Final Boss Con levels up in year three

by | Mar 1, 2024 | A Writer's Journey, Feature Articles | 0 comments

“One fan or a thousand, it does not matter. We give them the best show they’ve seen.”

That was the text co-founder Mackenzie Halley sent in the early morning hours to the team behind Final Boss Con, a Pop Culture and Gaming Convention in Rio Grande, Ohio.

2022 was their first year, so neither Mackenzie, nor his wife, Kaitlynn, or friend Matt Addis, who make up the founding committee, actually expected a thousand attendees. They would have been happy with a couple of hundred, considering the idea was just formed in February of that year and the event was taking place just five months later.

Anyone who has organized an event knows the amount of work that goes into that organization, much less launching a brand-new event. Kaitlynn, specifically, knows those hurdles well, as Assistant Director of the Gallia County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

But as a fan of gaming, pop culture, and comic conventions, as well as an advocate for travel and tourism in Gallia County, Kaitlynn immediately jumped on board with Mackenzie’s idea, which he said was born out of a love for that style of events and a touch of new parent insomnia. Mackenzie and Kaitlynn’s daughter, Iris, was less than a year old at the time.

With Kaitlynn’s support, Mackenzie immediately jumped into action by contacting the University of Rio Grande’s eSports coach to garner support in holding the event at the University of Rio Grande. Just four days later, the first meeting was held, and Mackenzie had already gathered information about the University of Rio Grande’s Lyne Center facility, drawn an event map, and started fleshing out the basics for the event.

To round out the team, friend Matt Addis, who owns Gallia County Gaming, LLC, an eBay store featuring a variety of wares including vintage gaming apparel, came on board and the fledgling event planning business was underway.

At the time though, none of them knew that was where their efforts would eventually lead. Their goal that first year was to simply bring an event they all could enjoy to Gallia County in the hopes others who may not have the opportunity to travel to similar events would join them.

And while they were new to organizing a convention, none of them were new to the convention world. The Halleys have turned attending gaming, comic, and pop culture conventions of all sizes into a family hobby and travel all over Ohio and into other states. And while Mackenzie was the push to getting Final Boss Con off the ground, Kaitlynn remembers thinking to herself, “We could do this,” while attending another convention.


Matt said he grew up playing video games, often renting them from the local video store, but it wasn’t until he was older that he realized there was a huge fan base that revolved around those games. The thought of bringing an event like a gaming convention to Gallia County was exciting for him, both because he would enjoy it and he knew others would, as well.

So, what is a convention, or “con”, as it’s normally called? At its core, it is an event designed to bring together like-minded fans with each other and the creators behind the medium those fans follow. The event may feature special guests like famous actors or comic book authors and illustrators, game artists, or the people who served as inspiration for game or animated characters. And that is just a small part of a con. There are typically a variety of vendors and fans dressed in cosplay (more on that later) and other activities for the fans to enjoy.

At first, the plan was to make Final Boss Con a gaming convention, but Matt said they felt that would be too limiting and decided to ultimately make it into a Pop Culture and Gaming Convention.

Three years later, it’s clear that the team’s decision to start Final Boss Con in Gallia County and expand the theme to include pop culture was destined for success, but at the time Mackenzie sent that text, they didn’t know that first event would draw five times the number of people they’d thought would attend.

Caught up in the details of running the event that morning, it wasn’t until they ran out of armbands that the trio realized they’d underestimated themselves. They stopped, looked around the event, and realized they’d already doubled their expected attendee numbers and still had six hours to go in the event.

“We were all three standing together and just started laughing like idiots,” said Kaitlynn.

Photo courtesy of Final Boss Con. A view of the first Final Boss Con event.

In the end, the event attracted 1,016 attendees and based on that success, the trio officially trademarked Final Boss Con, filed for an LLC, and started planning for year two.

In addition to providing an experience that usually requires travel to a bigger city and to providing an experience for gaming fans, Matt said events like Final Boss Con also bolster the economy.

Photo Courtesy of Final Boss Con. A family affair, the kids also take part. From left: Zoey Addis, Iris Halley, and Liv Addis.

“As it grows, that could be something that brings people to the area.” He went on to use the success of events like Gallipolis in Lights and First Friday in downtown Gallipolis as positive examples. “Anything that bolsters this local economy is good for everybody. It’s all those things combined for me that make it a worthwhile event. My kids come and help at this event, and they think it’s cool. It’s a family event. We’re staying local. We’re bringing these crazy guests to Gallia County. I mean, how insane is that?”

“What Matt said is perfect. Bringing something to our community that you can’t get unless you go to a big city,” said Kaitlynn.


In addition to organizer, Kaitlynn also appeared at Final Boss Con as a vendor with her shop Once More With Feeling, that hosts the tagline “Accessorize your nerdy side.” While she’d had plans for years to set up as a vendor at conventions, those plans were delayed due to Covid and the birth of her daughter.

Final Boss Con gave Kaitlynn that opportunity and she wasn’t the only one. While they are selective about vendors at the event, they do make it a point to accept ones just getting started.

“We’re just trying to support local artists, and be a part of someone’s very first con,” said Kaitlynn.

As stated before, panelists and the ability to meet creatives from their favorite mediums are one big draw of cons. Going into its third year, Final Boss Con has already attracted a variety of special guests ranging from artists of popular video games to actors from well-known children’s shows.

But one special guest’s participation in year two was a shock to the trio. While at another con, Matt and Mackenzie were walking around and noticed a gentleman off to the side. Matt, being a fan of horror, recognized the man as John Russo, who co-wrote the classic horror film Night of the Living Dead, to name just one of the many works Russo has either written or directed, or both.

Matt admitted he “fanboyed” at first and asked for a photograph with Russo, who obliged. A couple of days later, Matt reached out to Russo and asked if he would be interested in participating in Final Boss Con. To their shock and excitement, Russo agreed and traveled over four hours to appear at Final Boss Con II. Not only that, Russo shared the event on his own social media channels and publicly praised the event.

“Another note about John Russo,” said Kaitlynn. “He is returning this year as a special guest, per his own request. That’s something we never expected to happen.”

“It’s so surreal,” said Matt.

Photo courtesy of Matt Addis. John Russo (left) signing a The Return of the Living Dead Trioxin Barrel Matt Addis (right) commissioned.

Matt said that they now have talent agents contacting them, and they also aren’t afraid to reach out to talent themselves, no matter how popular they are.

“We shoot our shot, I like to say. We like to ask 100 people for one person to say yes,” said Matt. “But we’ve had some surprising responses that weren’t no but were maybes. They’ve really kind of been insane.”

That tenacity has resulted in the event securing guests from some of the most well-known children’s television programs and video games.

Just three years later, in addition to John Russo, Final Boss Con will welcome the following guests for the 2024 show:

  • Daniel Pesina, who appeared in the first two Mortal Kombat games as Johnny Cage, as well as worked on a variety of films utilizing his Martial Arts skills.
  • Carlos Pesina, who is also a renowned Martial Artist and appeared in Mortal Kombat games as Raiden and has earned a reputation of being a great motion capture artist with the nickname: One Take.
  • Paul E. Niemeyer, the original Mortal Kombat video game artist, as well as artist on many iconic classic video games like Tron, Spy Hunter, and Super Pac-Man.
  • Chris Rager, a voice actor known for voicing Mr. Satan in the Dragon Ball franchise, whose acting resume includes hundreds of appearances in a variety of television episodes and video games.
  • Carla Perez, best known as the actress who portrayed Rita Repulsa in the Power Rangers franchise.
  • Josh Martin, a voice actor best known for voicing Kid Buu, Majin Buu, and Buu in the Dragon Ball Z franchise.

In addition to the special guests, Final Boss Con III will feature over 85 vendors, as well as gaming tournaments and Cosplay Contests, which are a huge part of most conventions.

Photo Courtesy of Final Boss Con. ElkCosplay as Satan from Devilman Crybaby.

More than just dressing up in costume, the cosplay element of cons is a fandom all on its own.

“Cosplay is a big passion for people,” said Kaitlynn. “The artists, for the most part, make ninety to ninety-five percent of the costumes by hand.”

Kaitlynn said that cosplay artists will spend hours crafting that cosplay—which comes from the words “costume” and “play”—down to the smallest detail, studying their subject, their mannerism, how they talk, and essentially become that character.

“For a few hours, they get to be someone else,” said Kaitlynn. “It’s so cool to see people dressed up. It’s one of my favorite parts.”

That first year they had so many cosplay artists, they had to ultimately move the contest to a different location at the venue to handle the number of contestants. Due to its popularity, this year, they brought on a volunteer just to help organize the cosplay contest.

As organizers, Mackenzie said they are so focused on the little details of making the event happen, they sometimes lose sight of the effect the event has on them as fans.

But little moments make the whole experience surreal, like when he was recently digging through some of his childhood toys and realized he is now interacting with the people behind those toys.

“We played with these when we were children and didn’t think that those were real people on the screen. But there is a voice behind every cartoon. There is a person behind every picture,” said Mackenzie. “It just seems crazy that Rio Grande, Ohio is going to have some of these people that have been in multi-generational, multi-year shows, and games. That they’re coming out to this day. It’s just been wild.”

All-in-all, the group do not have specific goals beyond growing the event so more people can attend and enjoy it.

And none of them benefit personally from the event. Whatever profit the event makes goes right back into the event or is donated to a charity or organization that means something to them.

“We try to do so much in that part, too, because if we’re blessed enough to be able to do this show, (we want to) give back as much as we can,” said Mackenzie.

As the show grows, the Halleys keep a reminder on their refrigerator of why they are organizing the event. That reminder is a thank-you card from a young boy who won a raffle at the first event. It was also his first experience at a convention.

Photo courtesy of Final Boss Con. A thank-you card from a young attendee of the first Final Boss Con that the Halleys keep on their refrigerator .

“It’s still on our refrigerator and makes me smile every time I see it,” said Kaitlynn.

One aspect of the event that Kaitlynn wanted to highlight was their partnership with Bossard Memorial Library. Members of the library’s Tweens and Teens Book Clubs get free admission, and the library is given a table to promote library programs and events.

“The library is still relevant. And for a lot of us, the library is where a lot of our fandom love came from,” said Kaitlynn. “I know for me, especially, the library played a vital role in the things that I have an interest in.”

With the event’s popularity, the trio wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without the support of members of the community who have volunteered and sponsored the event, as well as their family members who have stepped up to help.

Kaitlynn bragged on Matt’s youngest daughter, Liv, who worked the merchandise booth. At nine years old, Kaitlynn said Liv was “on it” selling t-shirts and Final Boss Con merchandise to attendees.

“It was just the best thing to watch,” said Kaitlynn.

According to Matt, Liv is ready to get behind the table again for the 2024 event.

Photo courtesy of Final Boss Con. Matt Addis’ daughter Liv (sitting) and Mackenzie Halley’s cousin, Olivia Harrison (standing), volunteering at the Final Boss Con merch table.

Kaitlynn said, for her personally, it’s just a joy to watch people come together over their shared interests. “It brings people together. It’s fans connecting with fans.”

Final Boss Con III will take place at the University of Rio Grande Lyne Center on May 4, 2024. Which is perfect if you are familiar with the date’s significance, especially to Star Wars fans. (Hint: May the force be with you.)

While right now, Final Boss Con is the group’s focus, they are taking what they’ve learned with Final Boss Con and launching yet another event in Gallia County. The first Rio Renaissance Faire is scheduled for September 28th, 2024, at the Bob Evans Shelter House in Rio Grande, Ohio.

“We all really love Ren Faire and just think it’s really fun,” said Kaitlynn. “So now we’re making another leap and trying something new.”

Their plan is to make the event completely immersive. They want guests to question what year they are in when they enter the event. They are currently in the process of signing up vendors and putting together a team for the décor. All of the vendors will be required to dress in period costumes. They received confirmation that members of the Riverby Theatre Guild will perform at the event and there will be period music.

“This is our first time doing it. We’re going to see what works and what doesn’t, just like we did with Final Boss Con,” said Kaitlynn.

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