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BOTCON  -  SORTA  NEAR  CHICAGO
(griffin's 2015 BotCon adventure)


- INDEX & INTRO -

Hello and welcome... to yet another edition of the most comprehensive coverage of the annual Transformers BotCon convention in the world (which is pretty good for someone who doesn't live in the same country).
Go here for my archive of past BotCon Reviews.

STATUS - 26th July - COMPLETE - 48 pages and 1,891 images.

Here we are, at 15... again.
After last year made me finally accept that one of my "BotCon" trips no longer counts (they were highlighting at the convention last year the remaining seven people who still had a perfect attendance), and even though it's been bugging me that I can't count 2003 as one of my BotCons, despite it being labelled as a BotCon to begin with and is an Official Convention like the FunPub Conventions, it didn't have the BotCon name at the time of the event, so it's status officialy remains as NOT a BotCon that counts to those who are regular/multiple attendees.  So it didn't matter how much I convinced myself that it counts (and the several thousand dollars spent attending it), 2003 doesn't count, and I'm back to this one being my 15th.
15 is still an impressive number, but it sucks not being able to count something that for all intents and purposes at the time, was just like any other BotCon to me and other fans.
(I guess that also means that the 2003 toys are also officially NOT to be classified as BotCon toys either.)

This year a neighbouring state to BotCon had a Transformers exhibit at a Museum, so I organised to see that on the way, and to add another US state to my "collection" I included a visit to Milwaukee (Wisconsin).



Index of pages (each day leads onto the next day)
Before departure - News and information before the start of the Convention (START HERE after this INTRO PAGE if you want to go through EVERYTHING in chronological order) - Completed July 15th.
June 10th - Wednesday - Brisbane to Indianapolis via Los Angeles (START HERE after this INTRO PAGE if you only want to look at the Adventure itself) - Completed July 12th.
June 11th - Thursday - including Transformers Exhibit & Downtown area - Completed July 12th. - Transformers Exhibit (3 pages)- Completed July 18th.
June 12th - Friday - including Indianapolis Speedway Museum - Completed July 12th. - Speedway Museum (2 pages) - Completed July 24th.
June 13th - Saturday - Indianapolis to Milwaukee via Chicago - Completed July 13th.
June 14th - Sunday - including Harley Davidson Museum - Completed July 13th. - Harley Davidson Museum (3 pages) - Completed July 26th.
June 15th - Monday - Milwaukee to Chicago - Completed July 14th.
June 16th - Tuesday - including Chicago city tour - Completed July 14th. - Chicago city tour - Completed July 20th.
June 17th - Wednesday - Convention Tour & Package pickup - Completed July 8th.
June 18th - Thursday - Custom Class & Club store - Completed July 8th.
June 19th - Friday - BotCon day 1 & Golden Ticket dinner - Completed July 9th.
June 20th - Saturday - BotCon day 2 & Awards dinner - Completed July 9th.
June 21st - Sunday - BotCon day 3 - Completed July 9th.
June 22nd - Monday - Journey Home (arrive June 24th) - Completed July 10th.
 

BOTCON PAGES (for Transformers fans to jump directly to)

Main Exhibits & Displays:
Pre-registration Package (Wednesday) - completed July 8th
Club Store Toys (Thursday) - completed July 8th
Dealer Room (WARNING - Big page of photos) - Completed July 3rd.
Art Contest Display & Costumes - Completed July 3rd.
Hasbro Display 1 (Wave 1-3 Generations) - Completed July 6th.
Hasbro Display 2 (Wave 4-6 Generations) - Completed July 6th.
Hasbro Display 3 (Devastator & SDCC Exclusives) - Completed July 6th.
Hasbro Display 4 (Robots In Disguise Legion, Warrior, 1-Step, 3-Step) - Completed July 6th.
Hasbro Display 5 (Robots In Disguise Deployer & Minicons, Rescue Bots) - Completed July 6th.
Hasbro Display 6 (Kre-O) - Completed July 6th.
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Convention Schedule of Events, Panels and Presentations
WED 17/6
8am-6pm - Lake & Mob Tour (Mega Center Entrance) - Completed July 23rd.
8am-4pm - Custom Class (St Charles Salon 3-4) - Completed June 29th.
8.30pm - package pickup (St. Charles Ballroom)
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THU 18/6
8am-4pm - Custom Class (St Charles Salon 3-4) - Completed June 29th.
8am-4.30pm - On-Off Bus Tour (Mega Center Entrance) (I did this on the Tuesday)
5pm - Access to Club Store (Mega Center)
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FRI 19/6
10am - PANEL Club Magazine - Pete Sinclair hosting (St. Charles Ballroom) - Completed June 29th.
11am - PANEL Filmfest - fan film submissions (see Friday page)
noon - PANEL Behind the Characters - Derrick Wyatt talks about Animated - Completed June 29th.
1pm - PANEL Birth of Transformers - Kojin Ono's 30+ years designing Transformers in Japan (WARNING - Big page of photos) - Completed July 1st.
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2-5pm - Dealer Room open (Mega Center)
2-4pm - Autographs: Susan Blu, John Moschitta (Mega Center)
3pm - Welker photo (GT only) (Legends Meeting Room) (see Friday page)
4-5pm -  Autographs: Derrick J Wyatt & Kojin Ono (Mega Center)
5pm - Dealer Room closes
4:30-6:30pm - Autographs: Frank Welker (Friday VIP) (Legends Meeting Room)
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7:30pm - Golden Ticket Dinner Reception (Broadway Ballroom) - Completed July 1st.
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SAT 20/6
8.30am - Dealer Room open (Mega Center)
10am - PANEL Gen1 Retrospective - Susan Blu & John Moschitta (St. Charles Ballroom) - Completed July 3rd.
11am - PANEL Online Fandom - hosted by several fans - Completed July 3rd.
noon - PANEL Hasbro Product Preview - Hasbro's new toys  (WARNING - Big page of photos) - Completed July 3rd.
1pm - PANEL Cosplay - about fan costuming for Transformers fans (I missed most of this) - Completed July 5th.
2pm - PANEL The Japanese Perspective - Andrew Hall hosting Transformers art in Japan - Completed July 5th.
3pm - PANEL Collector Club - by FunPub - Completed July 5th.
4pm - PANEL Frank Welker - Completed July 5th.
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10-12pm - Autographs: Derrick J Wyatt & Kojin Ono (Mega Center)
10-12pm - Autographs: Frank Welker (Sat VIP) (Legends Meeting Room)
1-2:45pm - Photo Session: Frank Welker (ALL VIP) (Legends Meeting Room)
2-4pm - Autographs: Susan Blu, John Moschitta (Mega Center)
5pm - Dealer Room closes
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7.30pm - Awards Dinner and Auction (St Charles Ballroom) - Completed July 5th.
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SUN 21/6
9.30am - Dealer Room open (Mega Center)
10am - PANEL Script Reading Auditions - for two fans to be on the Script Reading later. (St. Charles Ballroom) - Completed July 5th.
11am - PANEL The Art of Transformers - a variety of official (comic) artists talk about their recent works. - Completed July 5th.
noon - PANEL Script Reading - The Return of Blurr - Sue, John, and others. - Completed July 5th.
1pm - PANEL MegaToyCast BotCon Podcast - A live broadcast by a group of fans. (not sure if this happened, as I missed it)
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10-11.45am - Autographs: Susan Blu, John Moschitta (Mega Center)
3.15pm - 2016 Ticket draw (Mega Center)
3.30pm - Show ends


As the popularity of the business running BotCon continues to fall over the last 4 years due to their treatment of its customers including me and their delays with almost everything they promise with a date to it, I resigned myself to possibly making this my last BotCon, as it used to be something fans like me would boast about attending, but now it gets more disparaging remarks than praise from other fans who didn't attend.  I actually started this BotCon archive because it was something that all fans would either attend or wished they could attend, and they would get really excited about seeing and reading my reports... but now I hardly get any sign of enthusiasm for any of it.  And it is getting really hard in recent years to convince Australians to make the trip to a BotCon as well.
I miss that excitement the fandom had for BotCon... which is driving them to Transformers Conventions that are run by Transformers fans now.  Something I am now considering now, as BotCon is now no longer a monopoly on any element that would be a reason for fans to be loyal to BotCon, as fan-run Transformers conventions now have major guests and Dealer Rooms, while SDCC has the Hasbro presentations, displays and exclusive toys.
It took me a while to come to this decision, considering I had made this world-spanning trip 16 times now (15 official BotCons and 1 Official Convention that would have been BotCon), but with the ongoing delays for Convention announcements and Registration, plus being snubbed over my serious concerns on behalf of other non-American fans that were being cheated over Shipping rates that FunPub prevented us from chasing up excessive over-charges... but in the month before BotCon I was now at peace with this being my last, IF it came to that choice in the next year.
When they announced Frank Welker as being a guest, I was happy to end the "BotCon tradition" on a high note with the biggest Voice Actor grail of the fandom.  And with John Moschitta as another guest this year, it made me even happier. (because I missed his last appearance at BotCon in 2000 due to it being the first panel of the day and I slept through my alarm - it has taken 15 years, but this would be one BotCon loose end I was really looking forward to)
The announcement of the location being in, or more accurately, near Chicago, also made me excited, as I was there in 2003 for the Convention that now doesn't count as a BotCon, and I wasn't able to explore much while I was there... and I fell in love with Chicago Style Pizza, so I've waited 12 years for me to have another bite of that pie.

Speaking of remote location, here is what Google Maps came up with when doing a search for St Charles Illinois...  A quarter of the way across the state of Illinois from Chicago.  The surburban Chicago train network doesn't even go out that far. My train up to Milwaukee was 80 minutes compared to 60 minutes from Chicago to St Charles.
Hence the title of my BotCon Adventure this year... because it was promoted as Chicago, but is actually sorta near Chicago.

With the very late Registration this year, everything had to be organised and pre-booked or paid well before I could know for sure what I was doing at the Convention or how long I needed to be there for.  But that was okay, as there is enough to do in Chicago if I needed to fill in time.
I planned for the usual 7 nights, and decided to visit a couple places on the way, because earlier in the year a Transformers exhibit was announced to be at an Indianapolis Museum for a few months around the time of BotCon... so I thought that it would be a great addition to this Transformers trip, and if BotCon bombed it would at least help make up for it.
To take advantage of cheap airfares I had to add a night to the trip, which meant adding on a third city to the trip, which ended up being Milwaukee.  But more about how that eventuated in the following pages of this adventure.
All in all, the Botcon segment of the trip went better than I was expecting (thanks to Welker, Moschitta and Kojin Ono being guests), but still had enough issues to prevent it from being my best BotCon.  And the non-BotCon part of the trip was an interesting adventure, but also not as exciting as a number of other years.
I'm still happy with the trip this year, but it could have been a lot better.

This is a map of my adventure this year.

This year's adventure was one of the longest ever, traveling through four US states and spending 12 nights in America (14 days away from home).
Brisbane (1) - Los Angeles (2) - Indianapolis (3) - Chicago - Milwaukee (4) - Chicago (5) - Los Angeles (2) - Brisbane (1).

BRIS to LA - 11533 km, 7166 miles
LA - IN - 2914 km, 1811 miles
IN - CH - 285 km, 177 miles
CH - MW - 134 km, 83 miles
MW - CH - 134 km, 83 miles
CH - LA - 2802 km, 1741 miles
LA to BRIS - 11533 km, 7166 miles
Total distance travelled this year - 29,335km, 18,227m

Considering that the circumferance of the Earth at the equator is 40,075km, that's almost 3/4 of the way around the Earth.

That also added another US State to my collection, making it 16 so far visited - California, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin.
Only 34 to go before the collection is complete. :p

And as usual, Dispensor was my travelling companion this year... or maybe I was his travelling companion.

See how many photos you can find him in.
 

Known Australian Attendance this year
griffin (QLD)
Fatbot/Grant (NSW)
ReillyD/David (QLD)
Paul Agnew (NSW)
(plus another Australian from WA that I found out about at the Convention and has been to a previous BotCon - Jack... which made it our biggest Australian attendance since 2011)
 

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 - 8 - Not a lot this year, and Sunday didn't have any significant panels outside of the Script Reading, but this year was more quality over quantity.
2 - Activities and Events - 7 - Pretty much all the same stuff again, plus the VIP/Welker sessions.  Pre-Con tour options were disappointing when more relevant options for toy fans existed.
3 - Dealer Room - 7 - Looking through photos of past years it looked smaller, and the exhibits were either smaller (Hasbro) or non-existant (IDW).
4 - Host city & convention location - 7 - This is so hard to rate as it was a great city location (Chicago), and great proximity to things (walking distance), but terrible location to be able to get to it.
5 - Hotel Value & Features - 7 - Price was good, service was below average, the smell was bad, and it was old in places. I loved the massive "resort" styled complex of pools, entertainment and restaurants.
6 - Cost/value of Convention - 5 - Price of the Golden Ticket went up 33%, hopefully for Welker.  The VIP pass was not worth $200 if you had a GT, as it got you a photo with Welker and better seating at his Panel.
7 - Administration of event - 7 - Several events and Panels were late, but that's pretty much standard, so probably can't complain. Too much clashed with the VIP sessions, so I felt bad for those people.
8 - BotCon Merch & Toys - 3 - Only a couple of the 15-20 toys this year really impressed me, with most making no sense for a Transformers convention (being non-Transformers Diaclone homages).
9 - Interaction with others - 6 - There were a LOT of missing regulars this year, including some I often interact with.  I spent most of the time with my room-mate Fatbot, so hardly ever a dull moment.
10 - Toys Acquired - 6 - Only 5 Retail toys this year and all gimmick ones.  I did get some loose ends at great prices in the Dealer Room, so overall just above average.
That gives me a total score of 63, which puts it at last place out of the 15 BotCons I've been to so far.  And if you count the Official Conventions, it is second last, as 2003 had a score of 61. (which still says something about how good the standard has been if a 63% score ends up being the "worst" of them)

A bonus category that is separate to the score above, because it doesn't relate to the actual convention - My Non-BotCon parts of the Trip score - 7.
One of my better years because I did a lot (one of my longest trips). I visited two new cities and a new state, and visited a childrens Museum (for Transformers), a speedway museum and a motorcycle museum... but the trip was longer than I had wanted (just to get really cheap airfares), and the locations weren't big for Tourists to boast about to others.  Plus, there were a quite a few negative elements/incidents that were mostly just my usual bad luck, or were bad choices by my Travel Agent.



THE GOOD
-- Frank Welker (the grail is now achieved, leaving me with very few living Gen1 VAs left to cross off)
-- Kojin Ono and all those great archival images on the slide show.
-- Blurr and Arcee (especially Blurr, as I woke up late on the first day of BotCon 2000 and missed his Panel, and have been wishing ever since for him to return as a guest)
-- Japanese Transformers art panel was also great for all the concept designs that were shown, that were so sensitive that photos were not allowed.
-- Hall of Fame Megatron video.
-- Hasbro people as usual... always very pleasant, and keen to listen to feedback and answer as much as they are allowed to.  That can't be hard to do for three straight days of hardcore fans bombarding them with comments, questions and complaints.
-- Custom Class (one of my favorite elements of the Convention)
-- More fan-run panels this year, including the online fandom panel that I really enjoyed for being someone who was also around in the mid 90s as well.
-- Buying a couple of loose ends in the Dealer Room, and witnessing half of the Hartmans' collection (I missed 2006 for the first half).
-- Chicago, sort of. Close enough to be a city that I've been wanting to explore since 2003 which I didn't get much time to do much exploring.
-- Golden ticket dinner reception.
-- Script reading, with what I hope is deemed canon in the return of Animated Blurr.
-- Hasbro let us take photos of their panel this year!  Possibly a first.
-- 5 minute walking distance to two major stores and heaps of restaurants and ATMs.
-- Chicago style pizza... I would have waited an eternity for this. :p
-- Visiting the Transformers Exhibit in Indianapolis on the way to BotCon was worth it, and helped get into the mood of the Convention a few days later.
-- Seeing a number of locations around Chicago that were used for the 3rd and 4th Transformers Movies... but missing a few that I found later that I was close to, if I had only thought to research it before I left home.

THE BAD
-- The remote location of the Resort to trains or public transport, and the trains were hourly for most of the day.
-- The hotel charged our room FIVE times between the two of us staying in the room.  It was like a game of tennis, as they would credit one, and then charge the other because they thought it was no longer paid for.  This lasted the entire 7 days we were there, as it was still unresolved on checkout, but three days later when I was back home it finally was.
-- Taxis were really bad because of how remote we were from civilisation.  Of the three companies we tried, they were either not available or we had a 30 minute wait.
-- Minimal headline and secondary guests this year.  That in itself wasn't completely bad, but after being spoilt with heaps of guests in recent years, it's hard not to notice the difference it makes.
-- Hotel mini-bus was not available for pickups at the Trainstation for a couple days because it was assigned to the convention before BotCon that had a lot of elderly people who needed ferrying to their rooms from the Mega Center.
-- Being brushed off at the Club panel when asking a serious question about (fraudulent?) hiding of the International postage amounts to prevent customers from knowing if they have been excessively overcharged so that they can chase up a refund (despite being assured that they check all orders and voluntarily refund excessive over-charges... which has actually never happened).
-- Hasbro exhibit was rather light this year, with no info tags this year, so approximate release dates are unknown, as are wave numbers and pricing.  Fortunately we were able to take photos of their presentation so that we got the exact names and spelling correct.
-- Lateness of registration and remoteness (and too many burnt bridges with past regular attendees who will never go back now) made it very obviously empty this year.  They didn't fill out the Panel room for Welker as they had hoped, nor did they sell out of almost anything.  This also affected the number of people in costumes and entries to the Art competition and Filmfest (which had no entries).
-- Pre-Con tours seemed to be more for the FunPub staff (who wouldn't have paid - which I don't have a problem with) than for the Toy/SciFi fans who did have to pay.  With Legoland and Fermilab nearby, why wasn't at least one of those included instead of two "tourist" tours that were obviously chosen for the non-attendees (staff).  One "tourist" tour is good, but both... no.  And over a third of the Wednesday people were FunPub staff (again, not something I have a problem with as the staff need to be rewarded for their help), but that tour was obviously chosen for their benefit instead of the attendees who had to pay for it.... and paid double what it would cost if we had done it ourselves.  Have a poll in future, to see what attendees would prefer, as the profit margin is great for FunPub on the tours, so more people signing up is better for them.
-- The BotCon toys this year were my least favorite since 2009's Elite Guard.  A mix and match of series, and most being homages to toys that were never Transformers toys or molds.  Either they need more people in-house to give feedback, or the people they do consult with are too afraid to say no to anything because of how FunPub treats customers who have have complaints about legitimate issues.  There are a lot of us out here who have been involved in running fan communities for 15-20 years, who are best to know what the spectrum of fans would love or hate, especially if it is for toys that are 3-4 times the price of retail equivalents.  Not people who are on the edges of the mainstream fandom who don't interact much with the pulse of the fandom.  FunPub only needs to ask, and for as long as can be trusted, we'd do and say what is deemed in the best interest of the fans (which ultimately benefits FunPub if it means profitable toys and conventions).
-- Retail toys were non-existent, and not just near the Convention Center.  I visited about 25 stores while in America, and came home with just 5 gimmick toys from them.  For the stores near the Convention, I would hope that FunPub notify the nearby retailers of their impending toy conventions each year, so that they can stock up on action figures that week.  It adds to our Convention experience if you manage to get something outside of the Dealer Room (before the scalpers and dealers get to them), and is obviously a bonus to the Retailers as well.
-- Finding out when I got back home a number of Transformers movie locations that I would have checked out if I had thought to look it up before I got over there.  A couple were in Chicago in the City, while one was in Milwaukee, which would have made that leg of the trip a lot more interesting (including a tour there that I now regret not doing because I didn't realise how quick and cheap it was).

THE UGLY
-- No photo this year, because this year it involves a different sense - the smell in the rooms, which was made worse after it rained and all the wood of the cabins seemed to act as a sponge for the moisture that didn't dissipate for days, without having all the doors open.

Who am I kidding.... of course there is a photo this year, but the room smell was worse.
Cold and hardened Chicago Style Pizza the morning after it was bought.  The wrong decision to get toppings on this pizza (it needs to be plain), plus the solid texture of cheese, spoiled the experience I had been waiting 12 long years for (having an authentic Chicago Style Pizza).



***All pictures in this convention report are mine unless noted. Any that are borrowed, have the source credited/noted.  All maps are from Google-maps and are noted.  If you want to use/borrow any of my photos, please credit the source as well. I try to take as many of my own photos as possible, and usually only resort to using others if I failed to get something, or my photo wasn't clear enough.

OZFORMERS - The Australian (and Asia) Transformers Fansite for News and Interaction (started way back in 1996)
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BotCon website - The official Collector Club and Convention website
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To contact me --> griffin @ otca.com.au