What we saw at Dragon Con 2021: Smaller crowds and so many Loki variants

If you missed this year's convention, here's a highlight reel

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What we saw at Dragon Con 2021
Yelena, Alexei, Natasha, and Taskmaster from the new Black Widow film

Photograph by Matt Walljasper

After Dragon Con 2020 went completely virtual due to the Covid-19 pandemic, fans were eager to get back on the floor of the Marriott Marquis and other host hotels to show off cosplay outfits that had been collecting dust for more than a year. But weeks before the convention was set to begin, the delta variant hit Georgia hard, leaving many questions about how to best handle the convention in the midst of the pandemic.

On August 1, Dragon Con announced that it would require convention attendees to wear face masks indoors at all times. Then, a few weeks later, the convention followed the lead of two of Atlanta’s largest music festivals and required all attendees to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination or a negative test result. Convention officials also announced that attendance would be capped at about half of 2019’s record 85,000-person turnout, and added additional cleaning times, reduced capacity in panel rooms, and eliminated selling Saturday-only day passes (the convention’s most popular single-day seller).

With the measures in place, Dragon Con 2021 kicked off as usual on Labor Day weekend, and while it certainly felt different than years past, it still had the soul of our favorite celebration of all things geek. In the four days we spent the convention floor (walking nearly 30 miles, according to our phones), here are some of the things we noticed.

Costumes (and trends) by the numbers:
169 folks dressed as Loki, Sylvie, and other Loki variants, including at least 15 Loki gators. The recent Disney+ hit was by far the most popular fandom to cosplay this year, and allowed for plenty of creativity thanks to the numerous variants. We saw a Totoro Loki being led up the escalator by a group of TVA agents; a Totodile Loki (the crocodile Pokemon, get it?); a Baymax Loki; a crowd of Loki-ified Florida Gators fans; and “Delta variant” Loki, a woman dressed in a green Delta Air Lines-inspired flight attendant uniform who pushed a homemade beverage cart that was usually topped with a cup of ginger ale. Miss Minutes was also a popular cosplay outfit.

36 people dressed Wanda Maximoff across all of the decades featured on WandaVision. There were also a good amount of Halloween episode/comic classic Visions, and at least 10 Agathas.

28 inflatable dinosaurs

24 Stormtroopers

12 people with outfits inspired by the Cult of Jon. If you missed Dragon Con 2019, a FedEx advertisement located in the skybridge between the Marriott and Peachtree Center—a cardboard cutout of an employee named Jon—was vandalized with googly eyes, Sharpie, ribbons, plastic leis, stickers, and anything else con-goers could stick to him. It turned into a meme on the level of the late, great geometric Marriott Carpet, which is also still a popular influence in cosplay.

11 people dressed as Omni-Man from the new animated series Invincible

10 Lady Dimitrescu from Resident Evil Village

5 inflatable Among Us crewmates (or imposters?)

4 people dressed as Blanky, the electric blanket from The Brave Little Toaster

2 folks dressed as Mr. Clean

2 duos dressed as Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin, a.k.a. the one costume we would have seen a lot more of if Dragon Con 2020 had happened

Photos: Check out the full gallery of our favorite costumes here.

We also noticed:
• So how did Dragon Con attendees adapt to the mask mandate? We’re pleased to say extremely well. While we were out and about at the host hotels, we noticed the vast majority of folks kept their masks on whenever they weren’t eating or drinking. As for how it impacted cosplay, many integrated their masks into their costumes, sporting masks made with fabric that matched their outfits or that added a joke or reference to the costume (see: the several Spaceballs cosplayers wearing black masks that read “Spaceballs: The Mask,” or an Austin Powers cosplayer wearing a Union Jack mask). Some even sported masks printed with the bottom half of their character’s face. Others simply wore a matching color, and some didn’t match their masks at all. Masking didn’t seem to really impact anyone’s enjoyment of seeing their favorite characters, and, combined with the vaccine mandate, made the convention feel a lot safer.

The smaller crowd—the official attendance number this year was 42,000—did feel surreal. It was a relief to not be jammed in the skybridges, and nicer (and cooler) to be able to walk more freely around the main floors of the Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton at peak hours. But it was truly strange to gaze out over the first floor of the Hilton, for example, and see it virtually empty, no matter when we looked. Lowering the attendance was absolutely the right call for 2021, but it will be fun when we can have larger cons again.

• Kudos to the release of Final Fantasy VII Remake for a resurgence in popularity of this cosplay staple. While there are always a few Cloud, Aerith, and Tifa cosplayers, we spotted more than usual, along with outfits that were clearly styled after Remake, such as Cloud’s black and blue ballgowns. Also popular for this year’s cosplay: Demon Slayer, Black Widow, and Cobra Kai.

• Several of the scenes inside Loki‘s TVA headquarters were shot at the Marriott Marquis. The hotel staff embraced this, sporting TVA T-shirts throughout the convention.

• We mentioned the Cult of Jon cosplayers above, but the corner of the skybridge between the Hyatt and Marriott hotels also served as a spot for “offerings” to the dearly departed cardboard effigy. On Thursday and Friday, con-goers left pieces of swag, ribbons, stickers, flower petals, googly eyes, and FedEx boxes. After the site was cleaned overnight Friday, two cardboard cutouts appeared in the space, one pulled from a nearby Scofflaw bar in the Marriott, and another featuring a FedEx NASCAR driver. Someone also built a cardboard Suez Canal, blocked by the Ever Given. More offerings appeared as the cutouts were adorned with stickers, flags, and beads—although a sign on the Scofflaw cutout warned folks to “say no to false idols” and “await the return of one and only FedEx [Jon].”

What we saw at Dragon Con 2021
Cardboard mayhem at Dragon Con 2021

Photograph by Myrydd Wells

Ribbons and swag continued to grow in popularity, with some people creating badge ribbon trains that hung several stories tall.

“Closed for Cleaning” started as an easy way to label when the panel rooms would be closed for their daily deep-clean, but quickly became the newest Dragon Con meme. We spotted little references to it in many costumes, including a group of inflatable cleaning products, and parade’s Jawa group embraced it, carrying buckets, rags, and sticking a “Closed for Cleaning” sign on the side of their sandcrawler.

(Costume statistics are approximated and don’t include the parade.)

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