Virtual Comic-Con 2021: Increasing Fan Engagement and Connection
San Diego’s Comic-Con sees thousands of sci-fi/fantasy and gaming fans gathering together to get their fill of Rick and Morty, Star Wars, cosplay and more. It’s a notoriously exhausting experience, with attendees camping out or skipping sleep for days to ensure they don’t miss anything, or dashing from one clashing session to another.
We’ll have to wait another 12 months to witness scenes like that, however. Like last year, Comic-Con 2021 will be taking place entirely online today, due to ongoing Covid restrictions. While last year’s event was mostly a hit with fans, many critics seemed underwhelmed. But a lot can change in a year and virtual tools have developed too. This year’s event has a golden opportunity to capitalise on the benefits that virtual/hybrid offers without losing the essence of Comic-Con’s appeal - the chance for fans to gather together in one space to share passions and exchange ideas, take part in meet and greets and get their hands on the latest merch.
Virtual and beyond
At Lively, we recently hosted a Clubhouse session where we spoke to gaming and comic-con fans to discuss their experiences with virtual comic-cons. Twitch streamer and co-founder of Black Twitch UK, Cassie Hughes, noted that ‘virtual and hybrid events offer accessibility... I’ve been to things this year that I would never have got the chance to see.’ content creator, Pixi Pui added: “hybrid events are a brilliant solution for those who are unable to attend due to extenuating circumstances”. Adopting a virtual format can remove much of the pain of choosing one session over another, offering attendees more choice as well as adding a layer of exclusivity. Comic-Con 2021 is hosting a series of livestream panels accessible to everyone, alongside trailers and project announcements that fans will be able to watch for free. This year’s content is likely to be uploaded to YouTube, as was the case last year.
By streaming virtual sessions live and then making them available on YouTube or on-demand for a certain period of time post-event, fans can access more content at their leisure and deepen levels of engagement. By providing a limited timeframe in which to connect, fans can still get that ‘fear of missing out feeling’, while anticipation can be heightened by teasing clips of said content with exclusive previews that aren’t repeated on-demand. Live stream panel sessions/keynotes can be combined with pre-recorded ones so that fans can access the broadest range of content. Pre-recorded sessions can be made more interactive and ‘instant’ by giving fans the opportunity to submit questions online. These could then be used to provide post Comic-Con content sent out to those who have subscribed, content could be packaged as ‘exclusive takeouts’, or it could be made available for 24 hours only, Snapchat-style.
Fans can also access celebrity meet and greets, much like they would in the physical world, but this can be taken to another level by providing attendees with a recorded version that they can keep. Branding opportunities can also be heightened in a virtual format, with brands able to engage with fans via themed sponsorships, or hosting virtual rooms, giving fans the chance to buy merchandise directly online.
By adopting a virtual format, events like Comic-Con can increase levels of fan interaction by introducing a gaming/gamification element. Attendees could get the chance to enter prize draws by playing virtual games, or they can unlock hidden areas with exclusive content. Gaming can be combined with merchandising by offering sponsors/those selling merchandise live sessions where they can unveil products, and giving fans limited time in which to purchase items. Fans can also gain access to exclusive content with certain purchases.
Connecting fans online
Also contributing to our Clubhouse session, Timi Ofarn, Co-founder of online platform and podcast The Nerd Council noted that ‘the reason I go to conventions is to meet other nerdy people. Whether it’s through break-out rooms, chats or other ways of engagement, events need to involve and connect virtual guests, recreating that experience of bumping into someone in a queue”.
With a virtual format you can allow an unlimited number of fans to attend a particular session, unlike limits imposed in physical venues. They can submit profiles of their interests pre-event, which could be used to create an online database of attendees. Those with similar interests who have agreed to share their details could for example be ‘matched’ and given access to themed chat rooms based on their preferences, where they can view exclusive content based on that theme, post queries and interact online. Cosplay is another reason people attend in person - they get to see elaborate costumes first hand, making Comic-Con a place to see and be seen. People could be encouraged to submit their creations online ahead of the event, which could then be voted on, or a cosplay room could showcase submissions/creations with content being updated/themed to encourage repeat visits.
And for those who find the sheer size of an event like Comic-Con overwhelming or who are still wary of health and safety issues post-pandemic, a virtual or hybrid format can offer them access in a safe environment, without any of the anxiety of attending a major gathering. Another contributor told Lively: “Hybrid events would be a brilliant solution for those who suffer from social anxiety at conventions”.