ConShark

Should You Do Nerd HQ?

You’re probably counting down the days to the Comic-Con schedule being released (which usually happens two weeks before the show). But once that’s out, many attendees will be eagerly waiting the annoucements from the hugely popular offsite event Nerd HQ.

With one week to go on the countdown clock to SDCC, it’s crunch time in terms of planning and announcements. Now that the full Comic-Con programming schedule is out, the schedule for popular offsite event Nerd HQ is finally available.

History

If you’re new to SDCC, Nerd HQ might be a mystery to you. The basics: Founded in 2011, Nerd HQ is an offsite event featuring panels (“Conversations for a Cause”), evening dance parties, daily photo sessions with celebrity guests (“Smiles for Smiles”), and a sort-of lounge to hang out in during the day that features displays, samples, and demos from sponsoring companies.

One of the evening Nerd HQ parties, open to all.

One of the evening Nerd HQ parties, open to all.

It’s run by The Nerd Machine, a company founded by Zachary Levi (still best known as Chuck from NBC’s “Chuck”) and his business partner David Coleman. The Nerd Machine is completely independent of Comic-Con. The event has had several homes throughout the years but moved to a new space in 2015 – the New Children’s Museum, at Front & Island in the Gaslamp. It previously lived at Petco Park, in the space now occupied by the Nerdist family of digital networks.

Nerd HQ supports the charity Operation Smile, with profits from the event going to the charity. (Hence naming their events “for a Cause” or “for Smiles.”) Operation Smile doesn’t have the greatest track record, having been ranked the 10th least efficient large US charity by Forbes in 2011, but Levi is a longtime celebrity ambassador of the charity. Still, it’s admirable that Levi & Coleman are committed to making Nerd HQ socially responsible.

Zac Levi hosting a Conversation panel at Nerd HQ 2014.

Zac Levi hosting a Conversation panel at Nerd HQ 2014.

The Nerd Machine and Nerd HQ have had their share of financial struggles through the years, making it difficult to put the event on. Increasing overhead expenses have led Nerd HQ through several venue changes and one rather misguided crowdfunding campaign.

When most people mention “going to Nerd HQ,” they are usually referring to the “Conversations for a Cause.” These function much like the same panels you’ll see across the street inside the convention center, but with a few major differences: all seats are individually ticketed, the room is much smaller (and more intimate), and all the discussions are live streamed.

But when you’ve already shelled out $220 for your Comic-Con badge, nearly $300 a night for your hotel, and goodness knows how much in airfare, train tickets, or gas, you start to wonder if it’s worth another $22 to see something you’ve really already paid to see at the actual con.

So, are Nerd HQ “Conversations for a Cause” worth it? Let’s take a look.

Lineup

The panel lineup for Nerd HQ is entirely dependent on the Comic-Con lineup, since it relies on celebs who are already in town for the main event. They’re also restricted by SDCC, who don’t allow panelists to appear on an outside panel prior to their scheduled Comic-Con panel.

Obviously, whether Nerd HQ is good for you is all dependent upon whether you like something in the lineup or not. Once the full “Conversations” schedule is up, you can decide for yourself if there’s something worth seeing.

And of course, limited seating and high demand can make it difficult to get tickets to the most popular panels. Expect conversations with “Doctor Who,” “Sherlock,” and Stephen Amell to sell out in mere seconds.

Seating

Typically, the intimacy of Nerd HQ is what makes it worth the price of admission. A big part of that is seating. You’ll have a seat assigned when your purchase your ticket. Even the seats in the back are quite close to the stage, because the room is much smaller than any panel room inside the convention center (think 200 seats here vs. 1000+ in the rooms these stars usually play).

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At the New Children’s Musuem, if you angle yourself just right, you miiiiiiiight be able to see the panelists.

The move in 2015 to the New Children’s Museum was a downgrade from the previous digs at Petco Park, mostly due to the Conversations seating. At Petco, the seats were (literal) stadium seats. At the New Children’s Museum, the stage isn’t elevated enough and the seats are flat like they are in Comic-Con panel rooms. This means if you’re short and/or have a seat in the pack, you can’t see much.

If you’re attending a less popular Conversation, you’ll get a chance to pick a seat when you buy your ticket. For popular events that sell out quickly, you’re basically at the mercy of whatever’s left when you make it through the system. Don’t bank on getting a seat in the front row, if that’s the only way it’s worth it to you.

Is it still worth it, overall? Yes, especially if you want to participate in the Q&A – with a much smaller audience, you’ve got a much better shot at getting your question in.

Compare the view from the seats at Petco in 2013.

Compare the view from the seats at Petco in 2013.

Despite the sightline problems in 2015, this type of space still makes for some really fun, unique, intimate panels. Check out the photo above, which was our view of the stage at the 2013 Doctor Who panel from the fourth row. We could see the cast & crew very clearly – and they could see us, too! At the beginning of the panel Matt Smith & Jenna Coleman specifically pointed to my brother and complimented his “Nightmare in Silver” Eleventh Doctor cosplay. Amazing interactions with panelists like that aren’t uncommon at Nerd HQ, and it’s a big part of the appeal.

Buying Tickets

Of course, nothing comes easy in San Diego during Comic-Con. Nerd HQ tickets are no exception. As mentioned, the most popular panels will sell out quickly. That Doctor Who panel pictured above completely sold out in under 60 seconds.

Like pretty much everything else you’ve tried to pre-order, reserve, or pre-buy for Comic-Con weekend, you’ll need to be prepared. Tickets typically go on sale in 15 minute waves. There is a limit of two tickets per panel per transaction. You can buy tickets to multiple panels in the same order – but it will take you longer to check out. If you’re trying to get tickets for, say, “Sherlock,” complete the order with the “Sherlock” tickets before buying others. If you don’t, your “Sherlock” seats will likely be sold out by the time you’re ready to pay.

Bert visits Nerd HQ in 2014.

Bert visits Nerd HQ in 2014.

Like a concert, you can click around to choose the best seat available. But don’t bother wasting time with this feature if you’re trying for one of the most popular panels – the 60 seconds you spend clicking around a seating chart could easily cost you your tickets, and there probably isn’t anywhere left to move anyway.

Less crowded panels will sell more slowly and you can afford to be a bit more leisurely with your purchasing. For example, 2014’s Sesame Street panel took days to sell out. Like everything at SDCC, it can be tough to gauge the interest level of your panel of choice. When in doubt, treat it like it’s the most popular event all weekend: be ready early, and be prepared.

Ease of Access

Once you have a ticket, you can relax. It’s got an assigned seat on it, which means you don’t need to show up the night before to camp out for your seat. You don’t even need to show up hours early. They will often try to load the room 15 minutes before the start of the panel, if the ending time of the previous panel permits. So as long as you arrive to the New Children’s Museum 15-30 minutes early, you’re set.

In 2015, Nerd HQ beat Comic-Con to the RFID punch and required all attendees to pick up a wristband for access. Assuming this continues, arrive 30 minutes early if you have not already picked up your wristband. You can pre-register your wristband using the Nerd HQ app for iPhone and Android. You’ll also need a wristband to access any other events at Nerd HQ.

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Nerd HQ volunteers will line you up outside in order of your rows and seats to make entering the auditorium easier.

Because of the ease of access, Nerd HQ is a great option for those unable to stand or sit for long periods of time (as you would need to for long days in Hall H or Ballroom 20), and for families with young children.

Beware Your Bank Account

Close seats to your favorite stars, fun interactions, reserved seats so you don’t need to arrive early – what could go wrong? Don’t go overboard: at $22 a ticket, seeing all 24 panels on the Conversations schedule would run over $500. Ouch.

Muppeteer David Rudman and Cookie Monster at the 2014 Sesame Street Nerd HQ panel.

Muppeteer David Rudman helps Cookie Monster eagerly reach for a cookie at the 2014 Sesame Street Nerd HQ panel.

 

It’s long been said that conventions can accept two forms of currency as payment for the best seats in panels: time or money. Some big-box shows prefer to sell $200 VIP tickets that give you a reserved seat. SDCC chooses to deal in the currency of time – you must wait in line and sacrifice your time to obtain the best seats to a panel. Nerd HQ allows you you spend your money instead of your time – but both time and money are a finite resource. Plan ahead to find your balance between sacrificing time in line for panels you’ve already paid for (in the cost of your badge) at Comic-Con, and sacrificing your budget to see panels at Nerd HQ.

Bottom Line

So what’s the bottom line? Are Nerd HQ “Conversations for a Cause” worth the money, and sometimes the hassle of trying to buy tickets?

Yes! If you have time in your schedule and can swing an extra $22, it’s worth it to hit up a Nerd HQ panel.

But like all good things, moderation – of both your purchases and your expectations – is key.