Friday, June 9, 2017

CONVENTIONS: Let's Talk About Lobbyconning

I was very confused by a comment left on Facebook concerning a convention I work for. A potential attendee asked if the con would be "open" or "closed." No one really had any idea what this meant, until it was clarified: do you have to buy a badge to enter the convention space at all, or can you chill in the hotel lobby without buying a badge?

The practice is known as "lobbyconning," and I had never heard of it until within the last year or so. Essentially, rather than buying a membership to a convention, the lobbyconner just hangs out in the non-convention spaces of the hotel, seeing friends, showing off their cosplay, using Street Pass, etc. They see it as harmless and a way to save money.

Now, quickly up front. I have sped by hotels where a convention is going on to say hi to a friend. Like. If the con is in the area. Usually if I want to see a friend at a nearby convention I'm not attending, we go get lunch or something, or if I go to the hotel we'll meet for a drink in the bar or I go to their room. But if I'm going to see the friend, we generally leave the convention space. If I'm going to the convention to see the friend, I buy a day pass. Why? Because I am using the convention as a way to pass time with my friend, because it means they can still enjoy all parts of the con without having to abandon me for panels, and because dammit, supporting a con.

Now, I get that the con scene has changed. There are now corporations that do nothing but run conventions, flying actors out to sit behind a table and rake in their "garbage bags full of twenties" before heading home. That tends to be where a lot of people go, and those are expensive. Of course they are -- they have half the cast of Next Gen lined up against the back wall. Conventions like that, you can't usually lobbycon because they're in a convention center that you can barely get into without a badge check.

The ones you can lobbycon at? Tend to be smaller, fan-run events. Or, if a company does run them, it's a small business. If you were to skulk around the back end of a giant corporate con, they probably wouldn't notice. (Note: please do not take this as me encouraging you to do that because it's still rude.) But to "ghost" a con -- to take in the cosplay element, to potentially be getting access to public area vendors and artists, etc. -- you're actually harming the event.

Why? Let's break it down.

Lots of lobbyconners could be a safety risk.

Why do cons have attendance caps? Simple answer: fire hazards. Venues only hold so many people safely, so convention planners have to figure how many people can come into the space after accounting for hotel staff, convention staff, convention guests, vendors, and any rooms that might be otherwise filled. A smaller con with an attendance cap of 2,000 per day might be in a venue that can safely hold 2,500 before the fire marshal shows up to have words.

So what happens when tons of undocumented, unplanned for people show up? Well, if the con's hit its attendance cap and a dozen or so more people pile in, you're breaking the law. Now, a convention won't technically legally be held responsible for the extra bodies that aren't actually attending their con. But when the hotel sees a couple dozen Survey Corps members on Street Pass in the lobby, they're not going to just shrug and assume they're tourists.

In short: should you happen to lobbycon a packed event, you could get the hotel in trouble with the fire marshal, or you could get the con in trouble with the hotel.

You're sticking it to the wrong people.

We get it. Cons are getting expensive. Lots of cons upcharge: pay to get in, pay again to go to an exclusive panel with the biggest guest, pay a third or fourth time to even get to stand in line to buy an autograph. You're going to run into a lot of events that play those games, kind of like buying a theme park pass and then being told you need to pay $50 more to do anything but look at the rides.

Even small cons are having to up their prices. Getting guests that are big enough to get people to care about local cons, getting hotels that are willing to host, all things that mean that you probably will be paying anywhere from $80-100 (potentially more) for some weekend passes. And for what? you ask yourself. There's no guests you really want to see, you probably won't go to any panels, you're just there to cosplay and see friends. Besides, you just threw down about $500 to see your Favourite Actor Ever next month at a big con, so you can't afford it.

Look. If you don't like the guests or the panels at a con, don't go. Leave room in the hotel for people who do. Grab lunch with your friends another time. The people who feel it when you lobbycon are small cons.

If you love the camaraderie of smaller cons but aren't interested in the guests or panels, guess what? Pay anyway. Split a room with someone. Maybe be a gopher or volunteer to do a panel. The smaller cons are the ones that need the attendance numbers and income most, so they can afford to make the events better all around.

Honestly it's just super rude.

This is something people will be tempted to call a "millennial" mentality, but y'all don't get off that easy because God knows I've seen people in their 50s doing this. Thinking to yourself "I want to do this, but I don't want to pay for it" should not, if you're any sort of mature adult, be followed by the question "How do I avoid paying for it?"

If you do not want to spend money on something, then you don't want it enough. End of.

Similarly, "I want to do this, but I can't afford to pay for it," if it is not a matter of life and death (and conventions aren't a matter of life and death), should not be thought of that way, either. This isn't a fight for clean water or education. It's a bloody convention. And I love con life, too. But if I can't afford something? I don't do it.

People work hard to make these events as value-for-money as possible because they are fans, too. They want to give fans a good experience. And to show up at their event and demonstrate complete indifference toward a fair entry price... it's rude, dude.

(And if the price isn't fair? What are you even doing showing an interest?)

I know this will not convince everyone. There will be the "but I never get to see my friends except at this con," or the "but it's my only chance to show off my cosplay," or any number of reasons why your situation is different. But at the end of the day, if you are not going to pay, do not go to the event.

End of.

Start writing your rebuttals. You're not going to find a lot of conventions who are happy with you.