The market hall at PopCon was buzzing on Saturday - characters from the cosplay parade were mixing with stallholders, looking for memorabilia and taking dozens of photos.
Now in its third year, Ballarat's pop culture convention is continuing to grow, and for many people, including stall holders, organisers, and local creators, that's an excellent sign.
It's all run by Ballarat's Sonika FreeZa group, a team of young volunteers who have put on the show since its inception.
READ MORE: Check out all the costumes from PopCon 2019
Pop culture conventions are big business, from Comic-Con International which takes over San Diego for a month, gaming's massive PAX, which arrives in Melbourne next week, to the homegrown Oz Comic-Con, more and more geeks are looking for new experiences and like-minded people to share their interests with.
While there were more than a few people in town from Melbourne, local conventions like PopCon are creating a sense of community, fostered by friendly local gaming stores, of which Ballarat can boast a few.
Yes, there's stereotypes - you don't have to look hard to find some Star Trek redshirts, and there were several Spider-men wandering around - but the enthusiasm was genuine.
Though a step away from the heavy metal jousting at Kryal Castle, warriors young and old jumped at the chance to try live-action role play, swinging specially-designed foam weapons and learning about role-playing games.
Home-made costumes featured in the cosplay competition, which attracted the biggest number of entrants to date, were surprising, and organisers pointed to the junior competition as a point of difference, as usually kids are competing against the pros.
That category was won by Paige Saunders, dressed as Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
While they didn't compete, Andre McCallum and their mum Karen - dressed impeccably as shonen stars Ciel and Sebastian from Japanese fan-favourite Black Butler - said they were impressed at the quality.
"It's a lot bigger, I used to go when it was a lot smaller, there's more stalls, there wasn't a lot of cosplayers when I was younger but now there's a bunch," they said.
"Just coming in to dress up and meet other people is good."
Ms McCallum agreed.
"It's knowing there's somewhere they can actually come and bring everybody together," she said.
The home-brew spirit extended to some of the games people could try - Dr Nicholas Moll of Owlman Press was exhibiting a concept role-playing game, Into the Barrowlands, that doesn't need a game-master, but can spread as large as its players were willing to go.
"It's 100 per cent Ballarat," he said.
"Nine times out of 10, the gaming community in regional Victoria is strong enough and friendly enough that they'll welcome you as a long-lost family member and walk you through whatever you need to do."
He got involved in designing his own games while working on his phD as a way to develop his writing skills, and he's already got a few publications, developed in Ballarat, under his belt.
Other local creators were keen to find a dedicated audience in the marketplace - there was a truly staggering range, from Japanese Pokemon cards and Wash's dinosaurs from Firefly, to home-made dragon wings and a collection of crotcheted Disney characters.
Castlemaine's Sharnie Digby said she was keen to see the event grow - marketplace stall spots sold out quickly this year.
"I know you'll have the Doctor Who fans, the Star Wars, the Disney fans, it's such an eclectic mix and a great social event as well," she said.
"We have the major events that are all held in Melbourne, but we had one in Bendigo, and now this one in Ballarat - I'm from a small community, so to come to these communities where it's accessible to locals who might not be able to afford or have the time to go to Melbourne, it's really great to be able to bring this to them."
There's other benefits that other businesses can seize as well.
GUF Ballarat's Mark Carter is keen to see council take advantage of the burgeoning interest in board games, similar to the investments in home-grown video games that have seen Ballarat developers showcased in e-Sports tournaments.
There's a weekend board game festival coming to Ballarat soon, he said, from November 1, for enthusiasts to try out new ideas.
"We've been having discussions with council about a board game design incubator - they've done a lot of things with electronic game development with Federation University, and we're trying to encourage them to move downstream into supporting board game design, that will feed into that," he said.
Based on the energy at PopCon 2019, it's clear there's an appetite.
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