It’s not you, it’s me…ok, it is a little you, but it’s also a little me

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.

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10 Responses to It’s not you, it’s me…ok, it is a little you, but it’s also a little me

  1. Tyler says:

    I share your opinion of BayCon. I attended two years in a row in the late Oughts, then scoped it out a little the next year. My experience was one of diminishing returns; the first year was great, the second year I scrambled to find things to do and spent long stretches of it bored, the third year I wound up not going. I went to BayCon over KublaCon or Fanime because I wanted to network and go to writing panels, and they didn’t have a schedule of panels even a month before the con was supposed to start. Even if their panels wound up being awesome, I need to plan in advance where I am going Memorial Day Weekend, so I was forced to assume they wouldn’t have anything useful for me; better to save the money than to buy a badge and wish I hadn’t. Maybe next year they’ll have a schedule up sooner and I can join them; I hope so, because that first year of mine was really pretty good.

    • mattmarovich says:

      I can understand that. I know I was contacted by someone at the con at the beginning of April if I wanted to do a YBiWDD recording at BayCon, and that I was supposed to get back to them by 4/20 with information if I wanted to. Honestly, IMO the panel schedule should be done at least two or so months in advance, barring any changes, so that you can use it as a draw for the convention but also for reasons you describe.

  2. David Medinnus says:

    The staff politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small, like in Academia. People who get sick of the politics, who have better things to do than argue the same old crap again and again, leave after a few years.

    There is a truth about fan-based organizations, and its not a nice one, but I’ll go ahead and say it anyways. Fan-based organizations are started by creative, hard-working people, and they attract and recruit people like them. And those people bring in their friends. And those people bring in their friends. By the time you have a fourth- or fifth- generation thing going on, a few years have passed, and all of a sudden the creative people start dropping out and creating something else.

    The people who stay are often caretakers, who waited patiently to move up the ranks. Much of their personal egos are invested in their positions and the politics. They are often walking, talking embodiments of both the Peter Principle and the Shatner Basement theory. They will never leave, and they will repeat their schtick, pretty much without variation, for years and years.

    This evolution affects all fannish things, from orgs to cons, regardless of whether its a lit-con (Baycon), a gaming con (Kublacon), or a media con (Fanime). Baycon actually resists better than many, as they have a constant influx of staff volunteers who renew the creative energies (and the best of them challenge the status quo, like Gene & Michelle Hertel, Charlie Prael, LaMont Jones, and others I could name from the mists of time).

    Its also true that some of the people who kvetch the loudest are those who refuse to get involved and make things better. Mitzi Jones (nee Morgan) once said “If you are going to Baycon for the social life, make sure and bring it with you”. Far too many people just sit around and say “Entertain me!” without getting involved.

    • David Medinnus says:

      (and for the record, I put about a two decades of my life into helping run SF Bay Area cons – Baycon, Timecon, Silicon, AnimeCon, AnimeExpo, Whatever the third Anime con was called, Westercon 40, BASFA, and ConFrancisco. I speak from a thorough grounding in the subject! Apologies to anyone who takes offense at my post – like all generalizations, its never 100% accurate).

    • You are talking about a phenom called “Explosion of Mediocrity” – it plagues all organizations that do not have merit-based retention or promotion.

    • mattmarovich says:

      “Far too many people just sit around and say “Entertain me!” without getting involved.”

      This may be true, but, considering how little change I’ve seen among the top tiers of people (except for the exodus that happened a few years ago when some people decided they had enough) I don’t know if newer people would be allowed into positions of any real authority to make any real changes.

  3. Todd S says:

    I’ve been going to BayCon every year since 1990. I agree that it has changed for various reasons. Some of the exact things you mentioned in your write up were discussed last year (BayCon 2012) in an open to the members meeting. Many ideas were presented in that meeting to the BC organizers by several members who were not affiliated with any of the politics. Even my daughter gave suggestions as one of the young people who attend the con regularly (since she was 5 years old-she’s 13 now). The suggestions were well received by the folks who are organizing and running the con now and into at least 2014. For that reason I will not consign BayCon to the con graveyard yet. Beyond program changes a large part of the problem is that fandom has exploded over the past decade and so BayCon (as you mentioned in the blog) is no longer the only game in town. It has often enjoyed the status of “if you hold the con, they will come” but that has not been the case over the last half decade or so. I am hopeful that after stumbling through the tight economic years and dealing with new competition that it will find its footing again and keep striding forward.

    • mattmarovich says:

      One consideration I’ve often had with Gary, the head of FLARE, is that BayCon should change weekends as to not compete since, really, it can’t. BayCon isn’t a gaming con, it’s not an anime/costuming con, and it will never be the place of choice for those people but if they didn’t have to compete, and started offering those fans an opportunity as well, then they might draw some of them back.

      Of course, the con would also have to move away from it’s lit-focused style and I honestly don’t see that happening.

  4. My husband and I used to attend pretty regularly when it was at the Red Lion/Doubletree. Then we reproduced and travelling down to attend lost its priority. Our son is now almost 13, and I decided that it might be nice if we attended as a family.

    It is kinda sad now. Many of the old regulars don’t attend, and some of the ones who do attend seem to do so because they don’t know what else to do with themselves. The art room was nice, with a lot of talent, but nothing much new. The dealers’ room was pathetic and apathetic. It was just sad.

    The DIY room rocked! I could even see having dealers’ tables in there, specifically to sell supplies for the projects that the owners would teach. Leather, yarn arts, beadwork, chain maille, all have potential.

    But there does seem to be a possible flicker of hope, with young folks. My son is a fan of My Little Pony (NOT my doing!), and noticed that there wasn’t any programming that had any MLP stuff, so he set up a BOF on his own initiative. It was quite well attended (maybe 20 people?), and he had a good time with that.

    I am by no means a Con expert, but it feels to me like the answer to resurrecting BayCon is going to be the younger folks. And maybe Isaac’s example will have helped a bit. Other kids got a chance to see that a kid their age had the opportunity to make something happen, and maybe they will follow that lead. So maybe next year, when trying to figure out what to do over Memorial Day weekend, they will remember that, and maybe THEY will want to initiate something. And it is the next generation that will have to carry on the BayCon tradition, or not.

    • mattmarovich says:

      The art room was nice, with a lot of talent, but nothing much new.

      With few exceptions the art room is pretty much the same every year. I know that I’ve heard of some people having some issues with it and so they don’t put any work into it but I don’t know if that’s a problem on their end or on the art show’s end.

      The dealers’ room was pathetic and apathetic. It was just sad.

      I suspect BC is struggling to get people into the dealers room because they don’t want to pay the cost for a table when they aren’t going to see that money, and more, come back to them due to reduced headcount overall at the con.

      I am by no means a Con expert, but it feels to me like the answer to resurrecting BayCon is going to be the younger folks

      I’m not an expert either but I suspect you’re right.

      My son is a fan of My Little Pony (NOT my doing!), and noticed that there wasn’t any programming that had any MLP stuff, so he set up a BOF on his own initiative. It was quite well attended (maybe 20 people?), and he had a good time with that.

      That’s awesome!

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