why the kerfluffle about dashcon matters (or, if a con asks you for $17K? say no)

Portrait: Ha! 󾍇

7.15.14 6:27PM: Updates added at bottom of post.

(Note:  There are a LOT of links below. This is because there’s so much stuff that went wrong with this con, and that con staff and attendees are denying happened, that I feel it’s important to properly illustrate why these things were bad.)

Several months ago, I saw that a podcast I follow, The Baker Street Babes, was going to be making an appearance at a fairly local (and brand spanking new) convention, Dashcon.  Bones and I talked about attending after looking at the site and seeing that the very fun Whovian band, Time Crash, were having a concert, and that the pretty dang awesome podcast Welcome to Night Vale was doing a live podcast. When the schedule for the weekend was posted, we also saw that there were two Hetalia panels listed, which would have been of interest to Bones’ kid.

When you visit those links, please note that these are all independent artists doing neat stuff without tons of money.  (This data point matters.)

We ended up not going to the con largely because the website said the WTNV event and the Time Crash concert was sold out.  (This data point also matters.)

I was still a little disappointed about us not going to Dashcon up until the first twitters about the con needing $17K RIGHT NOW started appearing on my twitter feed.  (One of the more succinct breakdowns of what happened at Dashcon may be found here: http://www.blastr.com/2014-7-14/17000-ball-pit-how-dashcon-went-tumblr-con-conning-tumblr#page-1  Another good one is here: http://www.dailydot.com/geek/dash-con-controversy-tumblr/ – this includes screenshots of things Dashcon has since deleted from its Tumblr, and screenshots of what the screwed-over guests had to say on Twitter as things progressed into badness.)

If you’ve ever attended a convention, you’re probably saying, ‘Wait, WHAT?’

Con staff claims that the hotel – a five star hotel, I should add, which is a surprising choice for a first year con – was demanding full payment of their contracted $20K due from Dashcon, in full, Friday night or the con was off.  Con staff gathered all of its attendees into one room and told them they had to raise $17K by 10PM.  The cry went out across Twitter and Tumblr.  Cash was reportedly being flung at hotel staff.  Money was donated to Dashcon’s PayPal account, the total was raised, and the con was allowed to continue.

(Dashcon staff claims this was a demand that came from upper management; that there was pressure from the two weddings also sharing the hotel; and that the hotel didn’t like the con attendees.  The hotel staff has said, “Wait, what?”  My inner skeptic wonders if con staff heard about this story from Chi Fi earlier this year…)

You may be wondering why a hotel would accept a payment from PayPal.  Con staff explained later, at the ‘dead dog’ panel on Sunday – so yes, that’s a video of con staff talking – that a PayPal debit card was used, and once the balance was shown, the hotel was willing to accept payments of $3K at a time until the balance was paid off.  Simple math shows that this would have meant the con would still be making payments as of today.  However, there were several reports of cash being shoved into bags and, again, thrown at hotel staff, and there’s no accounting for that money.

At the time, the con staff announced they would refund the $17K.  (Here’s that promise in print.  That promise was also made at the con, and there are reports of names being recorded – more than once – for these reimbursements.) If you watch that video link above, that promise was retracted on Sunday.

If you’ve never heard of a con extorting $17K from its attendees?  THAT’S BECAUSE IT DOESN’T HAPPEN. Ever.  EVER.

NOR SHOULD IT.

Hotel issues happen.  Absolutely.  Heck, sometimes your hotel closes 4 days before your event.  But you do NOT round up your attendees and demand money.  EVER.

One might wonder if the con did any fundraising beforehand.  Yes, they did.  For one thing, they organized an Indiegogo fundraiser that raised over $4K. (Perks for that fundraiser were not sent out..proof of that is coming up.)  They also asked that committees do fundraising for the kinds of panels/guests they’d like to see at Dashcon.  One example is here. (This is another thing I’ve never heard of a con doing before.)

One might wonder where that money all went.

One wouldn’t be alone.

Other (confusing) reports state that staff/volunteers selling con badges at admissions were still selling passes to the WTNV live podcast and the Time Crash concert…or perhaps the Steam Powered Giraffe concert, which had initially been the big event Saturday night but had been replaced months ago by Time Crash.  Again, the website showed these events were sold out, but the upcharge was, I believe $10 for each event.  (I’ve personally not seen another con do this.)  So there’s money flow happening at the con.

But hey.  Panels happened on Friday.  Reports coming out, from guests and attendees, were pretty good.  So let’s move forward to Saturday.

Saturday, the WTNV podcast was delayed for an hour.  Here’s a video of what that experience was like.  Note that there’s another request for money in this video, in the form of ‘we’re going to order pizza for all y’all – give us $5 each.’)  The upshot is this:  The guys behind Welcome to Night Vale were invited guests.  Invited guests generally have their transportation and hotel costs covered by the con, and there may be a per diem or an appearance fee.  In this case, WTNV paid for their own transport and hotel, expecting to be reimbursed, as this Twitter shows.  Dashcon staff claims that they had the performance fee money – or most of it – and that WTNV was in the wrong for not wanting to wait for someone to run to a bank and get the remainder of the fee. They also claim the bank was malfunctioning..? Frankly, nothing I’ve heard makes it sound like they were planning to cover the transportation and room costs, and the treatment of other guests only serves to convince me further that this was the case.

So, the WTNV cast left the con, but not the hotel, as they then offered another guest, Noelle Stevenson, crash space after she discovered her room was also not being covered by the con.

As a personal side note, I’m rather angry on the behalf of WTNV that Dashcon has tried to make them look bad.  Take responsibility, kids.  You handled this *very* badly.  Want further proof of that?  The response to a canceled special event that had a separate fee should be, “We will reimburse you.”  Hell, it’s not like the money was being used to take care of invited con guests.  Instead?  Dashcon staff offered people that had paid for the WTNV live podcast…..an extra hour in their ball pit (which was an inflatable kiddie pool filled with plastic balls).

Totally not kidding.  http://dashcon.tumblr.com/post/91582246126/clarifications-and-back-up-plans  In addition to more time in the ball pit, attendees were offered the chance to be entered into a raffle for items such as a framed Stan Lee autograph, a framed Richard Armitage autograph, a framed Walking Dead photo with autographs, etc.  Where did all that cool stuff come from?  The Indiegogo fundraiser.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Oh, come on.  This con was being run by kids.”

Not so much.  Meet the Dashcon admins.  One co-owner is 32 years old; the other is 20, and her bio says, “ [I] attend Kent State University for Hospitality Management. I actually attend school to plan events like conventions, weddings, concerts, etc.”

Additionally, the con owners thought ahead enough to create a LLC for this event. That means the owners have limited legal protection, so if Dashcon gets sued – which seems very likely at this point – the con owners should be ok.   Just in case you were worrying about Meg Eli or Roxanne Schwieterman.  (I mention their names because you might want to reconsider getting involved in any of their future projects.)

So, moving forward.  Time Crash reported having a great time.  There were no other negative stories spreading…until Sunday, when the Baker Street Babes went to check out and discovered that their hotel room had been taken off the con credit card and they were being expected to pay for their room.  (That link also includes an update saying the issue has yet to be resolved.)  The BSB attempted to contact con staff for a few hours.  No response.  When they went back online and started threatening legal action?  THAT was something the con staff responded to..although, apparently, Dashcon staff was lying when they said they had fixed it. As of this date, the BSB are still being charged for their room.

Very much worth nothing:  The BSB does have a written record of the con agreeing to cover those costs.

The Dashcon staff held a Q&A on Sunday (this is usually referred to as a ‘dead dog’), and I’ve not seen a lot of video from it, outside of what I posted above.  In the aftermath, there’s a lot of attendees saying this was a great con and we’re all just being mean and talking about things we know nothing about because we weren’t there.

This worries me.  Because that means there’s a bunch of teens and 20-something year olds that think what happened at Dashcon was ok.

It’s not.

You do not break agreements with your invited guests.

You do not take their hotel rooms off your accounts, ESPECIALLY without talking to them.

You do not place blame on the hotel or your guests when things start to go wrong.  You take responsibility and you conduct yourselves in a professional way.  (Posting video of con staff crying?  This is not professional.)  Conduct yourselves, at all times, in a way that makes other people take you seriously and want to work with you in the future.

You do not offer play time in lieu of  money reimbursements.

Most importantly?

You do not – EVER EVER EVER – round up your con attendees and tell them to raise money for your event.

And if you as an event attendee ever find yourself in this sort of position?  DO NOT GIVE MONEY TO PEOPLE LIKE THIS.

I’ve been attending, and working for, conventions for the better part of 20 years.  Crap happens.  This kind of crap?  DOES NOT HAPPEN.

It is not the norm, it is not what you – as either an attendee or a volunteer -should expect, and y’all deserved a whole lot better.

Many attendees are saying it was a great weekend. I have no doubt that the actual con was, indeed, fun.  Fen are fun!  Gatherings in fandom are, generally speaking, a grand good time.  Bad things happen at cons and, in general, the attendees don’t see it.  That doesn’t make it a good convention – that means someone did a good job in buffering the attendees from the bad.  But kids?  I promise you, there are better events to attend, and there are better, more worthy things for you to give your money and your passion to.

Dashcon – and all the badness that happened – is the exception rather than the rule in conventions and fandom.  Don’t let it define your expectations of either.

random:

One guest’s story: http://lyndsayfaye.tumblr.com/post/91654434754/dashcon-where-i-draw-the-line  (and I agree…this is one of the biggest reasons Dashcon staff should be smacked on the nose with a newspaper)

One attendee’s story: http://pooped.tumblr.com/post/91707384424/my-dashcon-experience-facts-and-proof-links-for-other

One vendor’s story: http://chiiathingy.tumblr.com/post/91519402264/dashcon-play-by-play-of-the-almost-cancel

Another summary (good money breakdown): http://robkneppers.tumblr.com/post/91625226542/wait-so-dashcon-crowdfunded-over-4-000-in

Updated to add:

*  The Baker Street Babes reported at 3:31 on 7.15.14 that Dashcon has now paid for their hotel rooms.  No update on whether or not all of Noelle Stevenson’s or Welcome to Night Vale’s costs have been covered.

* Dashcon is reportedly preparing a press release that will be available in a few days…at which point it will be old news.

* A person that was at the hotel has told me yes, she was locked out of her room Friday night and believes it was because the hotel was demanding money from the con.  Additionally, she says she heard one of people from one of the two weddings at the hotel raising a fuss about the con and that a hotel staff person said they would ‘take care of it.’  This contradicts all reports, including from Dashcon staff, that the issues came from upper management and was an issue between the hotel and the convention…which, in turn, is contradicted by statements from the hotel.  So if you’re not sure what to think?  You’re not alone.  (As an aside?  Gentle Readers, I’ve been at more than a few cons where we shared the less-than-five-star-hotel with weddings, or with religious conventions.  I’ve seen people in werewolf costumes – NO JOKE – chase down wedding guests.  I’ve NEVER seen a con successfully shut down while in session because of a complaint from another event.)

* There are reports that Welcome to Night Vale was not at the con until Saturday afternoon.  This is not true.  They had a panel/meet and greet on Friday night.

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6 thoughts on “why the kerfluffle about dashcon matters (or, if a con asks you for $17K? say no)

  1. I have the sense from reading this that you have never started a convention. There is nothing more terrifying then when the hotel comes to you on Friday night to say that the bill you were told verbally would be due Sunday is actually due RIGHT NOW. This happened at the first Pi-Con. Fortunately, it was small enough to go on my personal credit card, but had it not been, I would have been faced with the same choice. Thank God I did not have to do that. Every con runner has these kinds of failures in its background, fortunately, most of us didn’t have to make our mistakes in full view of Tumblr.

    High class hotels are often better venues than lower class ones. They are more used to running conventions. Lower class hotels tend to have less space and are built around weddings and banquets, so are very difficult for a convention that is not serving a great deal of food to work with. Also, the hotel is a four star. I suspect that the organizers were told verbally it was 5 star and copied that to their web site.

    Many of the challenges they faced happen to other cons and you never hear about them. These kids, whatever their ages, took a big chance to make something for people to enjoy, and, guess what? The people there actually enjoyed it. They had a great time.

    The organizers risked their own money, their own credit, and they knew that they would never make any real money running a con. They formed an LLC because they spoke to anyone who has ever done anything ever and got the advice to spend $100 and set up an LLC. True, most people start a little more modestly on their first con, but not everyone. Besides, maybe they thought 5000 people was modest. It’s small by Comiccon standards. I applaud that they tried, and am glad that there are people out there willing to take risks so that we can have cons to go to.

  2. Nope. I’ve never started a convention. I do understand that it’s not out of the ordinary for a con organizer to use personal finances to foot the bill for a start-up event.

    As this story has unrolled, I’ve thought about Pi-Con as an example of a small con that has done a good job.

    If you had read all of my post, you would see that yes, I acknowledged that people had fun, and that cons have things gone wrong that people do not hear about.

    You do not extort the money from your attendees. If you think that’s a viable option to fixing your financial problems, you are doing it wrong. End of story.

    • So when a con gets that surprise from the hotel and it’s come up with money or close down, what do you suggest they do? Alternately, if I didn’t have that credit card in 2006 what should I have done? Close the con? Keep in mind that if the con shuts down there is no money to refund paid admissions.

      It sounds like you are saying don’t screw up because if you do you deserve what you get. As well as not to try if you are not sure you can succeed. If people do not take these risks there will be no cons, and some of those will make mistakes. Without them, there are no cons. End of story.

      • Again, if you were reading what I’ve written, I have said yes, cons make mistakes.

        I believe that if there is that big an issue with the hotel, you negotiate with the hotel. You figure something out to save your business venture. You DO NOT demand money from the attendees. EVER. There’s no scenario in which that is ok. I am surprised you’re trying to justify this decision by Dashcon.

        I say that having worked a con where there was a financial issue with the hotel and a solution offered was to have an auction during the weekend to help cover costs. It wasn’t ideal, it didn’t cover all the costs, the con organizer took a huge hit, and the convention did not happen again.

        As one con owner I know says about business in general: If your venture doesn’t make money, you don’t get to play next year.

        Let me be very clear (although I’m not sure you’re going to hear it, and I’m loathe to continue this exchange because clearly you and I do business very differently): Sure, take risks. But no, you do not extort money from your attendees. Absolutely not. Ever. End of story.

  3. “I’ve seen people in werewolf costumes – NO JOKE – chase down wedding guests. ”

    Um, I was one of the werewolves doing this at a Dallas con that shared space with a wedding & reception. I doubt it’s the event you’re talking about, though, and we only did it after the bride & groom saw us roaming the halls and demanded that we come crash their reception. Somewhere, there’s a wedding album with the happy couple posing with werewolves from that evening …

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