Convention Talk.

I’ve never understood why literally every state around Iowa has gaming conventions up the proverbial wazoo. Iowa? Specifically Central Iowa? We have maybe two full-on conventions per year around here as far as I am aware. A lot of the larger towns on the Iowa border have conventions.

We’re back to in-person events. Yay!

The Icky Cough-Coughs have been downgraded to an Endemic now. That’s something to be excited about. The TableTop RolePlaying Game and MIniatures Wargaming communities are getting back to in-person events.

I want to applaud GenCon and other conventions who have required proof of vaccination and masks. I realize the idea may be unpopular with some folx, especially in the spiritual circles I sometimes resonate with. I’m immune compromised with Diabetes, Chronic Pain, and other health malfunctions. I appreciate it a lot when organizations and people put time and effort into keeping the community safe.

That having been said, I’m cool if conventions don’t require those things. It’s up to the convention organizers as to whether or not they want to require vaccinations and masks. It’s also up to the public whether or not they want to attend those events. Caveat Emptor, I guess.

Gaming conventions can be a lot of fun.

I’ve been all the way around the convention block. I’ve been a visitor, an attendee, a game master, a runner, a speaker, an organizer, and a vendor. I was once invited as a Guest of Honor, but had to bow out due to some personal issues. Conventions are amazeballs.

I’ve only seen a few rare cases where things didn’t go so well. One was an incident involving someone using bigoted language. He was asked to leave the premises and never return to the convention.

Another problem occurred when my co-host showed up over half an hour late and possibly drunk to a panel we were running. I was getting heckled pretty bad before that. I now understand what stand up comedians go through.

One other mistake I made many years ago was accepting a couple of Jello shots from this nice girl in elf ears on the elevator. I’m missing some time from that convention. I was told afterward that the two games I ran while completely drunk were hilarious. This is why I don’t drink alcohol. LOL!

I live in the barren convention wasteland that is Iowa.

I’ve never understood why literally every state around Iowa has gaming conventions up the proverbial wazoo. Iowa? Specifically Central Iowa? We have maybe two full-on conventions per year around here as far as I am aware. A lot of the larger towns on the Iowa border have conventions.

The downer is, if I want to go to a con, I usually have to drive three or four hours in any given direction. It’s so damned quiet around here, I’ve been tempted to find a group and help organize one myself just to get something going again. It’s a lot of work, though.

I don’t think a lot of people fully understand what goes into planning a convention.

If you step back for a moment and think about how hard it is to get a regular five or six person gaming group organized on a monthly or weekly basis, then a convention is like planning for dozens of those sessions. It usually takes six months to a year to really plan a successful convention. It takes time to get the word out, especially for a newer convention.

Let’s take a walk through some of the basics of convention organization. One needs to:

  • Have people on board to take attendance money.
  • Collect money enough to pay the venue (usually up front.)
  • Find a venue.
  • Advertise online, at every game store within 200 miles, maybe elsewhere.
  • Run events.
  • Play in events.
  • Contact various game companies for support. Some companies even send representatives to conventions to run demonstrations and vendor booths.
  • Possibly run a Magic or other TCG tournament.
  • Find vendors and invite them.
  • Possibly find speakers to conduct panels/seminars.
  • Possibly plan/set up an anime room.
  • Setting up a mailing list and/or social media for convention announcements.
  • Organize live events such as LARP or costume contests.
  • Invite Guests of Honor, get them a place to stay, transportation, etc.
  • Find money for GoH privileges. (Hotel, food, transportation, etc.)
  • Fund and print souvenirs, advertising (flyers for FLGS) and badges.
  • Wrangle adventures, tournament rules, judges for pre-advertised events.
  • Possibly organize online events.
  • Set up cameras for Actual Play events.
  • Organize and collect items for auctions, raffles, etc.
Then the day of the event arrives.

Staff will be need all throughout the convention in order to:

  • Take tickets and hand out badges.
  • Handle all of the IT and login issues for online events.
  • Make sure all of the vendors find their assigned slots and can set up.
  • Make sure all of the assigned tables have the proper groups sitting at them.
  • Make sure all unassigned tables are made available for pick-up games.
  • Make sure judges/game masters are at their assigned events on time.
  • (Possibly) work the booth in the vendor area.
  • Coordinate the staff on site. (It’s controlled chaos, trust me.)
  • Make sure cameras are rolling properly for online events.
  • Make sure food deliveries get picked up.
  • Make sure the Guest(s) of Honor are taken care-of.
  • Make sure Opening-Closing Ceremonies/panels/stage events go as scheduled.
  • Clean up areas between sessions. (*I know. It sucks.)
  • Provide a point of contact if the venue has concerns.
  • Man the con suite if there is one. (Keep the veggie trays coming.)
  • Set up the raffles, auctions, etc.
  • Supervise LARP, Assassin, other live games as not to interfere with the venue.
  • Run wargame, Magic, and boardgame tournaments if advertised.
  • Run errands for convention staff and cover breaks in various areas.
  • Make sure all of the money collected by the convention is accounted for.
  • Make sure the venue is paid for any additional rooms/services not already paid.
  • Make sure everything gets cleaned up and put away at the end.
  • Make sure charities get paid/donations are given when/where promised.
  • Get the ball rolling for the next convention.

I may have left a few things out unintentionally, but that’s a good overview.

Did I mention that all of the organizing, planning, and execution of local conventions is usually done by volunteer staff? They might be working to pay their way into the convention or just for kicks, but most local cons don’t pay their staff. Most of the ones I’ve been to (except GenCon) were lucky if they broke even financially. There was no way to pay staff for their time.

There are always a few hiccups in every convention. It helps to have one or two experienced hands on standby to handle conflicts that arise and make sure everyone is where they are assigned. Sometimes staff finds themselves plunging clogged toilets or handing out bottled water. You never know.

The next convention article will cover why in-person events are more important now than ever. They’re never easy to pull off, but some cons have been around for decades and do it pretty well. Some conventions do things differently and charge fees at the table on top of admission, too. Some conventions let game masters in for free as compensation for running games. (*That’s my jam.)

Thanks for stopping by. More to come on this subject. The more I discuss it, the more I miss it. Have a good one.

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: