What we saw at Dragon Con 2022: Hellfire, hotel drama, and a return to form

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

Dragon Con Cosplay Photos 2022
Everything Everywhere All at Once was one of this year’s popular cosplay themes.

Photograph by Matt Walljasper

After a surreal 2021 Dragon Con, where attendance was cut in half due to the still-rampaging delta Covid variant, fans of the annual Labor Day celebration of all things nerd wondered if 2022 would be a return to the typical madness of prepandemic conventions. And, for the most part, this year’s Dragon Con was just that. Officials clocked the attendance number at 65,000—a happy medium between the packed 85,000 con-goers of 2019 and last year’s crowd of about 42,000. Masks were still required; vaccination cards were not. But once again, dance floors were filled, hotel bars were hopping, and the cosplay was on point. In the four days we spent on the convention floor (walking 25 miles, according to our phones), here are some of the things we noticed.

Costumes (and trends) by the numbers:
102 characters from Stranger Things, once again the reigning cosplay franchise after 2019’s Scoops Ahoy-palooza. This included 39 Eddies, a little less than we expected, and 15 Chrissy cosplayers. And while we did spot a few Walkman-toting Maxes, we only heard Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” blasting through a skybridge once.

93 members of the Hellfire Club—and by that, we mean folks wearing the T-shirt that weren’t obviously cosplaying as Eddie/Dustin/any other Stranger Things character. Now the real question: How many of those people are playing D&D?

55 folks in Mandalorian armor, which has absolutely become the most popular Star Wars armor cosplay. Among our favorites: a bright pink Hello Kitty Mando, Macho Man-dalorian, and a Din Djarin cosplayer repeating, “This is the way,” with every high five he gave out on the Hyatt skybridge.

10 Stormtroopers

30 characters from the movie Everything Everywhere All at Once, including Jobu Tupaki, Raccacoonie, Deirdre with hot-dog fingers, rocks, and the everything bagel itself

27 characters from Amazon’s superhero series The Boys

24 costumes inspired by Marvel’s Moon Knight, including a handful of impressively crafted Khonshu skulls and more than a few Sailor Moon Knights. Moon Knight was by far the most popular of this year’s new Marvel Disney+ shows.

20 inflatable dinosaurs

17 characters from Ted Lasso

13 characters from Thor: Love & Thunder

11 characters from the Horizon video game series

7 folks dressed as Barbie and/or Ken, sporting the various neon outfits we’ve seen in behind-the-scenes photos for the upcoming Margot Robbie film

1 person portraying Freya the Norwegian Walrus, may she rest in peace

1 confused Lufthansa flight crew, who were not in cosplay but were hopefully enjoying the colorful chaos around them

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

We also noticed:
• With the increased crowd size, slow, crowded treks through the skybridges returned once again, but the convention’s size felt more balanced (as all things should be). The energy was much higher than 2021’s subdued affair, but folks weren’t as smashed together as they were on pre-pandemic Saturdays, which was honestly a welcome relief. We could get used to a 65k-person Dragon Con.

• Bubble wands were a popular accessory this year, with folks busting them out in and around the Marriott’s main bar. Other cosplay trends we noticed: Plenty of Wandas and Loki variants, both of last year’s most popular outfits; an increase in Austin Powers cosplayers for the film’s 25th anniversary; several Buzz Lightyears to accompany the new animated film. We were surprised to not see as many Squid Game cosplayers as we thought we would encounter. While the Korean horror series was the most talked-about TV series last fall, its September 2021 premiere date apparently made it a bit too dated to be among the most popular Dragon Con cosplay.

The Cults of Con are bigger than ever, even earning their own official panels this year. Marriott carpet-patterned clothing was almost as common as Hellfire Club T-shirts, and Jon the FedEx guy was once again resurrected in the Hyatt skybridge, covered in more and more “offerings” until he was utterly unrecognizable, just as the original Jon was in 2019. Swag and Seek—where folks either pass our or hide small trinkets throughout the host hotels—and collecting and trading badge ribbons were also as popular as ever. These interactive, community-driven events are just one of the many things that make Dragon Con unique from other conventions and continue to be a fun side quest for both kids and adults.

Dragon Con 2022 FedEx Jon
The evolution of FedEx Jon from Thursday (top left) through Sunday night (bottom right)

Photographs by Myrydd Wells

• Let’s talk about the Hilton. The host hotel annoyed quite a few convention-goers with a few changes this year. First, new signs were posted near the outdoor patios warning that “only alcohol purchased on property [was] permitted,” and that bags could be searched. Several people on social media did report having their bags searched as they tried to enter the Hilton lobby, and we saw bags being checked at patio entrances, but others on social media claimed that they entered and exited the hotel (and patios) as usual.

Then, Nikolai’s Roof, the hotel’s rooftop bar and restaurant, was converted into a premium Ice Lounge offering $11 mixed nuts, confit duck and waffles, and a $100 cheeseburger topped with foie gras, caviar, and 24k edible gold. Initially, access to the lounge was a ticketed affair, with a booth for six (with drinks and charcuterie included) going as high as $900. While this wasn’t necessarily a bad idea—premium VIP lounges are common at large events like Dragon Con—the Ice Lounge just didn’t seem to strike a chord with con-goers; in fact, it may have struck a nerve, with many expressing complaints on social media.

Finally, on Sunday, a section of the hotel experienced minor flooding, with folks once again taking to social media to post photos and memes of the damage. (Think: “We all float here” and numerous Shining references.) While this was just a case of bad luck, we do assume to see quite a few references to the Great Hilton Flood of 2022 during next year’s convention.

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