Five Years of Dragon Con

Dragon Con 2016 Thor Campaign Loki

Prior to my first Dragon Con in 2012, the only other convention I’d attended was Star Wars Celebration V in 2010. Needless to say, that one day at Celebration did not prepare me for the wonders of Dragon Con, and now that I’ve just attended my fifth Dragon Con, I have to say that the magic still doesn’t seem to be fading.

Dragon Con 20132 Game of ThronesI’ve had a lot of different Dragon Con experiences over the years. In 2012, I enjoyed many of the Writer’s Workshops, wore one costume a day, and stayed two blocks behind the Westin at the Holiday Inn Express. But thanks to someone stumbling on a Facebook post I made, I was also invited to participate in a Game of Thrones photoshoot (although I wore a book version Cersei Lannister costume) and ended up meeting a group of people who literally changed my life – without some of them, I wouldn’t have helped found Ice & Fire Con.

In 2013, things were a bit different. I scored a Hyatt room for that year, but still missed a couple of the writing workshops I’d signed up for due to the crowds. This was also the first year I started wearing two costumes a day…something I still regret but somehow can’t seem to get away from.

Although I once again had the pleasure of staying in the Hyatt in 2014, my third Dragon Con was a bit of a slippery slope (at least personally). That said, it was also my first year attending as Press, and it was interesting to look at this beloved convention through different eyes…and know that when it was over I would have to write something other than my own silly daily recaps on my personal blog.

Dragon Con 2016 Kuroko no Basuke CosplayLast year my press duties changed a bit when I was accepted to request guest interviews. I ended up with four scheduled, but one guest was a no-show and a second canceled last minute. No worries, though, because I was more than happy for the chance to be part of the Katie Cassidy press conference and then speak to Dean O’Gorman one-on-one! Of course, the best parts of my convention were the cosplay groups I did with close friends and the fact that I was once again staying in the Hyatt, which meant that I got to join in on their “grandfather clause” (for lack of a better term). Knowing that I was all set for a room for 2016 was one heck of a weight lifted off my back before Dragon Con 2015 even ended 🙂

And so we come to 2016…my fifth Dragon Con, and by far my best one yet. Every year is different, of course; while I still stayed in the Hyatt (yay grandfather clause!) and still wore way too many costumes, this year I spent most of my time either on panels or simply wandering around the Walk of Fame, something I was rarely drawn to do before.

Dragon Con LogoBut that’s enough with the personal information! The thing is, Dragon Con has evolved a LOT throughout the past five years, and while some people haven’t welcomed all of the changes, many of those changes have been great. Even “little” things like a more streamlined logo and getting rid of the asterisk (Dragon Con originally being Dragon*Con) were nice touches, but I can also safely say that their registration system has improved a lot from that time in 2013 when I waited an hour and a half (mostly outside in the hot sun) to get my badge. (And that same year I had friends who waited much, much longer, while I don’t know anyone who has waited more than half that time in the past two years.)

Dragon Con 2016 Will FriedlAdditionally, Dragon Con is great about mixing up their guests; this year the big things were iZombie and The 100; last year, there were contingents from The 100 and Battlestar Galactica, and in 2014 they had a lot of people from Star Trek. (Don’t ask me to think back before then…those Dragon Con memories do get fuzzy after a while!) But of course there are always the staple guests, and to be honest I’ve had the best experiences with them anyway. For example, I’ve seen Richard Hatch from Battlestar Galactica on panels as well as spending time chatting with him at his Walk of Fame booth, and he’s always a blast to run into. Plus I seem to have a knack for ending up in the same place as George Perez more often than not…

But I digress. Before I conclude this article with some more Dragon Con love, I do have to air my one major grievance. No, not that it’s hot (as if they can help that weather). Not about the football fans (I guess I’m lucky enough to have never had a truly bad experience). Not about the crowds (nothing is worse than the press of the San Diego Comic-Con exhibit hall).

No, Dragon Con’s biggest problem is that it is, first and foremost, an “old boys club”.

I don’t mean to gender it, as I know that *many* of the people who run tracks or departments are women (and for all I know there are some of them who prefer to be referred to as ‘they/them’). I’m simply using a cliche term because, well, it’s cliche for a reason. Because Dragon Con is a fan-run convention, and because many of the people running it have been doing so for a very long time, that unfortunately means that a lot of the tracks don’t evolve with geek and/or pop culture.

Please know that I am saying this as a fan, *not* as a member of the press. My press experiences with Dragon Con have been like most other conventions I attend as media, with the exception of San Diego Comic-Con (and that’s just a whole different animal).

Dragon Con 2016 Game of Thrones Concepts of HonorI am saying this as someone who has been lucky enough to be a panelist for the American Sci-Fi Fantasy Media Track every year that I’ve attended Dragon Con, based only on the personal credentials I listed in their friendly and welcoming panelist application.

I’m saying this as someone who has talked to the “right” people and has been systematically turned down as a panelist simply because many tracks use the same volunteers year in and year out.

I’m saying this as someone who has searched high and low for other panelist opportunities and rarely been able to find anything outside of the ASFFM track, despite being an avid Dragon Con subreddit reader and following many of the tracks’ Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.

I’m saying this as someone who watches the same outdated panels make the schedule every year while popular new shows like Steven Universe and Stranger Things are relegated to tiny rooms (often in the hotel basements) and have lines as long as big ballroom panels…which is of course proof of many tracks’ inability to predict and adapt to trends.

In case it isn’t clear, I completely believe that the problem is really apparent in the way certain fan tracks are run. I loved so many of the changes that Dragon Con as a whole made this year – for instance, the Westin handled the Heroes & Villains ball better than any hotel has before, and the Marriott was great for the Yule Ball (okay, I can’t lie, I just detest going to the Sheraton). While there were some issues with holding panels in the same Americas Mart building where the vendor hall was located, I absolutely believe that was a first-year kink that they’ll figure out before Dragon Con 2017. After all, Dragon Con is constantly growing and expanding…although there are some things that could be streamlined, such as the number of tracks, and others that could be more flexible in general (mainly panelist applications and panel schedules), they’re doing a good job.

I mean, put it this way – you don’t have to camp outside on the ground 24-ish hours before the panel you really want to see. (I’m lookin’ at you, SDCC.)

Author: Tara Lynne

Tara Lynne is an author, fandom and geek culture expert, and public speaker. 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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