If there's one question SDCC newcomers ask, it's about lines - specifically, when they need to get in them and what the "tricks" are for outfoxing their fellow line-waiters.
To answer both of those:
There is no definitive time (and people don't like to post times because then everyone shows up before them, and it becomes a hellish cycle)
There are no tricks for getting to the front of a line other than getting there early.
Make no mistake, lines are the biggest grievance at San Diego Comic-Con. Some people cope by simply eliminating the big rooms (Hall H, Indigo Ballroom and Ballroom 20) from their lives or turning away if they see a line for something else. You can live this way and have a stupendous Comic-Con. But if your heart is set on something line-worthy - and for most of us, it will be at some point - here are some ideas to mull over.
When is a line worth it?
I'm a big believer in enjoying the Con you're at - and it's hard to do that if you spend all of it in a line. Some people work in groups with complicated systems involving assigned shifts, but the vast majority of attendees just have their friends to rely on. So here are a few considerations before you get in line:
- Would you be okay seeing the panel on YouTube or in the Playback room?
- Will you be disappointed if your favorite cast member only speaks once, while the director and some other cast member dominate the panel?
- Will you be annoyed if you get stuck so far back in the room you have to watch the panel on a screen anyhow? Or if the offsite experience is over with in 3 minutes and doesn't offer significant swag?
- Is there anything else at the same time you want to see?
Always compare what you're getting with what you're giving up.
The perennial question. The basic answer is: early enough to get a good seat but not so early that you miss out on the Con. There's no Magic 8 ball here. You can check Twitter for real time updates on line length or swing by to monitor it. Smaller panels really aren't that competitive, unless you want to stake your claim to get the very best seat. Often people will sit through the panel(s) ahead to ensure that, but this is a subject of some contention.
Will the lines be about the same as last year?
Not necessarily. The number of attractive offsites can disperse a crowd across many lines or concentrate it in a few unbearable ones. The big room lines depend on what the day's line-up is. Something that's penetrable one year can be a madhouse the next. And if the hottest panel of the day is early, then often the room will clear out to let another swarm of attendees in.
When's the best time to do offsites?
Depends. In general, offsites are best done early on in the Con because the lines grow throughout the weekend. Or you can try popping in at the very end of each day or Sunday. Typically, a few activations will get the best buzz and have ungodly lines by Saturday. Do be aware that registering for something doesn't mean skipping the line in most cases. Often those online registrations are just about getting your data. There's a reason they're hosting the offsite.
Should I give up on Hall H entirely?
No! Some panels will be walk-in or have manageable lines. You can also find people to partner with in line. Obviously titans like Marvel, GOT, Riverdale, Supernatural and Westworld are going to be highly competitive. But you've got a good shot if you dedicate yourself to the cause.
Also consider the context of other lines. Let's say Hall H is having a highly popular day Saturday and a not so in-demand day Thursday. Saturday will draw more people out of your Indigo Ballroom line - but on Thursday, your line could be more crowded and competitive.
How many line spots can I hold?
Hall H has the 5:1 rule, but in general, most people are fine if a friend or two join you in line. What they're not fine with - and it's been a major problem - is when 10 friends jump in at the last second. You can start out being #133 in line and wind up being #640, despite putting in the hours that other people ahead of you didn't. When a room capacity cuts off just a few people in front of you, it's galling. So be considerate about how many people join you.
Can I sleep in line?
People do. SDCC is not a crime fest, and though there are urban legends about wristbands being stolen off sleeping attendees, I think you're pretty safe. Just chat up the people around you - it's not like getting stuck talking to your seatmate on a plane, you can easily withdraw - and they'll look out for you. And yes, some people go out, get wasted, then stagger into line and sleep it off.
What are common line mistakes?
There are usually multiple lines at any given moment - which makes it very possible to join the wrong line. Verbally confirm which line you're in or you might spend 90 minutes in a line for something you don't care about.
Volunteers and staffers are lovely people, but they're not omniscient. Use common sense. If they're tell you "Oh, they're still letting people in" 10 minutes after a panel has started, move on. Take control of your destiny at SDCC; there's a lot of confusion flowing around and sometimes you need to recognize rubbish when you hear it.
Time your food and restroom breaks carefully. It was years ago, but a Twilight fan was killed by a car when running to rejoin a Hall H line that had finally started to move. You can always ask for a pass when you're in the room (most rooms.)
Always remember that this Comic-Con could be your last. Badge and hotel sales are too unpredictable to count on being here next summer. So live this Comic-Con as intensely as you can - and don't spend all of it in a line.