The Importance of Tora-Con

Illustration by Alice Benavides

Tora-Con has been a student-run convention hosted by the RIT Anime club for 17 years. Typically a two-day event, it features a variety of panels and guests. Since its introduction in 2004, it has been a place for people of all different backgrounds to come together and bond over their interests.

With the worldwide shut-down in 2020, Tora-Con 2020 couldn't happen. A year’s worth of work was wasted.

This year was different, however. The staff was prepared and dedicated to make Tora-Con 2021 work.

Tora-Con 2021 Production

Piper Wong, a fourth year Mechanical Engineering major, recently stepped into the role of Con Chair. Her job is to watch over the staff members and envision what the Con should be.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but it is very rewarding,” Wong said.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but it is very rewarding.”

With preparations for 2021, Wong was met with a lot of challenges. Events typically take a year to plan — with the uncertainty of the pandemic, it was hard to tell whether to plan for an in-person event or an online one.

Wong explained that the staff had to come up with a variety of plans depending on whether they might be in person or online. RIT was the deciding factor, telling the staff everything had to be online. With all the challenges the staff faced, there was the looming question of whether or not they should call off Tora-Con.

“I was very persistent on making a way for Tora-Con to happen,” Wong said.

What drove Wong to find a way to make things work was because, over the years, Tora-Con has given her so much joy and she wanted to give that back.

How Tora-Con 2021 Was Made Possible

The team decided to set up Tora-Con 2021 virtually, offering a variety of pre-recorded panels for attendees to watch. Luckily, they were able to salvage stuff from the Tora-Con 2020 — guests from the previous year were able to return, as well as art and merchandise. Everything would be streamed on Twitch and panels were pre-recorded, aside from a couple that were live-streamed. The event was given the name "Tora-Connect" to highlight that the event was virtual.

This was no easy task. The team had to make the impossible possible with only a small staff of 30-45 people. They spent countless hours figuring how to make things work. There were times where everyone was burnt out and wanted to give up.

Tora-Con Staff

Rachel Tiano, a fourth year Graphic Design major, was tasked with the role of media director. Art plays a big role in Tora-Con. Most conventions reuse art pieces over the years while Tora-Con makes new art every year. Everything from panels to the merchandise is created for that specific year. For this year, Tiano wanted to reflect on the event being virtual. The artists drew mascots doing things like recording at a laptop, wearing a mask, and the like.

“We wanted to take the time to let people know that we are going through COVID-19, but also letting them know that we are still here,” Tiano said.

"We are still here.”

Advertising was a challenge because it often took a back seat. This was due to the team being busy working out how everything else was going to work. Typically, advertisements would consist of flyers all around campus. But for 2021, the team spread the word through social media and word of mouth.

This was a struggle because social media isn’t able to reach newer people. The audience who would see these updates mostly likely have an interest or know about Tora-Con to some capacity.

As a whole, the team had a lot to do when it came to adapting to the new format of the convention.

“We have to figure out how we’re going to edit videos, how it’s going to be live-streamed, and coordination with guests was really tough,” Tiano said.

Why Tora-Con Matters

Wong confessed how there were countless times where she could’ve called everything off. But they persevered because they knew what Tora-Con meant to so many people.

“There’s always that reward that comes after and it’s what keeps pushing us to keep going and reels us back in,” said Wong.

That reward came on March 20th when Tora-Connect 2021 arrived. The event went smoothly with no technical hiccups and a total of 3,000 attendees. There were three channels that played throughout the day, the Tora-Con team scheduled them to overlap with content and play advertisements in synch. Much like the in-person cons of previous years, there were gaps in between panels. The team took the liberty to play advertisements for merchandise to make up for not having an Artist Alley. The ads were created by artists who were able to either create their own video ad or a still advertisement.

Leadership was an important part of keeping Tora-Con together. When asked what she thought was the best quality in leadership, Wong said she valued compassion.

"If someone isn’t in a good place, the team gives them time and helps them out — with the community the staff has built, there will always be someone there to help," Wong said.

Tiano, who is also in a leadership position, said that communication is the most important quality for a leader to have.

"Communication is huge, I learned especially in my first year as director ...  You make sure they are all getting the same message and also you are respectful when getting the message across," Tiano said.