If you’ve been keeping up with pop-culture events in South-East Asia recently, then you’ve probably already caught wind of the widespread anger with CONQuest 2023 held in Manila, Philippines. If not, here’s a small breakdown of what happened across the past weekend.
CONQuest is an event in the Philippines organized in celebration of pop-culture. Unlike other events that may only cater to one aspect such as cosplay or gaming, the target that CONQuest was going for this year was to be ‘all-inclusive’, including inviting a significant number of social media celebrities and influencers alongside cosplayers, artists and gamers. See our previous article for the list
However the experience for many attendees were less than smooth with two to three hour queues to enter the main convention area snaking around the venue for the weekend dates of the event when turnout was expected to be significantly higher than Friday (Day 1).
Apart from having to queue in the heat to enter the venue, attendees were also then required to queue to enter the convention halls, both on the first and second floors, with attendees planning to go to the second floor needing to wait up to 45 mins to take the escalators upstairs due to supposed congestion and floor safety limits.
As an attendee with a media pass, we were allowed a little more flexible access and it was fairly clear that the halls were kept relatively uncrowded (about 70% capacity) to allow a more comfortable experience – but only for those inside the halls as many others were still stuck outside waiting. The drawback of that meant that those who had entered the halls were less inclined to leave, preferring instead to stay inside the hall in lieu of food and drink.
Other disappointments for attendees and fans came from the free meet & greet sessions with invited guests. Premium pass holders (who paid 10x more than a normal 3-day ticket) were allowed priority entry for the meet sessions while normal pass holders had two options – an online ballot and a first-come-first-served collection on the day of the meet. Posts on Twitter also showed that attendees were also trading and scalping these free tickets for the sessions.
Some guests were also hosting panel sessions – however by Day 2 they were also ticketed in order to prevent overcapacity and reduce congestion. The free sessions were also quite restricted with a limited number of people having an opportunity to attend which caused a snowball effect for the main convention halls where the guests had public appearances. Of course those that attended the meet & greets/panels that were held away from the SMX Convention Centre would then have to queue up at the back of the line to enter the halls after.
In order to allow more attendees to experience the event, the show timings were extended to open earlier at 9am instead of 10am and to stay open later to 9pm on both Day 2 and Day 3. As positive as that may sound, that meant that guests with booths as well as other exhibitors were required to start and end earlier – meaning up to 15 hours days for some. There was also feedback provided by some of the guests who had booths for signings and interactions as well.
At time of writing, a media blackout is still ongoing from the event organizers. Communication with media has also been lacking – perhaps they are waiting for the furore to dissipate and for the negative sentiments to be forgotten over time. For those who tried to attend the event only to be turned away at the door, it’s hard to say if a refund will be enough to placate their disappointment and wasted efforts.
The organizers have now issued (7/6/2023 2.15pm GMT+8) a statement regarding refunds for all attendees that were unable to enter the event venue on Day 2 & 3.
In retrospect, the biggest issue with the event is experience and communication. There was a clear lack of information clarity in many areas for volunteers working the lines, security, media and even attendees prior to the start of the event and things snowballed due to the lack of experience with kneejerk decisions made to ease congestion, manage the crowd and keep things presentable for the invited guests and potentially sponsors. Even as media reps trying to covering the event, we were given little to no information prior to the event and were turned away from covering many of the interactive sessions such as the meet & greets and the panels.
CONQuest 2023 was definitely an effort to create a multi-faceted pop-culture convention, however it seemed to have lost sight of the true reason conventions exists, to bring the fans together in celebration of their fandoms and an opportunity to meet some of their idols who exist in these close-knit communities.
Is there something to learn from this event? Perhaps, but only if event organisers (not only those in the Philippines) are able to takeaway what not to do in future. We definitely await any statements to come from the organizers in the coming days.
This is an on-going story and may be updated.