Every year, we mark the passage of time by another Anime Expo. It signals the end of the previous year and the beginning of the next, in a way that January first never quite does.
But AX's recent history has been . . . checkered, to put it charitably. Its problems are well-documented, and now it's got to deal with another convention on the same weekend, just down the freeway. I refer, of course, to AM2, which bills itself as "A convention unlike any other."
AM2, more than any convention to date, bears the stamp of a single man: Chase Wang. He left AX with some controversy after 2009, and it's tempting to see AM2 as a direct response to that.
Start with last year, when AM2 was calling itself MAX and the scars of Chase's departure were fresh. MAX ran its event literally across the street from AX. It's difficult to see that and not regard it as some kind of challenge.
Now, this year, AM2's scheduled on the same weekend as AX, but far enough to be an unambiguous challenger, rather than an adjunct. From here, it looks pretty clear: this is Chase's bid to show the AX staff that he can run a convention better than they can. In any other light it seems silly to go after AX directly, but viewed as a /declaration/, coupled with the sincere belief that he can run a better con, the whole thing makes perfect sense.
It's kind of breathtaking.
So what are the key ingredients of Chase's model? Simple: free basic admission (basically formalized ghosting, with best-effort admission to events,) plus the option to buy a premium admission.
It's an interesting strategy in that it separates out the people who are only there to visit with friends and cosplay from those who are interested in attending events. We really can't predict how it'll turn out. We think the answer is "adequately", but someone's still got to run the experiment and find out.
Plus, AM2's managed to get an interesting selection of guests -- it'll be interesting to see how the event goes.
And hey, maybe we were wrong in ascribing AX's past failures to Chase. If AM2 succeeds in its challenge, we'll certainly have to revise our opinion. (Let's say that we'll consider it to succeed if it surpasses AX's unique attendee count for two years running.) Until then, watch and wait -- and see if Anime Expo can react well to competition.
This is part of an ongoing series on the runup to AX 2011. Please read the others if you'd like.