Las Pegasus Unicon, the first of this year’s numerous pony fan gatherings, took place last weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada. Billed as a major event, Unicon managed to pull in almost every big name involved in the show, from John de Lancie to Daniel Ingram. Under the dazzling lights of the Vegas strip, Las Pegasus promised the world to any pony fan willing to ante up. But at the end of the trip, did it really deliver? As it turns out, it was one of the most bizarre events I’ve ever experienced, and one that will live on in infamy. Read on for the whole sordid story.
At first, I was mostly undecided as to whether or not I would attend Las Pegasus. Last year, I attended Summer Bronycon, Everfree Northwest, and Equestria LA as an artist, selling my artwork as a vendor. If you’re not familiar with my work, you can find it on my DeviantArt. That’s three fifths of the cons that happened last year alone. The con schedule for 2013 is pretty packed, but most of the events are heavily back loaded until the second half of the year. Las Pegasus came at a time when not much else was going on, so for me to attend as a vendor, it seemed like a pretty safe bet. I paid up for my table, bought my plane tickets, and reserved my hotel room. It was not unlike any other con I had signed up for in the past. I was not pinning any great hopes on it; I was hoping to come home with some profit from my table and some good experiences in Las Vegas, since I had never been there before.
The decision to go to a con, as a vendor, hangs on several factors. The primary one is financial—you have to factor in your costs, from travel to registration, against the potential con market. Since many events require travel, you have to factor in how much it costs to actually get there. Many (if not all) vendors are not compensated by cons they attend to sell at. You have to spend money on badges and tables to get in the door. You have to spend money on transportation, be it plane, train, or automobile. You have to spend money on lodging at the hotel. Combine this with having to deal with regulations, such as sales tax or business licenses, and it’s not a decision you make after waking up in the morning. Granted, all of these count as business expenses, but the IRS does not like it if you continue to run your business at a loss. These cons are work, and if you’re not going to make a profit, why sacrifice a weekend for something with little reward? Not to mention that travel often means taking an extra day off from my real job to attend, and you can see that burning up time off on fruitless cons is often a bad idea. Fortunately, I usually attend local cons that do not cost a lot in terms of expenses. I do not mind traveling to farther away events if there is a good chance of coming home in the black, and that was true of both Everfree and EQLA.
On my flight out, I connected in Newark after a short hop from Boston. I had the unfortunate luck to be sitting next to a passenger with a lap child. I’m pretty understanding of that, so it didn’t bother me that much. Unfortunately, while the three year old was pretty well behaved during the flight, she managed to kick my cup of water and spill it all over my seat and pants. Since it didn’t damage anything, it was no harm, no foul, but I figured that would be the hiccup of the trip. Things could only go up.
Turns out I was wrong—my luck would be on a rollercoaster all weekend long.
Viva Las Vegas
After arriving at the Riviera Hotel and Casino on Thursday night, I woke Friday morning, ready for the first big event of the year. The first goal of any con is to get registered, and I headed straight to the reg desk. I waited in line behind some regular attendees, who were chatting idly about what they were expecting to see at the show. The line was moving pretty slowly, so I had some time to chat with people around me. They were pretty excited about the con, eager to meet their favorite VAs and see some panels. I also met up with JHaller, who decided to come to the con at the last minute. We shared our hopes that it would be a good show, and then it was finally my turn to get my badge. I introduced myself to the duo running the convention, Sandi and Edward Haas. I had spoken to them once or twice in the lead up to the con, and in those minor experiences found them to be mostly helpful in answering my questions.
Even though I had paid $125 for my table and badge, there was nothing to be found. Eventually, they just wrote my name and the word ”VENDER” [sic] on the bottom of a normal weekend pass in Sweetie Belle Gold Sharpie. I figured it was no big deal, I could pick up my real badge later. But then the next thing was to figure out where my table was, and this should have been a red flag. Apparently the pre-determined vendor layout had been rearranged in the artist area because two people needed or wanted to be near each other, so my table (A16) had been taken over. Instead, I was told to “take a free table near Celestia Radio.” As I strolled through the vendor hall, I noticed a gigantic movable wall separating the artist alley and “vendor hall” into two separate areas. I didn’t think much of it, but it would turn out to loom large all day long.
I thumbed through the convention “book,” and I use that term loosely, because it was literally printed off an inkjet printer, hand folded, and stapled in the middle. It was one of the most slapdash, unprofessional things I had ever seen, and to add insult to injury they only managed to make about fifty of them. I shared my conbook around the artist alley so everyone could get a taste of the haphazardly scheduled panels and very low rent design. It did not make for a good first impression, and all of the other cons this year had professionally printed books. CliffM85 even made a video detailing all the advertisements that nobody saw because barely anybody got books. Where the Hell did all that advertising fees that people paid for the ads in the book go to if not to make these books look good? You can experience this book in all of its terribleness thanks to f0xybat on tumblr. It has to be seen to be believed.
I set up at Table A18, next to Celestia Radio and Bronies for Good. DerpyHoovesNews was a table behind me, and there were several other artists nearby, like my cool chum Steve Holt. All the vendors were ready and raring to go, and the doors opened at 9:30 to allow attendees into the show. At first, everything seemed OK. We had a fairly decent stream of people coming by and visiting, but as the day wore on, the artist’s alley grew quieter and quieter. I occasionally checked in on the other side of the wall and always noticed a decent amount of people wandering about. It then occurred to me that people simply didn’t know we were here. My sales were pretty low, so I decided to converse with the rest of the folks in the artist’s alley. Everyone agreed with me that they had been rather slow or quiet, but nobody started getting annoyed about it until Friday afternoon. The lack of traffic, combined with unfortunate positioning which left some vendors forced to face the wall, resulted in unrest within the artist’s alley. We all agreed that a giant wall with no signage pointing to the alley was a big problem.
A con volunteer did stop by and talked to me about the situation. She was cognizant of our complaints, but her tone and mannerisms indicated she was fighting a battle she couldn’t win. I discussed my displeasure about the situation and the wall with her, and she mentioned that she would do what she could about it. Time dragged on longer and longer on Friday, and unrest brewed quickly. Semi-jokingly, I shouted “Princess Celestia, Tear Down This Wall!” as an homage to our old forums entry page (with art by Bistromatic), and several vendors nearby joined in on the chants. If there wasn’t a threat of chaos before, people were definitely ready to start fighting back against their enclosure.
At the end of the day, Edward did visit my table and say that something would be done about the wall, though I was slightly skeptical. At that point, I decided that no matter what, I would try to get into the other side, even if it meant committing vendor mutiny and just taking one of the many empty tables. I packed up and left, barely any money made. I still had almost a full complement of large format prints, many of which had sold out fairly quickly at Equestria LA. Something was up.
When the hall closed, myself and my crew consisting of ixnay, phytoporg, and LumpySpacePete, headed out for a night on the Las Vegas strip. Sin City is still one of the more surreal places I’ve ever experienced. We joked amongst ourselves that we couldn’t have found a more wretched hive of scum and villainy, but I can say that Las Vegas is at least honest about itself. The house always wins, and there’s debauchery all around. If you don’t like it, don’t go. We partook in Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR for dinner, where we enjoyed delicious onion rings and hamburgers, along with a very funny waiter who was apparently a huge Phineas and Ferb fan. So far, the trip had been going well, even though Friday was a slow day. Things surely would pick up on Saturday, right?
The Tables We Call The Zoo
The next day dawned upon the desert, and I lumbered from bed to return to my day’s work. The vendor hall was scheduled to be open from 9 AM to 8 PM on Saturday, but there was no way I was going to be there that long—our group was off to see Penn and Teller at 9 o’clock. I gathered my things and headed down to set up in the hall, which was quite a walk away from the hotel tower—these Vegas hotels are way too big. I stopped at the registration desk again to see if my real badge was printed, and it was not. The lad at the desk promised that it would be later in the day.
When I walked into the vendor hall, I noticed that the moving wall was gone. Thank God! However, there were still many empty tables on the main side, so I decided it was time to move. I met up with Steve Holt and we both decided that even with the wall gone, we were movin’ on up. We both paid Sandi $125 each to “upgrade” our tables. Bear in mind that we could have just taken them, but we decided to be honest. After moving all of my stuff over to a fresh table across from Andy Price, the great and awesome artist for the MLP IDW comic series, the doors opened to the attendees once again.
Unfortunately, Saturday was just as bad as Friday, except the entire vendor hall was experiencing a lack of traffic. Multiple people were commenting amongst themselves that there just wasn’t a lot going on. I speculated that it was because they scheduled multiple panel and autograph signings one after another and against popular people. But that was only part of the problem, as it was fairly clear that there just wasn’t a large amount of people at the con to begin with. Halls were fairly empty, there wasn’t a lot of dealer traffic, and I was hearing rumblings that panels were going half-filled. Some dealers were making out better than others, as Andy Price had a brisk business selling comics, prints, and taking commissions. I talked with one or two other artists who were doing OK. But almost everyone else I talked to was unhappy with their level of sales. Vendors were not expecting Bronycon levels of business, but I saw familiar faces from other conventions who sang a common refrain: nobody was buying anything.
It wasn’t just the fanartists or custom toy makers that were running into tough business. Even big players like WeLoveFine and the local dealer selling Enterplay products were not seeing brisk business. This, to me, was insane—at every show I’ve been at, both WLF and Enterplay products have sold so incredibly fast that it made your head spin. Both WLF and Enterplay distributors have always had crowds around their tables. Not at this show. Larger vendors expressed hopes at merely breaking even, while smaller ones were worried about whether or not they’d even reach the black. My sales barely picked up at all during Saturday. The crowd that was there didn’t seem very interested in the dealer’s hall, as I noticed few people really stopping to talk to the vendors. Attendees might want to remember that the vendors are fans too, and we love to talk to people! Don’t be antisocial. We don’t bite, promise.
Another insult added to injury was the practice of giving little vouchers to special package holders called “bits” that would be good in the vendor hall. If they weren’t serious, it would have been almost… cute. The bits were printed pieces of paper meant to look like money, and you would trade them in for real cash at the end of the show. At the time, the harm didn’t seem too bad. It’s a perk, we’ll trade it in later and be done with it. But it was a very bad idea. Because they ruined perfectly good paper and wasted inkjet ink, these bits were worth less than when they were worthless! Needless to say, I never received compensation from the convention staff for the bits I accepted at the convention. Only thanks to LasPegAssist was I ever reimbursed for accepting the con’s funny money after the fact.
Our little cross-vendor discussions were interrupted by another roadblock: a fire alarm that erupted mid-afternoon Saturday. You couldn’t make this up. People were cracking jokes about how it would be BurnyCon all over again. The entire convention emptied out into the street in front of the Riviera, with everyone confused and bewildered. The wait wasn’t very long, as it turns out the cause of the alarm was an errant fire door opening by a hotel employee working on catering the celebrity dinner. With the alarm silenced, it was a mere fifteen minute or half hour delay, and everyone was back to business. Unfortunately, the dealer hall was pretty dead for the rest of the day after the alarm, and by 6:30, I was ready to call it quits and head to the Rio to see Penn & Teller. I almost never quit before closing time, but the hall continued to be a ghost town during Saturday evening. Why stick around in a ghost town when you could be having fun with friends or see the rest of the convention instead?
Penn & Teller was a great show. I had looked forward to seeing the duo for years, and they did not disappoint. But little did I know that while I was being entertained with delightful showmanship that the Titanic was steaming directly towards an iceberg.
THIS CON WILL EXPLOD IN 60 SECONDS
On Sunday morning, I headed down the familiar corridor once again to the dealer hall. I stopped by the registration desk again to see if my actual badge had been printed or found in some way, and the hopelessly frazzled person up front said I might not see it at all. That’s a bummer. I walked into the vendor hall, and the mood amongst everyone is dour. Several of the vendors are saying it’s the worst show they’ve ever done in terms of sales, and some are considering bailing early. While I was chatting, Dietz from Fiesta Equestria came to talk to me, and he filled me in on the crazy shenanigans that went on during the night.
Dietz explained the situation quickly and clearly. There was a powwow the night before between the major pony media sites, con heads, and agents that I had missed out on because I was watching Penn & Teller. A crew consisting of Karen (GlitteringPony) from Equestria LA, Austin (Bejoty) from Everfree, Dietz, and Josh Dean from Bronycon (as well as several others whose names I can’t remember at the moment) had taken over general con ops from Las Pegasus, and rewrote the Sunday schedule completely. Many figures in the fandom were involved, but I didn’t know that at the time. Most of us thought it was just a rescheduling of events to space things out a bit. We didn’t know how bad it had gotten behind the scenes.
As Sunday morning rolled on, the lack of attendees was apparent, though I had managed to do a little business up until noontime. The time between noon and three o’clock was one of the strangest I had ever experienced. I had to check out of my room, so I left the dealer hall briefly to handle that. Having settled up with the Riviera, I walked back to the hall only to run into Steve Holt and David from EQLA. Steve had all of her stuff packed up and was walking away from the hall.
“What, are you giving up already?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m done. Dude, Karen said to get out,” she replied, giving me a look that I recognized as “abandon ship.”
“Yeah, it’s really bad. The con is running out of money.”
At this point, I returned back into the hall and sort of carried on. But the leaks were starting to overflow. I watched Cat Whitney run frantically from table to table, trying to keep the dealer hall going in some kind of fashion. The vendor hall kept getting conflicting reports on when it would close. First, we had to be out by 7. Then, out by five. Even later it was six. I had no intent of staying that long; I personally had planned to bail around 3. Wanting to make the best of it, the dealer hall soldiered on, with less and less people partaking in wares. The place had an almost funereal mood to it, with people trying to keep in high spirits to disguise their true feelings. Needless to say, the original con staff was nowhere to be found, with the impromptu crew formed by the other conventions keeping things going.
Someone who was helping the con as part of the new volunteer group came around to all the tables, asking vendors if they could donate something to the auction to help save the convention. This turned out to be a mistranslation; the auction was still going to be for charity. I donated one of my big Derpy posters and told them to have Tabitha sign it, figuring that would fetch a few bucks that would go wherever they would need to go. I still don’t know how much it managed to fetch.
Then the really bad news hit when DerpySquad came by. The situation was now markedly worse. People were being locked out of their hotel rooms. Agents and VIPs weren’t getting paid. The con was literally broke. Rumors started flying around the hall that if we all didn’t evacuate by five, anything left behind would be property of the hotel. At this point, the entire vendor’s hall lost faith in the convention and everyone started tearing down. The pace was frantic, with everyone packing up and trying to escape what had become a sinking ship. I packed up as quickly as I could, and stopped by to talk to Andy Price on the way out. He had commissions that he had not finished yet and had taken money for. What was he going to do? Not the management’s problem, apparently. Andy had to pack up in a rush just like the rest of us, the drawing he was working on left half finished.
I escaped the scene around 3 PM, starving and tired. Ixnay and I headed to the Victorian pub in the casino for a much needed lunch break. He had been keeping the forum apprised of our situation, giving them a lot of comedy to chew on. After late lunch, we observed the charity auction, which was in a half-empty large panel room. DustyKatt, the world’s manliest brony, was doing his best to emcee the auction, but the mood in the room was quite morose. At this point, ixnay and I abandoned the convention completely, moving over to another hotel. I was ready to go home, and I spent the rest of my cut-short trip on Fremont Street in Vegas along with ixnay. I did manage to have one stroke of luck—in my first attempt at gambling all weekend long, I won $500 on a video slot machine. I immediately cashed out and left. If it wasn’t for that unbelievable stroke of luck, I would have come home with a loss instead of breaking even. I managed to escape Las Pegasus alive, but many others weren’t as lucky as I was. After being hung out to dry by the con and the hotel, the VIPs, special guests, and comped attendees needed a hand. What followed was one of the most unbelievable efforts put forth by the fandom, and one that showed what we were really made of.
Hang On, Help Is On Its Way
With the threat of the VAs, writers, and guests taking a massive loss on what should have been a paid trip, the whole community came together to make things right. Putting their differences aside, all the major media and con groups at the show—Equestria Daily, Derpy Hooves News, The Round Stable, Celestia Radio, Everfree Network, Bronies for Good, and more—pulled together to get the word out online about getting donations to save the guests. Final Draft and Everfree Network took point, with their streaming equipment to broadcast the event. Personalities like Sethisto from Equestria Daily and DerpySquad from DHN helped to get the word out to their readerships. MicTheMicrophone helped organize people too, along with too many others for me to remember. Along with Lee Tockar, the voice of Snips and Stephen Magnet, Draft got a video explaining what was going on to the outside world. In the following hours, money started pouring in from the con attendees and all across the internet. It even dragged in folks like Robert Picardo, better known as the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager, who helped by lending his business PayPal account to take donations. Before we knew it, the $12,000 figure necessary for covering for the VA’s poured in, and the crisis was averted. But non-media members were helping out too. Caerdwyn arranged limo rides for the VIPs to the airport via a friend, and paid for prizes for the costume contest out of his own pocket.
It was quite refreshing to see a bunch of people who are otherwise competition come together for a greater cause. When push came to shove, people put their differences aside and made things work. That’s what being a good human being is about. And it didn’t just stop there, either—LasPegAssist is continuing to help those who ran into unexpected bills after being promised hotel rooms and had the rug pulled out from under them. The generosity and desire to help those who got screwed is one of the better sides of this fandom, and hopefully we can continue it in the future.
Looking back at what happened over the con, I think there’s a few conclusions that we can draw, regardless of the ultimate fates of certain actors. Las Pegasus Unicon will stand as a beacon for “what not to do” when running a convention for anything, ever. It was a failure on multiple levels. Not just on the level of pure con functions, but also as a failure of organization, direction, finances, and purpose.
Part of how this happened was because we grew a little complacent. Earlier cons had gone through growing pains, but they’d evolved into respectable events. BronyCon had several small events with their own hiccups (but no major meltdowns) before it was thrust into the spotlight. Everfree Northwest and Equestria LA had experienced heads able to make the events work. TrotCon stayed small. Midwestria also stayed small and went without much of a hitch. Canterlot Gardens happened, drama and all, but it didn’t completely collapse. The track record of cons so far had actually been pretty good, save for BronyFest in Texas which had scores of problems. However, BFF did not have any guests, so the visibility and impact was minimal. Las Pegasus was the first headline, big-name event to flame out, and there’s a lot of reasons why.
Firstly, the event was run very poorly. It all started with their website, which is the epitome of low-rent static pages, full of spelling errors and eye-searing color choices. It did not engender confidence, and it was a portent of things to come. Disregarding the collapse at the end, the show itself was slipshod and chaotic. There was no board and no staff in charge beyond Sandi and Edward. Volunteers were not actually empowered to do anything, leading to situations like mine in the vendor room where a frustrated, helpful volunteer found herself unable to actually do anything to help us. Sandi herself was constantly flummoxed every time I saw her, looking overwhelmed at what was going on. The “schedule,” as it was, couldn’t even be considered a suggestion, let alone a real schedule. Popular panels were scheduled against each other, resulting in very difficult choices for attendees. Did you want to see Daniel Ingram or John de Lancie? You better pick just one. Panels and autograph sessions were scheduled one after another, which didn’t give the VIPs any kind of break. The dealer hall didn’t see many guests swing by due to the scheduling either, which was a real drag for anyone who was chained to a table for most of the weekend. Thankfully, M.A. Larson did stop by my table, and we talked about the finale, Supertramp, and our little contribution to the hype train. I have to say Thanks, M.A. Larson to that! Also, Amy Keating Rogers did stop by and I thanked her for her help in the interview that launched this site and gave her a Smile poster in thanks.
Secondly, the con promised the moon and more, but by promising too much it was unable to deliver to anyone. Almost every facet of the con suffered in some way due to overextension. The VIPs obviously were not paid and the con had trouble providing them with the basics, like transportation to and from the hotel. Nicole Oliver was left waiting at the airport, with no one on the scene to secure her arrival. Musicians were promised comped rooms and assistance, which was not delivered. Artists and vendors were promised a crowd of over two thousand, but only a fraction showed up. No real numbers can be had, but guesses fluctuate between 600 and 1200. I was at EQLA, which had around 1200 attendees, and that show was far busier than this one in terms of people. This did not feel like a 1200 attendee show.
Attendees themselves were promised a star-studded show, which they did get, to a degreee. Panels happened on Friday and Saturday, but scheduling kept people from experiencing all the show had to offer. But on Sunday, show itself imploded like an old Vegas hotel, leaving those who came just for that day with a miserable experience. Those who paid for special privileges like the Sweet and Elite Suites wound up getting jobbed too, as the security was so loose that unguarded doors were quickly found, allowing access to the skyboxes for those who didn’t pay. These were supposed to be private, reserved skyboxes for observing the con activity from above, and they did not live up to the hype. Not to mention that a complementary lunch was supposed to be provided in these suites, and aside from one on Friday, the promised food was not delivered. The special celebrity dinner, which you had to pay to attend, was cut short due to the impending chaos on Saturday night, and even mistakes were made there. The vegetarian dish on the menu was eggplant, which Tara Strong is allergic to. How do you screw something up like that so badly? How do you not ask VIP guests what their meal restrictions are?
Thirdly, the convention itself overextended itself in every way possible. Figuring that more guests would mean more attendees, they simply added more and more guests to the roster. The list grew from four or so back in November to over twenty VIP show guests in January. But these guests aren’t free, and in the process of trying to make the finances work, they doubled down on a bad bet in hopes it would somehow all work out. Ultimately, the con simply did not get the amount of attendees needed to pay for their promised line-up. Promising free rooms to many people was also a very poor decision, because most of the time conventions do not pay room and board for every secondary guest that comes to the con. On top of all of this, nobody knows anything about the finances or who, exactly, was paid what and when, in addition to the hotel’s arrangements. Transparency is sorely needed here to show that the con was not a scam; that it simply spiraled out of control. What kind of organization runs itself on the mere hopes that things will go well? There’s no documentation, no board, nobody to talk to, and the community is left picking up the pieces due to the irresponsibility. When it became clear that the show would not be as big as expected, the leadership should have done the responsible thing and cancelled guests that they could not afford.
The convention’s lack of success, beyond any internal stupidity, was also impacted by several external factors. Obvious ones are time and location. A non-holiday weekend in February in Las Vegas in one of the dumpier hotels on the strip are not ideal conditions for attracting the average con-goer. Kids aren’t really around the Las Vegas area and the strip is not really a destination for the under-21 crowd, which is a significant portion of the fandom. Las Vegas itself as a metro area has much less pull than the other cons, which were held in megalopolis cities in the US. It requires flights and significant arrangements–you can’t just go there on a whim for a con. A less helpful force was the voice actor convention embargo that went on during December and January. Cons could not announce any show talent due to contract negotiations and other factors. While the problem was resolved in time, resulting in a rush of guests for Unicon, by then it was too late for people to make plans to travel. I believe this is a very minor factor and would not have made much of a difference for Unicon in the end, but it is a factor nonetheless.
I’ve written a lot of words above about Unicon itself, but this experience will have implications for future events. Now would be a good time to examine the hows and whys of the pony convention scene and start asking some tough, but necessary, questions.
The Daily Oat has a great compilation of all upcoming events, and I’ve sorted them into some handy categories below. If I missed your particular show, I apologize, for it is not personal.
Major Events: BronyCon, Everfree Northwest, Equestria LA, My Little Pony Fair.
While MLP fair is not a brony specific event, it’s been going on for years and has much experience as well as Hasbro approval. BronyCon, EFNW, and EQLA are all established names with experienced convention heads. They all have the advantage of being located in major metropolitan areas with key factors that make them premiere events. EQLA and EFNW are located right near major production centers of the show, making it easy (and inexpensive) for the show staff to come to the show with little risk. BronyCon has a brand advantage as well as a large metro area to draw from. The business case for all three of these is almost a slam dunk, and they all have the ability to transition into less brony-focused events as time goes on… except, maybe, for BronyCon, unless they change their name.
Secondary Events: Fiesta Equestria!, Big Apple Ponycon, Trotcon.
These are events that have confirmed show guests but are not expecting the attendee numbers that the major events are going to pull. Fiesta Equestria will be serving an up-til-now underserved area of Texas, which will hopefully draw most of the south. FE will be drawing big name talent, and its chairman Dietz looks to have his act together. But it may wind up being another small con trying to play in the big con space, and I hope they do not overextend themselves. Big Apple Ponycon has the benefit of being back in New York, with millions of people to draw from, as well as big name show talent like Tara Strong. The original BronyCon crowd will certainly be there, so their first show has an audience already. TrotCon is keeping things fan-focused but growing ever so slightly by getting some confirmed show guests. Since they already have a year under their belt, they’ve proven that they can run an event. The future of these events, to me, is uncertain, but as long as they can successfully run shows they should be able to survive for a few years.
Tertiary Events: Cloudsdale Congress, Pon3con, Sweet Apple Acres Con, Cutie Mark Con, DerpyCon Southwest, Appleloosa Con, Midwest Bronyfest, Crystal Mountain Ponycon, too many more to list.
Sorry guys, I gave up a bit after this one. No offense to the folks that are running these events, but you should seriously consider whether or not you actually want to run a con. Your risk is extremely high. Why not stick to being a big meetup instead? The pretense of a con costs a ton of money for very little gain. That said, if these cons can manage to keep their expectations in check and not overextend themselves, they can have a good get-together that won’t drag themselves down by overinflated expectations.
International: GalaCon, BUCK, BronyCAN, PonyconAU, CANterlot, CrystalCon, and a few more.
The international cons have special situations. They often cover one country and are not in competition with another, so they actually wind up being in a better position than similar sized American based events. Fortunately, GalaCon is shaping up to be a leader in Europe and their staff has their act together. The Eurozone has also formed a con alliance for vetting and organizing, which will help prevent situations like Las Pegasus on the other side of the pond.
I’ve been saying since as early as last August that we have way too many cons, and that was BEFORE we had 30-ish scheduled this year. There’s a real risk of collapsing the entire circuit with bad or mediocre events. My advice to anyone who is planning to do a pony con (yes, this means you), don’t. Do not even start. Try to work with one of the existing events instead, or try to build a brony track with an established anime or comic con in your local area. We have enough already. There is a real risk of burnout amongst attendees, guests, and vendors.
An uncomfortable elephant sitting in the room right now is how this snafu will impact the ability of future conventions to secure guests. Several cons during the year have already secured VIPs from the show and comics, but there’s still many guests and cons to go around. One of the reasons for Hasbro’s moratorium that went on during the holidays mentioned above is that their point person was literally flooded with requests for guests by every Tom, Dick, and Harry who were trying to put on a first time convention. After many tense weeks, an understanding was finally put together that the agents of the talent would vet the cons, and that it would be their responsibility to make sure things were on the up and up for their guests. Bronycon, Everfree, and EQLA were all grandfathered into the approval, because they all ran successful events, and somehow Unicon managed to make it in that list as well despite not having run an event—most likely due to the fact that they had already secured talent. A good summary of these events as they were in progress was detailed by Apple Cider and Chef Sandy in Bronyville Episode 85. Fortunately, due to how the fandom came together at Unicon, the talent did get paid and it’s looking increasingly like this will be viewed as a one-off problem instead of a systemic problem. Alas, we won’t really know the full ramifications of Unicon’s problems for some time, so there could be a bit of wishful thinking on my part. My hope is that future events will apply more discretion and not ruin it for everyone else by souring the guests and the companies that write their checks on the con experience.
The con field is so crowded now that there are three events going on in the span of four weeks (Fiesta Equestria, Trotcon, and Everfree Northwest). All of them have some form of show talent as well as fandom talent. Can you expect Everfree Network to cover all these cons? I only travel to cons that I can have an art table to finance the trip because as a B-level personality, people aren’t exactly banging on my door to have me attend as an honored guest. If your event is less than a thousand people, it’s less and less likely I will go, and I imagine many vendors will be once bitten, twice shy after Unicon. In the leadup to the show, I sent an email to the Unicon organizers which said the following.
I’m kefkafloyd, editor in chief of The Round Stable. I am interested in an artist table for Las Pegasus, but I was wondering what the projected attendance of the con would be? Also, since we are press, what would be the best way of doing badges? The table would be for me personally, but we would like to get some details ironed out and buy tables/badges if necessary.
I never got a response. I wound up buying my table anyway, and Sandi did start talking to me later on, but I should have taken the non-response as a clue. No other con heads have ignored such emails when asking about vendors because they know that vendors are the unsung lifeblood of the show. If the artists can’t make money, they won’t promote your show and people won’t have cool stuff to bring home. Wasting the time of big vendors like Enterplay and WeLoveFine isn’t a good idea either, as it will make them skittish about fan cons in the future, and these are two big draws for these events.
Lastly, those of us in the community also share some responsibility for this happening. We all bought that this would be the biggest thing at the start of the year, thanks to promises of comped rooms, big guest stars, and a destination venue. The organizers got in touch with almost every pony fan media outlet, and were just open enough in their communications. Surely anyone who manages to get John de Lancie, goes on podcasts for interviews, and talks to all the major news sites is on the up and up, right? We all bought it hook, line, and sinker because it looked good on the outside. Media groups will have to act as better watchdogs of conventions and work together to make sure this does not happen again. I am embarrassed that I covered Las Pegasus and persuaded several friends to go to a doomed event. TRS has a pretty stout con coverage policy, with our requirement of incorporation, a large number of attendees, and show guests. But even that is not a complete guard against potential charlatans. Like the Euros, I hope the American con scene puts together a board or vetting organization to help make sure up and coming cons are able to actually put on their events. The last thing we want to do is waste the time of special guests and attendees.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was not compensated for any room or offered any perks. My room, vendor table, badge, and flight were all paid out of my own pocket. JHaller was given a media pass for The Round Stable, but he was not compensated for anything nor given any perks.
The Bigger Picture
Octavia on the forums made a very salient point that I’m going to quote here:
Unicon is like the Lehman Brothers of the ponycon bubble. It had all the appearances of a potentially successful con: big guests in a fun city during the peak of the fandom, and it failed utterly. I’m sure it won’t be the last ponycon to go under either.
It’s been a week since Las Pegasus started. It all feels like a blur—I never imagined that the con would crash and burn. Unluckily for the coordinators of Las Pegasus Unicon, what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay there anymore thanks to social networking and, well, plain old media coverage. Somehow, if there is another Las Pegasus Unicon in 2014 (extremely unlikely in my book), I won’t be there. You only have one chance to make a first impression, and even less of a chance after to make up for a bad experience. The lack of transparency and clarity on the behalf of Las Pegasus Unicon should be proof enough that promises don’t get you very far.
When I arrived home in Boston mid-Monday, I was dreading writing this report. Namely, I was unhappy about how things went down, and I do not like to kick people when they are down. But the story of this con must be told, because it serves as a shining example of just how bad things can get, and yet how people can come together to make things right once again. We won’t know the whole story for quite some time, but I can certainly say that when it finally comes together, it will not be a boring one.
Viva Las Vegas indeed.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Originally, we had stated that Brony Fan Fair in Texas was a con with problems. This was a mistake, the first BronyFest was one with issues. Our apologies to Brony Fan Fair.] ■