2Awesome Studio, an independent Dutch gaming company based near Amsterdam, really has to watch its euros when it comes to travel budgets. Yet co-founder Alejandro Santiago made sure there were plenty of funds available for a trip to the Georgia World Congress Center this weekend.
“It’s absolutely important because it is the first time we are in America,” Santiago told Hypepotamus as two players tested the game nearby. “It’s the first time we are showing the game to American players, so we are really loving it here because it is always important to get the feedback from the players.”
There will be plenty of beta testers available for Santiago this weekend. MomoCon, a celebration of Japanese anime, gaming and comic books, is billed by its organizers as one of the fastest-growing conventions in the country. The 2015 show – its first at the GWCC – attracted more than 22,000 who paid for full four-day memberships for the event, and 66,000 turnstile guests. The resulting economic impact was estimated at $12.5 million by the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This year, memberships alone are at 30,000, so you can imagine any numbers for who else is going to come through. It’s going to be huge,” said MomoCon spokesperson (and local anime/cosplay enthusiast) Renee Cooper.
“MomoCon does a really good job of listening to what the fans want, and they want more games,” she said, so MomoCon is obliging this year by setting aside 150,000 square feet for board, console, PC and arcade games. “Gaming is huge right now. There’s competitive gaming. Tabletop gaming is still alive and blossoming in the city of Atlanta and across the country.”
The convention also expanded its stage area for panel discussions and interviews featuring American animation voice actors, comic book artists and video game designers.
That kind of growth is a long way from the several dozen people who attended the first MomoCon on the Georgia Tech campus in 2005, the result of interest generated by local anime clubs. Adding comic books and gaming to the mix has kept turnstiles spinning, despite the fact that a show that was free to attend for its first eight years now charges anywhere from $25-$70 for single-day tickets and four-day memberships.
Mark Smazik of Seishun Con, billed as “Atlanta’s Winter Anime Convention,” said the early local fascination for Japanese animation and manga helped the city earn a new title for itself. “It’s actually become the geek mecca of the country,” Smazik said, referencing a vibrant tech business scene, Marvel/Disney movies and genre TV shows now regularly filmed here, and the continued presence of DragonCon and its stormtrooper-filled downtown parade.
“Atlanta has been at the forefront of pop culture because we’ve been able to promote it so well,” said Tony Cade, owner of Challenges Games & Comics in Decatur. “Here in Atlanta, there’s basically some kind of pop culture convention almost every single weekend. The only time it slows down is right around Christmas.” Cade, who’s renting space in MomoCon’s vast exhibit hall, illustrates how the convention’s economic impact isn’t limited to the usual hospitality industry suspects. Like DragonCon, MomoCon brings out the cosplayers – those who dress up as their favorite characters. So Cade is showing off a new line of related women’s apparel that he may permanently stock in his store.
“It’s a great boost,” Cade said. “It gives me a chance to bring in a new (clothing) line that we have the ability to showcase and spotlight at the show before actually bringing it in and selling it in the store. It’s a chance to introduce new inventories.” It’s also an opportunity to reflect on an Atlanta anime community that thrives despite superhero movies and media taking over cineplexes and Netflix. “They’re not mutually exclusive,” Smazik said. “You’ve got multiple art forms basically expressing variations of the same thing. You’ve got the American style of what a superhero is, which is culturally based on where we come from – big strong men and women who are coming from the 1950s and post-WWII. You’ve got the same thing in Japan that conforms to their cultural norms.”
Besides, anime is well represented on Netflix, Smazik added, with Crunchyroll providing another on-demand service for Japanese animation devotees.
Gaming brings its own stable of popular characters, and a steady stream of paying customers. MomoCon 2016 can help 2Awesome Studio get back on track after a difficult 2015. A Kickstarter campaign that had nearly raised 30,000 euros was ruined by a troll’s fraudulent donation. A new campaign now has Dimension Drive nearly ready for a September release, and after hearing about MomoCon from an acquaintance who attended last year, he knew he had to bring the game to Atlanta.
“It’s really awesome to have all this community here,” he said. “It’s player-based here. These are the people who will someday buy the game. We have to be careful because we are a really small company, so you can see how important MomoCon is for us this year.”