Anime Central (ACen), the largest anime convention in the Midwest, has updated its COVID-19 policies just four days before the convention, with many fans, who planned to attend, left in a lurch.
Anime Central is scheduled to take place from May 20th through the 22nd. Many fans who planned to attend did so with the understanding that certain COVID-19 policies were in place, which would reduce the chances of transmission. While nothing will guarantee that you’ll be able to attend a convention without being infected, things like masks and vaccine or testing requirements mitigate risks. As such, many frequent con goers, myself included, have begun to cautiously step back into the convention scene.
On May 16th, ACEN announced a major change in these policies. Vaccines or negative COVID testing will not be required to attend, and masks are optional, but encouraged. This change came after they supposedly assured attendees in a now deleted Tweet that they would not change the requirements before the convention.
Due to changes in COVID protocols by the CDC and requirements by the DESCC, we have the following update
Masks are now strongly recommend on all indoor locations. Proof of Vaccination or Negative COVID test results are no longer required.
— Anime Central (@animecentral) May 16, 2022
UPDATE: After we published this article, ACen released an update regarding masks. They will be required in some areas, including “All guest and panelist events, The Dances. The Exhibit Hall, The Artist Alley, The Gaming and Entertainment Hall.”
To be clear, this pandemic is not over. We have been going through various waves, including a major dip in US cases that has been rapidly going back up in recent weeks. Despite the pandemic still raging, many of us have decided we can cautiously navigate the world again. We weigh the risks of large gatherings such as conventions, concerts, and theme parks, and decide if it’s worth it for us. A lot of us even go above and beyond requirements by doing things like at-home tests before and after these gatherings. We know the risk is still there, but massively lessened.
Many people decided that Anime Central was worth going to since precautions were in place to reduce the spread. Now, however, all of those have been dropped at the last minute. Many fans with non-refundable flights and hotel bookings, or vendors who are unable to pull out of the con, are now frustrated and angry at the sudden change.
Changing covid policy the week of the con, after stating you would NOT do so, then refusing to refund or rollover badges, is dishonest, shady, and pretty much robbery.
Covid cases are on the rise. Especially in Chicago. This decision is disgusting. #DoBetterAcen
— Sayl (@ShadowSayl) May 16, 2022
I made so many promises for Acen, am financially invested, could lose opportunities for not attending… but I am also so scared. I’ve been anxious all day and I don’t know what to do.#Acen2022 #animecentral
— Kissi Frost (@KissiFrost) May 16, 2022
— 🙏🏻✝️❤️✨Jordyn Dutchmen 🙏🏻✝️❤️✨ (@DutchmenJordyn) May 17, 2022
It took us 23 years to build @animecentral up into the wonderful celebration of anime that it is today.
It took the MAPS board of directors a single day to destroy it.#ACen2022
— Highest-Ranking Redshirt (@glindsey) May 17, 2022
A) They have been planning this for a while, and waited for all the money to be locked in so they would not have to issue any refunds. This was a planned move for quite a while. They made the financial decision to pull a Donald Trump.
— Lanata (@LanataYn1) May 17, 2022
Convention staff was also caught out with this announcement. Many have apparently quit in response to the change. One staff member has even started an anonymous account to blow the whistle on things they aren’t allowed to speak about publicly.
The staff is required to sign an NDA when we sign up. We can be fired from staff for violating it. That’s why this account is anonymous. That’s why you haven’t heard anything from staff. ACen dropped the COVID rule change in the discord yesterday, May 16. This was followed shortly by the Twitter announcement.
The staff was not informed for almost two hours after the tweet. NOBODY on staff was told about it ahead of time, not even the managers. The staff email you’ve seen floating around Twitter is real. That is the only communication we got. Upper management will not tell us any details about the policy change. We are as in the dark as you are.
The people responsible for this decision are MAPS (the organizing body of ACen), the con chair, and the assistant con chair. Please do direct your complaints to them. They are the only people who made this decision, and they are the only people who even know why. The staff is fully as angry as the attendees are. Many people have already quit. I don’t blame them. Some of us have non-refundable plane tickets, just like the attendees. But if the staff complains publicly? We get fired.
ACen did not tell the vendors, artists, or guests about the change either. They had to find out on their own. That’s why you saw ACen quickly walking back the mask policy for guest events: the guests found out and had to request changes. MAPS screwed over everyone.
So if you are going to ACen: be prepared for it to be a complete dumpster fire. There isn’t enough staff. This will affect every aspect of the con. Please be nice to the staff that are there because our jobs are going to be triply hard this year.
Additionally, a popular Anime Central Discord server has exploded with reactions from this announcement. While the Discord moderators were apparently not aware of this change until it was announced, they are also apparently banning some people who criticize the move. As I’m not on that Discord server, I’m not clear what the context of these bans are, but the tweets from user Lanata seem to indicate that they are the result of ‘standing up’ to the moderators about this policy change.
Funny how I was even contacted by an immuno compromised individual to thank me for standing up to them….. About 30 seconds before this guy banned me from the chat. #Discord #Acen #acen2022 pic.twitter.com/rHNBq0A4mB
— Lanata (@LanataYn1) May 17, 2022
Another attendee has taken the initiative to call the person who booked the con to confirm who was at fault for this. According to this Twitter user, they have been fielding angry calls all day, but confirmed that they were not the ones who made the change. They encourage people who have directed their anger at the convention center or hotel to redirect their feedback accordingly. As the anonymous staff Twitter account suggested, complaints should be directed at the convention’s upper management.
Some fans have begun rallying together to support each other. One fan, who has now made the decision to skip the convention based on the policy change, has requested artists drop links to their shops so they could still be supported. The panelist support group, Panelists United, has also asked for those impacted by the change to contact them.
If you’re a presenter who is or was scheduled at @animecentral we’d like to hear from you. If you’ve changed your mind about presenting or otherwise experienced a negative impact from recent policy changes feel free to share your story and experience. #Acen2022 #animecentral
— Panelists United (@PanelistsUnited) May 17, 2022
The ultimate impact of these changes remains to be seen.
The convention begins Friday.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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