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Report on: BotCon 2016

BotCon was the annual convergence for all the die-hard fans of the Transformers brand of toys, shows, comics, and all other forms of media and merchandise. A weekend to spend among hundreds of other fans who are able to recite the differences between Sentinel Prime and Zeta Prime. Each year held in a different location, BotCon 2016 was April 7th-10th at the Galt Hotel in Louisville Kentucky. (At the same time the hotel was hosting teams from the “2016 U.S. Army Cadet Command JROTC National Drill Championships” and the Wheelchair Basketball Association’s National Tournament). So it was a busy weekend.

botcon16-37For a variety of reasons, this BotCon was to be the last BotCon held by the regular organizers, Fun Publications. Past credit card fraud and so many other small ordeals with the opperation have all added up to Hasbro apparently considering other options. But despite this, and to keep a good working relationship with Hasbro, Fun Publications didn’t slack off on this year’s show.

For reports on previous BotCons: 2014, 2015

The exclusives are always a big point of the BotCon experience. Transformers is, at it’s core, a toyline, so it makes sense that the fandom has toys made just for it. This year was anchored by the “Predacus” set (turns out, one of the arms is hinted to be a reincarnation of fan-favorite character Shockwave.) Another highlight of this year’s offerings was a new iteration of Beast Wars Megatron based on an idea which was first conceived in 2005. And a rubber ducky who they very quickly sold out of. The exclusive comic for the year was pretty boring.

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But just the exclusives aren’t enough, so fans with open wallets could proceed to the dealer’s room where there were abundant toys. Mint in seal packages, loose relics from decades past, and imports from Japan. The hottest items were Combiner Wars Sky Lynx, and the newly released Masterpiece Shockwave. And if you checked out the gorgeous booth from The Chosen Prime, you can touch Ultimetal Optimus Prime, yours to own at $950 USD. No Combiner Wars Viper figures in the room though. If you need certain goods of possible copyright infringing nature, there were vendors selling them from hotel rooms. Across the main hall was the artist’s area where many of the big names from IDW’s comic series were selling prints and drawing commissions.

botcon16-63The higher profile guests were David Kaye, Greg Berger, and Venus Terzo. They did their usual Voice Guest bit where they talked about how zany Scott McNeil was. But the biggest name on the ticket was Judd Nelson, best known to the world for his role on The Breakfast Club and known to Transformer fans as the theatrical voice of Hot Rod, decades later he’s grown to look like the man we all imagined Bender would become and he sounds a bit like Tommy Chong. But despite his fun and dopey attitude he opened up and showed a deep understanding of the nature of what makes Transformers retain it’s appeal – a better understanding than other particular Hollywood residents have ever shown.

Other events included the costume contest where a hulking Ultra Magnus towered supreme. Hasbro’s product preview for the upcoming Titans Return and Prime Wars lines filled the room to capacity – although no Trypticon was seen the new Alpha Trion figure is sure to eventually be in high demand. Another bit of hot news is that the official Hasbro Toy Shop online website is getting a major overhaul. The Transformers Collector’s Club panel explained their plan for the rest of 2016 wasn’t to gracefully go silent, but to release an insane number of exclusives before the end of the year. The video contest this year had over four entries, a huge improvement over last year’s no-entries. The flashy evening events were the Vince DiCola and Stan Bush concert held after dark in Louisville’s 4th Street Live performance space, and the Casino Night which was a good opportunity to gamble for the chance to win toys and contribute money to charity while looking well dressed. Neither were quite a trip to Universal Studios, but at least the Casino Night’s catering was yummy.

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Now BotCon is over forever, and the future of official Transformer conventions is uncertain. (For unofficial conventions, Ontario’s TFcon event is unstoppable and the American TFcon will help the fandom continue to thrive). BotCon 2016 was a solid convention, held in a good hotel in a much much better location than last year’s not-really-Chicago-at-all, the only major bungle being the Club Store not being able to accept Credit Cards for a few hours on Thursday Night. This was fixed by Friday, and honestly it wouldn’t be BotCon without some form of Brakedown.

BotCon might have always had a few bungles and questionable decisions to make it an adventure, but it was a never a bad show and I always left knowing I would return next year. While I wait for the future with excitement, I’m glad Fun Publications were able to set a solid example of how to cater to the complicated needs of a large and complicated fandom and I hope whoever runs the next official Transformers convention learns a lot from them.

Michael Ryan, aka Zodberg, April 17, 2016

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