Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones Fans and Convention Culture

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ICE & FIRE CON 2013

Before I delve into the rapidly growing ‘con culture’ phenomenon and the involvement of Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones fans, I feel that I should give a bit of my own background. I am one of the founders and organizers of Ice & Fire Con, a convention that is entirely centered around the Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones series. Ice & Fire Con was founded in September 2012 by some friends and I after we’d attended Dragon Con over Labor Day weekend and noticed a serious dearth of official activities centered around the books and show that we love.

That year, there were only three official events that focused on the series. For a convention that attracts over 50,000 people every year, and considering the extreme popularity of the show, this was both surprising and sad. After returning home, we looked into trying to get a George R. R. Martin-centered track at Dragon Con, but it was quickly – and painfully – obvious that this wouldn’t be possible. At that point we began planning what would become Ice & Fire Con; originally, it was just going to be a gathering of friends at a castle in Ohio.

Nevertheless, we were determined – and our chosen location, Ravenwood Castle, proved extremely willing to work with us and make the event happen, our weekend gathering of friends quickly grew into a full-blown convention. We already had the themed location, and the ideas for activities flowed quite easily once we made the decision to ‘go public’, if you will. Unfortunately, there were some things we didn’t have – one of them being any sort of funds to kick off such an endeavor.

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Ashley from A Podcast of Ice & Fire, and myself, an Ice & Fire Con Organizer – showing our love for Sandor Clegane

This meant that we had to sell tickets, and fairly quickly at that. But of course we also didn’t have any advertising budget – and so we took to the internet. Beginning with our own personal blogs, Tumblrs, and Twitter accounts and moving on to the Song of Ice & Fire and Game of Thrones subreddits, we plugged Ice & Fire Con everywhere we could…and generally we got great feedback. Within about three months of announcing the convention, we’d sold out of tickets – and though we only had around sixty available, it was exciting because we were literally building something from nothing.

 

ATTENDEES

Our attendees came from all walks of life and had varying interests in the fandom – some were cosplayers and regular convention goers, others had never been to a convention before but were excited to attend one that was entirely Song of Ice & Fire themed. While most were fans of the books, some were strictly show watchers – the former being more interested in the discussion panels, the latter in the meet and greets and just general theme of the event.

There were definitely some concerns in regards to the amount of dissent that exists in online forums that focus on this particular fandom – plenty of argumentative discussion takes place on the subreddits, on Tumblr, and elsewhere on the internet. Luckily, we had plenty of analysis and debate at Ice & Fire Con, but all of it was good-natured and respectful – even when there were conflicting ideas, opinions, or theories.
Perhaps it was simply that the people who are interested in attending an event like this and meeting other fans in person tend to be a bit more understanding of differing opinions. However, it’s also important to note that a large portion of our attendees were extremely active on social media. Most were members of the Ice & Fire Con Facebook group; those not on Facebook followed us on Twitter or posted on our website message board. This led to many of us feeling like we knew each other long before we all met in person at the convention – there was a sense of community that very likely contributed to the absence of friction at Ice & Fire Con.

 

THE BIGGER PICTURE

As it stands, though, Ice & Fire Con is of course just a microcosm of this fandom – though it is one of very few entirely Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones themed conventions. Throne Con in London focuses on the HBO show, and those who attend do so mostly in order to meet actors from the series. Days of Ice & Fire, which is held by FFG (the company that makes the Game of Thrones board game), is a weekend that consists almost entirely of gaming. Ice & Fire Con is mainly for fans of the books who want to gather and discuss this series that we all love, though we also draw attendees from cosplayers and those who regularly attend conventions.

The bigger picture of convention culture and how it pertains to the Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones fandom starts with none other than San Diego Comic Con. An industry-run convention that draws over 100,000 attendees each year, the bigger stars of Game of Thrones have been attending and giving talks at SDCC for a few years now. Unfortunately, because of its popularity, it’s extremely difficult for ‘regular fans’ – as in, those not in the television or film industry – to attend SDCC. And as previously mentioned, any Game of Thrones events that take place there are entirely show-centric.

Dragon Con 2013 - Just one of the many Game of Thrones photoshoots

Dragon Con 2013 – Just one of the many Game of Thrones photoshoots

I previously mentioned Dragon Con, because the lack of Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones activities at Dragon Con 2012 is what inspired us to create Ice & Fire Con – and then the number of official events based on this fandom went up drastically between 2012 and 2013. Of course, the book-themed panels were run by one track, while the television-themed panels were part of an entirely different track. This led to a few scheduling conflicts, and of course these events were also competing with dozens of others from fandoms such as Tolkien, Star Wars, Whedonverse, and more, that were all happening at the same times.

And though Dragon Con may have stepped up its game in terms of this fandom, most other large conventions have yet to follow suit. Sure, there are a growing number of Game of Thrones cosplayers, seemingly with every convention that I attend – but there are rarely official panels or activities based around the television show, let alone the books.

 

POPULAR CULTURE, MEDIEVAL FANTASY, AND THE FUTURE OF CONVENTIONS

However, I have not given up hope that this pop culture phenomenon – and the fans who are invested in it – will continue to see growth in representation at conventions. Dragon Con is obviously catching on, and the number of Ice & Fire Con attendees and those interested in going to it has grown exponentially in the past year; other small conventions, such as MonsterCon in Greenville, South Carolina and Con Nooga in Chattanooga, Tennessee, have added Game of Thrones panels to their repertoires.

It’s important to note that it’s not only Game of Thrones that has caused a somewhat recent increase in the popularity of medieval-style fantasy. One example is that, thanks to Peter Jackson’s movies, the Tolkien fandom is also flourishing. The explosive growth in enthusiasts of this genre shows the power that well written fantasy has to cross the boundary from print to screen – and that ability engenders a devoted following as people are attracted to the fandoms via different avenues.

Though Tolkien and Martin are inherently different authors, the prevalence of fans of the genre as a whole is likely to help boost the Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones fandom’s representation at conventions around the world – and conventions are also fertile ground for seeds of interest to take root and grow, and therefore create new fans.

Author: Tara Lynne

Tara Lynne is a fandom and geek culture expert, public speaker, and character cosplayer who is best known for her Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones), Starbuck (Battlestar Galactica), and Andrea (The Walking Dead) cosplays. She founded Ice & Fire Con, the first ever Game of Thrones convention in the US, and now runs its parent company Saga Event Planning.



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