Summary of Event
While it was a cloudy and rainy weekend in Rosemont, Illinois, that didn’t stop ACEN from being held! Spirits stayed high as numerous events were held all across the Hyatt-Regency hotel and the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. You pretty much couldn’t walk anywhere around either of these locations without finding something to do, whether it was a cosplay shoot, gaming events, panels, merchandise for sale, or anime being screened. But the night was when you’d be able to find the biggest and best events, such as ACEN’s famous Masquerade. All in all, there’s tons to do no matter when you go, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a lull in the day!
Split between the Douglas Stephens Convention Center and the Hyatt Regency hotel. You’ll find the vendor booths and artist’s alley in the main hall of the convention center, panels in the ballroom of said convention center, and many of the various anime screenings and gaming events in the meeting rooms of the Hyatt Regency. While, in the past, ACEN’s arcade room was found in the basement of the Hyatt, this year they expanded it over into the convention center across from the main ballroom!
Length of Event
May 19th – May 21st
How much does it cost?
For this year, it was $45 for one day, or $70 for a 3-day pass. However, if you had registered before the end of 2016, you could get a 3-day pass for only $50! This is a pretty standard practice for ACEN, so if you’re considering going in 2018, keep an eye out for when tickets go on sale so you can get them cheaper! The earlier you buy, the more likely you’ll be able to get your badge mailed to you so you won’t have to spend time waiting in line to pick it up at the con!
Since the convention center is directly connected to the Hyatt Regency, and because part of the event is held in said hotel anyway, there’s generally a big rush to reserve rooms as soon as rooms become available. You’ll effectively need to get on that a year in advance if you want to stay at the Hyatt, so check that out as soon as you’re done reading this article! Generally you can get into their ACEN block if you do so as well, so you can get a room for cheap. If you don’t make it, don’t worry, as there are plenty of hotels within walking distance. Check out the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare or the Westin O’Hare. If you have to stay a bit further down the road, most hotels will offer a shuttle service to the convention center. Also, keep in mind that if you drive to ACEN, then you’ll need to pay for parking at your hotel, which will generally run around $10-$30 a night.
What to expect
ACEN’s a very energetic con due to the raves held on Friday and Saturday night, as well as the Formal Dance for anyone missing their prom to attend the event. Therefore, expect a lot of extremely excited fans from all around! It’s known for being a very friendly con due to being held in the Midwest, so no need to feel shy! You’ll encounter lots of people who are just roaming the hallways looking for high fives!
Just be mindful of cosplayers. Due to the masquerade, ACEN has tons of experienced and creative cosplayers who want to strut their stuff. They’ll naturally be fine with pictures, but sometimes these cosplays can have some massive and elaborate pieces and attachments. You wouldn’t want to ruin someone’s handy work by just carelessly bumping into them and snapping off a piece!
While it’s recommended you attend all three days just to see everything, if you can’t, then you’ll need to make a decision based on what you want to prioritize. If shopping’s your thing, early on Friday is best because it’s one of the slower days and vendors will have their widest variety of products available. The biggest events, however, will generally be held on Saturday, so that might be your best option to prioritize your time. Sunday is your best shot for attending on a budget since you won’t have to (most likely) spend money on a hotel. You might be able to find vendors more willing to haggle then since they’ll want to pack up as little as possible for their tip home!
What to bring?
Outside of your basic necessities like clothes, money, etc., consider investing in a portable charger for any electronics you have. It might be difficult to find an open outlet anywhere outside of your hotel room, so a portable charger that can power your electronics for more than just a single charge will be handy so you don’t have to keep recharging that either. Snacks are handy too since convention food might be a bit pricey, though if you’re not native to the area, we strongly recommend you try some Chicago-style deep dish pizza while you’re there! Beyond that, you may want to bring a bag to store any of your purchases! ACEN will generally supply promotional bags you can carry on your back, but it’s not the most convenient way to carry any of your other necessities. Having a handbag can make reaching for your camera a much simpler process!
What to do while there and what to do:
Now here’s the fun part: the activities! You won’t have any problem finding anything to do around ACEN, partially due to the huge shopping center that is the convention hall! This is where most of the action will take place, as pretty much all the major anime publishers and figurine manufacturers have set up shop. Whether you’re looking for recent anime DVDs or upcoming figures, you’ll be able to find what you want. Of course, if hunting for something older or not really en vogue anymore, there are tons of smaller vendors with a wide variety of older collectibles who have set up shop.
Of course, that’s only part of what you can shop for. Ever want a poster of your favorite anime to hang up in your room but just can’t seem to find that special piece? Head over to the artists alley section of the con floor and check out what prints are for sale. If there’s a particular character you’re really obsessed with, but just no one seems to be putting out art for, never fear, several artists accept commissions! However, this section can be a bit crowded at times which can make it difficult to find certain artists, so you’ll need to keep your eyes open.
If you get tired of shopping, consider resting up at a panel. You’ll find all sorts there, from educational ones, like assertions on LGBTQA+ positivity in Yuri on Ice!! to goofier ones like a spirited debate over who’d win in the fight. It’s not limited to only anime, however, as you’ll find panels on gaming and comics too. And not just commentary on them either; if you’re an aspiring game designer, for example, you can find several panels that are meant specifically for amateur game designers to meet up and exchange information, as well as talk tools of the trade.
However, it’s the night events that are the major draw for ACEN. Friday night you’ll have one of the aforementioned rave, which draws many of the hottest DJs from Japan. However, if you’re not up to party all night, there are other events you might check out, such as Anime Hell, where fans collect their favorite anime and Japanese culture clips and share them on a big screen in the ballroom for the sake of comedy. If you’re over 18, you’ll find a very similar hentai-related event, but this tends to be such a big draw that it’s almost impossible to get into unless you line up early for it!
Saturday is main event. The Masquerade starts in the early evening, and you’ll see loads of extremely talented cosplay on display. It’s not just for show, though, as these cosplayers, before the event, went through a rigorous judging process and are given rewards at the very end of the event. But it’s not just about cosplay! Fans will also assemble skits and performance routines about their favorite series or game, ranging from a breakdance performance between Cloud and Tifa from Final Fantasy VII to a musical about Light from Death Note sung to the tune of “Zero to Hero” from Disney’s Hercules.
For those who wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the con floor, there was the arcade. This was a much bigger event than it has been in past years, as it was effectively in a gigantic auditorium this year with much more room. You were be able to watch tournaments of Overwatch and Super Smash Bros on giant projector screens so you could more easily root for your favorite players! Also, there were tons of imported arcade games that have traditionally been exclusive to Japanese arcades, like Bishi Bashi and Groove Coaster, so for many, it was their first chance to see what our friends overseas were playing! There were also plenty of retro arcade games like Galaga, Robotron, and Pac-Man for play, so you always try to compete with your friends for high schools! All play was free too, so there was no need to bring along your quarters.
Honey's Anime Final Thoughts
Any anime fan looking for a fun, festive weekend should definitely look into ACEN. Whether you like to shop, look at cosplay, or educate yourself on the culture that surrounds anime, it’s absolutely worth the trip to Rosemont for ACEN weekend! There’s so much to do that chances are you won’t even be able to fit everything you want into just the one trip either, so if you go once, you’ll most likely find yourself coming back every year!