MechaCon Omega – The End of an Era

By Rizwan Merchant 

Rizwan with Mascots Jett and Zee at MechaCon 2.0 (2006)

This past weekend was MechaCon Omega, the final iteration of a 17 year-long anime convention in New Orleans, Louisiana. MechaCon was founded in Lafayette, Louisiana in 2005, and was the longest running anime convention in the state. I’ve personally had the honor and privilege to attend this convention every single year since 2006. In all honesty, I’d have attended all 16 years of MechaCon had Hurricane Katrina not set her eyes on making landfall the Monday following the 2005 convention. However, from MechaCon 2.0 onwards, I’ve been to every single event from Lafayette to New Orleans, across four venues. 

Over the years, many of my friends have asked me why I love MechaCon so much, having been to and/or worked with pretty much every convention this website has reported at in the last 20 years (yes, it’s been nearly 20 years since Anime Secrets was launched). What makes MechaCon so different, so special, so worthy of my love and admiration? The answer is simple – this wasn’t just an anime convention. This wasn’t just a place to go to the dealer’s room, or dress up as your favorite character, or a place to kill time. Sure, these are all things that we did, but it was more than that. This convention was family. It was a safe home for countless people through the years, all thanks to the staff, especially the co-founders, Jon Russo and Peter Bares. They worked tirelessly to create this convention as a fan-run event. There was no corporate oversight, and they didn’t profit a single dime in 17 years from the convention. It was a labor of love and passion, born from friends coming together to provide something that was desperately needed in Louisiana, especially in later years as we saw an increase in for-profit conventions run by private businesses and industry. This was a family-run convention, and I was fortunate to grow up alongside it, from my freshman year of college all the way through my studies, through today, working at my dream job. This convention provided a much-needed break from the stresses of school, exams, and everyday problems, and for that alone, it has earned my undying gratitude. I’ve also had the unique opportunity to see others grow up alongside it, especially the children of the staff, who have in recent years taken on the mantle of joining the family business as staff and support. Its always fun to see these kids you’ve seen for years grow up and take on these new roles. This feeling of family (blood or found) provided a warmth, a face, a friend in MechaCon that you felt as you entered the convention floor, that simply does not exist within many of these new Comic-Con style conventions.

Cosplay Contest Best in Show Winners

Unfortunately, these for-profit conventions are making it harder for many fan-run cons to stay afloat, due to the increased budgets required to entice industry guests to attend, while sacrificing the old staples such as gaming rooms(both electronic and tabletop), anime-viewing rooms, maid cafes, cosplay repair shops and much more. Gone are the days where attendees could buy a pass to a convention and meet their favorite guests and get photo-ops and autographs for free. In this new landscape, attendees must pay obscene prices for such experiences, in addition to paying for lodging, convention passes, travel and food. These are just some of the reasons why MechaCon has decided to end on their terms, instead of adapting to the ever-changing industry that conventions must work within to survive. 

This isn’t to imply that MechaCon was unable to adapt. In fact, I’d argue the exact opposite. It isn’t just any convention that could face a Category 5 hurricane as deadly and devastating as Hurricane Katrina and turn an anime convention in their inaugural year into an emergency headquarters to help attendees from the affected areas of Southeast Louisiana and Mississippi. However, the con survived, and came back stronger than ever in their second year. The stories I have heard over the years about that weekend make it clear to me that MechaCon is resilient and adaptable, when they elect to be. This is something that we’ve seen time and time again, be it moving from Lafayette to New Orleans, surviving the COVID-19 pandemic or building an immersive science-fiction world into the convention experience. 

To my knowledge, the concept of the Hyatt-Regency becoming Crescent Station and transporting the attendees once a year remains unique to MechaCon. At the time, the idea of Crescent Station was confusing to many of us, but as we saw it unfold we accepted, understood, and eventually embraced it. The first time I stepped onto the convention floor and saw the beautiful banners in the halls, the logo of Crescent Station on the elevators, and the staff all wearing their jumpsuits, I was amazed. It was so cool to see it all come to life, and even more fascinating to witness the realization of the story created around the idea of MechaCon mascots, Jett and Zee, be it Marines vs Fleet, or dealing with the station being taken over by unfriendly extraterrestrials through the various convention events. These scenarios are emblematic of a convention that approaches difficult situations with flexibility and innovation, whilst adhering to their core beliefs.

Closing Ceremony Striking of the Colors

MechaCon Omega is a celebration of these beliefs. While the convention is a year late due to the COVID-19 pandemic that remains a threat to our world at large, this past weekend was nothing short of perfect. Although the convention felt different with everyone wearing a mask (or a green wristband, indicating full vaccination), and reminders to social distance when possible, the convention staff pulled out all the stops to make good on their promise from a year and a half ago, to give the attendees one last event to say goodbye. From day 0, MechaCon Omega was a happy and joyous occasion, as attendees reconnected with their friends and chosen family after nearly two years, coming together to do it big once more for the convention that gave so much to us attendees. Each entrant in the cosplay contest brought their A-game to show their skills, showcasing just how far they’ve come. For the first time, there was not a single panel cancellation –  rather, the panelists came together to deliver one last amazing suite of panels to the convention. The burlesque show was especially on fire this year, with each and every performer bringing their absolute best. Even so, the most powerful thing of all was the audience – at every event I attended, there was  roaring applause, an abundance of smiles, ample laughter and good times generally being had as the clock ticked down to the final hour. 

Rizwan with Admiral Russo, General Barres and Mascots Jett and Zee at MechaCon Omega (2021).

Of course, all good things must come to an end. The closing ceremony was an incredibly somber occasion. From the moment the Senior Staff took the stage and gave their speeches, to Admiral Russo’s final words, to the decommissioning of Crescent Station and the striking of the colors, every moment was carefully curated and executed flawlessly. This was a very emotionally charged moment for all in the hall, and I’d be surprised if there was a single dry eye in the house. Witnessing the end of the flags that we’ve come to know as the banners of MechaCon – the symbols that bring  smiles to countless faces as they remember what the con  meant to them – was terribly difficult, but it had to be done. It was necessary for us to end on our terms. As the staff left the stage and the end credits rolled, I couldn’t help but feel like  I had just seen the epilogue to a war epic. Of course, in a way, we had. This was not just an anime convention – it was a story that we collectively shared, and this was the end.

I know that many of us are still feeling these emotions, and the loss of our beloved con. However, this isn’t the end of the community. Family prevails. We will meet again at other cons, we’ll carry the memories of MechaCon in our hearts and minds, and we’ll share the stories we lived. Nothing can ever truly replace MechaCon in Louisiana, but if we bring the love, the compassion and stories forward with us, then we’re not ending a story. We’re merely proceeding to the next chapter. The future is bright and ripe as our next generation begins to strive to continue the legacy left behind. 

On a personal note, I want to say thank you. Thank you to the attendees. Thank you to the guests. Thank you to the staff. Thank you to everyone past and present for making this one helluva ride, and coming together to make this happen. One. Last. Time.