Dashcon 2014: Day 3 – Sunday
Since the Saturday Incident invalidated the WTNV Q&A panel on Sunday, I found it difficult to wake up that morning. It had been a weekend of high emotion, and it was about all I could do to dress, pack up my things, and stagger down to the hotel lobby before noon checkout. Pretty much the only things left on my agenda were coffee, a last trip through the dealers’ room, and the DashCon closing panel, “A Fond Farewell,” at 1pm.
A fairly large group filed into the ballroom for the final panel, certainly more than I’ve ever seen at a closing-ceremonies before. The convention organizers settled themselves behind the table, visibly drained and far less enthusiastic than they’d appeared on Friday afternoon.
They started things off with what was probably intended as humor—“do not go in our tag”—although it seemed to double as an attempt to keep attendees from catching up with various accusations until the admins could sort out their PR approach. Regardless, they bantered for a few minutes, and then Meg Eli leaned toward her microphone and declared that it was time to address the situation.
(While a great deal of the following is paraphrased, it is taken directly from my notes, which were taken directly from the closing panel. These are not my own opinions, but the statements given by the convention heads. I apologize for the text walls.)
In regard to the hotel and the conflicting stories that had been floating around all weekend, Meg explained that the money issue had come from upper hotel management, and that most of the staff had no idea what was going on. They’d held a staff meeting on Sunday morning to bring everyone up to speed, however, so it was now safe to direct questions to the hotel itself.
She also addressed the apparent inconsistency between the $17,000 requested on Friday and the $20,000 in the hotel’s official letter. They did owe the hotel money, she said, and that was fact. Despite claims on Tumblr to the contrary, large events like conventions “never pay 100% up front.” DashCon and the Renaissance Schaumburg had an agreement that the convention would pay partially in advance, and partially over the course of the weekend as profits from at-the-door registration became available.
The hotel changed its mind suddenly, she said, and the con only had $3,000 immediately available. The $17,000 was the remainder of the $20,000 total owed. PayPal donations were able to be utilized because Meg had a debit card hooked up to their PayPal account, and the Renaissance agreed to take swipes over a period of days after receiving proof that the funds were present. As of Sunday morning, the hotel had been fully paid.
Regarding the Welcome to Night Vale debacle, Meg conceded that the convention was “not faultless.” She, Cain Hopkins, and the head of security were present on behalf of DashCon, while Jeffrey Cranor represented the WTNV crew. According to her statement, the convention had about two-thirds of the owed amount available in cash, with the final third available through PayPal. However, PayPal glitched and wouldn’t allow the payment to go through.
One of the admins offered to pull the remaining amount out of a personal account at her bank’s nearest ATM. It would take additional time, because the convention center ATMs had a withdrawal limit, so the DashCon organizers asked if they could pay part of the fee before the live show, and then pay the remainder afterward. At this point, it was already twenty minutes past the show’s scheduled start time.
Jeffrey Cranor declined DashCon’s proposal. Meg Eli paraphrased him as reasoning that it was no longer a tenable situation, and that it would be a business loss to continue. She described him as “very business,” neither mean nor particularly friendly, and denied rumors that WTNV had taken the available money and run. “Just the down payment,” she explained, which she believed “covered the meet-and-greet.”
(Not sure how WTNV would feel about that claim, Meg Eli. Not sure at all.)
She explained that, although the original contract between DashCon and WTNV stated that any changes required an addendum, they had not officially updated the contract when changes were made. They had merely made agreements via email. When an attendee asked if these emails could be made public, Meg vehemently denied the request, (correctly) stating that DashCon does not have the authority to share WTNV’s email correspondence.
According to Roxanne Schwieterman, another of the DashCon co-owners, “it was a bad on both our parts.” WTNV wanted to make their own flight and hotel arrangements—which, in my opinion, makes sense, given that they are in the midst of touring—so the convention didn’t have specific prices up front. She also stated that business loans require a business to be established for three years, and since DashCon was only a year old, it couldn’t qualify. Therefore, they didn’t have an “emergency reserve fund.” “We still had the money,” she insisted, “it was just in a different place. The cash request came so late.” She reiterated that they’d just needed time to run to the bank, and that WTNV didn’t want to wait. The blame game, it seemed, had officially begun.
In response to audience questions, Meg said she “can’t speak to the relationship with Welcome to Night Vale,” and that, while there wasn’t hostility, she wasn’t sure what reparations were needed. She claimed that she would be willing to try again with WTNV at DashCon 2015, but that she didn’t know where the business relationship stood. However, she does hope to repair that relationship, because “this is not the public persona we want out.”
(Understatement of the century.)
“I want you to love what they do,” she continued. “Don’t stop supporting Night Vale.”
In response to those who purchased reserved seating at Welcome to Night Vale events, the admins promised to be in contact via email regarding refunds. (As of this article’s publishing date, I have not received any email on the subject.) Those with specific questions were offered Meg Eli’s business line, but advised to email her at admins@DashCon.org if possible.
Citing the dwindling timeslot, the organizers began to herd questions away from WTNV-related inquiries.
Responding to rumors of illegal operation, Meg Eli reminded the audience that DashCon does, in fact, have a lawyer, and that they are allowed to hold events in other states as long as they pay state taxes, file the appropriate paperwork, and keep their home base stationed in Ohio, where they are licensed.
Regarding official convention guests who had been charged for their rooms, the admins cited an error in which “five to seven rooms” were taken off of DashCon’s account. They had been notified of the issue and were currently working to refund those who were fully-charged by accident.
As to the discrepancy between attendance estimates and the final count, the organizers stated that “attendee numbers aren’t totally in,” but that they’d be published as soon as possible. A member of the audience offered the opinion that the halls seemed kind of empty, to which Meg quickly responded, “The halls weren’t empty!” She acknowledged, however, that the con took an attendance and reputation hit due to the WTNV incident.
At this point, they did acknowledge the possibility of refunding donations made on Friday, starting with the “biggest amounts” and working their way down. I can only assume that this applies solely to PayPal donations, although I did hear a rumor that they were willing to refund cash donations “on an honor system.” If this is true, I can only imagine the impending chaos.
As the panel neared its end, the DashCon co-owners warned the audience that a lot of false rumors were currently circulating, which—as dedicated members of the tumblr community—we had kind of already noticed. Meg Eli advised us to post positive experiences in the DashCon tag, if we wished, but to be wary of anon hate, a form of bullying that is unfortunately all too prevalent on Tumblr. A panelist in the audience offered her own advice on the subject: the best way to respond to anon hate is to be nice, because it confuses the heck out of attempted bullies. Nothing was mentioned in regard to posting negative-but-true con experiences, so I can only assume the same tag should be used.
In closing, the head of DashCon security spoke up. “This was one of the most well-behaved cons I’ve ever staffed,” he announced, perhaps the first statement of the hour I could get behind completely. Cosplayers had shared with staff members that DashCon was the first con they’d attended without being harassed, and some of the trans* or genderqueer attendees had seconded the sentiment. DashCon, for all its faults, was at least attended by decent human beings—an achievement that should not be, but too often is, a rarity.
And then the panel was over. The DashCon organizers thanked the attendees, the attendees thanked the staff in return, and then we were ushered from the room.
Oh, good lord, I don’t even know where to start with this.
Well, first of all, as of our publishing date, the DashCon admins never replied to my requests for an interview, so all recorded statements were made in general, rather than directly to me.
Second of all, a reminder: this was a first-year con. I have been a convention organizer, and it’s a rough gig. When I stepped up to the plate to organizeAnimarathon 2010, I’d already staffed that particular con twice, and I’d spent the previous year training with the 2009 organizers. During Animarathon 2011, we ran a flippin’ beautiful convention, and I still had an hour-long panic attack in the staff room. It is not as easy as you might think it is, and if anyone tells you otherwise, they are lying.
Knowing what I know about the ins and outs of running a convention, I believe that the staff of DashCon 2014 bit off way more than they could chew and, as a result, spent the weekend choking, sputtering, and searching in vain for someone willing to perform the Heimlich. The warning signs were all there on day one: the fancy hotel, the high-quality badges, the unusually steep registration fee. It was basically a sandcastle built on a fault line.
This does not mean that I hold them unaccountable. Yes, they got in way over their heads, but DashCon had a duty to the attendees, guests, panelists, media, and vendors, and they let them down. No, it wasn’t a terrible experience for me, personally—I had fun, and so did many of the people I spoke with—but the disasters were extreme, the repercussions are still rippling, and a lot of people either lost money or straight-up were not paid. That is not okay.
Furthermore, DashCon’s official responses to almost everything leave a great deal to be desired. The statement issued by Jeffrey Cranor directly contradicts the statement issued by DashCon, and frankly, I believe Jeffrey Cranor. DashCon is financially disastrous. Welcome to Night Vale has been touring for a couple of years now (including other convention appearances) and never before has an issue of this nature come up. Personal opinions aside, the facts favor WTNV. Furthermore, the tone of DashCon’s closing statements reeked of the blame game. I do not know if the admins were attempting to play the audience or not—I’m in no position to make that call—but almost every word spoken by Roxanne Schwieterman on the subject shoved the blame onto WTNV, and her tone of voice was so pleading and pity-inducing that it actually made me deeply uncomfortable.
So no, I don’t blame anyone for holding the con in ill repute, as long as the negative feeling is born of actual experience rather than false information. The guests, in particular, are entitled to feel slighted. Welcome to Night Vale may have been the biggest-name guests, but they weren’t alone in their DashCon-related woes. Artist Noelle Stevenson and podcasting group The Baker Street Babes felt the need to leave the con early, as well, and apparently encountered—big surprise—some financial discrepancies on their way out (the aforementioned hotel rooms that were taken off of the DashCon account).
As a former con-head, here’s my two cents: if a convention cannot afford a guest, they should not book that guest. If they are unwilling or unable to honor a guest’s requests, they should not book that guest. Guests are not obligated to attend conventions; conventions are not obligated to book specific guests. The damage to a con’s reputation can be almost impossible to repair when a big-name guest is slighted; fans—as cons should well know—hold a great and terrible amount of power, especially when backed by the internet. (And especially when the convention has screwed up so publicly.)
Over the last few days, I’ve kept an eye on social media posts from people who were actually at the con. Several vendors have reported unreasonable set-up times, badge- and table-related snafus, and business losses due to the discrepancy between expected and actual attendance. A photographer hired by DashCon to document the weekend’s events has issued a statement that he “was not given what [he] was promised.” Even Cara McGee, a guest/vendor whose reported experiences have been largely positive, posted on Tumblr to express her growing unease and paranoia regarding the con’s financial issues and their effect on both herself and the convention’s attendees. “And man,” she added, “you can bet that since at the time I still had control of the funds from the tea party ticket sales, that if DashCon had forced me to cancel the party, you all DEFINITELY would have received full refunds from me.”
Take note of that, DashCon. It will be on the test later.
Full disclosure: personally, I had a good time, and I’m glad I attended despite the multiple implosions. My fellow attendees were a group of overall wonderful people: creative, passionate, and conversationally delightful. We made the best of what might otherwise have been a total disaster, and I applaud all of us for our collective ability to do so. The general convention staff, likewise, were the nicest staff of any convention I’ve ever attended; they remained genuine and helpful throughout the weekend, despite the figurative walls falling down around them.
(Important: Do not give these people any unsolicited crap, internet. DashCon was a lot of things, but it was not the attendees’ or general staffers’ fault. ¿Comprende?)
Having said that, let me clarify one point: I do not recommend attending DashCon 2015. Regardless of intention or fault, regardless of shady explanations, the fact is that the 2014 con was unbelievably mismanaged, especially in financial terms. Because the issues were so significant, the con organizers are going to have to do a lot to prove that the myriad 2014 problems will not be a factor in the future. Until they are able to do that, given my personal experience, I would not feel comfortable paying to attend the 2015 event, and I would definitely not feel comfortable advising anyone else to do so.
But, hey. At least we got a sweet meme out of the deal.
Now who’s up for an extra hour in that ball pit?
Questions? Comments? Anonymous rebuttal? Drop me an ask at octoberspirit.tumblr.com. Peace out, girl scouts.