is, of course, an emphasis on cosplay and it’s associated fandoms, but there’s often other things going on to engage a wide audience.

Given COVID-19 is still a threat, of course, and worldwide we are still seeing spiraling cases. MCM, weeks before May’s event, rescinded their mask mandate and suggested it should be personal choice and that they wouldn’t police people. In general, this wasn’t met favourably – a sentiment I agree with. Masks, testing, hand hygiene and making space all add towards keeping others safe and it felt like MCM had dismissed this outright despite the community’s concerns. I would say 10% of attendees wore masks inside on average during the time I observed over the three days.

Space is a critical part of the U.K.’s response to COVID-19, and MCM in October 2021 took this very literally. The con halls were laid out in such a way that a minimum of 5 or 6 people could have walked abreast through the aisles without issue – this led to most people naturally adopting a one way system and giving each other, and the stall holders, ample space for safety. In addition, masks were a requirement throughout unless you were exempt or eating and drinking. This was all thoroughly forgotten in May 2022. There was seemingly even less space inside to move around, no hope whatsoever of socially distancing, and, of course, no mask requirement. Now looking back, it’s unsurprising how many people contracted COVID-19 under these circumstances.

Not aiding this was the overselling of tickets on the Saturday – many people who attend for just one day get a Saturday ticket; the Masquerade finals are that day, it gives those working time to recover on Sunday and children an opportunity to decompress. It was also the hottest day of the weekend, so many people attended – so much so that it was practically impossible to access the inside of the halls. Even pre-COVID, I had never seen MCM so packed as it was on that Saturday, and it made a lot of people very uncomfortable, to the point that some cut their day short because it was so unpleasant to be inside on the one day they chose to attend.

That being said, the Excel Centre had had some upgrades over lockdown – air-conditioning throughout (though unappreciable on Saturday…) and free water stations, so free water was available consistently. This was an excellent thing, as we experienced high temperatures all weekend and many people utilised these facilities.

Security was hit and miss. I experienced a number of very polite, kind and happy security and Excel Centre staff, from the security team checking bags to the ladies working in the cloakroom – though I would add a caution that the team checking bags were less than thorough on some occasions. I acknowledge that these were not universal experiences, and just a few minutes of scrolling on Twitter would show complaints about rude, dismissive staff, particularly in the outside space.

Having volunteered at large events before, it’s easy to say simply that these security staff were hot, tired and bored, giving up their weekend to work when they could have been at home enjoying themselves, but if you’re being paid, good service that doesn’t make your clients feel dismissed or insulted is expected. There was a distinct lack of consistency within the rules, too – some staff would allow you to walk through one space, then an hour later a different member of staff would not allow it. From a safety point of view, this is dangerous – ingress and egress should always be consistently available or unavailable, and this should not be personal choice or whim of individual staff members.

Once inside, there were a number of booths that were new to MCM this year. 

Firstly, there was Genshin Impact, the smash hit mobile game everyone is playing (or so it seems). The booth was host to a wealth of famous cosplayers such as Cospoxia and Sakuflorr, and offered free goodies and the opportunity to buy official Genshin merchandise. It didn’t live up to the hype; the goodies were no more than a few postcards in a promotional bag (after a 2+ hour queue!), and the merch had sold out by lunchtime on Saturday. However, the cosplayers were wonderful, kind and polite, and it was fun to see the life-size cutouts and play the game with some built teams, if that was your choice. For me, this was a let down, as I had hoped for a better planned booth from a tech giant like Hoyoverse, but I know many people who really enjoyed it.

Halo’s booth was more targeted towards people who already played rather than enticing in newbies, and advertising for their new television series with exclusive sneak preview screenings for fans in small cinema rooms and provided promotional materials for them to take home. This experience offered tickets, to avoid the queueing chaos of the Genshin booth, which I thought was very sensible.

Lastly, Paramount Pictures had a booth promoting their latest films and releases. They were offering the usual promotional flyers and photo opportunities with cut-outs, backdrops and a prop or two.

The artist alley was amazing; I always admire the work that everyone puts into their stalls and stands, but this year blew the others out of the water. There was a designated artist’s alley, but there were also artists dotted in amongst the independent traders – which was a surprisingly nice experience for the casual con-goer like myself, it felt like each aisle of the convention hall was different and unique.

Long ago, in the Before Times, MCM was a paragon of bootleg merch and overbearing sellers, but this was different this time. The traders, selling everything from retro video games to custom dog tags to anime and gaming merchandise, and there was an excellent variety. I know it was expensive for anyone to sell and trade at MCM, but the sellers and their teams were lovely and it felt well organised – despite the smaller aisles compared to October.

My biggest grievance is with the outdoor Fringe stage. As a performer myself, freedom of expression is a vital lifeline to good health and finding yourself, but there were numerous occasions where the Fringe stage was almost breaking laws with how loud it was! It was near impossible to stand in the outside area of MCM, by the trees or on the stairs and have a sensible conversation with someone sat with you. My feedback to MCM is to reconsider the volume of the acts; the acts themselves were wonderful and everyone seemed to have a good time watching.

I said I’d return to my favourite Douglas Adams quote, and I will discuss that a bit here. Many people wish that Reedpop hadn’t taken over MCM, as the prices have skyrocketed since and the apparent value for money has decreased. I can’t argue with the former – my first MCM Priority Sunday ticket was £15, and for May MCM that same ticket is £29.50 – a 65% rise in 11 years, and not really in line with inflation – but the latter, I think, remains to be seen. 

Reedpop have taken our suggestions and requests into account between October 2021 and May 2022, and though I disagree with their COVID policies, the event itself ran well. Many of the overall gripes were with the Excel security; however, the criticism about how over-packed Saturday had been must stand. Reedpop themselves have admitted that they oversold tickets, and it is my hope that they critically look at this action and the feedback from the attendees to continue to make MCM a better and better event.

I would also add a note of disappointment to this overall positive tale regarding Reedpop (not sponsored, I should add!). Reedpop decided to release the October London MCM Tickets while May was going on, and in addition, they have bumped the price back up to it’s October 2021 level of £85 – when you add in shipping for physical tickets, that makes it a cool £91 for 3 days. Reedpop, in my humble opinion, need to give people value for money with these kinds of prices: better security, rewards for buying a Weekend ticket instead of general daily tickets, more activities, something to encourage their customer base to continue to engage with them. The allure of a Central London big anime con will dim if the prices continue to rise with little or no payoff for the audience.

Overall for me, MCM was a positive experience. Cons have always, and will always, be an excuse to cosplay and see my friends – I don’t tend to spend hours inside playing game demos, queuing for panels or participating in activities unless they align with my friends and my cosplay choices, though I know many who do. There is numerous, valid criticism of both Reedpop and the Excel staff that has come out of MCM London May 2022, and I hope to see change in the future events held both in London and Birmingham going forward in response to this criticism.

If you’re reading this and considering attending, my advice is to DO IT! Cons are a wonderful experience, fantastic opportunities to meet new people and celebrities, and try new things, and reading about them online isn’t the same experience at all!

Disclaimer: All images and videos used, do not belong to FnC and belong to their respective owners.

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