As the world continues to speed towards normalcy and escape the grips of the Coronavirus pandemic, large crowds at events such as anime and comic conventions still exude a sense of caution in terms of reopening. While some events such as BlerDCon and KamehaCon were back in person, albeit in a slightly diminished capacity. Some of the major hitters like E3, San Diego Comic-Con, and Anime Expo either postponed or went virtual for the year. Crunchyroll Expo this year was no different than these events and for the second time, they gave us Virtual Crunchyroll Expo, an event that took the convention experience and brought it to your living room.
vCRX was held earlier this month, and in true Geekset fashion, I took in all the sights and sounds available. From the artist’s alley to the various on-demand panels, it was clear that Crunchyroll was dedicated to bringing the full convention experience to our living rooms. As I took in the virtual experience, I inevitably started to think about how it has to be putting on a virtual convention as it compares to a traditional in-person one. Luckily we got a chance to speak with Mary Franklin, head of events over at Crunchyroll and before I get more into my particular experience at this year’s convention, I was able to understand more about the undertaking of the event as a whole. Here are some of the
Head of Events, Crunchyroll
Didge: We wanted to take a peek behind the curtain, what are some of the things that go into putting on a convention of this magnitude?
Mary Franklin: From the content side, putting on a virtual convention is actually quite a bit more work than a live show! We want to provide Crunchyroll fans with the best in programming, so that means guest coordination and numerous recording sessions in Japan and other locations of the world. We welcome more major Japanese guests to a virtual show, so that adds a lot of production time.
D: It seems like, with the virtual convention, you get the opportunity to do more pre-prep work polishing up the different presentations. What is the “day of” like for a virtual convention, and how does that compare to a traditional in-person one?
MF: Launch day of a live show, we’re frequently focused on queue management and moving people quickly to where they want to go. Day one in virtual, we’re managing the streams, looking out for any technical issues, and having lots of fun watching fan comments in the chats!
D: So with this being the second year holding a virtual convention, were there any unique challenges this year especially as the world is slowly starting to open back up?
MF: I was honestly concerned, as we were planning V-CRX 2021, that fans might simply be tired of the virtual space after a year and a half of it. We were pleased to see our fears were unfounded! Attendance to V-CRX was even higher than in 2020, and the time fans spent viewing the content was high.
D: What’s next for Crunchyroll, specifically on the convention-side? We’d love to hear about any plans that can be shared.
MF: CRX 2022 is planned for August 5-7 in the San Jose Convention Center in California. We’re particularly excited that, even though we hope to go back to the live space, we have so many new virtual tools. We are in initial talks already on how we can innovate in the hybrid space to combine the best of live and virtual so fans globally can have a new experience of Crunchyroll Expo.
From what I was able to see, I can definitely say that all of the hard work paid off. I took in panels like the Professional Athletes of Anime, saw the world premiere of SAKUGAN (something that I CANNOT wait to officially premiere), and even got a chance to take a look at the showcase from Crunchyroll Games. But beyond that, the virtual artist’s alley of the Anime Arts district, and the Central Shopping District provided that much-needed swag bag aspect that is pretty much missing from most virtual conventions. Plus, not to toot our own horn, but Geekset got to participate in the Central Shopping District, so it was really interesting to see that portion from both sides! Unfortunately, if you were not there, in true convention fashion, you missed out. As all of the VOD experiences ended on August 8.
Overall, was it a 100% traditional con experience? No, and that’s okay. We’re living in extremely weird times, and even with all of the planning and effort, it is impossible to recreate that experience fully. What it was though, was an amazing time. For almost everything that had me missing in-person conventions, the virtual Crunchyroll Expo tried and in many ways succeeded in giving me that alternative. In fact, with the VOD opportunities, I got the chance to see so much more than I did when in person and that was extremely cool. I will say, however, that I am extremely excited to see that the plan is to back to in-person for next year because nothing can beat the experience of just being surrounded by a bunch of people who are excited for the exact same thing that you are. So, until next time we bid farewell to Virtual Crunchyroll Expo, and I know all anime fans are in agreement when we say that we are counting the days until we’re all back together.