ConShark
Zac Levi hosting a Conversation panel at Nerd HQ 2014.

Zac Levi hosting a Conversation panel at Nerd HQ 2014.

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.

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. 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, which is completely independent of Comic-Con. It’s had several homes throughout the years but will try a new space in 2015 – the New Children’s Museum, at Front & Island in the Gaslamp.

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

Obviously, whether Nerd HQ is good for you is all dependent upon whether you like something in the lineup or not. Now that the full “Conversations” schedule is posted, 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
Matt Smith, Steven Moffat, and Jenna Coleman at the 2013 Nerd HQ Doctor Who panel.

Matt Smith, Steven Moffat, and Jenna Coleman at the 2013 Nerd HQ Doctor Who panel.

The seating, however, is what really makes Nerd HQ worth it. 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).

And this kind of space makes for some really fun, unique, intimate panels. Check out the photo to the right, which is 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 go on sale July 2 at 6am Pacific 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.

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, last year’s Sesame Street panel (pictured at left) 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
Muppeteer David Rudman and Cookie Monster at the 2014 Sesame Street Nerd HQ panel.

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

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. [UPDATE: Nerd HQ will now require all attendees to pick up a wristband for access. You will need to 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.] 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

Comic-Con 2013.55Close 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.

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.

Charity Partner

Of course, you’ll feel a little better about dropping all that cash when you remember that Nerd HQ donates all their proceeds to Operation Smile. This has made financing the event difficult at times, but it’s admirable that Levi & Coleman are committed to making Nerd HQ socially responsible.

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 is key.

 

Please note that specific logistics and procedures, like seat ushering or arrival times, refer to how Nerd HQ has handled these at their previous venues. As the 2015 event will be held at a venue brand new to Nerd HQ, watch carefully for their instructions.