Way back in 2011 in the long, long ago, I went to a little convention called ConBravo. I didn’t normally go to conventions, somewhat afraid of the intense, crowded geekery out in the open. However one of my favourite performers, the Nostalgia Critic, was going to be a guest and my friends managed to convince me that when you go to a convention focusing on things you’re actually interested in, it could be fun.
It remains one of my favourite weekends of my life, and was actually part of the inspiration for me deciding to go out on my own and make videos. I’ve tried to make it out every year since, and every time I go it’s just as fun and inspiring.
This year however was different. I actually got to go as a guest and panelist. I hadn’t expected to be. I actually e-mailed the con runners to promote Debs and Errol as a musical act, meekly mentioning at the end that if they were also looking for other guests, I could do it but I’d understand if they couldn’t because Con Bravo has gotten big enough at this point to pull in some pretty heavy hitters from the internet celebrity world and I was under no illusions as to how much pull I would have as a guest.
But they said yes, which both thrilled and terrified me. And so after much anticipation and fretting on my part (resulting in Errol calling me a freak once again), I finally got to ConBravo this past weekend. So how did it go? So. Very. Awesome. Honest, I could not have had a better time. There were new friends, there were old friends, there were panels and events, there was extreme exhaustion after a while. I tried to think of the best way to talk about the weekend but…I think a simple recap might be the easiest way.
This was by far one of my favourite parts of the con (and thus the longest recap :D) and it was probably the most successful I’ve been so far in running panels. Letters to Video Game Characters was the panel I was most nervous about. I was on my own. It was scheduled during the beginning of the con, a time when most people are registering in the insanely long line-up or stalking the main guest in the hopes he will declare his love for them.
But 15-20 people managed to trickle in, including a friend I have not seen in about 8 years! I was just happy people showed up, but my nerves got the better of me a bit. I had hoped to show a couple of my letters via Youtube on Errol’s ipad, however the wifi signal in the actual panel room was almost non-existant so I clumsily read a couple of them out loud to a somewhat confused crowd.
Once I opened up it up for discussion though, we started to have a lot of fun and I relaxed a lot more. Despite being cut off after only 30 minutes (more on that later), it was a good time.
Next up was Storytelling in Videogames which was very much my favourite panel. I was joined by guests Derek Burrow of Chasing the Muse, Joey “Roo” DeSena of Clan of the Grey Wolf, and Satchell Drakes of Normal Boots. They were incredibly wonderful and we simply had a blast delving into the world of video game narrative.
The audience had a great time too, and it was fantastic to have attendees come up to us after the panel to want to continue the discussion. One woman even commented that she didn’t realize how interesting the topic could be. This is pretty much the best reaction I could hope for, and I left on a geek high.
My last panel was on Sunday. This one was probably…my scariest in terms of anticipation. It was Gender Roles in video games. First, my fellow panelists didn’t show up. The staff asked me if I would be alright handling the panel on my own. I looked at the surprising number of people in the line-up, many of them guys, and nervously answered that I would be fine.
And thankfully I was. Gender in video games is a hot topic right now, and although there were moments when the audience got more lively and heated, we had a great time discussing and most of my job simply involved controlling which raised hands I chose to speak (the POWER!) and commenting on whatever they had to say. Again, the fact that people were coming up to me after to continue discussion and sincerely thank me for the interesting discussion was so worth it.
Finally, there was the Audition for the Worst Movie Ever, which was a panel hosted by the awesome Tom White in which we, the panelists, would read a terribly written script with members of the audience. It was a ton of fun, but about midway through my exhaustion finally caught up with me and the other guests and by the end we were definitely eager to get to our beds. Still, there were a lot of highlights and it was fun to see the audience given the chance to act ridiculous with us.
It was great to meet up with old friends. Devin, Dan, Jen, Brian, Brian, Conal, Debs, Errol, Shawna, Amanda, Lindsey, Dave….so many others I am probably forgetting now…you guys rock. Whether it was hanging out in a hotel room having a couple of relaxing drinks or partying in the middle of a hallway with stuffed Lumas, it was so great to see you and be reminded of the awesomeness that is my friends.
But there were also new people to meet and get to know! Like the people of Fandom Musicals, a theatre troupe who devote their time to creating geeky musicals. We missed their big show, but managed to catch their improv, of which Errol became a part of.
I got to meet and chat with a few of the guests who all have awesome channels. I did not however take pictures with them. Because I am a shy fool. I DID however get interviewed by some awesome people, including Dan the Video Ninja, Gerald Kirby and of She Got Game which is an awesome cause and you should definitely check out.
And of course there was the staff, who were running around all weekend to make sure things ran smoothly. They were nothing but friendly, helpful and accommodating and it meant a lot especially considering that I was one of the more “nobody” guests on their roster. I really hope they are getting well deserved rest now.
Sadly, I didn’t get out to as many panels and events I wanted to. Most of my spare time was spent hanging with friends, preparing for the next panel, shovelling food into my mouth, or checking out the dealer’s room.
I managed to catch some of the Super Audio Land II concert, which despite the late start was great! Debs and Errol were awesome as usual. Alas, I had to head out shortly after that because I had to prepare for a late night panel…and by prepare, I mean “nap before”.
As I said, I’ve been to a few ConBravos now. It’s grown a lot since it’s humble beginnings and it’s good to see the staff have learned from past kerfuffles. The biggest improvement I saw was to the schedule structure itself. Rather than have panels back to back, there was at least half an hour in between each panel. While this resulted in less programming, it was a godsend to those of us who no longer had to rush between panels.
Attendees also had more of a chance to line up for the more popular panels (most of the big name events would have people lining up over an hour in advance) instead of being denied access. The bigger dealer’s room was great too and didn’t feel nearly as claustrophobic as it has at other cons (the venue was the same as last year, but I didn’t really get a chance to go to that ConBravo).
Best of all though was the GROCERY STORE ATTACHED TO THE HOTEL. Holy crap, I couldn’t have been more thankful for this. As well as being able to eat fruit at a con, there was also a marketplace style restaurant with pretty cheap food. And there was dim sum. DIM SUM! I may or may not have made sure to get myself some custard buns on my way out… That being said though…
The Not-So Improvements
I have learned this about myself: I will never organize or run a con. It is an incredibly tough and thankless job and when you have a monumental amount of vendors, guests, events, registration, volunteers and all sorts of stuff to keep track of, obviously one of those various spinning plates is going to fall at some point. So I’m actually pretty forgiving of cons and “stuff that just goes wrong”.
The concert started late, sure, but part of that was because the Q&A for a major guest went over. And when it’s a major guest, yeah, you kind of feel obligated to give the people what they want. But there were a couple of things that sort of stuck out to me that could possibly be improved on:
1. The schedule layout: The schedule was unfortunately difficult to read. Most con schedules are, but this it was difficult to determine when exactly panels started and finished. This worked against me, as I said, for my Letters panel. About 30 minutes in, the volunteer assigned to my panel came in to cut me off. At the time, I was food deprived enough to not fully comprehend what was going on and simply apologized for going over time and began to gather my stuff, amazed at how fast time went by.
It wasn’t until a couple of the other attendees pointed out that the panel should be an hour and end at 7:30, not 7. My brain finally stopped concentrating on “WHERE FOOD?!” to focus on the issue. The volunteer was adament though. We argued for a couple of minutes, squinting at the tiny lines on the schedule, comparing them to the online listing, myself mostly confused and the volunteer growing increasingly nervous and stressed he would get in trouble for letting this upstart guest get her way. In the end, I relented, not wanting to cause trouble. It didn’t bother me too much and I certainly don’t blame the volunteer. But next year it might be good to get a slightly easier to read schedule to avoid confusion.
2. The lack of water stations and the banning of outside food and drink: One staple of any convention is water stations. You’ve got 4,000+ people rushing around trying to get in all of their activities and they need to stay hydrated. Unfortunately ConBravo this year surprisingly had zero water stations around.
I don’t think this was really the staff’s fault as much as it was the Hamilton Convention Centre’s which has a baffling “No Outside Food or Drink” policy. I understand on one level. The convention centre had a concession stand which they wanted to make money on. But on the other, if you’re going to deny anyone access to outside drink, you’ve got to have some sort of water. It’s not even a privilege thing. It’s a health risk thing, especially during high action activities such as the dance.
As a guest, I was lucky. I had staff and volunteers who would bring me bottles of water and I would often go to my panel rooms early to sneak in some contraband lunch. But for the 4,000+ attendees who had no such luxury, I can imagine it was frustrating.
Despite these kerfuffles though and despite some of the scheduling falling through and running late, this ConBravo was so wonderful to be a part of. It was exhilarating to see people not only listen to what I had to say, but to join in with me with equal amounts of passion. It was fun to learn new things and get to know new people. And of course, the swag.
It was pretty hard to return to the office yesterday, and that if anything is a sure indication that this convention is one I will not forget soon. Thanks everyone who came out to my stuff and met up with me. I can’t properly express my gratitude to the con staff for giving me this opportunity. I’m still tired, but I can’t wait to recover and get all my new ideas down to paper. Later this week we’ll return to your regular Sidekicks schedule :D.