Out of This World: Sci-Fi Valley Con Fills Up Enthusiasts | News, Sports, Jobs
The Blair County Convention Center was packed this weekend for the return of Sci-Fi Valley Con.
Convention promoter and organizer Casey Bassett said he noticed a substantial improvement in attendance this weekend compared to past events since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had our last post-COVID convention in October, and that was probably half the attendance we have now just looking at how everything worked out,” Bassette said. “And even at past conventions, even into 2019, I definitely think attendance has increased. Awareness of this event has spread throughout the community; people are aware of it now and a lot of word of mouth ear circulates.
“So I think it’s all of those good things, combined with people being locked down, maybe it’s inflation or rising gas prices that’s stopping people from traveling on vacation, so maybe they come here to enjoy it with their friends and family..”
10 year celebration
Sci-Fi Valley Con started in 2012 and Bassett, a Johnstown resident and Forest Hills graduate, said he was excited to see the event grow. This is the ninth convention in the event’s 10-year history. The 2020 event has been canceled due to COVID-19.
“It will be our 10th anniversary doing this,” Bassette said. “It used to be at a small ice rink in Ebensburg and a few dozen tables, and now we have about 300 tables here, vendors and celebrities coming every year.”
Bassett said high numbers were coming in for opening day, which he said is unusual for the first day of a convention.
“Yesterday was a Friday, which is usually always slow, and it was historically busy here,” Bassette said. “We knew there would be a lot of people waiting for all the celebrity guest items and for admissions and stuff, but we got through all the busy stuff in the morning, and everything was fine all weekend. -end.”
Dealing with the realities of the pandemic forcing a constant shift in schedules and availability was taxing on him and his staff, Bassett said.
“It’s been really, really difficult, as a business and even just mentally for me and everyone who has to be involved in this, just trying to coordinate everything with all the COVID stuff over the years,” he said.
“But now I have a lot of hope to get to 2022 and have this event because you have no idea; it’s a dice game basically if it’s going to be a hit since we’re coming out of COVID and the numbers are going up in some places. But we haven’t seen too many. Some people wear masks here, but we’re mostly on a lot of plexiglass stuff. People aren’t as nervous as they were just six months ago, so I really feel like we’re getting back to a sense of normalcy.
While it would have been nice to celebrate 10 shows in 10 years, Bassett said, he’s happy to see how far it’s come.
“The community really got into this convention and continued to contribute to it and really helped us grow and bring all these different things to the community.
What brings people to conventions? For many, the opportunity to meet the people behind some of their favorite characters across an array of mediums will draw crowds to cities across the country and around the world.
For conventions like Sci-Fi Valley Con, it’s also a chance to meet local people who are into the same kind of activities, shows, movies and games.
“It’s fun because you meet a lot of people from very different backgrounds.” Dutch Brennan of Snake Eyes Gaming told Altoona. “We value diversity.”
For John Waugh, an artist from Altoona attending his third Sci-Fi Valley Con, it was about narrowing down the things he wanted to incorporate.
“Well, the first time I didn’t know what to expect, so I tried to do everything”, Waugh said. “Like a charity sketch, Q&As, stuff like that. And then the last two times we had to narrow it down to “this is what we’re going to do”. And there are three days, so you kind of have to spread it out.
Michelle Perl of St. Marys attended the convention in a cosplay of a blood elf from the game World of Warcraft.
“Yeah, I’m just here to have fun. Cosplay, buy some stuff,” said Pearl. “It’s a small convention, but I really like this convention. I love conventions of all sizes, but this one is one of my favorite little ones.
Jeff and Anne Wateska from Wow Fudge have been coming to Sci-Fi Valley Con for several years, so much so that they have what Anne invented “our usual place” on the floor of the congress. They like to come back because of the people the convention brings every year.
“This convention attracts really nice people, and it’s run by really nice people, in a really nice place,” Anne Watska. There are downsides everywhere; you could drive all the way to Pittsburgh and you won’t find a finer rip-off than this”
She said the convention center location really makes their homecoming experiences more appealing than some of the other conventions they attend.
“We were at Geekdom in Philadelphia two weekends ago and it was hands down. In other words, what I’m trying to tell you is there’s space, there’s carpet, it’s not sweltering. You can go to the hotel. If you are a vendor, you can park under a canopy and ride in and out. Of all the downsides, this is a wonderful place for me.”
Conventions like this are also an opportunity to help raise awareness and fundraise for good causes. Altoona native Lee DePiro is part of a fundraising charity called Gearbox Union and served as the convention’s charity coordinator, with proceeds from charity auctions throughout the weekend going to the Children’s Miracle Network.
“We also do a thing called Extra Life, which is like Relay For Life, but video games; it’s a 24-hour gaming marathon,” DePiro said. “Here specifically, we’re doing a thing called Con Quest, which is basically a scavenger hunt around the whole convention where a bunch of tables give out prizes and people can do the different quests to earn more raffle points for it.”
“But on top of all that, we do live video game streaming all year round,” DePiro said. “We’ve been doing this for about a decade. Prior to the convention, we raised approximately $125,000. The auction we just did brought in around $1,000 and the one (Friday) brought in around $1,500. It’s pretty ridiculous, and we’re very happy. We couldn’t be happier with everyone’s participation and generosity towards the children.