Five ways to attend conventions for free

FanimeCon in San Jose. Photo Credit: Reinier Macatangay

Unfortunately, most great nerd conventions are expensive. From skyhigh hotel fees to the actual badge cost itself, the average teenager or college kid cannot easily attend a high-quality con without taking a significant hit. The latter problem can be worked around with some creativity, although these solutions are not technically “free” either.

Regardless, time to discuss five ways to attend conventions for free.

1. Write for a College Newspaper or Start a Campus Radio Show

This first option came as a surprise when it first worked. Back in 2011, as a bored student at California State University, Stanislaus with a campus radio show, I tried applying to the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) as press.

It felt like winning the lottery when E3 accepted the application.

On a sad note, E3 went on to reject the same exact press application for four or so years in a row afterwards. But the majority of anime and comic book conventions do consider college press as legitimate media outlets.

Using this method means the person needs to do actual work. At the CSU Stanislaus radio station, they require a two-hour radio show once a week. The newspaper over there wants one article a week, at roughly 500 words. If a con-goer enjoys writing or hosting a local radio show, either of those two volunteer jobs can be a fun way to game the system.

2. Write for a Legitimate Nerd-related Website

Anyone writing for a huge website such as IGN can get into any convention for free. For those not fortunate enough to write for a professional media outlet, smaller websites still work to an extent. Nerd Reactor, which is actually kind of large for a “smaller” site, gets into practically every convention out there. A few cons (like CES in Las Vegas) check the number of website hits, so make sure there is a somewhat sizable following. Even if the audience is not on the level of IGN, most cons love attention from any website focused on their theme (anime, video games, etc.). Press attention helps their event grow.

3. Volunteer for the Convention

Another option requiring actual work. Volunteering for a convention might not sound as fun as covering the event for a media outlet. Nevertheless, the most popular ones welcome help and use the promise of free badges to pay for work. Just be prepared to deal with possibly angry or impatient con-goers. Some of them will need help. Others simply want someone to complain to. In addition, it can be boring standing at a door and checking everyone’s badge. That is work.

4. Try “Ghosting”

Admittedly, this method is becoming more difficult with tighter security measures being put in place. To define ghosting first though, it is when con-goers do not pay for a badge and just hang around the convention anyway. For example, in the past people could walk into the Los Angeles Convention Center during Anime Expo and take pictures within the lobby. No one had to show a badge, unless they wanted to get inside the exhibit hall, panels or anything else. The badge checks came at the specific events within the con, not at the front door to the building. But this has changed, at least with Anime Expo. Is there any con where people can still successfully ghost? If so, ghosting is one way to hang around a con without paying.

5. Create or Join a YouTube Channel

Not only do writers and radio show hosts get into cons, but YouTube creators regularly count as a separate form of media too. It just happens to be new because of the Internet. No logical reason exists for organizers not to accept press applications from online creators, but like how CES checks the website visitor counts, some cons might doublecheck the overall number of subscribers or view counts on the channel. Of course, accumulating an audience will take time. Joining an established YouTube channel as one of the creators might be a more reasonable solution.

In any case, it does not hurt to try something new to attend a convention besides paying the normal badge fee.

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