This past weekend I attended BayCon 2013, a writer’s convention in the Bay Area, and, I’m a little sad to say, I think it’ll be my last one.
Have you ever had one of those magical nights or trips where amazing things happen, where you feel incredible, the people you are with are great, and you just gel? One of those nights you tell stories about years later, where people shake their heads in disbelief and jealousy because they wish they’d been there?
BayCon used to be like that.
First of all, because I know people who organize and work staff for the con itself, this isn’t a slam on those people; they’re all hardworking and very dedicated people trying to do their best to put on a great show.
However, it seems BayCon is dying, at least in my opinion being a tangential part of staff. It’s dying a slow death and it has been for years.
When I started attending BayCon back in the early 00’s it was really the only game in town on Memorial Day weekend; there were other cons but, to my knowledge, they had a much smaller presence. It boasted a decently large schedule of varied topic panels, had a huge costuming presence. The game room was almost always full (to the point it spilled out into the hallway) and the larger events that took place after most of the panels were done for the day were so full FLARE, the con security group, had to help the gopher staff turn people away.
But over the years things happened. I know there has been a lot of drama among the upper echelons of the organizers and a number of the main players are no longer with the Con; I also know that has impacted the attendees as people made decisions to not attend based on said drama. The panel schedule has shrunk and stagnated in that the same panels always seem to be on the schedule and the support for things non-writing related appears to have also gone down; the costume masquerade is a shadow of it’s former self and I hardly saw anyone in costume that wasn’t one of the Klingons or the ghost pirates who have been showing up the last few years. The average age of the BayCon attendee, I speculate, is going up and there doesn’t appear to be any real draw to bring in younger fans to the event in that there doesn’t seem to be any specific outreach being done to interest them.
This last point is especially important since BayCon is no longer the big dog on Memorial Day weekend. Two events have really grown in the years since 2002: Fanime and Kublacon. Fanime, as guessed by the name, focuses largely on anime, manga, and other such media while Kublacon is a gaming convention for all kinds of games. Both have siphoned off two parts of BayCon’s former attendees, the anime and gamer geeks, but, more importantly, appear to have also taken a much more important demographic: the young. Young fans are how you keep things going, using their youth, energy, and interest to keep bringing them back, to get them to bring their friends, and, as they get older, they bring their kids to such events; the young, by their interest in attending the con, also gain an interest in working for the con which helps bring in important new blood, energy and ideas on how to make the con better (and also more relevant). Both conventions have the draw of being focused on two things that kids are really into, anime (which is big right now and has been for a while) and gaming (which will always be big). Throw in that Kublacon has stuff for young gamers on its homepage and that Fanime partnered up (or possibly organized as an attached event) with Clockwork Alchemy, a steampunk convention, and you have two alternate cons to BayCon trying to actively tap into what is currently trending in younger people’s interests.
BayCon? Still trying to get by doing the same thing and that, to me, doesn’t look it’s working. And it isn’t really working for me anymore either.
One of the biggest draws for me at BayCon were my friends. It was an annual meet up of people I didn’t get to see that often, the space at the center of the Venn Diagram where many of my social circles overlapped so I could see people from those groups in one place. As the years have gone by fewer and fewer of those people attend anymore. The Widget is no more, the Burrow crowd didn’t attend at all, and many of the gamers and costumers I’m friends with didn’t make an appearance. This year I had to pay $30 to work the convention, which is more than I pay to get a pass for Dickens Fair (where I work/attend 4-5 weekends rather than just one) and, really, the only reason I worked this year was because I missed my brothers and sisters in FLARE (and a few other non-FLARE friends), many of whom I hadn’t seen in the two years since Connor was born. However, looking back on this weekend I could’ve just avoided the areas of the con you had to pay to get into (which didn’t hold much interest to me) and just hung out downstairs and seen enough of FLARE and my other friends to get my fix of those great people.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe BayCon’s organizers were trying to actively draw in younger, newer attendees and I will admit I did see some kids who I didn’t recognize as children of older, regular attendees. Maybe this year’s numbers were better than or equal to last years. Maybe that’s so. However, this isn’t the BayCon that used to be such a draw to me and after the experience of the con this weekend, which wasn’t bad it just wasn’t all that good, I’d rather not pay $30 to work eight hours when I could just come down and visit with my friends after they get off shift.
I hope things improve for BayCon, I do; I know that it is an important event to people. Regardless of my opinions and feelings about the event, I know that the people who organized it worked very hard on the event and they certainly did their best; like I said, this isn’t a slam on them as people or the effort that they put forward. BayCon’s just not the event for me anymore.