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SAN DIEGO — The cosplayers and celebrities stayed home for another year, with San Diego Comic-Con opting for a weekend of virtual events again in lieu of the traditional in-person extravaganza.

Comic-Con@Home kicked off Friday with virtual panels, merch stores and fan activities. The virtual convention will last three days, July 23-25, instead of the usual five.

SAN DIEGO, CA – JULY 21: Cosplayers attend 2018 Comic-Con International on July 21, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Paul Butterfield/Getty Images)

Despite the move to virtual for a second year in a row, a group of “causeplayers” gathered at a shrine in the Gaslamp Quarter Friday morning. They planned an opening ceremony and march up Fifth Avenue but the biggest push was to donate blood.

The cosplayers are hosting a blood drive this weekend to draw attention to the urgent need for blood donations and to celebrate Comic-Con’s rich history in San Diego.

In the virtual sphere, some of the more highly anticipated panels in the Comic-Con@Home event include those promoting new Star Trek, The Walking Dead and Dexter shows.

Comic-Con attracts more than 135,000 people — often elaborately costumed — to the Gaslamp District every year for the comic book convention. The event is estimated to generate $147 million for San Diego’s economy every year.

The event is well-known for its industry panels with new exclusive footage from highly anticipated movies and TV shows. Marvel and DC Comics both made headlines for their star-studded panels in Hall H.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – JULY 20: Anthony Mackie of Marvel Studios’ ‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’ at the San Diego Comic-Con International 2019 Marvel Studios Panel in Hall H on July 20, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Thousands of fans usually gather to see the panels, but for the second time, stars instead recorded their appearances over webcams.

Online vender halls and merch stores also are selling exclusive material for fans participating in the virtual event. They also will hold the annual Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, which are the highest award given to comic book creators and retailers.

Comic-Con went virtual for the first time last year due to coronavirus-related cautions around large gatherings. The event was the usual five days with some star-studded virtual panels but did not see significant fan attendance for which the event is known.

Later this year, Comic-Con will hold a smaller in-person event called “Comic-Con Special Edition” during Thanksgiving weekend.

The Associated Press contributed to this report