San Diego Comic-Con: Wristbands & Lines Guide

While you’re getting your schedule ready to snag those sweet Hasbro Transformer exclusives or get into that Doctor Who panel, here are some things you’ll need to know about lining up.

Wristband Distribution

After a test of the wristband system in 2014, Comic-Con went full steam ahead on Hall H wristbands in 2015.

These wristbands only work for the first panel of the day in Hall H, although the room is not cleared between panels – which means you can enter first thing in the morning using your wristband and stay there all day.

One important thing to note is that the wristband process has had a strange effect on lines and crowds. Thousands of people spend all day Thursday at Comic-Con 2015 in line for a Friday Hall H wristband, desperate to get into the Star Wars and Game of Thrones panels. This may have been the cause of abnormally short lines for Hall H’s Thursday lineup, where Doctor Who and Hunger Games panels saw empty seats inside. Twitter is still your best option for following where each line is at any given point.

Wristbands now have a letter group assigned.

Wristbands now have a letter group assigned.

Here’s the simplified process:

  1. Go to Hall H the night before your panel and pick up a wristband for the next day.
  2. Stay in line overnight to secure your place at the front of the line.
  3. Or, go back to your hotel and go to sleep like a normal person. You can rejoin the back of the wristband line anytime before 7:30AM.
  4. Go in Hall H and enjoy your panel!

Of course, this is San Diego Comic-Con: in practice, the system is a bit more complicated.

For Hall H, there are two lines: the line for the current day’s panels, and the line for tomorrow’s panels (the “next day line” or NDL). In theory, the NDL shouldn’t form until the current day’s panels have ended, but SDCC has never enforced that rule. Folks in the NDL are waiting for wristbands to be distributed, so they can go to sleep (whether that’s in line or in their hotel room).

Hall H next day line on Thursday, 2015.

Hall H next day line nears the Hyatt on Thursday afternoon, 2015.

Comic-Con had some trouble in 2015 with the actual distribution of the wristbands. The official start time for distribution is posted in advance by SDCC, usually beginning after 8:00PM. However, they were often very late beginning distribution, and the distribution itself took hours. It usually continued well past midnight, which put a damper on the whole idea of heading back to your hotel to get some sleep.

For 2016, distribution of the next day’s wristbands is supposed to begin each night before at 9:00PM – except on Thursday night, when distribution of Friday’s wristbands should begin at 7:15PM.

Remember that until you have a wristband, the line works the way it always has: first come, first serve. Don’t leave the line without a wristband!

Most importantly: your group members can’t collect a wristband for you – don’t leave for the restroom or a party or a shower without your wristband. Security or Comic-Con staff will actually put the wristband on you after checking your badge. (This is to prevent scalping.)

If all wristbands are distributed overnight, there will be two lines in the morning: the wristband line and the standby line. This is pretty self explanatory, right? If there are still wristbands available in the morning, then everyone magically becomes part of the wristband line.

If you are in line with a group, you have options. Your whole group can leave the line, do whatever you want all night (hopefully sleep), and get in the back of the wristband line before 7:30AM. Or, you can take shifts with your group members and hold your original spot in line. Most people who do this are on a quest for the closest possible seats to the stage.

San Diego Comic-Con 2014 Saturday.1

Those of you who are in line alone either need to team up with another group, or commit to sleeping in line. (You’ll find most attendees are very nice about letting you join up with them, as long as you take a shift in line too.)

Comic-Con does not give out more wristbands than there are seats in Hall H; in fact, it appears they give out fewer wristbands than seats, so there is room for some of the standby line in the first panel of the day

SDCC refrains from using the word “guarantee” to describe your chances of getting in to the first panel of the day in Hall H with a wristband, but that’s some legal CYA mumbo jumbo. You are basically guaranteed into Hall H if you have a wristband and are in line by 7:30AM.

If you have a wristband but get back in line later than 7:30AM, you run the risk of being sent to the back of the line with all the non-wristband commoners. You’re at security’s mercy as to whether they will let you back in the wristband line or not. (This doesn’t apply if you leave your group to go use the restroom at 8:00AM, obviously).

If you are not able to get a wristband, you can still line up for Hall H. You’ll just be behind all the people with wristbands, and you don’t have the luxury of leaving the line overnight.

For panels later in the day in Hall H, use your best judgement to estimate turnover based on the panel schedule. Again, Hall H is not cleared between panels, so spending the day in the standby line might be a waste of time.

This is a lot of information and the wristband system isn’t perfect, but life with wristbands is overall better than life without.

Overnight & Pre-Dawn: Where to Go

Obviously, it depends on where you’re going. If you’re lining up overnight or in the early morning before the doors of the convention center have opened (this is usually prior to 6:00 or 7:00AM), here’s where to head:

  • Hall H: This line starts under the tents adjacent to Hall H (in the grassy area called Plaza Park). The line starts under the tents and then depending what time you get in, the line will wrap all the way down to the marina and beyond. Make sure you understand the wristband process above!

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  • Ballroom 20: Find the “everything else” line outside the Convention Center. The official name for this line is the “Badged Member entry line,” but everyone calls it the “everything else” line. This line will start at the Convention Center doors, then continue on the outside of the Hall H tents before beginning to wrap around the Hall H line. There are only two lines outside the Convention Center in the morning: Hall H, and “everything else.” You’ll share this “everything else” line with folks looking for other programming rooms, the exhibit hall, autograph and exclusive ticket drawings in the sails pavilion, and anything else happening outside Hall H.
The "everything else" line begins out front, near the shuttle stops.

The “everything else” line begins out front, near the shuttle stops.

  • All other panel rooms inside the Convention Center: Follow the instructions above for the Ballroom 20/”Everything Else” line.
  • Exhibit Hall: Follow the instructions above for the Ballroom 20/”Everything Else” line.
  • Sails Pavilion: For autograph and collectible exclusive ticket drawings, follow the instructions above for the Ballroom 20/”Everything Else” line.
  • Indigo Ballroom: This line begins outside the back entrance to the Indigo Ballroom, on the walkway between the Hilton Bayfront and the marina. Be sure to check with your fellow attendees in line to confirm you are in the Indigo line, not the Hall H or Everything Else lines (which often stretch back to the marina).
The Indigo Ballroom line begins in the marina.

The Indigo Ballroom line begins in the marina.

  • Horton Grand Theater: All panels here are ticketed, and tickets are distributed in the Sails Pavilion. Follow the instructions above for the Ballroom 20/”Everything Else” line.
  • Other offsite venues: Go directly to the venue; do not pass go, do not collect $200.

When in doubt, ask the people in the line. You can also ask security, but they often know less than the attendees.

There are two stages of both lines: pre-condensed and condensed.

The pre-condensed line usually starts from the afternoon the day before to about 5 a.m. the day of programming. This is when everyone is sprawled out in their sleeping bags and chairs relaxing (and taking up a lot of space!).

Condensing the Lines

Around 4:30 – 5:30AM, the staff begins to condense the line. Condensing is when security will rouse everyone, ask them to pack up their overnight/camping gear, and move people closer together. There’s still room to sit down, but security must compact the line to make room for all the people who will join the line in the next few hours.

It’s best to be with your group when the line condenses. For one, some security staff will give you a hard time about getting back in line. More importantly, it can be very hard to find your group – unless you were already very close to the front, your group will probably move up a lot. It’s astonishing how much the line condenses, and how much space people take up while camping. (Specifically, the wait at Starbucks can be 45 minutes to an hour – try to wait until the line has condensed!)

It’s important to know these two line stages because your chance of getting into Hall H or getting that exclusive vary. For example: if the Hall H line is pre-condensed (by Joe’s Crab Shack) you are likely to get in. If the Hall H line is condensed and you’re deep in the marina you may want to give up hope on getting into Hall H and find other things to do.

Once condensed, the staff begins to put the line into the “chutes.” The chutes are in the first tent of the Hall H line; if you walk by before the line is condensed, this tent may be empty. This first tent is divided into four smaller, almost single-file lines, or chutes. Once the Fire Marshal approves, the staff begins moving the line into the Hall chute by chute. Once a group is let into Hall H there is a pause before the next chute is let in. Then they begin filling up the previous chute and this continues all morning until the entire room is filled.

The infamous Hall H line chutes.

The infamous Hall H line chutes.

The “Everything Else” Line

Usually around 6:00AM, the doors of the Convention Center will open and the “everything else” line will be let in. At this point, you’ll all split up and head to your respective lines.

  • Ballroom 20: Follow the crowd up the escalators, through the hallway and back outside to the tents on the Ballroom 20 patio area. You will receive a card with a letter on it. This is Ballroom 20’s answer to the Hall H wristbands. You can use it to get an idea of how many people are ahead of you – Ballroom 20 seats about 4,200 and they usually hand out cards for A-D groups.
Entrance to the Ballroom 20 line is through the doors to the right.

Entrance to the Ballroom 20 line is through the doors to the right.

  • All other panel rooms inside the Convention Center: Go up the escalators and head directly to the room; follow the posted signs for the line.
  • Exhibit Hall: Go up the escalator to the Sails Pavilion. There are multiple entry points for the exhibit hall. You’ll usually enter through the Mezzanine, from the back of Hall B.
    • Upstairs, in the Sails Pavilion, on the Room 6 side.
    • In the hallways outside Ballroom 20 (separate from the Ballroom 20 line).
    • Disabled attendees and their attendants may use the disabled entrance, which is sometimes allowed to enter a few minutes early; ask at Disabled Services at Hall A about this benefit.
    • Downstairs, in the main lobby. If you make it past security to get down here, you’ll still be let in last: the front lobby doors of the exhibit hall only open once all the lines upstairs have been let in.
The usual spot for the Exhibit Hall line in the Sails.

The usual spot for the Exhibit Hall line in the Sails.

  • Sails Pavilion, Autograph Tickets: Follow everyone up the escalator, then head straight ahead through the hallway. Lines for the drawings for limited autograph signings are typically just outside the Sails Pavilion, in the hallway outside Ballroom 20.

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  • Sails Pavilion, Exclusive Tickets: Follow everyone up the escalator. Many booths have moved away from the morning stampedes at their booths and instead issue tickets or wristbands upstairs in the Sails Pavilion. Follow posted signs in the Sails Pavilion for the booth you want.
  • Horton Grand Theater: Follow everyone up the escalator. Find the line in the Sails Pavilion for tickets to panels at the Horton Grand Theater.

Lining Up Later in the Day

Use our guide on planning your schedule to determine what time to line up for events. After the initial morning rush, you should simply go to the room your panel is in and follow the signs to the line. For Hall H, go outside to Plaza Park and look for the standby line.

Remember that many lines, including Hall H, Ballroom 20, some of the Room 6 configurations, and even some freebie lines from the Exhibit Hall can end up outside. Pack sunscreen and water to be prepared.

Follow the signs back to the end of the Hall H line in the marina.

Follow the signs back to the end of the Hall H line in the marina.