For those who weren’t able to make it to Blerdcon this year, we will try our best in this article to not induce envy based on how successful and enjoyable Blerdcon was as we are sure you already know that you missed out.
One quick look at the #Blerdcon hashtag on Instagram and you’ll see that workshops/panels were abundant, the barbecue had delicious food, the parties were jumpin’, the cosplays were on point and someone even got engaged.
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So, ya girl got engaged! 10 years ago Mr Bean and I got married under less ideal circumstances, so we never had a formal engagement. So he and my friends surprised me at #Blerdcon with a proposal, complete with a #SailorMoon inspired ring. I’m just so blessed to be on this journey with him and have the love and support of friends I met through our shared hobbies. I’m just so incredibly grateful. I can’t ask for better friends or a more amazing partner. 💖⠀ ⠀ ⠀ #love #proposal #engaged #geek #geeklove #blacklove #cosplayers #cosplay #blackcosplay #myheroacademia #comiccon #engagementring #anniversary
There was something for everyone at this con that aims to serve people of color, veterans, differently-abled nerds and the LGBTQIA community. After a second successful year of Blerdcon, there is one sarcastic yet frustrating question that is quietly being asked…why couldn’t Univeral FanCon pull this off?
What a loaded question to ask. For those who may not be familiar with FanCon, infamously known as ScamCon, DashCon 2.0 and Fyre Festival 2.0, it was a proposed con that had a similar mission to Blerdcon but was canceled a week before it was slated to happen.
This convention, which was run by a team of publicly know Black geeks and nerds, including Jamie Broadnax of Black Girl Nerds and Rob Butler of The Black Geeks, had good intentions (according to their press interviews) but in turn left many fans displaced in Baltimore, MD after it postponed and then canceled the convention with no refunds.
If you are just now learning about FanCon, check out this article or this reaction from a fan (or really just Google Universal FanCon). For those who are wondering, most people who supported the Kickstarter or bought tickets were not reimbursed, even to this day.
Though even with the failure of FanCon, Blerdcon doubled their con attendance from last year. How is this possible?
We’ve broken down 7 reasons based on sources and personal testimonies why Blerdcon is still thriving, even with this setback in the nerd community.
1. Blerdcon’s marketing strategy was more community based, not “fan-based”
If you pay attention to Blerdcon’s social media, you’ll see that they attended and tabled at several conventions throughout the year, up and down the east coast and beyond. They ran giveaways, held activities and became a staple booth to visit at other conventions. They also made marketing trades with other conventions catering to a POC or LGBTQIA community, such as Nerdtino, a convention focusing on the Latinx community.
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Ashley is at Blerdcon’s table at the inaugural VAComiCon North in Fairfax RIGHT NOW!! Stop by to snap a pic with us, and learn a little more about Blerdcon!! We’re so excited to have a table here & support a franchise we’ve known & loved for many years!! . . #VAComiConNorth #VAComiConFairfax #GMU #Virginia #WashingtonDC #Blerdcon #Blerdcon2018 #Blerd #nerd #BlerdconReunion2018 #geek #cosplay #POC #POCCosplay #VAComiCon #SupportYourLocalCons @vacomicon
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Hey! We’re also at #AnimeNext in #AtlanticCity this weekend! Drop by our table & give us a shout!! . . #NewJersey #Blerdcon #Blerdcon2018 #Blerd #nerd #BlerdconReunion2018 #geek #cosplay #POC #POCCosplay #SupportYourLocalCons #AnimeNext2018 📸: @xeronogravity @animenextcon
A lot of their guests were well known within the community that they were serving, even if they have yet to make it big in mainstream media. You could also see the impact of Blerdcon’s organic marketing, as the con was mentioned at least weekly in the dozens of Facebook groups that cater to its community. This made it easy for con-goers to see which of their friends or favorite cosplayers would be attending Blerdcon.
This, unfortunately, was not the case with Universal FanCon. There were several instances where even here at Quirktastic Media, someone from our team would ask “is Universal FanCon still happening? I haven’t really heard people talking about it.”
According to Vulture, half a year after the Kickstarter campaign, co-founder Rob Butler said, FanCon had run out of money and had sold only a hundred or so tickets. “There was no marketing,” according to Melanie Dione, the former director of entertainment for FanCon. “If you didn’t know someone directly involved, you wouldn’t have known about FanCon at all.”
2. Blerdcon brought on people based on experience, not just social media clout
While FanCon has done everything in the last few months to erase their digital footprint, a trip down the Twitter hashtag for #UniversalFanCon will show you everything you need to know about this catastrophe. One thing that was glaringly obvious when looking at the team page for Universal FanCon (which unfortunately has been taken down), is that no one on the roster had any experience putting together a convention, especially not at the capacity of turnout they were (literally) banking on.
If this had been the case, someone on the team would have told them to not plan for 10,000 people to attend the first-year convention just because your founders have a few hundred thousand social media followers. We will say it for the people in the back, clout does not always mean customers. If this were the case, everyone would still be rocking Beyonce’s House of Dereon instead of Fashion Nova jeans.
3. Universal FanCon bit off more than they could chew, while Blerdcon grows humbly
We all should have known something wasn’t adding up when we saw the almost weekly announcements of new special guests and attractions that would be at FanCon. Billy Dee Williams, Big Daddy Kane, Roxanne Gay, LeVar Burton, and several international celebrities were all supposed to come to Baltimore for this first-year convention. Also, the convention was supposed to take place at the convention center which in itself was a hefty price tag, with the deposit alone eating almost all of the Kickstarter money. Also, planning for 10,000 people to attend a convention that hasn’t been proven is insanely ambitious. With interviews from large media outlets still being released the week that they canceled the event, it is obvious that there was a lot of naivete and denial across the team.
On the contrary, Blerdcon comes from humble beginnings, attracting a crowd of around 1,500 in its first year and then almost doubling it during the second year. Also, Blerdcon takes place in the conference and ballrooms of a hotel right outside of DC in Arlington, VA.
When you look at the list of guests that attended Blerdcon, you won’t see too many flashy names. We were excited to see Karan Ashley (aka the only Yellow Power Ranger that truly matters) and three of the Dora Milaje, along with Mega Ran and Pretty Brown and Nerdy, though the guests alone aren’t what draw people to Blerdcon. It’s the community that draws people to this convention.
The theme of the second year of Blerdcon was “The Reunion” and what is amazing is that this phrase is all that I heard all weekend. Whether visiting new friends in their hotel rooms, attending the barbecue and brunch, or even stumbling across the “secret” party, all anyone talked about was how Blerdcon felt like the family reunion they had never had. After (and only after) two successful years, the team has talked about potentially expanding to bigger venues.
I fear that the Universal FanCon team felt that they had to make up where they lacked in community involvement by continuously announcing heavy-hitting celebrities to try and save ticket sales. One thing that came to light after FanCon was canceled is that Jamie Broadnax’s platform, Black Girl Nerds was not always as friendly to the community they were serving as they were to celebrities that rave about the blog.
When you look at the platform, Black Girl Nerds, it is hard to find any actual black girl nerds (or nerds in general) being featured that aren’t celebrities or that aren’t Jamie Broadnax. In the past week, we’ve seen that change as they did a video with The Cocoa Chronicles, which may have been prompted from Broadnax stepping down as EIC but before that, finding a community feature was few and far between. I even fact-checked myself to make sure that I wasn’t mistaking.
I went to the website, searched “cosplayer” and sadly only came across two community features on non-celebrity cosplayers of color. One was with the extremely popular cosplayer Kaybear only a few weeks before FanCon was canceled and the other was with #28DaysOfBlackCosplay founder and Pokemon social media manager, Chaka Cumberbatch back in 2013. I also didn’t see any of the geeky, nerdy POC businesses being featured, such as Adorned By Chi (or any of the many businesses featured on this list). Even the writers for Black Girl Nerds left in droves this year, while many accused the brand of malevolent practices and a tendency towards blackmailing past writers.
The Black Geeks website has since been shut down, which is why a lot of the focus has been on Black Girl Nerds. Though from what still remains on their online videos, the platform seemed to be more of a personal blog instead of a platform to serve all Black geeks.
The bottom line, to create a space for the Black nerd community, you have to actually serve that community and be a part of it.
4. Universal FanCon blamed their fans instead of asking what they wanted
Butler truly believes, according to his interview with Vulture that “If more fans had bought tickets, he said, the whole debacle could have been avoided.” He even went as far as calling POC nerd community “nonexistent”. Well, if we were so nonexistent, Blerdcon would have never happened and this article wouldn’t have been written so…bloop!
5. Blerdcon partnered with media that is within the community, not just the big names
If you attended Blerdcon 2018 and participate in nerdy news, you’ll notice that you saw a lot of familiar faces in the media industry. Black Nerd Problems was present, Quirktastic was there, Black Heroes Matter (the same people who saved FanCon by putting together WICOMICON) showed up in full force, along with The Undefeated and several local publications. Leading up to the con, these were the outlets telling their story.
Though, when you do a Google News search for Universal FanCon from 2016 to March 2018, you’ll see several articles from incredibly large mainstream media companies such as Newswire, Hollywood Reporter, and NPR. Also and of course, there were several articles on Black Girl Nerds. Though, when you search for Universal FanCon on any of the top nerdy POC media outlets, they are nowhere to be found. I also checked with our editorial team and no one from Quirktastic was ever formally reached out to for any type of press surrounding FanCon.
So, why didn’t any of this earned media from these popular media companies convert? I’ll take an educated guess: your core POC audience is not reading any of these majority white serving publications religiously (well, except maybe NPR).
Again, the FanCon team went for perceived fame instead of really paying attention to where their audience lives. What’s worst is that after FanCon went to flames, these same large media companies that were singing its praises were some of the first media companies to capture their failure. Ouch.
6. Universal FanCon was trying to be Blerdcon without publicly acknowledging Blerdcon
A bold statement, right? But look at the facts (or at least what has been said by FanCon). We are not sure whether the idea of FanCon or Blerdcon came first. According to this Hollywood Reporter article, the idea of FanCon came about Labor Day weekend 2016 during Dragon Con, which is about the same time that Blerdcon came onto our radar.
Either way, we know based on testimony and parties involved in their planning committee that FanCon was well aware of Blerdcon. Even if they somehow didn’t know in 2016, Blerdcon had a very successful convention in 2017 near DC, about 45 minutes away from where FanCon was slated to take place in Baltimore.
So with the knowledge that a successful con ran by people of color for people of color, the LGBTQIA community, the veterans and differently-abled geeks and nerds exists, why would Universal FanCon make it a point to tell every major media outlet that they are the FIRST and ONLY con ran by people of color for people of color, the LGBTQIA community, the veterans and differently-abled geeks and nerds?
Why not collaborate in some capacity? This isn’t to say that there couldn’t be two successful conventions for nerds of color. This is to say that if you know someone who looks like you, that has the attention of your target audience, who lives right around the corner and has done what you are trying to do successfully, why not propose some type of trade early on?
For reference, it is not atypical for con-goers to go to several conventions each year, so with FanCon slated to happen in April, it would not have been in competition with Blerdcon in late July.
7. The universe don’t like ugly
I debated adding this point to this article because it is the only point that can’t be backed up by an accredited news publication. Though, those who have been involved in specifically the Black nerd community know about all of the shade that personalities who have been associated with Universal FanCon have thrown Blerdcon’s way. The shade has been whispered up and down both Twitter and Facebook timelines with no one knowing the source of information.
We at Quirktastic first became aware of it when we partnered with Blerdcon on an event back in October 2017 after its first year. There were pockets of people that came out with concerns about members of the Blerdcon team, many of which were personal and yet still valid and considered. Though many comments had no source or no personal attachment and at the end of the day were malicious speculation with the hopes of ruining the con’s reputation.
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Yooo…. when the @dmv_kombatants are together…. we look TOO GOOD!! Shout Out to @shweetpea_117 and @myraiden for their ingenuity and unique flavor on #SubZero and #Raiden at #BlerdCon. #cosplay #Cosplayer #Cosplayers #BlackCosplayers #CosplayingWhileBlack #BlackHeroesMatter #RepresentationMatters #poccosplayer #NetherealmStudios #VideoGames #mortalkombat #LinKuei #dmvkombatants #MortalKombatCosplay #BlerdCon2018 #blackgirlmagic #blackgirlsrock #mkkollective
On the contrary, after the announcement in April that FanCon was no longer happening, I don’t recall any core team member of Blerdcon taking to social media to bash the con, as they assumingly had their heads down focusing on the work and not the gossip.
Now that Blerdcon will be going into its third year with more fans than foes, it is apparent that they have the support of the community to host many more successful years to come.