4,900 expected for OMG!con next weekend

An estimated 4,900 people from at least 14 states and two other countries — Canada and Estonia — will begin arriving in town Friday to turn Owensboro into “#OMGsboro.”

OMG!con, a gathering of fans of cosplay (costumed play), anime, video gaming and table top-centered events, will feature three days of activities next weekend, including a parade of costumed characters from the Owensboro Convention Center to the RiverPark Center for Friday After 5.

“Several of our hotels are sold out that weekend,” Dave Kirk, destination management director for the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said last week.

OMG!con will account for more than 800 room nights at local hotels, he said.

“Our pre-registration is running 30 percent ahead of last year,” said Hooper — that’s his entire legal name — the convention’s spokesman. “We’ll probably have 4,900, counting vendors and presenters.”

OMG!con started in Paducah in 2006 and moved to Owensboro in 2014.

“So far, our growth has been steady,” Hooper said. “We’re trying to build our Owensboro volunteer base to meet our growth. We could easily handle 30,000 to 40,000 people in Owensboro. We should be able to handle growth for the next 10 years.”

But, he said, “a lot depends on the economy and if people have enough disposable income for events like this.”

“In 2006, when we started,” Hooper said, “the internet wasn’t as big a part of people’s lives as it is today. Now, these events are springing up all over the country. We try to keep our costs $30 to $40 below similar events.”

You might call the OMG!con crowd “nerds,” he said.

But Hooper said, “Today, being a nerd isn’t negative like it once was.”

He said, “If these events can succeed in the Bible Belt, they can succeed anywhere. Owensboro is the most accepting place ever.”

Pre-registration shows people coming from as far away as Oregon.

But Hooper said, “Most are from the area between Chicago, St. Louis and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.”

He said, “Our people spend a lot of money locally. They like to try local restaurants rather than chains.”

Last year. Li Rei, a Louisvillian who coordinates volunteers, said, “I’ve seen everybody from babies in strollers to grandparents doing cosplay. But it’s mainly 18- to 25-year-olds. Most people who come cosplay. It’s fun to dress up and be somebody else.”

Hooper said a couple from Dover, Tennessee, who met at OMG!con and got married, brought their baby two years ago, and all three were in costumes.

Some of the cosplay activities, including foam sword fights, are on the lawn in front of the convention center each year.

Games include Dungeons & Dragons, Munchkin Roulette and Ultimate Werewolf, and there are tournaments for “Magic the Gathering,” “Yu-Gi-Oh!” and “Pokémon.”

And there are autograph sessions with Caleb Hyles, Greg Ayres, Bill Rogers, Andrea Caprotti, Rachelle Heger, Marianne Miller, Comfort Love, Adam Withers, Robert DeJesus, Emily DeJesus and Carli Mosier.

Hooper explained his unusual name, saying there’s an old tradition in his family that the first-born son in each generation is named simply Hooper.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, [email protected]