The Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) period has now entered its eighth week here in Metro Manila and select areas around the country, while other areas have entered a more lenient but still limiting General Community Quarantine (GCQ) status.
As well as other local government units continue to discuss if their area should stay at the ECQ or transition to a modified format of the GCQ.
So let me begin by saying that as I see it, the events season for 2020 has already ended.
We cannot go on as normal through the rest of the year as the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of our everyday lives.
For us to continue our lives back to normal, we need to have a vaccine for this disease. However, health experts predict that it may not be available until 2021, or worse, until early 2022. I believe that until we have a vaccine, no mass gatherings would be allowed, as we have seen how contagious the virus is between humans.
And for me, that includes anime and pop culture conventions from now until possibly mid-2021.
Physical distancing nearly impossible to enforce
Let’s be real: pop-culture conventions, especially under the anime, comics and gaming (ACG) categories, is not a really good example of strict physical distancing.
Take the case of ESGS 2019, where you can almost feel the breath and sweat of the person next to you in certain areas due to crowds. ESGS 2019 was, in my opinion, the most heavily-crowded event of last year, mainly because it is a gaming convention.
ACG conventions are also crowd magnets. Every convention held in either Megatrade, World Trade Center, or the SMX is always filled to the brim with cosplayers, event attendees, and fans of the guests, not to mention those attending the event solely to buy their fandom merchandise.
Who can forget Ozine Fest 2014, which is a good example of jam-packed and dense crowds that would any public health official squirm with disgust if the same thing happened under a pandemic.
Crowd traffic is undeniably the biggest, if not the main, factor in judging an event’s success, and with the new normal, it is all but impossible to secure.
How to control crowds?
So, let’s say, hypothetically, how would our event organizers do some sort of physical distancing on their events if they were permitted to hold such events?
(Do take note that by the time this is being written, the ECQ/GCQ guidelines had already been released which includes the continued prohibition on leisure-based mass gatherings, such as pop culture conventions!)
One event organizer said that they would enforce temperature checks at entrance gates and would enforce strict physical distancing rules once their event pushes through in June or July this year.
They would also enforce the wearing of face masks inside the convention hall, and (to which I think would be the biggest dilemma of all) they will check the crowd density and refuse access to people inside the event once they see a certain crowd number reaches a point.
In my opinion, the best way to enforce this rule is to limit the number of tickets being sold.
To restrict entry, you have to limit the number of tickets that you will sell, and that would easily mean losing the main bread and butter of pop-culture conventions. Also, if you were to restrict crowds, where will you place those people who are being barred entry? that creates another physical distancing issue right there.
If organizers didn’t make any measures to control the ticket sales and crowd, let’s just say that we should just remember Rampage 2013. Figuratively and Literally.
Restricting ticket sales: An option or a curse?
Like I said earlier, limiting ticket sales is one option to restrict the movement of people on anime conventions, but it is a double-edged sword as well, as revenue from those ticket gate receipts is the main source of income for these kinds of events.
I know organizers have to spend lots of money just to improve their event experience for their fans, and yes, they are all funded mostly by increasing the price of tickets year on year.
So if we restrict the number of tickets being sold on an anime or pop culture convention, would that solve the predicament of physical distancing? It may, but it could also result in more expensive ticket prices, as organizers will not allow any loss of revenue from ticket sales since they have to recoup their investment.
If, for example, we would only allow a thousand people at any given convention due to physical distancing measures, ticket prices may reach up to at least 500 to 600 pesos per day at the very least (just as a rough estimate), and it might only have the basic event itinerary that we have come to experience for almost 20 years!
It will also be impossible for foreign guests to arrive here in the country anytime this year, as foreign travel is now all but limited to repatriation and sweeper flights unless we subject them to strict quarantine guidelines.
So yes, holding an event in this pandemic period is harder than it looks, and I believe the best option is to just cancel everything this year and move everything to 2021.
Yes, I say it loud and clear: just cancel the events season already for this year, and look forward to the next instead.
Alternative Options: Online Events?
So, now that the events season for this year is as good as dead, at least in the physical sense, what could be the alternatives?
Some are proposing “online versions” of events, harnessing the power of social media and live streaming, as well as e-commerce and marketing, to hold virtual events and conventions through vlogs, live Q&A’s and merchandise being sold online.
I think doing an “online convention” is a good idea. But of course, content is king, and organizers have to think outside the box in bringing the same event vibe, as interaction is a huge part of anime and pop conventions.
That is why fans pay insanely huge ticket prices for fan meets and VIP seating—they pay for the experience of interaction and being “at the center of the action” in an anime event.
So in this age of physical distancing and limited movement, how would an online event, powered by video conferencing apps, online stores, and recorded content replicate the atmosphere and vibe of a live anime convention? That is something I want to discuss next time.
Stay Safe, Pilipinas!
Red Mendoza is the Chief Correspondent of Anime Pilipinas. He also works as a Desk Writer for the national broadsheet The Manila Times.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect the views of Anime Pilipinas, its members, partners, and colleagues. If you have comments or reactions, please email at [email protected].