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Anime Expo’s Return To Physical Event Reportedly Marred By Attendee Mistreatment And Staff Mismanagement

The 2022 return of Anime Expo to an in-person event may go down as one of the worst conventions in recent history.

Given it’s reputation as one of the best anime conventions in the world, just about every Eastern media fan’s dream is to attend Anime Expo – and after COVID-19 lockdowns forced the event to go virtual for the past two years, the announcement that it would return to an in-person format only doubled the excitement for its 2022 incarnation.

Source: Anime Expo Twitter

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To that end, one would think that after two years in lockdown, common sense would dictate that the organizers of Anime Expo would be completely prepared and pulling out all the stops to host an amazing unforgettable comeback event.

However, based on a variety of factors, Anime Expo 2022 will instead probably go down as one of the worst conventions in recent history.

Source: Anime Expo Twitter

Throughout the convention, several vendors and attendees took to Twitter to expose what was really going on behind the scenes at the convention.

One of the most notable of these attendees was Twitter user @heatdeaken, who took to Twitter on July 1st to document the expo’s failings on behalf of their friend and her partner – who do not currently have active accounts on the social media platform – both of whom were slated to attend the event as vendors.

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Their viral thread began with an image of one of the entrances to the Los Angeles Convention Center where the annual convention is held, with @heatdaken asking the expo directly, “Hey @AnimeExpo what’s up with the way your vendors are being treated? Yesterday they had to wait for people to finish chatting on their phones and smoking to check in and now this.”

“They’re forcing vendors to throw out all of their food AND drink out to enter,” they added, sharing an image from their friends’ Instagram story showing a supposed food and drink checkpoint. “Meaning those of us who don’t have a big booth/don’t have extra help have to go 12+ hours without eating or drinking.  Y’all blow this shit up on Twitter I’m sick of this con.  This is legitimately inhumane.”

Source: @heatdaken Twitter

“@AnimeExpo Why is your staff joking about this shit,” @heatdaken continued their documentation of the Anime Expo staff’s unprofessionalism,. “Meanwhile AX STAFF is joking about all the free food they’re getting. The woman in white in this picture confiscated homemade sandwiches from a vendor then laughed at them and told the other staff members that they were going to have a bunch of free sandwiches for lunch now.”

Source: @heatdaken Twitter

The frustrating situation was further confirmed by other con attendees on social media, including @xxYOKAISEKAIxx and @SingleSploot.

“Trashed food,” explained @heatdaken of a photo depicting several confiscated bags of food and beverages meant for vendors. “A f–king anime con isn’t worth people being forced to starve for 12 hours.”

Source: @heatdaken Twitter

@heatdaken then shared one of his friends’ “posts from yesterday” wherein said friend took issue with how the staff were allegedly on break during the convention’s check-in window and exclaimed, “Oh my f–king god! They won’t check anybody in for an hour while they sit and eat sandwiches.  They lady in the left screamed at some guy to get her a soda if he wanted to talk to her like wtf?  Welcome to AX everybody, this is what vendors deal with at these big cons,” the user

“Notice the ‘plz respect our time’ on the sign,” tweeted @heatdaken. “They were on lunch, but she told me after they finished they were smoking and on their phones.”

Source: @heatdaken Twitter

“Updating to add that my friend almost passed out and the options [for food inside the convention center] are very limited. It’s just her and her partner btw. It’s a miracle she was able to leave her booth at all,” @heatdaken then noted, presenting his followers with another Instagram post from their friend in which they can be read asserting, “Had to pay $20 for two muffins and two bags of chips bc I blacked out in my booth from hunger.”

Source: @heatdaken Twitter

Taking notice of these initial tweets, Anime Expo assured @heatdaken that they had begun an “investigation on this issue”.

Source: Anime Expo Twitter

Providing what is, as of writing, their only public comment on any of the accusations leveled against the event, Anime Expo later replied to a concerned fan with the explanation that the above incident was the result of “a miscommunication”.

“We have informed the security,” they vaguely assured their followers. “If this incident happens again, please let us know.”

Source: Anime Expo Twitter

In an interesting twist, a few hours after publishing the thread, @heatdaken returned to Twitter to reveal that he had received a series of DMs from the woman in the white shirt seen in photo attached to the initial tweet.

“Hey @AnimeExpo.” “he tweeted.  “You’re trying to use your staff as fall guys when you did not communicate with them and most were hired within the last week or two? You have the biggest anime con in the country.”

Source: @heatdaken Twitter

According to screenshots shared by @heatdaken, his DM exchange with the supposed staff member kicked off with her throwing Anime Expo under the bus, writing, “The woman in white kicks off the DM throwing Anime Expo under the bus “Hey…this is the girl in white who you put in your picture.  I’m really sorry that this all happened. The communication/information and planning that goes on in these events is so bad. I’ve never worked any event like this one before and when I showed up to my shift today the security guards told me right off the bat that no food or drink was allowed so I started enforcing it.”

Source: Anime Expo Twitter

“I really shouldn’t have joked about it and I definitely didn’t mean to make anyone feel as though I was laughing at them,” she continued her apology. “I wish you had also heard that times I and the rest of the staff there said how bad we felt about the miscommunication.The security was under the false notion that there was no food or drink allowed and that’s they told me when I arrived on scene.”

She further claimed, “It wasn’t until it was too late that someone came and corrected us. Most of us were just hired within the week. Once I found out that we had all been mistaken and told the wrong information we all felt bad about it- but did that stop me from being my obnoxious, ‘pick me’ girl self, talk about it and making humor of what was a bad situation from others, no.”

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“I totally understand why you folks feel undervalued and mistreated and I have been fired,” the woman revealed. “I think it was the correct decision and I’ve learned a valuable lesson. I’m sorry about the whole situation.  I hope you understand that while I don’t speak for the expo itself, personally, as a fellow human and a worker I see how I misbehaved and I am sorry for my lack of compassion towards the situation.”

Source: Anime Expo Official Website

Eventually, she concluded, “I really really wish I had not listened to the security guards when I arrived and that I had confirmed with someone else sooner or did more investigating/research.”

“I’m just gigging and trying to make a living out here so I really wish I would stop getting in my own way by making these mistakes and hurting others who do not deserve to be dealing with that kind of stuff,” the staff member explained. “I didn’t understand why the heck we wouldn’t let y’all have your food…but I thought I was just following orders. I’m so sorry.”

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Asked by @heatdaken who asked if he could make their exchange public in service of calling out Anime Expo, asserting that the situation was “not fair to anyone, especially if most of you were only hired within the last week” and opining “I don’t think you should have been fired at all. I think they should have trained ya’ll better more than anything,” the woman replied, “I understand totally. Tbh I would appreciate it because people are making comments about me being fat and other ugly stuff.”

Source: Anime Expo Twitter

“I totally get why you guys are upset and I feel so stupid for everything that happened but I agree it has much more to do with lack of training, lack of communication, lack of foresight on the cons part as a whole,” she added, before ignoring the images that documented otherwise to claim, “They were the ones who were so kind as to offer the sandwiches to us instead of throwing them away and I told them I saw a sleeping homeless man outside and that I would give it to them and we both shared some chuckles.”

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In a follow-up tweet, @heatdaken shared a bit from the final portion of his DM exchange and alleged that the convention “did not tell their staff the line was for vendors and artists.”

As per the screenshot, the woman in white informed them, “Thanks.  I literally have never been to a con so I didn’t even realize the people coming in were vendors who wouldn’t be able to eat for hours. I assumed everyone was just attending and the reason they weren’t allowed food was because they wanted to sell food indoors only,” prompting @heatdaken to exclaim, “So they didn’t even tell you they were vendors?! Wow. That’s just icing on the cake.”

Source: @heatdaken Twitter

On July 2nd, @heatdaken later presented additional DMs from “current staff who wished to remain anonymous,” wherein they employees informed them that “Anime Expo was very disorganized in their training and miscommunication is a feature “.

Source: @heatdaken Twitter

“Hi – I was a person working at a line entrance at AX.” The employee began their lengthy message. “There are several levels of people who seem like they work for Anime Expo, & different groups that have no contact with each other than in person on the day of the event – security, volunteers, an event services company (aka covid check), line entry people…volunteers – these people signed up to be there without pay but their compensation is housing (if needed) and a badge.”

Source: Anime Expo Official Website

Elaborating on Anime Expo’s questionable employment process, the anonymous staffer recalled, “Several volunteers told me on Friday they had minimal training or info. There’s a 3rd part company that hired people (with no interviews even by zoom) to work stations like entry lines.”

“That company did a training session on Wednesday for a few hours” They added. “but the majority of the training was spent with the low level hires just sitting around waiting for the supervisors to attempt to figure out things that they didn’t know from AX, or just simply hadn’t planned ahead of time.”

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The employee continued, “The low-level hires were repeatedly told things like if you don’t know an answer, try to google it on the faq on AX website, or direct the guest to the ‘help desk.’ We were given very little actual info in person. Almost everyone that the attendees interact with – they aren’t AX employees, there’s just a huge level of disconnect.”

“We’re told to ask questions if anything comes up, but not all of the temporary weekend hires are being proactive at all,” they acknowledged. “My heart was breaking today about how disorganized everything was. I did see lots of comments online about ‘AX had 2 years to make things better…’ That’s the only thing I’ll dispute.”

Source: Anime Expo Official Website Illustrated by zeldacw

Recalling the aforementioned COVID-19 lockdown policies implemented throughout the world, the employee stated, “For 2 years, everything in the entertainment and events industry has been turned upside down from the inside, it’s completely chaotic bc we never know what rules will be or events will even happen, so everything always felt tentative.”

“My best guess is that for the majority of those two years Anime Expo was probably a bare bones tiny group of people not knowing if and when they were planning an event.” They added. “Event companies everywhere lost their best staff members who couldn’t afford to keep working reduced hours, so many of them switched careers. It’s not uncommon for event companies to have had around 80% turnover because of covid. Which means the people making decisions are not veterans who have prior experience to build on and learned from past experiences.”

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“To end, my advice is: If you know what a rule is regarding something like bringing in food or tagged cosplay weapons, which line to be in, etc…and someone is telling you different: Look it up on your phone on the AX website and show them,” the employee then advised. “That person probably has very little training.  If they still say no, ask them to talk to a supervisor.”

They ultimately concluded, “It’s not a valid excuse but many of those line entry people were very stressed. They were given little info and thrown out there, & assigned short shifts which they’re making about $100 that day after taxes, and showed up to work find out that they had to pay for $20-30 parking out of that from their own pocket when their supervisors said ‘hey there is $10 parking across the street. Park there.'”

Source: Anime Expo Twitter

Sadly, the horror stories didn’t stop there, as @heatdaken would return to their thread on July 3rd with yet “more information from a third party staff member who confirms that #AnimeExpo has been a clusterfuck behind the scenes.”

In light of the alleged staffer’s story, @heatdaken tagged the convention and asked if they had any plans “to address any of this or pretend that your vendors and staff aren’t discussing what’s gong on”.

Source: @heatdaken Twitter

“I am part of the ‘third party’ group that was hired and ‘trained’ on Wednesday,” said the insider. “The people in charge of us were also trying to figure our what was going on and even during training and a walkthrough, guards were they rude to us as well.”

Speaking to the event’s behind-the-scenes chaos, they told @heatdaken, “The first day of the expo I even had a hard time getting to where I was stationed and security didn’t know how I was supposed to get there nor did the volunteers (who aren’t getting paid like me).”

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“We also needed to call maintenance for a spill at one point and none of the guards knew how to call them,” they said. “We also keep telling the guards that if people coming in don’t have a physical badge to send them to will call otherwise we can’t scan them in. They haven’t been telling them that and so when they get us right before the entrance. We have to be the bad guys and turn them away to get their badges.”

Source: Anime Expo: Health & Safety

Noting that this was their “first time working for this expo,” the staffer admitted, “I gotta say this is a complete mess and they NEED to have everyone on the same page especially since most of us have no idea where people need to go for things other than telling them to get a map.”

“Also about the vendors and other people like them,” they added as a post-script to their message. “There are entrances for them to go through instead of the main ones like everyone has to go through. I just don’t know if they know where they are.”

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Unsurprisingly, the hits didn’t stop there, as @heatdaken soon revealed that a fourth volunteer had “[come] forward with their experience working in the trenches” and subsequently claimed that “[the] way they treat lower level volunteers and staff is pretty consistent with how they treat their attendees and vendors/artists.”

Source: @heatdaken Twitter

Opening,”Hi! First time volunteer here,” the individual proceeded to level several accusations of poor workplace management against the convention itself. “The lead volunteers have severe God complexes. They play favorites and are extremely fake to new volunteers.”

“The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA) are the higher ups,” they detailed. “I [was] working Line control. We stand outside 8hrs in the sun. Some of us were sitting since our legs were hurting. There were no general attendees around, so we had nothing to do. We were told by our lead that some of the SPJA staff saw us sitting and were pissed.”

Following this incident, they claimed, “We were not allowed to sit or squat when on the clock,” taking particular issue with how these orders came from “the same people that sit in air conditioned areas for the entire day.”

Source; Anime Expo Thank You Message to Volunteers

 “Additionally, though we are apart of the Ticketing department,” they noted, “Those working in Will Call and Customer Service were allowed to sit in air conditioned areas and be on their phones all day. Line control and Access control people are not.”

“The uneven work distribution is completely unfair,” they summarized of their nightmarish volunteer experience. “SPJA and Lead volunteer staff have no appreciation for the volunteers that work below them, especially for the ones who do the most physical labor.”

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Finally, the last of these anonymous employees who reached out to @heatdaken did so to explain, “Ha. So I used to work early days of AX, and let me tell you something they’d have us scrambling to beat the Fire Marshall, stay late hours to meet quota, wandering the streets of LA between 11-1AM (depending on where your shift ends) looking for food prior to their meal plan thing and working areas where we were not comfortable working.”

Source: @heatdaken Twitter

“Upper management was never readily available and lower staff had to do everything by ourselves,” they affirmed. “It’s only when something was done right would they show their face. Access Control was a very abusive department we dealt with everything and anything including sexual harassment from guys. When reported (if not reported to LAPD thank god these men are actually caring) AX/SPJA would NOT make any movements to assist in protecting us.”

“Same thing that happened a while ago with being attacked by weirdos for starting official lines and being constantly belittled for doing our job,” they continued. “When complaining about being tired it was told that it was apart of the department and working.”

Source: Anime Expo Twitter

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“Hours were brutal and trying to leave when your shift ended was not a thing,” the informant said, before outright declaring that “Working the con is honestly the worst.”

“From miscommunication between LACC, LAPD, Temp Staff and Upper management to god complex department leads it’s straight garbage. I learned my lesson after I had beef with a lead back then, he really thought he was the s–t. Truly he was the shit a piece of s–t.”

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The former Anime Expo employee finished their message by providing advice to aspiring Anime Expo employees, writing, “Word of advice to anyone is that they should be careful on who they talk to and what they say.”

“People are only trying to climb on top of each other and use each other to get into higher positions,” they described of the convention’s work environment. “Anyways that’s one of my many pieces I stay at. Also not to mention the hiring and the difference between staff, volunteers, and temps provided by LACC.

Source: Anime Expo Twitter Art Illustrated by @nemupan

“Temps get hired on only a few days before the con with MINIMAL training,” the informant recalled. “They usually come ask AX Staff things. Volunteers come through if they want to from being a regular con goer to a volunteer staff they get no benefits maybe a badge refund or something like that. They get trained for whatever department they work for, for that day. So they literally only have training for that department. Staff are the ones who get most of the benefits such as hotel & stipend, they too sometimes are hired a few days before con and go through a very rushed training.”

“I’m not making any excuses for them or anything, like drag TF outta this con for being disorganized but there’s several different levels,” they closed their message. “I don’t blame anyone below department leads.”

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However, poorly trained staff and a lack of internal communication were not the only issues plaguing this year’s Anime Expo.

As seen in footage tweeted by Anime News Network, entrance into the Los Angeles Convention Center was shut down just hours into the convention’s opening hours, as the local Fire Marshall had deemed the amount of attendees within the building to have hit unsafe levels.

(Considering the violations occurred in Artist Alley, Anime Expo is lucky the Fire Marshall did not shut down the convention.)

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This chaos on the show floor was also documented by Fox Estacado, who shared the footage to his YouTube channel.

One attendee, @kizunagacha, claimed to have had a violent encounter with the convention’s security, tweeting on July 4th, “On my way out today, a security guard stopped me and told me that I had to come with him and to take the Kazune standee that I bought from the Tsunderia booth. He told me I stole it and I thought he was joking so I told him to back off–and then another security guard grabbed me on the shoulder, yanked me around and said ‘then you’re going to be explaining this to the LAPD.'”

 “After I realized that they were serious I told them that I bought it and even showed the receipt as proof that I didn’t steal him.” He added. “But they didn’t believe me and said it could’ve been from anything. So he had to take me to the booth that had the standee taken from them and I was just sobbing uncontrollably.”

 
Source: @kizunagacha Twitter

“And of course once we got to the booth the immediately confirmed that it wasn’t the stolen standee. The booth staff apologized to me even though it wasn’t their fault, but the security didn’t want to be responsible for being in the wrong and how much distress they caused me.” He concluded. “And of course–Kazune was handled roughly by the security and bent in half completely. I spent so much money for him to only be beaten up by the end of the day.”

 Sharing an image of the standee, @kizunagacha added, “BTW: Con security thought Kazune was the stolen standee from the exhibit hall. And they grabbed us pretty roughly and had to take us to the booth to prove it’s not him. The booth wasn’t at fault at all btw!! I just wish security wasn’t so rough with me. I cried so hard”.

Source: @kizunagacha Twitter

Sharing a further image depicting what appears to be a series of red, finger-like marks upon his collarbone, @kizunagacha concluded, “Thanks @animeexpo con security for grabbing me so hard for a cardboard standee that I’m starting to bruise. Kazune looks nothing like the character too.”

Source: @kizunagacha Twitter

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Further, despite having previously kowtowed to public complaints over the event’s rollback decision to drop their vaccine mandate by reimplementing their requirement that guests provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test in order to enter the convention hall, several individuals such as @Abby_Starling, @meltedicecubes, and @Hikazio claimed that said policies were not even being enforced.

Source: Anime Expo Twitter
 

“We’re eating breakfast and these a——s next to us are trying to sneak their friend a vaccination wristband into con,” tweeted the latter. “Partner told him how easy it is to get your own wristband and he responds with ‘oh I didn’t know’, while his friends are like ‘we just thought it was funny’”.

Source: @Hikazio Twitter

Quote tweeting a report from Anime News Network, itself based on a tweet thread by @nickelpin, in which the outlet informed readers that “artists reported lightheadness [sic], nausesa, and headaches amid CO2 levels that reached well into unhealthy zones amid poor to non-existent mask enforcement by AX volunteers and staff,” @Hikazio confirmed, “I was getting vertigo, lightheaded, and ringing in my ears everyday that I left Kentia Hall.”

“I’ve never experienced anything like this in the dozens of conventions I’ve been to,” she said. “Not to mention only half of attendees were masked at the time”

Source: @Hikazio Twitter

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 “Artist Alley staff this year was much more understanding.” She noted. “They were kind to us. But ultimately they seemed severely understaffed, and I don’t blame them for not being able to handle mask enforcement. This is a man power issue that should’ve been managed by SPJA’s management.”

Source: @Hikazio Twitter

“Imagine trying to enforce masks as volunteers with very little support from the organization you work for.” She concluded. “They didn’t even have masks to give out.”

To this end, several attendees, including @FromCaliko, @IvoryyIce, @Lunaurum, @feebeechanchibi, @LokiRoki, and the aforementioned @FoxEstacado, walked away from the convention with an extra souvenir, testing positive for COVID-19 upon their respective arrivals home.

Source: @Hikazio Twitter

Another Artist in Artist Alley, @FoxEstacado documented the chaos occurring on the Artist Alley floor throughout the convention.

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