» Baltimare, City of Crab Hats: Bronycon 2013 Retrospective

The fifth Bronycon took place this past August 2nd-4th, and the Round Stable had a large contingent of attendees! Pulling in over 8,000 registered guests, Bronycon has easily retained its position as the largest of Pony conventions – and for a look at some of the highlights, read on!

On September 24th, 2011, Jayson Thiessen walked into a mildly crowded hall in Chinatown, Manhattan, to take his throne as the guest of honor of the second BronyCon. With the first being, in many ways, a glorified meetup of Bronies-NYC, the concept that an actual staff member would bother to show seemed humbling, and the attendance number of 300 seemed shockingly high. Thiessen casually discussed the future of the show with a number of fans, quelling suspicions of his ability to take over as showrunner, while bronies dressed up in a few cosplays and listened to the likes of Neighslayer. Besides a brief mention in a Wall Street Journal article about the show, and a number of fan writeups and insider goodies, the event seemed like an oddity.

Nearly two years later, the Baltimore Convention Center hosted the fifth BronyCon event. The estimated attendance of 8,407 easily captured the title of largest pony convention to date, with a crowd ranging from hardened convention veterans to the actual target audience of the show. The brony musical panel, BronyPalooza, has grown to a full blown concert (and advertised as such). The guests of honor included voice actors Nicole Oliver (Princess Celestia/Cheerilee), Cathy Weseluck (Spike), Lee Tockar (Snips/Steven Magnet), Michelle Creber (Apple Bloom), Madeline Peters (Scootaloo), and Brenda Crichlow (Zecora); writers M.A. Larson and Amy Keating Rogers; “My Little Pony: Chapter Books” author GM Berrow; and from the IDW comic series, writer Katie Cook, artist Andy Price, and colorist Heather Breckel.

BronyCon has come a long way since humble beginnings, and this weekend showed just how great the difference is!

Venue/Organization

Taking place in the Baltimore Convention Center in downtown Baltimore, BronyCon chose a fitting avenue for the year. There was plenty of hotel space in the adjoining blocks, making travel to and from the convention easy, while the main hall and dealer’s hall were vast affairs easily able to hold the crowds seeking to enter. There were a few minor hiccups—several of the smaller panel rooms were insufficiently sized to allow everyone who wanted entry to attend a panel, and the vendor’s hall was located at the far end of the convention space, involving a considerable walk each way.

Overall, however, the convention space was very well-chosen, with the only significant downside being that the immediate vicinity had its occasional rough spots.

Despite the share of the usual con hiccups, the growth in professionalism of the convention was on full display. There were a few occurrences of events beginning late or running over, and the registration lines on Thursday/Friday were up to four hours long in some cases.

The line snaked around for hours... The line snaked around for hours…

And once inside, another line awaited! And once inside, another line awaited!

Yet the record was largely stellar, as most everything else proceeded smoothly. Staff interaction was courteous and helpful, and even when they were running ragged from lack of sleep, the convention organizers were still putting on a smiling face and displaying none of their fatigue. Their hard work may have been invisible to many attendees, yet the staff freely gave thousands of hours of their time for that weekend alone, and they deserve all the accolades for making the convention function so fluently.

Panels

Discounting day-long events such as LARPing or the game room, BronyCon featured panels of every conceivable variety and topic. With a “too much is better than not enough” philosophy, topics ranged from the traditional (voice actor and writer Q&As), to in-fandom celebrities and projects (the creators of “Snowdrop” and “Friendship is Witchcraft”), to the “out there” (a “staring at a wall” contest for Pinkie Pie cosplayers in the vein of Too Many Pinkie Pies). Friday alone had 57 panels.

As noted, some of the smaller scale panels ran into difficulties accommodating a large congoer demand. Sub-panels such as popular tumblr-based Fluffle Puff Meet and Greet and the PMV/preview panel for The Anthology 3 earned more fan interest than the smaller panel halls could accommodate. It’s hard to fault the con for this, as anticipating the level of fan interest for every panel – and appropriately providing the larger hall to accommodate – is a daunting task. But it was still a shame for those enthused for their favorites.

Speaking of Fluffle Puff, the talent behind her absolutely dressed for the part! Speaking of Fluffle Puff, the talent behind her absolutely dressed for the part!

For the major panels, despite a lack of major revelations, the usual charm of the creative team was on its usual display. Brenda Crichlow made her BronyCon debut, being at once flattered at the attention and visibly surprised at the spectacle, getting a notable smile at her face at the crowd response to any invocation of the Zecora voice. Lee Tockar—who also held a well-attended smaller panel for his “Fanbuilt” project—was in his usual high spirits, and when confronted about his motivations for initially auditioning for a role, noted the pressing issue of his mortgage payments. Even in the moments where fan questions don’t quite add up, Nicole Oliver and Cathy Weseluck played it off as true professionals, always managing to find an empathetic tone and plucking out a sliver of interest that played well with the crowd. The potential highlight of this was Weseluck’s incredibly clever response to a “your character’s worst nightmare” question, in which Spike’s voice actress promptly barked like a dog. Finally, Michelle Creber and Madeline Peters seemed to be attending the convention not only as guests, but as fans. Peters was a bit more subdued, but Creber’s enthusiasm matched that of the crowd – besides both VA panels, she was a central performer at BronyCon, done with absolutely no hesitation. Her rendition of “Hush Now, Quiet Now” at the VA panel was a major crowd favorite, delivered with the same gusto as Sweetie Belle herself.

Write Like The Wind featured the two writers for the show, Amy Keating Rogers and M.A. Larson, as well as “Chapter Books” author G.M. Berrow. Larson and Rogers both came off as highly appreciative of the attention they’re receiving in an often overlooked facet of television programming, albeit in their own separate ways. For Larson, now a veteran of the pony con circuit, he expresses this with an understated amusement, right down to a facial expression which all but seems to say, “all this for me?” Rogers approached the con with an energy resembling that of her self-identified favorite pony of Pinkie Pie – when not signing autographs for the auction, doing events with the (highly present) Military Bronies group, or answering fan questions at the panel, she still managed to do a smaller panel of her ukulele playing, a hit from BronyCon 2012. When questioned about the creative process in the all-too-short panel timeframe, they discuss the details of their jobs with a refreshing straightforwardness. The intricacies of how a given idea came to screen might be a source of a major argument on a brony forum, but for the pros, it’s a simple rundown of a given day at the office. Berrow was sincere in her appreciation of the show’s nuances, and thoughtful in describing how she goes about creating her material. Unfortunately, given the natural inclination towards the show staff, she seemed to have comparatively limited speaking time.

The trio representing the IDW comic series—Katie Cook, Andy Price, and Heather Breckel—spent the weekend directly engaging with fans, either in the vendor hall (where ample merchandise was available for signature at their table) or at the major writing panel, Andy, Katie & Heather, Oh My! What was most notable was the obvious chemistry that the artistic pairing of the comic writers had created. Katie came off as a master of deadpan one-liners, displaying her writing chops by possibly having the most laugh lines of any single VIP of the weekend. In her discussion of her own tastes, how it had influenced her career, and how it had driven her to keep trying to succeed in a difficult industry, Heather Breckel directly connected with a crowd of many creative personalities; Andy made a similar connection with references to his previous geeky days, showing he had given sincere thought to the fandom and what it represents to him. The trio are to be credited for being straightforward and insightful about the creative process and the realities of working in the comic industry.

The comic panel was quite animated! The comic panel was quite animated!

Speaking of the auctions, the BronyCon auction—now a standard of the average brony convention which has its roots in the January 2012 iteration—lived up to its reputation of extreme enthusiasm and (arguably) bad decision-making, with 100% of the proceeds going towards the cancer charity CureSearch. The money topped out at $1400, for an extensive collection of trading cards signed by relevant VAs, and totalled over $23,000 in funds over a roughly 90-minute panel. While not record-setting, the wide variety of items included toys, wood carvings, plushies, CDs, original coins, and posters, with prices generally in the $300-$400 realm; there’s also something to be said that this kind of event almost seems like a prerequisite for a convention at this point in the fandom. Next year, it could benefit from taking place earlier—placing it on Sunday afternoon does run the issue of people already departing, whereas Friday or Saturday still has everyone full of energy!

While no major revelations came out of these panels, the BronyCon press team generously offered the chance for the VIPs to have a sitdown with members of the press. Upcoming articles will discuss these Q&As in-depth!

If there is room for slight criticism in the otherwise professional presentation of the major panels, a bit more screening of fan questions might be called for. The occasional awkward moment and rambling question is inevitable, but there were several instances of questions that could not have been answered due to NDAs or ability of the guests present. While asking a question can be a very special event for those involved, the panels often contain hundreds if not thousands of other attendees, and paying heed to making their experience positive matters too. However, even in the uncomfortable moments, the guests handled every question with grace and aplomb.

For those who wish to view the panels, Everfree Network has uploaded many of them to Youtube – for comic fans in particular, the Andy, Katie & Heather, Oh My! is absolutely a must-watch. Other panel recordings are available from Ponyville Live as well.

Art

The Sun & Moon Art Contest involved was judged over the weekend, and the winners were, well, excellent!

First prize in 3d media was completely adorable! First prize in 3D media was completely adorable!

Vendors

The vendors hall was huge – and that was a very good thing. There were 155 vendors listed in the convention booklet, with a vast panoply of offerings. The vendors hall ran smoothly from day one – even with a giant line to get in Friday morning, the size of the venue meant that there was rarely a significant wait beyond that initial rush. Some of the more unique offerings included Perler Bead ponies as well as The Paper Pony’s Pony Shadowboxes – which were so popular that they were completely sold out by Saturday afternoon.

The Paper Pony's Display The Paper Pony’s Display

The other half of the display, featuring multiple Princesses! The other half of the display, featuring multiple Princesses!

Also exceptionally popular were Cutey Corral’s Chibi ponies – their product was seen in the hands of happy purchasers all weekend long, and Friday’s initial offerings had been picked almost clean by Sunday morning!

Cutie Corral had a massive stock available - and it went fast! Cutie Corral had a massive stock available – and it went fast!

Two booths in particular tended to have long lines throughout the weekend – Enterplay’s trading card booth immediately swamped the hall from congoers eager to pick up the free Alicorn Twilight promotional card unique to Bronycon 2013, while We Love Fine’s shirt booth was continually busy.

The dealer’s hall had a ton to offer, and here are a few more snapshots of a couple highlights!

Perler Bead Ponies! Perler Bead Ponies!

The extremely well made - and equally expensive - ponies of Equestria Plush! The extremely well made – and equally expensive – ponies of Equestria Plush!

A horde of mini-custom ponies were available for purchase! A horde of mini-custom ponies were available for purchase!

One final interesting note: a simple display goes a long way towards improving booth appeal. The difference between having a banner and a few hangings to display prints or otherwise spruce up the booth and having a table that’s largely empty other than whatever is laying on the table surface itself is night and day – at a large convention especially, that extra effort in setup can bring great returns in extra revenue!

Cosplay

The weekend had far more excellent costumes than can possibly be reproduced here! Here are a few of the very best that our correspondents were able to grab photos of!

Bronypalooza

Bronypalooza covered two days of music, noise, dancing, lasers, and more! Friday opened with Michelle Creber headlining, and continued all night long – to the point that all the jumping from the crowd could be felt throughout the convention center, and was ultimately responsible for causing a 1.6 reading on a nearby Richter scale – Bronies can now claim responsibility for a (very) minor earthquake.

The two night affair contained a grand number of musicians beyond Ms. Creber, including such perennial favorites as Alex S, Odyssey/Eurobeat Brony, and The Living Tombstone. LaserPon3 returned to help light up the festivities, and though the intensity of the room waxed and waned, there was always a crowd enjoying the music.

Bronypalooza action! Bronypalooza action!

Saturday was more subdued than Friday after the ban on jumping, necessary to ensure the convention center was not accidentally destroyed – as well as to prevent further noise complaints. Whether it was a factor of the more subdued atmosphere, or simply due to lower energy per attendee, Saturday’s crowd had much less dancing, which was unfortunate, as one of the most enjoyable parts can simply be letting go with everyone else; far harder to do when most everyone is standing still. There is something to be sad about smaller venues where it is easier for the performers to control the energy of the crowd, and where it is far easier to allow impromptu dancing and participation to flow through the attendees.

Tabletop/Video Gaming

Those looking for a gaming break were given ample material. The Baltimare Arcade featured room sized projections of a wide variety of games in a darkly lit room, including a comprehensive play schedule, in a friendly gaming atmosphere – though the casual fans would occasionally find themselves at the mercy of a master player who would dominate the room, perhaps an inevitability of a con this size. Similarly, the Portal to Equestria had a wide variety of LARP material to choose from and—also perhaps an inevitability for a con like this—a good amount of people who know what they’re doing.

Meanwhile, Stabletop Games had a large assortment of board games available for free rental all weekend, as well as open gaming and several sessions of at least one D20 system Pony-themed game held over the course of the weekend. The gaming areas appeared well-stocked and well-equipped to handle the crowds – although it would certainly be nice to see DDR or one of its successors join the available arcade choices next year!

Closing

The closing ceremonies started about a half hour late due to some runover from the Charity Auction, though the still-amped up crowd didn’t seem to mind. Near the beginning, Michelle Creber & Maddy Peters came on to thank everyone for attending before they departed the stage. From this point onward, each department within the con brought up its chair & assistant chair in order to thank its staff and give some closing remarks. While it was certainly nice to see that thanks was given for the untold hours of work that went into making Bronycon a success, things unfortunately began to get somewhat repetitive, as there was little variation from department to department.

There was a final surprise to both attendees and nearly every member of staff when Lauron Echo, who sang the opening to one of the 1980s Generation One shows, was brought up on stage to do a rendition for all in attendance – streaming was briefly turned off, and it was a brief but pleasant surprise.

The final performance was a duet between Eile Monty and Black Gryphon, and after that, Bronycon officially ended. It was unfortunate only Michelle & Maddy could make it onstage for closing – many of the guests had airplanes to catch and so had to depart prior to the ceremonies, but it certainly would have been great if they could have made a final appearance!

In a year of ups and downs on the Friendship is Magic convention scene, BronyCon has solidified itself as a gold standard. Perhaps the single most surprising element was the variety of congoers. The college-aged male remains, no doubt, the centerpiece of the fandom, but there were also more high schoolers (male and female), more old-time veterans of the Trekkie era, and more children per capita – with parents usually looking more amusingly interested than terrified at the spectacle. Bronycon has shown that people of all ages can be united in enjoyment of a property that defies norms – and does so in an unrelentingly positive way. Bronycon 2013 showed how enthusiastic fans of Friendship is Magic truly can be – and at the Round Stable, we’re certainly eagerly awaiting next year! 

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  1. BroNYCon September 2011 had an auction. I remember because I won a G1 MLP movie soundtrack vinyl at it.