The 2021 convention season is just around the corner, but will things return back to normal this year? Or will we see another year of cancelled or altered conventions as we continue to fight the pandemic?
It’s difficult to predict the entirety of the 2021 convention season, but we can look at the news regarding vaccinations, the triggers that precipitated the cancellations in 2020, and examine what’s already been announced in order to make an educated guess. I’m focusing on the United States for the purposes of this article, which is currently one of the hardest hit regions on earth and has a sizeable yearly convention circuit. Some countries have a pretty good grip on things, and I can see them holding events already. Armageddon Expo in Christchurch, New Zealand can probably go on just fine. They’ve already held large sporting events and have been quick to shut things down when the pandemic starts to pop back up. Other countries may also be able to hold cons either now or fairly soon.
But here in the United States, what does our 2021 season look like? When will cons return to ‘normal?’ I don’t know for sure, but I certainly have a lot of opinions. Let’s break it down by season.
PLEASE NOTE: This is not a comprehensive write up of every single convention. This is a general outlook of how each season will play out.
Yes, the vaccine is starting to go out! But unfortunately no, I don’t think we’re going to have much of a convention scene this winter. Right now most reliable sources seem to predict that the vaccine should be available to most consumers by early spring, so unless you are an alarmingly irresponsible convention host like Anime Dallas, you shouldn’t be opening your doors to crowds quite yet. The people who are eligible to get the vaccine right now are front line healthcare workers, and then vulnerable populations (in various order as decided upon by your state), and then the rest of us. So unless your convention is mostly front line healthcare workers (which wouldn’t that be cool? They deserve something fun!), you likely won’t have any semblance of herd immunity among your con goers.
I can say with certainty that most conventions in the winter will be cancelled, postponed, or moved online if they haven’t already made that call already. Though honestly, with the current state of the United States right now, it should be all conventions. You should not be holding a convention in the United States right now under any circumstances, though I know some people are going to do so anyway. I would ask any frequent readers of the Geekiary to please hold off for now, though. And please be kind to conventions that are forced to close, because it’s not an easy thing to do.
This concern about the winter convention season is already being reflected in cancellations and postponements. Several smaller cons that were set to take place in early January, such as Anime Los Angeles, have been canceled, while others such as Ohayocon has been moved online. The Sci-Fi Cruise has also been cancelled, which, uh, yeah, of course. Nobody should be getting on a boat quite this soon. They became pretty big super spreaders fairly early on, so stay on land until all this blows over please. Larger conventions scheduled to take place later in the season, like Gallifrey One and Katsucon, have also pre-emptively made the decision to forgo the 2021 season.
It’s interesting to note that many of these decisions were actually made months ago, perhaps predicting that things would not be back to normal by now. I honestly suspect even the smaller ones around this time frame will get cancelled, but as they require less planning and less travel, we may not hear about them until closer to their convention dates.
Basically, don’t bet on anything happening this winter. And if it does happen, it’s gonna be very dangerous.
Spring is where things are going to get a bit tricky. The first major convention of spring, PAX East, has already been postponed and moved out of spring. But, to be fair, this is a large convention that requires a lot of planning that has a lot of out-of-town attendees and guests. It makes sense to make this decision early so that vendors and guests don’t have to cancel arrangements at the last minute. PAX East is also fairly early in the spring, whereas the vaccination predictions tend to aim for “late April/early May” for large scale distribution outside of healthcare workers and other high risk groups. So basically, it’s too big and too early in the season for it to have had any chance of happening as originally scheduled.
It’s also important to note that the currently approved vaccines will require two doses (some others that may be approved only require one, but the Pfizer vaccine is the one currently going out for distribution), and they won’t be able to vaccinate everyone the moment that it hits stores, so “late April/early May” is really the start of the safer time frame to hold events, and not the solid date where everyone will be free to do so. It’ll take some time to get to people for both the first and second dose. This means even the ones happening in late spring could face challenges as many of their attendees likely haven’t had a chance to get it yet.
My prediction is that most conventions in the early part of spring, such as PAX East, will be cancelled or postponed, whereas smaller ones later in the spring may be able to continue, but we might not know for sure until the last minute. They don’t require as much planning and have fewer guests coming in from out of town. This means waiting until the last minute to cancel is a much safer choice for the con as the risk of really messing up attendees travel plans is greatly reduced. That said, if you do plan on traveling to a smaller convention in late spring, start looking into cancellation policies now, because there’s a strong chance you’ll need to adjust your plans.
Additionally, I would not be surprised to see some conventions requiring proof of vaccination to enter the convention itself. This has not been announced by any con, but if I had one in, say, late May or early June, I would implement this rule. Perhaps require a vaccine or a negative test within a certain time frame, but keep the mask rule in place just to be cautious. At least that’s what I would do if I had a smaller con in that later time frame. But I don’t run a convention, so this may not get implemented anywhere.
The spring 2021 convention season is gonna be a weird one! Let’s see how it plays out.
Now summer is when things will likely start returning to normal, but I still don’t think we’ll be quite in the clear by this time frame. But again, I think the conventions with a stronger chance of happening in the summer are going to be smaller conventions that don’t require as much preparation and don’t have as many out-of-town guests. I feel this distinction is going to come into play even more during summer than the spring as more of the population will be vaccinated and restrictions may begin to ease.
The convention juggernaut San Diego Comic-Con, while they haven’t officially made any statements, certainly hasn’t been very active with promoting their con. Then again, they do tend to drop news with just a few days warning, and didn’t have pre-registration this year as our badges are transferring over to next year, and that sale is usually one of the first major things to happen for the con. They also seem to be accepting exhibitor and artist alley applications, but the exhibit floor went virtual last year, so this might not be an indicator of anything. Basically, everything is weird and it’s hard to judge based on what SDCC is currently doing.
Still, many SDCC fan circles seem certain that this convention won’t be going forward. But take our fandom chatter with a grain of salt. We are just fans, after all, and we don’t call the shots. They may attempt to put on an in person gathering regardless of the planning hurdles or herd immunity issues. I personally will only go if I’m vaccinated, and I’ll be wearing a mask and sanitizing like hell the entire time. If I can’t get vaccinated, I’m not going to go.
For the summer 2021 convention season, I wouldn’t buy your airfare or hotel room for out of town conventions quite yet, but if the convention is local to you, you might be able to plan on attending with fairly low risk of cancellation. Keep in mind, however, that we won’t know if we’ve achieved herd immunity for a while so even the tiny summer cons could be at risk. Don’t sink a large amount of money into one unless there’s a clear policy about getting that money back if things aren’t safe to continue.
If people get the vaccination like they should and we achieve herd immunity, I suspect we will return to normal by the fall. If you’re looking to attend a convention away from home with minimal risk of cancellation and postponement, this is the season you’ll want to aim for. Sure, there might be conventions that happen before that, but we just don’t know if we’ll achieve herd immunity before the Fall and the risk of cancellation is fairly high. Doctor Fauci believes the Fall is likely when it’ll happen, but we just don’t know for sure yet and we won’t know until we see the numbers start to dramatically drop.
If you’re looking for a good size convention away from home (unless you live in Atlanta) in the fall, might we suggest Dragon Con? We’re big fans of it here and it’ll likely be the first major convention to ‘get back to normal’ in the 2021 season. I can’t say with 100% certainty that it will happen, but if I were a betting woman, I would put money on Dragon Con being one of the first to feel like a pre-2020 cons. I honestly may consider going if all the other cons fall through, because I’m craving a convention. This is the longest I’ve gone without attending a convention in over a decade. But while I’m craving a convention, I also want to be safe about it.
If you want to attend a 2021 convention, please get vaccinated!
If you do want to attend any conventions next year, please urge everyone you know to get vaccinated so we can achieve herd immunity. It is believed that we need to get 75-80% of the country vaccinated to make this happen. With the amount of anti-vaxxers loudly proclaiming that they will not take it, that means the rest of us have to make up ground and make sure we all do our part and that everyone we know does their part, too. We need to get out of this horrible pandemic pause on our lives, and getting vaccinated is the best way to do so.
There isn’t a lot of information about how to get the vaccine quite yet unless you are a frontline healthcare worker or live in an assisted living home. Some states have provided some more information on their health department’s website discussing how they intend to prioritize the doses, but still not much is known. The best solid information I could find comes from this NPR article:
Many doses of Pfizer’s vaccine have already been deployed to the company’s hubs in the U.S. and will now be shipped across the U.S. According to Operation Warp Speed, the vaccines will be picked up from manufacturers by UPS, FedEx and medical supply company McKesson for delivery to pharmacies, nursing homes, public clinics, hospitals, doctors’ offices, mobile clinics and military facilities.
Initially, states are likely to direct first supplies to larger distribution centers — such as hospitals and long-term care facilities. The drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens are responsible for delivering the vaccine to nursing homes, which are likely also to be among the first places for availability.
States will be in control. You can check out what your state has been planning on Page 25 of this document on vaccine distribution from Duke University and the National Governors Association.
So basically? Keep an eye out for more news. When the vaccine is available, go get it. But don’t expect a normal convention scene until the fall. We have a long way to go yet, and it’s going to require all of us to do our part to make the 2021 convention scene happen.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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