15 Years of BotCon - 10 Years for Me
(griffin's 2008 BotCon report)


Another year, another BotCon, another 30,000km round trip (18,000 miles).
And this was the 15th Year of BotCon, so happy birthday to BotCon. (2009 will probably be noted as the 15th anniversary, but 2008 is actually its 15th year.)

But first, to separate the fans from the non-fans....

If you are a Transformers fan and just want to see the news and info from the Transformers convention, the first block of links are for you to use.
If you are NOT a fan, or are interested in following the entire adventure, skip to the second lot of links that details my entire trip.

THE INDEX OF PAGES (an introduction to this adventure begins after this index)
BotCon Convention section (the Transformers part of my trip)
Pre-registration Package pickup (Wednesday) and Club Store purchases (Thursday)
Dealer Room
Art Contest Display
Hasbro Toy Display part 1 (Animated, Merchandise)
Hasbro Toy Display part 2 (Universe, Crossovers, Movie, Store Exclusives) + complete toy checklist
Friday 25th April:
Friday 10am - IDW panel (first of two)
Friday 11am - Transformers Animated Production Team panel
Friday Noon - Animated Voice Actors panel (first of two)
Friday Night - Activities (Trivia Contest, Film Fest, Animated episode, 2007 Movie live commentary)
Saturday 26th April:
Saturday 11am - Animated Voice Actors panel (second of two)
Saturday Noon - Collector Club Magazine panel
Saturday 1pm - Hasbro Product panel (2 hours)
Saturday 3pm - Collector Club panel
Saturday 4pm - IDW panel (second of two)
Saturday night - Dinner, Casino & Auction
Sunday 27th April:
Sunday 10am - Transformers Animated and Hasbro (2 hours)
(hour break)
Sunday 1pm - Hasbro Designers panel
(close 3.30pm)
Details of my entire trip (mostly non-Transformers stuff)
Brisbane to Cincinnati (Monday 21st April and Tuesday 22nd April)
Wednesday 23rd April - pre-convention tour and pre-registration
Thursday 24th April - pre-convention tour and pre-registration
Friday 25th April to Monday 28th April, including the return home

Welcome back to another one of my long-winded, extremely thorough, totally engrossing, sometimes boring, BotCon Transformers Convention reports.

And once again, it was another fun filled adventure, plagued with the usual amount of hassles and dramas.  So I'll just get right into it then...
This was my tenth year of BotCon-ing (my first was in 1999), amounting to NINE BotCons so far for me.  Of those ten years of attending BotCon, I only missed one year (2006), and have accumulated 271,732km (168,695M) in distance travelled (straight-line distance, not actual travelled distance).  To put that in perspective, the moon is 356,400 km at its closest point to the Earth, which means in another three BotCons, I would have effectively reached the moon in accumulated BotCon travelling. There would probably only be a half a dozen who have accumulated more mileage to BotCon over the years.

BotCon 2008 was located in Cincinnati, Ohio, between April 24th to 27th. Ohio is a bit east of being centrally located in the continental US land-mass. Just below the great lakes. Cincinnati is a fairly large city, but the CBD (or Downtown) is pretty boring, with mostly commercial buildings and heaps of hotels. Ohio was 17 hours behind us here in Brisbane during the time of the Convention. To get there, I had to fly across the Pacific Ocean from Brisbane to Los Angeles, and then onto a connecting flight to Cincinnati Airport. From home to hotel, it took 26 hours 15 minutes this year.

It gave me 2 new US states though, so the total is at 12 now - California, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Ohio.

With the huge Transformers Movie last year, and the second one next year, this year's BotCon was focussed on the new Animated Cartoon series.  A series aimed at a slightly younger demographic, set for full release mid-year, this year's BotCon had the challenge of balancing between the interests of the new younger attendees and the older collectors. As such, we had 3 Voice Actor guests this year, and they were only from the current Animated series.  The organisers once again focused on the toys and merchandise in the lead up to the event, and like last year, left it until the last minute to announce the guests. After all, it is the events and guests who will give the attendees the one-off memories of the convention, not the toys that will sit in boxes or display shelves at home. I can appreciate the need for the convention organisers to make the event profitable to ensure its continued survival, but the trend of the last two years has been on focussing on the toys and incentives to dealers, over once-in-a-lifetime events and guests.  There was a good number and variety of Voice Actors in 2005 and 2006, but 2007 had just two who had been to several BotCons before, while this year had three from the one, current series. One of the fun things in earlier BotCons (that the current organisers should also try to include) are the educational presentations that discussed things like Prototypes, Japanese Transformers, pre-Transformers, early Transformers, Cartoon, etc.

Aussie Attendance this year
griffin (QLD)
Francis/Saintly (NSW), and his son, Tim/Legends Saintly.  The pair were only in Cincinnati for three nights, but made the most of it, despite Tim not being too well.

My BotCon Rating:
I rate each BotCon in 10 categories, from 1 to 10 (1 is very bad, 5 is average, 10 is excellent) giving a total score out of 100.
1 - Guests and Panels - 7 (good official guests, but last-minute voice actor guests again, and primarily only relate to the current year. Not many panels this year)
2 - Activities and Events - 9 (heaps of activities and after hours events this year, making it a full 3 plus day convention)
3 - Dealer Room - 7 (way too crowded again this year with the spacing of the tables, good range of stuff though)
4 - Host city & convention location - 5 (very boring city, with nothing within walking distance, and everything closes by 4pm and all day Sunday)
5 - Hotel Value & Features - 5 (Hyatt expensive for what little time is actually spent in the room, Millennium was better value but had a bad smell downstairs)
6 - Cost/value of Convention - 8 (getting more expensive every year, compared to the earlier fan-focussed ones, that admittedly ran at a loss)
7 - Administration of event - 7 (issue of dealers selling KO TFs was not addressed as promised, and sale of extra BotCon toys to dealers over real fans)
8 - BotCon Merch & Toys - 8 (too many toys again, but it probably makes the convention business profitable and at least guarantees its existence)
9 - Interaction with others - 8 (met up with a few old friends briefly, and shared with another Australian for 3 days)
10 - Toys Acquired - 9 (missed out on a couple of items due to lack of funds, but got a lot of stuff including comics and Animated toys)
That gives me a total score of 73, which makes it fourth best of my nine BotCons.

The Good
- This was like a week-long Transformers Fan event, and it was awesome!!!  With 3 days of events and 2 days of pre-convention activities, I just couldn't believe how quickly the week went, because there was very little spare time to stop and think about it.  It was a definitely a great idea to go on both pre-convention tours this year, as it really felt like I was more involved with BotCon than ever before.  The downside was how exhausted I got by the weekend, falling asleep in the evening before the activities were completed on the Friday and Saturday nights.  The unhealthy diet didn't help, as eating was sporadic during the week and far from nutritious (but couldn't be helped with very little available locally that was affordable or open after 4pm). I'm really keen to do the pre-convention tours in future years, regardless of what they are of, because it was being with other fans that made it fun.
- A new universe for the Convention to use for their toys, merchandise and stories, without being restricted or restrained by the existing ones that Hasbro or the fans may not be too keen to have messed with.
- Bumper Robinson (voice of Animated Bumblebee and Blitzwing) was very entertaining, but it was a pity he didn't seem to excited about being at a 'fanboy' convention (had a mild William Shatner complex I think - very unimpressed with the adult fans' enthusiasm to a kids toyline and cartoon).
- Having the company of another Australian fan from the Ozformers board, Saintly (Francis) and his son Legends Saintly (Timothy). Adds to the fun of the event if you spend time with people you know. Saintly is from Sydney, and I had only briefly met him once before, but knew him enough from the board to get along well.
- Meeting up with people there is one of the main reasons most fans, including myself, go to BotCon, and this year I was able to spend time with a few old friends and some time with a few new people, including Tim Finn, Benson Yee, Karl Hartman, Jon Hartman, Tony 'Thunder' Klepack from Canada, Simon (Sol Fury on TFW2005) from England, and Kendrick Kerwin Chua who is an online fan since before I was online in the mid 90s.  Everyone else I met doesn't count... just kidding. I was only able to recall those specific names at this time - apologies to anyone else I talked to who actually read this report (yep, apologies for not mentioning you and for you actually reading this).
- Was one of the first fans to see certain upcoming toys, in the 25th Anniversary line, Animated line, and Universe line.
- Acquired heaps of Transformers toys this year, including the entire first wave of Animated toys and a Transparent Binaltech Mirage for a lot less than its usual ebay price. This was the best year for me with transforming figures, but second best if counting non-transforming figures (like Robot Heroes, SCFs, ect).
- Once again, the exchange rate had improved since the last BotCon, from 84us cents to 93us cents in just nine months.  That means that if I had spent the same amount as last year (about AU$2000), I would have had an extra US$140 to spend at this year's BotCon.  That's like getting an extra 12 deluxe sized toys for free (or about 5 free in our currency).  What's even better is that economists believe that the exchange rate will be one to one by the end of this year, so next year's BotCon should be even better.  I gotta start saving now then... :)
- The second hotel (Millennium) I moved into for the last five nights I was there, had free internet access.  Not only was I saving US$20 per night on the room rate in the second hotel, but was also saving US$10 a day on not having to pay for internet access like in the first hotel (Hyatt). A huge saving for a room that you don't spend much time in anyway.
- Finally got to try out an Outback restaurant, which is an Australian themed restaurant chain in America, that has apparently been there for 20 years.  I remember first hearing about it at my first BotCon in 1999, and have wanted to try one out ever since but never had the chance.
- Posted back a few boxes of American sugary kids breakfast cereals this year, but not as many as I wanted, mostly due to money restrictions and not being able to find a grocery store near the hotel.

The Bad
- I saw 6 different dealers in the dealer room selling recently released Knock Off Transformers, despite the convention organiser assuring me that this would not be allowed.  I talked to one of the staffers over the phone and got an email from the head of Fun Publications on the issue, because I knew that this would happen, and they did nothing about it.  I suggested they alert the dealers to not selling KOs to make sure they knew the policy, but obviously didn't happen with so many selling KOs there.  One big toy dealer was even selling KO Metroplexes without even making it obvious they were KOs, even when I asked about it. I certainly won't ever be promoting them in future.
- Dealers were allowed to buy at least two sets of BotCon toys, because they had a dealer badge and attendee badge.  They sold out of the Convention set within 3 weeks and were limiting sales of the 2-packs, which prevented a lot of real fans (like walk-ins and foreigners) getting toys first hand, and yet there was this dealer incentive taking up toys that were going to be sold off at a dealer mark-up anyway.  The organisers made sure it was a race for fans and foreign non-attendee fans to secure toys first hand, before toy dealers took them all up. I guess if a fan is unable to make it to the event (because they live in another country) and the organisers suspend non-attendee sales to make sure all the toy dealers (whom most don't keep their toys anyway) are able to get two sets each, it's just too bad for the real fans.  The dealers make money just by being there selling their own stuff, so why do they need an incentive of an extra set of toys, from which they will just to make more money from. Fun Publications should prioritise toys to those collectors who are going to keep them. Because at least those people aren't going to be disrespectful like the toy dealers, who only get the toys just to profit from them, without caring about the hard work put into the product by Fun Publications in the first place.  I do want BotCon to be financially viable, but this was a mistake, especially when the demand for the toys is there by real fans.  This toy issue and allowing dealers to sell KOs, suggests that Fun Publications are not yet prepared to get tough with dealers, until it appears that the dealers need BotCon more than BotCon needs the dealers.
- Once again, the convention organisers banned anyone from taping the panels. This is a big deal to me because I like getting copies of BotCon videos, and the current organisers make sure they are the only ones with copies, that they don't share.  Okay, I'm realistic enough to accept that it is possible they record the panels for the staffers who are too busy to attend those panels, but I would be surprised if they destroy their copies to be fair to all us other fans who are prevented from having our own copy.  And they use the excuse that there are licensing issues with making recordings, which would only make sense if they weren't recording the panels themselves.  If they gave us an excuse that made sense, even if it was something selfish like, they want exclusive recordings, then say so. They shouldn't be making up something that doesn't justify the unfair rule, that prevents *fans* from having a recording of the convention to remember it by.
- Departing Brisbane, I was once again late to the airport, and was lucky to be checked in with 65 minutes before departure (required to be there 90 minutes beforehand). Every year I worry about missing the flight, and if it ever did happen, I don't think I would ever get over it. Especially when there are other people relying on me, like with accommodation.
- The organisers didn't enforce the dress code for the Saturday night dinner.  People had to at least have a collared shirt, and yet heaps of scruffy looking people in t-shirts were let in. If I knew the dress code wasn't going to be enforced, I wouldn't have wasted precious luggage space on extra clothing, and would have dressed in something more comfortable that night.
- The plane from Brisbane had an engine fault that required replacement parts, delaying our departure by just under 4 hours.  As such, I (and a lot of others) missed my connecting flight in LA. Fortunately there was another an hour later.
- Couldn't find my credit cards while waiting for the plane to be fixed, and after panicking about where they could be, I ended up finding them in my checked-in bag, 13 hours later in LA.
- Transferring to the Millennium Hotel from the Hyatt after 2 days there, meant that I was out of pocket for both hotels for a week until the Hyatt refunded the 5 nights I didn't stay with them. Unfortunately that money got back to me on the day after the Convention ended, so missed out on being able to use $900 at BotCon.
- Also 'lost' another $500 spending money at the start of the convention. Was talking to Saintly while doing online banking, and with the distraction, I accidentally transferred the $500 to a loan account instead of the Credit Card, so couldn't retrieve it.
- I then used up the remaining $400 of my spending money on getting BotCon toys for other people because we were offered more of each and Saintly and I didn't want to miss the opportunity to help out other locals with non-scalper prices.  Getting the toys wasn't a bad thing, but it meant I had to cut out a few things to make sure I could get home, and I even overdrew the credit card in the process while waiting for money to be transferred to me by those other fans.
- A week after I got back, I found out that the Hyatt Hotel had then charged me for an extra night on my credit card, because there was a price change for the last night of the original 7 day reservation, and they treated it a separate reservation that wasn't cancelled.  Three expensive long distant phone-calls later, I got the refund, but will be out of pocket several dollars from the bank's initial currency conversion fee.
- Had an 8 hour wait between flights in LA on the way back home.  QANTAS flights to Australia from LA are often 10-11pm departure, so it was an unavoidable wait between connections. I had planned to do something during that time, but ran out of money, so just had to hang around the airport instead.
- In recent years the hotel room rate has been US$130-170 per night, which made it expensive this year because I was only able to share for 3 of my 7 nights in America.
- The Ozformers T-shirts didn't turn out as good as I hoped, but still gave 2 to Saintly as I had promised to, and wore both of mine during the week away.
- Realised that I couldn't transfer photos from my camera to the computer I took with me, so would need to take photos with both my camera phone and with my camera (to transfer to my home computer when I got back). It did mean I was able to take a lot more photos this year, which in turn was a good thing.
- No Burger King at all this year. Not a huge loss, but it is one of my preferred junk food outlets.  There was one less than a kilometre away, but was on the other side of the Ohio river, which was not easy to cross on foot (bridges were highways or rail bridges).
- The Cincinnati CBD was rather disappointing.  With nothing more than business buildings and heaps of Hotels in the downtown area (walking distance), I wasn't able to find any toy stores, grocery stores, comic stores or DVD/music stores on my tuesday shopping day.  Was hoping to buy certain DVDs that are either not released here or are twice the price here, but unfortunately didn't.
- No disgustingly unhealthy burger photos this year to top last year's Ugly photo.  I was planning to go to a well known big-burger place in LA near the airport while waiting the 8 hours for my next flight, but with no money in my account (Hotel refund and internet transfer by a Melbourne fan didn't get to me until I was on my way home), I had to scrap that idea, and maybe do it another year.

And The Ugly
- Okay, so I did still get an ugly photo this year... :)

This was something we saw on the first pre-convention tour, at a food store that claimed to sell just about anything, and when we saw these in the meat department, we believed them. But more on that later.

***About 90% of the pictures in this convention report are mine. Most of those that are borrowed, have the source credited, and if you want to borrow any of my photos, all I ask is for you to please credit the source as well. I try to take as many of my own photos as possible, and only resort to using others if I failed to get something, or my photo wasn't clear enough.

griffin @ otca.com.au

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