How to not be DashCon

21 July 2014 | 14 comments

dashcon

I’m sure you’ve heard about DashCon, the Tumblr-themed fandom convention that became synonymous for “failure.” Between canceled guests, missing money, and “an extra hour in the ball pit,” DashCon has given the Internet a lot to cringe over. Despite attendee testimonies that they actually had a good time, DashCon’s social media footprint was a major PR nightmare.

Two weeks later, I think we’ve all had enough of a laugh at DashCon’s expense. Tumblr may not be your fandom, but one failed fandom convention still lowers the credibility of the rest. This is not just DashCon’s public image at stake, it’s all of fandom’s, too. If you like going to cons and volunteering at cons, you know this isn’t a good thing.

Now it’s time for fans to ask ourselves, “How can we keep this from happening again?” I posed this question to two veteran con-runners; Rob Barba, former convention chair of Anime USA, and Geoff Beebe, board member at Cloudsdale Congress.

Where did DashCon go wrong? Here’s what two experienced convention volunteers think.

Be realistic

Optimism is a good thing. But too much and you lose your basis in reality. According to Rob, DashCon needed a healthy dose of the latter.

“DashCon expected 10,000 visitors in the door. There are popular conventions that have been around for a decade plus and haven’t even reached a third of that number,” he said. “Also, for its first year, DashCon wanted $65 at the door? $20 would have been acceptable.”

Listen to mentors

DashCon was reputed to have mostly minors and many first-time staffers running the convention. Geoff recalled assisting at a convention last year that had many first-time staffers, and noted that competency is no match for experience.

“Though they had many qualified people holding key positions, they called in myself and other veteran staffers who were able to advise and mentor,” he said. “It was good they did that because there were hotel shenanigans, and the experienced people that were called in had seen similar situations before, and knew how to handle it.”

Treat your guests right

It takes a degree of trust for a famous person or group to put itself in the hands of a fandom convention consisting mostly of volunteers and not always professionals. When a convention doesn’t do their best to cater to guests, Rob said, all fans suffer.

“The crew of Welcome to Night Vale getting burned over this didn’t just cost DashCon—it might have also cost similar cons who were completely on the up-and-up,” he said.

Treat your attendees right

Geoff said that sometimes convention volunteers get excited by their privileged positions and forget the real reason they’re putting on the con: to give attendees a good time. In his opinion, what happened at DashCon—from the surprise $17,000 fundraising session the night before to the ball pit as a replacement for a monetary refund—put attendees’ interests last.

“When disaster strikes, it’s the attendees who end up paying,” he said. “In this case, it was literal.”

“Don’t f*ck up”

Bluntly rounding out his advice, Rob said that sometimes volunteers don’t realize just what’s on the line when they’re running a first-time convention.

“You won’t believe how many people seem to think that in the first year of running a con, people can make massive errors at the expense of attendees and that said attendees will forgive anything because ‘Hey, we’re a con!’  No, they won’t, especially if you’re in a convention-heavy area or in a mature genre. (Trying to start an anime con nowadays? You’d better ace almost everything the first time around.)


In your opinion, what are the absolute essentials of a well-run fandom convention? Alternately, what are some of the worst shenanigans you’ve seen a con deal with? As a convention volunteer myself, I definitely have some stories!

Photo via emmagrant01

  • bjwanlund

    Sigh… I’m just glad I don’t go to cons right now (lack of funds more than anything else). But did you see the Denny’s Tumblr post where they made a joke about it and called their thing “Dencon”? That was really funny.

    • http://www.otakujournalist.com/ Lauren Orsini

      @bjwanlund:disqus I actually know the Denny’s social media manager and she is ALWAYS on point with her fandom jokes. Almost makes me want to eat at Denny’s!

  • Tommy Phillips

    I think one essential is humility/lack of arrogance. Tekkoshocon in Pittsburgh suffered from way too much pride in themselves, then nearly went under, before new management came in and righted the ship. On the other hand, Colossalcon in Ohio was a pretty humble con when I first went to it 5 years ago, then it exploded in popularity. The last couple years, though, they’ve started to get the same type of arrogance as Tekko, and it could turn them into a circus like Ohayocon.

  • Zoe Le Loir

    I follow 54 accounts on Tumblr and many of them rarely post, still I’ve seen dozens of posts on Dashcon. Sounds like the ball was really dropped.

    As for the $65 fee, wow! Just purchased my pass for GeekGirl Con and that was $35.

    • Zoe Le Loir

      Speaking of, and totally off topic, Lauren, do you know the scheduling of your panels during the con? Was thinking of volunteering but want to make sure I make your panels or at least 2 of them.

      • http://www.otakujournalist.com/ Lauren Orsini

        @zoeliddel:disqus Not yet! We had to turn in our confirmations by July 15, but we got a message that the con runners are still sorting through them to make the schedule.

        • Zoe Le Loir

          Thanks! I can always make a request in the application if I decide to do some volunteering. It’s only 8 hours over the 2 days and I figure it’s a good way to meet people.

  • Ava Luman

    I think a must have for any convention is a visual presence in within the con itself. Signs saying were things are, volunteers walking the con floor, and so on. I have been to several long running conventions where they don’t have signs outside of panel rooms so you’re just walking down a hall of closed doors hoping you are going to the right room. The experience is made worst when there is no one around to assist attendees. Don’t know where they sign in table is? The food booths? Better hope someone nearby does or your making a Saiyuki style trek around the con.

  • AsteriskCGY

    So I have a friend that’s in a group starting a Touhou con. It’s being held in a college student center for a day in the fall. Between its theme and timing, its probably going to be ass small. But since he’s got a lot of nice connections working and showing up at conventions all over, these guys should have plenty of help going forward.

    • http://www.otakujournalist.com/ Lauren Orsini

      @AsteriskCGY:disqus the fact that he’s rightfully expecting his first time college convention to be small shows he’s firmly grounded in reality, just like Rob recommends!

      • AsteriskCGY

        I’m interested in how it turns out. Hard part would be seeing how it’s going to repeat. This is a lot to set up. and from what I can tell he’s using a lot of his connections with AX to get things to work.

  • KSweeley

    I’m glad you wrote this. I’ve been a staff member for a major anime con for the past 5 years now and going to meetings for this con has me learning how to run a proper con.

    I’m trying to start a con of my own to educate parents and grandparents on why their children and grandchildren likes anime, manga, video games, East Asian pop culture and like going to cons such as anime and comic cons. I also want to try to educate parents that anime isn’t just “Saturday AM cartoons” and there might just be some anime that they would like to watch. Been attempting this since 2003, the recession hit and I couldn’t do any more planning until 2010 and just in 2013, I was contacted by a company wanting to help me find a venue and negotiate a contract and they successfully found a venue and they negotiated a contract that has been signed by me, we actually have guests lined up which I’m surprised about since DashCon and Las Pegasus UniCon has clearly soured the guest industry for first-time fandom conventions such as mine. The challenging part now is getting more staff than I current have and the major challenge is getting funding for operational costs.

    Me and my staff is learning what NOT to do in order for my con to at least succeed into its second year and DashCon and Las Pegasus UniCon are two cons that we are looking at as what NOT to do in order to run at least a decent if not excellent fandom con.

    • http://www.otakujournalist.com/ Lauren Orsini

      @ksweeley:disqus that is a really neat endeavor, and I’m glad my post was helpful. I definitely recommend talking to veteran con runners. And keep me posted on how your progress goes!

      • KSweeley

        I have been talking to veteran con runners. Give me a way to directly contact you and I’ll be pleased to give you updates on my convention.