The Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo is a place for fans of almost every background to unite in their fandom. From comic book fans, to anime fans, even to Chicago White Sox fans (yes, the team is there in some form almost every year).

As the biggest convention in my area, specifically that covers a variety of things that I love rather than a single focus, I’ve been going to C2E2 for a few years now. However, 2019 was the first year that I had the opportunity to attend the convention as a member of the press. It was a completely different experience from getting to attend as fan. Stress levels, expectations, goals, everything was prioritized differently.

As a Fan

There a few different areas that really make up the fan convention experience. They are funds, planning, and company. These three factors are not the only pieces of the fan experience puzzle, but they are definitely what influence it the most.

They all play into what you can do, how you get to experience, and who you get to experience it with. For most, going to conventions like this will be a lot more enjoyable with a group of friends, as opposed to wandering around on your own.

As the Press

The factors that influence the experience of the press at conventions are not that different from that of a fan. Your funds, planning, and company all are huge factors that decide your trips fate. But the support that your work has provided for you, and the amount of time you’re going to have to put in both during, and after the convention play a role in it as well.

If your employer hasn’t gotten any sponsors, you might have to put more money out of your pocket to attend the conventions, even with your admission being free. This is more truthful of smaller sites that don’t have the resources available that places like IGN do.

Funds of the Fans

Funds are what decide what all the fans can do. The first two years I went to C2E2 my friends and I could only afford to go one day. Right off the bat funds manage to limit what we are, and are not able to participate in.

Each day of the convention has a different line up of panels and guests. While some may occur on multiple days, the majority only give you one shot to make it. So, you have to plan your one day around work, school, or other responsibilities while still managing to make it to a day where there is still enough for you to do and get your money’s worth.

Then there’s also the cost of travel, shelter, food, and spending money. These aren’t all definite. Maybe you’re going home every day so no need for a hotel, packing lunches, carpooling, and not really looking to purchase anything.

That’s all and good, but funds are once again limiting the activities that the fans can do. And that’s not even taking into consideration what options like photo ops and autographs will cost.

Funds of the Press

The press gets one major advantage. Their admission is free. They can go any of the days of the convention and come and go as they please. That’s a pretty large weight lifted off of their shoulders. Unfortunately, if they do not receive sponsorship, chances are most of the funds for their travel, shelter, and food will come from their own pocket.

As mentioned previously, this is primarily for those working for smaller sites. Budgeting for the trip is extremely stressful. Chances are you have to take off work from a paid position in order to accept this opportunity. Doing a good job on your coverage is at the forefront of your mind the whole time.

Now, there are also press that have most or even all their expenses taken care of. This is the ideal situation for the press. While you are working, you don’t have a second layer of stress on top of everything screaming at you if this is affordable or not.

Conventions aren’t Cheap

Conventions are costly. Even if the admissions price itself isn’t that bad, all these other requirements can add up fast. Not only does this limit options, but it can also add stress. Not that this is obviously the case for everyone.

For some, they’ll have the funds to do whatever they want, or most of what they want. They can ride comfortably there, eat out at nice places to eat, attend as much or as little as they please, and manage to nab some nice collectibles.

While both experiences can be enjoyable and worth it, there are certainly different levels of stress and expectations that go along with how much money you can manage to pour into whatever conventions you may attend.

Planning Fan vs. Press

Everything as a fan here is less impactful. If you wind up late, it isn’t that big of a deal. Whereas with the press you could be missing out on a story you had planned, which hurts your work load, making you have to search for something else to write about. Going as a fan, I thought it was stressful. Until I went for work that is. It became a whole other world of anxiety. Plus, as a fan you most likely have other people with you to fall back on for support should something serious arise. Unless a coworker is attending the event with you, that just isn’t the case for the press.

Fighting Loneliness

As a fan, you have a lot more time to be sociable. Your friends can come with you, and you have more time to mingle with strangers if you wish. It is such a pleasant experience. It allows you to be in whatever level of social exposure that you personally are comfortable with.

Whereas with the press, everything is situational. Do you have coworkers with you? Do you have to interview someone? What’s the time until the next panel you need to cover? When’s your deadline? All of this and more stacks on top of one another to create one of the most isolated environments I have ever experienced at an event of this kind.

My Fan Experience

For me, my trips as a fan were somewhat in the middle. I was only able to go one day, and had to pay for train fare, help with Ubers and more. But overall, I was able to do what I wanted. I purchased some comic books and received plenty of free goodies. The important part of the day was getting to spend the day with my two pals. Although it was stressful, the whole time was spent slightly worrying about going over budget, we had an enjoyable time. Our first year we didn’t even go to any panels. In fact, every year since our first trip, we have all respectively spent less on our merchandise, while doing more actual activities.

Planning was the easiest part. My friends and I had everything planned out months in advanced, the C2E2 app made scheduling panels incredibly easy as well. While there were some hiccups in the road, such as one of our cars being partially wrecked on the journey to the train station, we still made it to everything that we needed to.

Conventions suck by yourself. Without my friends by my side I would have been alone, bored, and probably would have left a lot sooner than I did. C2E2 truly allowed us to adventure in a safe, fun environment and explore our many different interests as a group. The memories gained with my friends are some that I will always cherish.

My Press Experience

Going as the press was immeasurably worse for me. I spent nearly all my money on travel, had to eat questionable Lunchables, and travel by train for four hours a day. Financially it was the most stress I have ever been out of all conventions that I have been too. While it was a great opportunity that taught me a lot, the goal is certainly to move up somehow in the world to better relax and focus on the work at hand.

Planning was a mess. Interviews were planned, and randomly fell through. Trains were late due to maintenance. Even guaranteed actions like recovering my badge from will call, was disastrous as the Press badges were misplaced. As a fan, none of this would have been a problem.

I was so alone. With no one else with me, I had no one to talk to really. I had to bee line from panel to panel, writing in between them if I had time. It was such a lonely event, which doesn’t make much sense as I was surrounded by thousands of people. The stress was at such a high level that mingling with strangers just wasn’t an option. I got what I needed for notes and left.

Support was minimal. I was able to get business cards designed for me but had to pay for them to printed. Which is completely understandable for the size of the site I write for. It just made my anxiety levels soar. Long before the event even started, I had to start slowly saving whatever I could in order to help make this dream a reality.

Fortunately, my bosses gave me the best support possible. No pressure on finishing my articles for the event. Instead of overwhelming me with hard due dates, they allowed me to write at my own pace. It made the last bit of anxiety melt from my mind like it was nothing.

The Verdict

Going to conventions as a member of the press or just as a fan are both great. It depends on what your priorities and situations are that decide your own experience. But it is undeniable that going as a fan is better. The stress and responsibilities are far less, and you have more control over the memories that will be made. At the end of the day, that is what truly matters about visiting conventions.

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