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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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