Navigating Nerdy Events in a Virtual Age
Comic-cons on YouTube and Zoom watch parties are the new norm.
By MJ Wilke
Fans of all things nerdy suddenly have a myriad number of options when it comes to pop culture events—Comic-cons, watch parties, trivia, event “day” or “weekends. Virtual, viral, digital, online, streaming – different descriptors or platforms, but it is all still fandom. It is a dizzying array to choose from.
At their heart, pop culture conventions have always been a gathering of fans to celebrate the thing they love, and, if we’re lucky, we get to celebrate with the person or people who created that thing. And even though the world is different this year, we still love those things that spark our imaginations, tickle our brains, and transport us to different realms. Maybe we love and need them even more now. Which is why fans are still gathering together to celebrate those things—albeit in a digital space instead of a convention space. Currently, comic-cons and fandom events are not in-person events—we are distance con’ing. We have zoombies instead of zombies.
Though a portion of many conventions have been available for several years to view on YouTube, dragoncon.tv, etc., those uploads were not commonplace. We have had watch parties for a while as well, even after-shows to extend the engagement with the fandom. But the new, at-home, 2020 versions of cons, watch parties, trivia events, etc., have stepped up virtual platform events to a whole new level.
Longtime, established events, such as San Diego Comic-Con and Back to Hogwarts Day, have been taken online due to the pandemic, and new ones have been created because of the staying-at-home, such as DC Fandom Day and cast reunions. Where’s a fan to start? Jump in or dip a toe in? Experience live in real time or spread it out over several weeks or months? Make it a theme weekend? Go full-on method-fandom? With the plethora of online con-content still available from the conventions/events that have already occurred virtually and the conventions/events still to come, there is more than enough nerdy goodness to keep us occupied into the foreseeable future. And to overwhelm us.
Typically, we nerds and geeks like to embrace our fandoms. We delve deep into our long-time fandoms while enjoying the aspect of discovering something new. We’ll travel half way across the globe to attend our favorite fandom convention, go exploring for filming locations, and stand for hours to get a book autographed. And then wander into a random room at a convention and discover something different. This new virtual fandom world has fabulous advantages: see all the panels that you never would be able to in-person; experience San Diego Comic-Con more than once a year (by planning weekends with bundles of panels/programming); explore new tracks and fandoms, even test out a new convention; travel virtually to far-off places; visit museums. All provide a wonderful opportunity for new fans, first-time con goers, and marginalized communities to also participate.
For the first-timers or even the longtime fan that is overwhelmed, approach these virtual events in small bits. Start with programming from your favorite fandom, then spread out from there. Create your lists:
A-List (things you absolutely don’t want to miss)
B-List (would love to see)
C-List (this is interesting, if I have time)
Note if the panel/event is live or uploaded video. Basically, can you pause to go to the bathroom? Also, note if it will be recorded and available to watch later.
Challenges and growing pains accompany any new venture, and the same is true for fandom in the virtual universe. There are tech challenges and learning curves for all the new platforms. And to be honest, so far descriptions of the events and panels and how to attend have been hit and miss. We need to know ahead of time if our video (as attendees) is going to be live. I, personally, need copious amounts of lead time to clean my office if the world is going to see it. Generally, the fandom events have been video only of the presenters.
To keep fans engaged, many conventions and businesses are hosting ongoing, periodical virtual events and content, too numerous to list here. Our twitter feed will continue to highlight ongoing and new virtual nerdy content. For more on virtual comic-cons, read our article on Making the Virtual Con Feel Real; and for more on virtual nerd travel, read our article Explore the Universe While Staying at Home.
And although these virtual pop culture conventions are new since the pandemic, they will most likely be sticking around in some form even after we return to normalcy. Stay tuned!
Stay Safe! Stay Nerdy!