Goofcon: Dashcon isn't a "scam" it's just silly

I was going to write a quick review of my experience at the first Dashcon... well apparently, things took kind of a weird turn when Welcome to Night Vale, the 'keystone event' of the convention had to cancel.

Let's backup... what am I babbling about?

Dashcon is (and possibly "was") "a convention for Tumblr users, by Tumblr users." It was not affiliated with Tumblr. Basically a bunch of fans getting together to talk about the things they loved online, in the real world. A glorified meetup.

Dashcon gets its name from the Tumblr "Dashboard" which is the main screen most users of the website view the blogs they follow in an almost unending stream.

The event was going to feature "Tumblr celebrities" various "fandoms" (people fanatical about a certain cross section of media) and some educational/information panels. All well and good.

Was it a little amateurish? Of course.

The rather sparsely attended, but supportive, costume contest Friday night.

The rather sparsely attended, but supportive, costume contest Friday night.

This is a first time event for a few disparate groups.

Before we slog further into how the thing seems to have gone sideways since I left Friday night, I just want to describe my experience as an attendee. (To jump to the controversy, ctrl/cmd+F to "But then")

The entertaining panels were fun

I attended a panel about "odd fanfiction." It was light on information. It was primarily a panel where a couple hundred people sat and listened to some very bizarre, poorly written, hilarious stories. The entire room was -excuse the pun- on the same page and it was a lot of fun. I have not laughed that hard in a long time, especially in a room full of strangers.

Attendance picked up in the evening

Despite the photo I posted on Instagram of the registration area, attendance seemed to pick up around 5pm.

...And later

"Informational" panels were less interesting

I'm counting such panels as "How digital art changed the world" (about the influence of DeviantArt and other online art communities) and "Nanowrimo and original fiction" as purely informational. They were light on specific fandom references and geared toward deeper knowledge about certain media.

Unfortunately, these sorts of panels were light on the in depth knowledge the panelists might be expected to have. Since Tumblr in general skews younger, the people leading these panels were often students or recent graduates. This may be an area of interest for them, but their level of knowledge and their presentation skills were not up to the challenge.

On a technical note, none of the panels I attended, outside of the costume contest held in the largest hall, had microphones. While audiences were generally quiet and attentive, it could be hard to hear people speak sometimes and it made it easier to tune out if a panelist was soft spoken.

If there are future events(and I'll get to that in a moment), I think the convention organizers should strive for higher quality and less quantity of panels. I would be more willing to check out a panel about a subject I'm not at all familiar with if I could expect an engaging presentation or speaker.

In general, it was nice but not something I really connected with

Dashcon clearly has an audience, but I'm not it. I knew that going in. I bought a weekend pass a few months before the event knowing full well that it could go many ways. While it has some passing similarities to a comic or scifi convention, the interests represented are both more disparate and more specific. If you're not familiar with "Superwholock", Homestuck, anime or Welcome to Night Vale, Dashcon appears to have very little to offer. On the other hand, it was clear that people were getting a kick out of being in a big space that was geared directly to those interests that they normally never get to talk about outside of their time online. "Making it real" was one of the best reasons to have this kind of event.

But then...

it'll probably help to have a bit of mood music here:

"Weird Al" Yankovic performing Dare To Be Stupid. (C) 1985 Volcano Entertainment lll, LLC

As with most human endeavors, much of the controversy started over money. The venue was demanding that the Dashcon organizers pony up $17,000 or else the convention would get shut down. Apparently, the organizers didn't understand the contract they had signed and didn't have money on hand.

(Un)fortunately, the crowd of Dashcon fans pooled money in last-minute fundraiser to satisfy the hotel's demands and the convention went on. This is the part that most people seem to consider the "scam" part.

But then...

Welcome to Night Vale, the surprise hit podcast with a massive cult following, had to cancel at the last minute because (surprise!) the organizers failed to pay them properly. The organizers claim that they had the funds, but that Paypal was "malfunctioning". At any rate, the Night Vale folks were not satisfied and canceled.

As a consolation, Dashcon attendees with tickets to the event were compensated with extra time in the ball pit.


To be fair, people were also entered into a raffle for a bunch of autographed photos and anyone with Night Vale tickets was comped a Sunday ticket to Dashcon but what will live forever is that they started the second sentence of their apology message with "hey sad-face, have an extra hour in the ball pit!"

I'm not putting much stock in the posts people are making about obnoxious attendees. There aren't many pictures or other evidence to back up some of those claims and I think a lot of people are finding fault in this particular con even though poorly behaved attendees is not unique even to comic/anime conventions.

It's also apparent, after having attended the convention that the event is not a scam.

It's real. It's just poorly managed.

It's clear they overestimated on attendance. Even at it's busiest periods there was not exactly a crush of people. This was good, but when you consider that the organizers didn't have money on hand, it's clear they wasted whatever funds they generated somewhere (or they just weren't smart about having funds available). Again, it seems like if they had focused on a smaller venue with higher quality panels, they would have had a more satisfying event.

This isn't about the fans

It makes sense to have a "Tumblr convention". The communities that have met and formed there are pretty unique. It's not uncommon to see posts that say "I wish I could meet you all in real life." Dashcon was a response to that sentiment. While these people's idea of fun may be different, they deserve to have a good convention but the current Daschon organizers are letting down the attendees.

If it survives this controversy, hopefully they will put some serious focus on putting on the absolute best convention they can next time.

Sunday update

After the debacle of Night Vale and the hotel and the resulting activity on Tumblr and Twitter, I realized I had to check out the aftermath.

The final day of Dashcon was notably subdued. There was so much excitement for Night Vale (lots of fan-related merch, tons of Night Vale cosplayers) that it felt almost like a Night Vale convention at times. The fact that there would be no WTNV performance clearly killed the excitement of the con.

But the people attending were making the most of it. In place of the Night Vale show, a group of Night Vale fans put on a "Character Q&A" where they fielded questions from the audience as if they were from Night Vale.

Attendees playing an impromptu game

Attendees playing an impromptu game

However, more information has come to light that shows just how poorly planned and managed the event was. 

These kinds of gross missteps and mismanagement do not bode well for Dashcon's survival. And yet the organizers are going forward with plans for Dashcon 2015. Given the lackluster execution this year, I would be hesitant to attend(or recommend to anyone) such an event unless there was a total overhaul of management.

If Dashcon is a scam, it is an incredibly bad scam. What scammers would go through with the effort of actually putting on an event, opening themselves up to numerous opportunities for litigation? A convention is a very bad way to scam people out of money compared to any number of other ventures. Note that the organizers have not been absent from the event itself and that they are apparently trying to fix problems as they arise (though they are not being particularly proactive).

Remember Hanlon's razor:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.