On September 8th I headed out to Woodstock Valley, CT for a new, innovative con called CampAnime. The idea behind this unique con experience is that it's held at the Camp Woodstock Conference and Retreat, a YMCA run campground with cabin and lodge facilities situated by a large pond in the woods. Now, I will admit that when I first heard of this idea I was a little skeptical. Cosplayers and other con-goers running around outside with trees and dirt and bugs and whatever weather happens along? Our culture has such a reliance on technology and such a reputation for being so called "indoor kids" that the idea of running around a campground was hard to picture. But then, one also has to remember such activities as weekend long outdoor LARPs and on-location photo shoots are just as significant aspects of nerd culture, so clearly there is in fact a sizable market for such an event.
Camp Woodstock is by far one of the most rural locations I've ever been for a convention, but I would not for a moment say that is a bad thing. The drive to Woodstock Valley was very picturesque and the campground itself is a very nice facility, including cabins which CampAnime attendees could rent for the weekend. (Renters must be at least 18 or accompanied by an adult.) There were also several lodges with programming and a sizable dining hall which also hosted the dealers' room and artists' alley. The one issue with the campground, however, is that it is very large. Unlike at some cons, where large chunks, if not all, of the panel programming tends to be in one centralized location, the various lodges were several minutes walk apart. This made it difficult to make it from one panel to the next if you wanted to see two back-to-back events. It didn't help that signage was not the best, so in my first hour on site I had to wander around trying to figure out where everything was.
These issues of space and poor signage compounded another, much more serious issue: a number of panelists simply did not show up to run their events. The few who did, namely Steam Funk Studios and the group running Cosplay Court Case, were fantastic with very entertaining and popular events. I also found a very informative boffer weapon building workshop as well. Several other panels I tried to attend, however, were nothing more than empty rooms. Eventually I gave up searching (Why wander half way across the campground for something that may not be happening?) and settled with the aforementioned panelists I knew were reliable.
I am not sure what caused the problem of so many missing panelists. I heard there were some confusing last minute scheduling changes. There was also the obvious issue that some locations were difficult to find; impatient panelists may not have been willing to wait for audiences. On top of that, the few staff present did not wear any sort of identification or clearly make their presence known so it was impossible to track them down without walking all the way back to the registration table.
CampAnime was not all bad, however. Attendees I spoke to who managed to find the outdoor activities when they were going on (among which included archery, a zip line, and use of the pond) really enjoyed them, and the programming I did catch was very entertaining. I also was impressed with the dealers' room and artists' alley; though small, they were diverse. Meal tickets for the dining hall were inexpensive and I even saw mention on the schedule that a birthday cake had been ordered for an attendee who'd announced via social media that the con would fall on her birthday.
All in all, I think CampAnime was a good idea after all, even if the thought of a campground does not initially mesh with that of a nerd gathering. Some aspects of it as a convention, however, were poorly executed. I truly hope the organizers are able to bring it back next year. First years are always tough with growing pains and a lot to learn, more so for some events than others. This may have been a rough start, but I have hope that CampAnime isn't yet down for the count.