This year’s AVCon – Anime and Video Games Festival was my eleventh time attending the event. For the 2019 festival I was given a complimentary weekend pass by a member of the AVCon elect to… basically do this. Specifically, to observe and provide feedback on the event (her words were “be brutal as you need to be”).
The timing of which may have been unfortunate, because while I usually have an amazing time at these things, this year’s AVCon was perhaps one of the least enjoyable of the last 11 years.
That’s not to say there was nothing good or fun about AVCon 2019, far from it. As always there was plenty to see and do and everyone will undoubtedly have different experiences, however, the sheer number egregious missteps and poor decisions during the lead up as well as on the weekend itself certainly have a detrimental effect on the level of overall enjoyment.
Because of such, this write-up required time and distance to properly evaluate and process what happened, which involved some research and speaking with a variety of people either involved or with other event organisers who could provide context as well as advice.
The following features observations as well as an attempt to give context and history to said observations and feedback. Again, everyone’s experiences will differ. If you have your own feedback on this year’s event send them directly to AVCon as there are indeed people who are receptive to such.
With the absence of Oz Comic-Con, the 2018 event was able to bounce back and put on a great show, which happened simply by staying the course and doing what AVCon had always done best in previous years. This bounce back was after (according to a few involved) the 2017 festival didn’t make its money back and the 2016 event had the lowest attendance of the three years previous.
According to the sponsorship adverts on FreshFM, tickets for the 2019 show were up, which was great news. On that momentum, what could have been a truly wonderful weekend, however, was tarnished by a laundry list of errors.
The six months leading up to any event are meant to promote and get the community excited for the big weekend but it’s also fraught with danger and even though it did apparently result in a rise in ticket sales for AVCon (taking that radio advert on face value), that lead up was perhaps one of the more problematic in recent years.
Although it’s difficult to determine if this was a decision made by AVCon or mandated by the Adelaide Convention Centre, the shift forward by one week may have been a beneficial one. In the past, AVCon was at the tail end of the school holidays, more recently it was smack bang in the middle. These may have affected attendance numbers as families are often away or coming back from holiday during those times. Being held at the start of the holidays may have helped in the increase of ticket sales.
It’s a change that worked for Supanova last year when they moved their events forward by two weeks to avoid most of the exams as well as “schoolies” and not being too close to the December holiday season. Other events have done likewise with PAXAus also moving their event forward by two weeks. So while AVCon isn’t exactly an outlier in doing this the result appears to have been positive regardless.
I was only there for a few hours but I did have fun catching up with friends and everyone did appear to be enjoying themselves so that’s pretty much the primary achievement accomplished.
The Duke of Brunswick Hotel isn’t a particularly big venue and is perhaps somewhat cramped for an event that encourages cosplay, however the Launch Party has never really drawn massive crowds anyway so it suited the turn out well enough and was a nice venue overall.
The big improvement over last year is that organisers didn’t try to mislead their fans. For the 2018 Launch Party they outright fibbed that the Seven Stars Hotel had banned DSLR cameras (but permitted phone cameras for social media, which sent a red flag that indicated this was all bunk). For this year’s party organisers simply “discouraged” bringing “‘tog gear” so that their own photographer can take all the good snaps. This is certainly an improvement as it’s not an outright lie but it also telegraphs their intention to control what photos are released of the night. Still, it’s positive progress.
As of this publishing, none of these photos have been released by AVCon or their photographer.
Last year’s AVCon Ball was a wonderful night of fun and glamour. Previous Balls have always benefited from a venue that helps elevate the atmosphere in such a way. Last year the Tivoli Hotel provided the glamour, before that the SA German Club’s ballroom was not only spacious but had a deliberate old European chalet atmosphere. This year the Dom Polski Centre… didn’t quite provide either of those things.
Which is a shame because the upstairs room at the Centre is a fantastic two-level theatre that has hosted many great events (including World Series Wrestling). The downstairs room where the Ball was held wasn’t as spacious or glamorous and made the night more akin to a high school disco. Although it must be noted that the smaller room may have been beneficial in the end as there seemed to be a lower turnout than previous years (smaller spaces being an advantage will pop up again later).
Benefit of the doubt though as it has been alluded to that there was some last-minute scrambling possibly in regards to the venue (then again the same was claimed about the 2018 ball and that turned out fantastically). But as per usual, if people had fun then that’s one of the main goals accomplished, right?
There’s been a suggestion that perhaps the AVCon Ball has run its course. If AVCon has been struggling with rising costs and making its money back in recent years then perhaps (and this will undoubtedly be an unpopular suggestion) it might be better to focus on a single party night instead of two in the six month lead-up. The Launch Party and the Ball are fun promotional tools but they don’t necessarily bring in new faces, they’re mainly to get the already familiar community excited for AVCon. Unpopular an idea as it may be, scrapping the Ball and focusing effort and resources on the Launch Party, moving that to the hole left behind by Oz Comic-Con in April may be a much better way to not only connect with the community but also help said community to tide it over until the big event in July instead of the long wait for something “geeky”.
Because when you don’t even have a microphone set up for important announcements, the Ball ends up looking like an afterthought and that in turn feels more like an obligation to put it on than anything else.
Organising and booking guests can be one of the trickiest parts of these events, not only in terms of lining up schedules but also being able to afford to get them out here in the first place. It’s one of the least understood aspects of such events by the general public as well as one of the most underappreciated aspects by certain organisers.
It was unfortunate that this year’s cosplay guests had to cancel in what was already a small line up. AVCon gave the standard “circumstances out of our control” reasoning, which is fine and expected. Whereas the guests themselves (as is their prerogative) provided a more elaborate reason.
Twinzik Cosplay didn’t have to say as much as they did but it was very much appreciated. Being open and forthright in sharing information can be instrumental in connecting with fans. Some have tried reading between the lines though, as the mention of the contract did make a few ears prick up but that may be a bridge too far (AVCon did almost muddle up the contract for a previous year’s cosplay guest although it was immediately corrected).
Having said that, there are event organisers who underestimate (or downplay) the importance of big name guests. The general consensus on Oz Comic-Con is that they’ve been snoozing on their line-ups (until this year’s announcement of Hayley Atwell for the Brisbane and Sydney shows). This comes from a mentality from higher up at ReedPOP that the shows are more of a “community-focused event”. Most of the on-the-ground OzCC organisers have cringed at this notion.
On that same train of thought, an AVCon organiser once claimed that the guest line-up has never affected their ticket sales, a claim that was a roundabout way to imply that guests don’t matter to the event (but also admitted the only exception was 2016 when the Good Game crew were booked, which should at least be an indicator of something). AVCon have rarely ever done a terrible job in this department, everyone eventually has someone they’re looking forward to, but to constantly downplay this aspect instead of maybe admitting that the resources just aren’t there for it shows a lack of understanding of (and possibly respect for) its audience.
Loyal attendees may come back every year but what do you have to attract new people? What is being done to prevent the festival from remaining stagnant year after year as it fails to adequately evolve in the face of competition?
This is one of the roles big name guests play at such events. They’re not just draw cards for both new and regular attendees, they freshen up the event that will (most likely) remain the same from year to year.
It doesn’t help that AVCon is known as the lowest paying of all the major Aussie events in terms of appearance fees. Some in the industry have noted that AVCon doesn’t get a lot of returning guests (in fairness that is how it tries to freshen the line up, by not repeating itself) nor do those guest often talk about the event after the fact like they do so many others (even for years on end).
This isn’t a way of saying “try harder”, this is merely a reminder that being a little more open and honest about the how and whys of this can go a long way to get people on side. Cancellations happen but it makes it appear a lot worse when the line-up is so small to begin with.
The “AVCon Avengers” is an idea with a lot of promise and potential but its origins, application, and execution raised a number of concerns amongst many in the cosplay community.
This requires a history lesson: There’s been a resistance to “cosplay guests” in the past. Fortunately, cooler heads and more insightful folk ignored the more misogynistic voices out there and forged ahead to establish cosplay guests at Australian conventions (AVCon included) regardless of the few bumps in the road. Early on Supanova had its own plans fall through in that area and some of its organisers thought it wasn’t worth the trouble.
That’s where the concept of Supanova’s “Cosplay Ambassadors” came from. It was a backdoor way to get both dissenting organisers as well as reluctant audiences at ease with the idea of highlighting prominent cosplayers as draw cards for events and at the same time utilise them as the face of the hobby for Supanova. And it worked. Supanova slowly started bringing in international cosplay guests again and they have been successful in their own right.
So when the AVCon Avengers were announced, most people instantly made the comparison to Supanova’s Cosplay Ambassadors. Even the PR and a few of the chosen “avengers” kept referring to themselves as “ambassadors” (most unfortunate were the announcements over the PA system referring to them as “adventurers” for most of the Saturday morning but then again it was early).
Many have pointed out that naming them “Avengers” is a cynical attempt at latching onto the biggest media property in the world at the moment as well as being highly mismatched to an event focused on a niche element of pop culture (anime and video games) but those are really the least problematic parts.
Both Supanova’s Cosplay Ambassadors and the AVCon Avengers occupy many of the same roles and duties: they serve as a promotional arm for their respective events representing cosplay, they conduct panels and are involved with judging contests, and they are allowed to sell their wares to fans.
The major difference is that Supanova PAY their Cosplay Ambassadors.
On top of their travel and accommodation expenses, Supanova’s Cosplay Ambassadors are paid an (admittedly modest) appearance fee because they are hired talent. Along with being able to travel, meet and network with people and get their work out there they are also paid for said work.
Many will be quick to jump in and point out (as always) that AVCon is a not-for-profit and that no one gets paid, which is true. But as pointed out, it’s a not-for-profit NOT a charity, and many who volunteer are not being asked to leverage their social media audience to the event or being lifted up and treated like “guests” the same way the “AVCon Avengers” were. That’s the insidious part about the way this idea was implemented.
When you look at everything that was being done to present the “Avengers” you realise they were positioned as “cosplay guests” (possibly to help bolster the already minuscule guest line up), not just the panels, signings, and constant announcements throughout the day, but also the interviews (which were excellently done by the JATSTV crew by the way), the Friday night meet & greet as well as their general positioning throughout the weekend.
A couple of the “Avengers” complained about being trapped in the green room, not allowed to leave unaccompanied by a handler, despite having a four hour gap between duties. This idea was dropped by midday on the Saturday but the fact that this was even an idea at all (that the cosplayers were not allowed to enjoy the con itself during their downtime) shows the mentality behind their usage.
This was ostensibly cheap labour. Aside from the free weekend pass, these cosplayers were basically paid in exposure. And if you’ve been paying attention to the last decade of social media, you know how hard everyone has been educating promoters and the public to pay artists what they are worth.
While AVCon is popular enough to attract people from interstate, the event itself doesn’t travel so there is minimal opportunity for these “Avengers” to meet new people, network, and show their work. So even in that capacity it isn’t even great exposure.
This isn’t a go at the cosplayers themselves because at the end of the day they are more than welcome to choose for themselves how they are compensated for their time and effort. But it’s important to consider the potential ramifications and precedent of allowing events to not pay their hired talent. What if other events look at this and think they can do same? And while a member of staff or a volunteer can list AVCon as experience on their CV, a career cosplayer who does the same may end up looking like someone that is willing to do work for little to no pay in the eyes of other promoters.
Keep in mind that some of them have followings in the tens of thousands, an audience they have worked hard to cultivate. For any promoter or event to leverage themselves and ride on the coattails of another for free is very one-sided.
Many of us have given our time in the past to AVCon, judging competitions for a day, a few hours doing a photoshoot for the newspaper, standing in the mall on a Friday night spruiking the event to late-night shoppers… but to utilise cosplayers for more than three days of work (they were required to be in full costume at the ACC at 11am on the Friday morning all the way through the evening meet & greet) as well as everything else a cosplayer has cultivated in their branding for little or nothing in return is asking too much.
If you are going to position and frame artists in the same way you do the superstar guests then you compensate them in the same manner.
A promotional team of cosplayers, in of itself, isn’t a bad idea. It’s been utilised before. But when they are framed and presented the same as guests without proper compensation then that’s just outright exploitation.
That Twitter incident
Eight days out from the big show and AVCon still had not released any schedules to the public. No timetables, no maps, no information for the dealers and artists setting up shop, nor any confirmations for the cosplay competition. None of these had been completed yet and were overdue (two weeks is often the minimum period that most events release such info).
AVCon has done Q&A live streams in the past as a lead up to the big event but this one seemed to be done to counter the deluge of inquiries and set everyone’s minds at ease. A good idea, in fact, as it put a friendly face to it all, even if it was cutting it a bit close. The live stream was on their Facebook page.
Over on Twitter, a viewer tweeted out a couple of complaints pointing out that one of the organisers featured in the live stream was distracted working on a costume. Said organiser somehow spotted these and used AVCon’s account to respond and defend the action. Multiple people got involved and it escalated.
It is alleged that another organiser stepped in, took over the account to stop the tweets (may have even deleted a few of the more heated ones) and issued an apology for the conduct and promised a new policy was set in place for such interactions.
Overall, the way this was handled in regards to turnaround and apology was a positive. This is how a PR blunder should be cleaned up. But there is a lot to unpack about why it required an apology in the first place.
As stated before, two weeks is generally agreed upon as the minimum amount of time for important information, such as panel and events times, to be released to the public. It’s not an absolute deadline but it allows all those involved ample opportunity to organise their weekend and even make changes in case plans fall through (due to shift work for example). To be just over a week out from show time without information is cutting it close (it would be another two days before some of the information was made available and even then there were many mistakes in it due to the rush, for instance the Cosplay Sentinels panel was mislabelled resulting in a possible privacy concern) so people who need that info will understandably get jumpy about things.
The Facebook live stream Q&A was a good choice to help allay concerns people were voicing by putting friendly faces to the situation, which is better than a simple social media post or individually answering every comment and email sent their way. So far so good.
As for working on a costume during the live stream, honestly it’s rather innocuous but also unserstandable as to why this can be viewed as a problem. There are a few ways to view it: if it was a deliberate attempt to show how busy everyone is, a reason as to why schedules were delayed, then (on paper) that’s somewhat understandable. Manipulative but understandable. Yet the way some viewed it was that organisers weren’t focused on the task at hand and still scrambling (which doesn’t give an already uneasy audience the confidence the live stream was meant to convey).
Alternatively, and the most likely reason is that someone didn’t think of the optics of the situation and merely thought it was an efficient use of their time, which is easy to sympathise with. The mascot costumes turned out great come show time but could they not have been set aside for half an hour?
“Optics” are just one important part of public relations. Another is “interaction” and how you respond and deal with your audience says a lot about you and your organisation. We see a lot of clever social media posts by big brands interacting with their followers and shutting down their critics but it doesn’t always work that way. In most cases it’s best not to respond to minor criticisms especially those not actually sent to you in case it goes pair-shaped.
And that’s what happened here. The offending critical tweets were not sent to AVCon nor were they tagged and yet the staff member involved saw it and decided to defend their actions regarding the live stream. The urge to react and defend oneself is completely relatable. The most egregious part though was that the staff member used the mostly inactive AVCon Twitter account to respond with instead of their own, which just ends up looking like (according to those who witnessed the exchange) bullying.
Again, even if that wasn’t the intent, those were the “optics” of the situation, how people viewed it all.
AVCon has always had a reputation of being thin-skinned and not capable of processing feedback, all the way back to the days the website had a message board, and this simply continues to perpetuate that reputation.
According to one observer the AVCon twitter account was deactivated a few days later. But on a recent search it seems the original account was suspended by Twitter for violating the site’s rules and a brand new one was set up just recently.
Whatever the case may be, it unfortunately adds to claims that AVCon was aggressive in their response to critics (not surprising considering the temper tantrum someone threw at last year’s write-up despite it being mostly positive). Many have voiced their concerns about being able to air their grievances for fear of being attacked by organisers. It’s a mentality and pattern of behaviour from an event that needs to stop.
One of the benefits of AVCon is that things like this are a learning moment, a lesson for next time in not only how not to respond but also how to own up to mistakes and apologise to the very audience you rely on. If it were an actual company or business, then the consequences may not have been so forgiving.
Sadly, those lessons may have been very short-lived.
That was a lot of get through even before we even arrive at the main event itself but the lead-up plays an important part in setting the mood for not only organisers but also attendees. While the overall event ran to various levels of “good” and “acceptable”, the “mood” certainly affected plenty of aspects and periphery.
One of the great solutions to be born out of the disaster that was the 2015 Opening Night was to open doors earlier in the afternoon for the many attendees who simply want to pick up their weekend passes (this helps avoid the queue on the much busier Saturday). It’s a great idea that has been implemented for the last few years.
A minor bit of tardiness this year as the doors opened an hour later than the scheduled 3pm opening time (and this is despite staff and volunteers assembling at the Adelaide Convention Centre before midday). This becomes somewhat inconvenient for those passing through the city or finishing work around that time. The reason given for this delay was that the ACC was running behind in setting up for AVCon, which then delayed the rehearsals which then also delayed the Opening Ceremony by an hour(although that seems to happen most years). Despite this it’s still a great idea to maintain as not everyone wants to or is able to stay for the Opening Ceremony.
Friday night is usually a good time to sort out any teething problems such as tech issues and even organising volunteers. But too many problems and it makes for a an unfortunate “mood setter” for the rest of the weekend (remember that 2018’s last-minute change up with the Friday night entrances was handled rather well by all those involved).
I tend not to stay for the opening ceremony itself as it takes up too much of the evening, especially when it’s almost always running behind. But again the general consensus is a bit lukewarm on the idea as well as the way this year’s ceremony unfolded (including introducing the AVCon Avengers like they were special guests, which one Avenger described as “awkward”). But it is what it is.
Sadly, the live-stream of the ceremony failed to work properly that night (with the first go of it being sans audio) but again that’s a problem with the tech issues still being solved after a late handover by the ACC.
The Saturday morning began smoothly enough. Ease of entry, polite and friendly volunteers, easy to move around. And as always there’s a lot to see and do.
As stated before, the overall event itself was fine but it’s always the little things that can affect the experience for someone and obviously not everyone’s experiences will be the same.
Many regulars have become used to the main layout of the Adelaide Convention Centre as well as the main common areas that AVCon uses over the years (even after the renovations) all being in their usual spots.
The Dealers Hall is well spaced out for the punters to move about in and appropriately lit (this must be highlighted every time as one year it was made too dark, darker than the gaming area, for some reason), and noticeable improvements were made to how the Gaming Area was set up. Nintendo’s booth was in the correct area this time and specific stage set ups weren’t mistaken for thoroughfares where people could easily and accidentally walk in front of an audience.
One of the the most common complaints about the Dealers Hall is that there aren’t enough sellers or variety but honestly, there’s only so much AVCon can do. Having said that it may be worth asking for suggestions from regular sellers as to what would help them come back year after year and maybe entice more sellers, perhaps even looking into similar events and their dealers hall.
The large atrium once again housed Artists Alley and, as always, makes for a beautiful space. This time the shade panels were in place to soften the sunlight coming in (last year they were all open and many artists complained about the heat and direct sun)
As pointed out in last year’s write-up, the bottle-neck at the end of the atrium caused issues once again and may have been even worse this year going by the rise in the number of complaints about it. Traffic not only halted in some moments but a few artists complained that it made it more difficult to do business because the crowds made it so cramped.
Those who spent more time in the Tabletop Gaming Area area might be able to shed light on this but there may have been an overestimation in regards to the space allocated it . There appeared to be a lot of empty tables but that may have been due to the time of day. Mind you, having it downstairs in the room at the end of the gaming area made more sense than its previous, isolated location. Speaking of which…
Someone had the best description for the Adelaide Convention Centre calling it a “rabbit warren”, meaning that it has lots of funnelled areas, chambers and hidden areas like a burrow. The common areas are large enough and easy enough to stumble into. Smaller and more out of the way areas get lost in the ACC’s design.
The large room upstairs (Panorama Ballroom), which used to be for tabletop gaming in previous years and was the location of the Quiz Night, was now the Community Area as well as the Family Room filled with hobby clubs and community groups as well as doubled as a panel stage.
No one knew it was here.
That’s a problem because many of the people who set up stalls in there are doing so to promote their clubs, and in the case of the Rebel Legion and 501st, they raise money for charity (in fact one member complained they weren’t permitted to compensate for their isolation by wandering around the show floor rattling the donation bucket even during their “sanctioned” group march).
Did you know there was a cosplay repair station located there? Sadly very few people did as there wasn’t enough traffic up there and it wasn’t promoted but it did come in handy for the few people that were aware of its existence. By the way Ishtar did a wonderful job and was prepared and helpful in a variety of repair “emergencies” and so I hope she continues with this from here on out.
Another layout issue was the isolated location of the official photo wall, which is a bit of a double-edged sword in this instance. In previous years it was downstairs where so many others were also setting up so people became accustomed to that location. This year plenty of cosplayers still went downstairs and found other photographers to work with. But moving the official photo walls, run by the festival’s own featured photographers (who were part of the promotion and are a draw card for many) to a previously unexplored and isolated spot, especially with no clear signage or adequate promotion, threw off so many people.
One potential positive is that the quieter and less hectic atmosphere allowed the photographers (who have produced fantastic work from the event by the way) to work in relative peace and not be rushed. But these are professionals who are used to dealing with big events and busy environments so they would be able to handle the demand regardless. One of the featured photographers revealed that it was the quietest event he had ever experienced and that includes much smaller events than AVCon.
There was a sign at the top of the foyer stairs indicating the photo walls were up there but it was still too far from the actual location and the sign itself was out of view as to render it useless. To rely on people to “look up” at an area of the venue that most have never been allowed access to previously was expecting a little too much. To rely on COSPLAYERS to find the location on the map included in the booklet shows a lack of understanding of what cosplayers do and how they travel all weekend at such events (they are not likely to be able to carry around with them the minimalist goody bag containing the book and will almost always have to rely on asking for the information from volunteers – more on that later).
Both the Community Area and Photo Walls can possibly benefit from being located together but even that upstairs room may still be too isolating. So as mentioned before, what if the tabletop gaming area was halved to accommodate the Community Area too? There was also a big empty region in the Gaming Area that seemed completely underutilised that may work. There’s also an area in what used to be the old front foyer (now the end of Artists Alley after the bottle neck) that might be better utilised for community groups as there’s much more foot traffic flowing through there than the upstairs, still limited but more as people exit the Centre.
The photo wall benefits from not being in a crowded area but also requires it to be easily located and accessible by cosplayers no matter how big and bulky their outfits are (sometimes a lift or the escalators may not be enough especially if the distance is so great). If space allocation is an issue then more needs to be done to compensate and advertise its location.
As stated before, regulars are used to the way the main common areas are set up and have been that way for many years. If they are having trouble finding the smaller areas that keep shifting around then imagine how lost a newcomer would be in such a “rabbit warren”.
As a bit of a side note that might need to be addressed: in the months leading up to this year’s festival, there was a rumour that this might be the last AVCon held at the Adelaide Convention Centre. The reasoning was that the ACC were hoping to phase out hosting events such as AVCon and sticking to more “up scale” events.
When you look at the Convention Centre post-renovations you realise that it’s not very conducive to an event like AVCon. When you view the troubled late setup and handover on the Friday that delayed everything through the filter of this (let me emphasise) rumour it feels like they don’t want AVCon to be there. And when you find out that the ACC (as well as the Entertainment Centre) are now cashless venues you realise how inconvenient that may be to what is publicised as a “youth event” (even if it doesn’t affect the Dealers Hall, there is still the food & beverage, parking, and possibly ticketing that might be affected depending on what the ACC enforce).
Of course there are solutions to each of these things but imagine if someone wanted to give a subtle hint?
Again this is just rumour and may require clarification. This is a great opportunity for the AVCon 2020 team to be open and honest about the situation. Adelaide City Council have apparently agreed to sponsor the event for another three years, at $15,000 per year, which is great. But does that include still being held in the CBD?
The Adelaide Convention Centre has been a wonderful venue to AVCon for 11 years but AVCon is more than just the venue. That’s a little something to consider…
For the first time since its relocation a few years ago, our group decided to check out the Maid Cafe, a popular way to get a feed and enjoy the entertainment by the maids and hosts.
It was revealed that its relocation a few years back was unfortunately an afterthought (they forgot to allocate a spot) but it’s maintained the spot that it ended up with since then and most likely benefits from being directly behind the cafeteria as they both serve the same food (which in all honesty is somewhat average but that’s part of doing business with the ACC).
Practicality of location aside, the effort to create a mood with the dim lighting didn’t quite work but you make do with what you have (it’s a tough comparison to the old location what with its ceiling-high windows and brighter atmosphere… it’s where the Tabletop Gaming ended up this year).
At $2 per head, you’re paying for the experience and that was wonderful. The service was efficient, the maids and hosts were all polite and friendly, the enthusiastic entertainment was enjoyable and energetic. In that regard the team did an excellent job and should be very proud.
There are two main events held on the Saturday evening: the Quiz Night (which is always popular and was packed out as always) and the After Dark Dance Party.
This year’s Dance Party was a lot of fun: the music was pumping, the bar service was on point, and the dance floor was packed. But it also felt as though it was missing quite a few people (many of whom may have rocked up after the Quiz Night).
Over the last few years, the Dance Party has been somewhat hit and miss. There was always a decision that spoiled an otherwise consistent show (one year the understaffed bar resulted in ludicrously long lines, another time organisers completely stopped the night to empty the room just to filter out the 16-year-olds who were allowed in that year to appease the complaints of an 18+ restriction, among other things).
Last year, the final ever Neko Nation for Adelaide was held at AVCon and it really blew up. It had been some considerable time since an after dark event drew that sort of crowd and energy. And while it did play a part in the increase in punters, to claim that name recognition alone was the reason for that would be unfair to those who put on these shows by providing pretty much the same elements.
Having the opportunity to compare them one after the other now with more aligned context (same music acts, same bar, same people) it’s much clearer what the primary issue is: the room.
The Main Hall gets reorganised, most of the chairs, catwalk, and tech equipment removed to accommodate a bar and dance floor. It makes for a great and spacious… well, space. But that might actually be the main problem.
The room Neko Nation used last year at the other end of the ACC was smaller, a conducive size and arrangement for the crowd that it attracted, enhancing the atmosphere. The floor space in the Main Hall is fine but the seating up the back in the stands offer even more space and opportunity for people to sit back and hide. This thins out the crowd and dilutes the atmosphere.
This is pretty much why the Launch Party “works” as well as it does because the smaller venue accommodates the numbers that are usually expected. Ignoring some of the missteps of previous shows, this isn’t about anything that the After Dark organisers are doing wrong or what they are providing but simply the nature of the space being used itself. It’s an odd observation, rather than a problem, but one that could benefit being addressed.
Despite this, people were clearly having fun and again that’s the main goal achieved.
A number of major mistakes during the previous day resulted in the Sunday starting on a somewhat sombre mood for many attendees as well as staff (these will be addressed later).
I only attended one panel this year and it was on the Sunday, run by friends from interstate, and it was both enjoyable and informative. The downstairs area being dedicated to panel rooms was a great choice (a change that was made a couple of years ago?) as those rooms are perfect for such.
The most distinctive aspect of the Sunday was that the schedule featured THREE cosplay contests. Of course there was the standard AVCon Cosplay Competition but the Madman National Cosplay Championship was moved from its usual Saturday time and there was also the addition of Oz Comic-Con’s Championships of Cosplay. Throw in the Cosplay Parade too and that’s a full day of cosplay… which may not have been entirely a good thing.
The scheduling of these all on the same day meant that a change up was required in how they were run and organised and in some cases benefited the respective contests and in others were a detriment.
AVCon Cosplay Competition
The 2018 Cosplay Competition was fun to be a part of and enjoyable to watch as a show. As detailed last year, having been involved as a judge it was tough to see the organiser get thrown in the deep end without proper support but she and her team worked extra hard to get it running as well as they did.
This year’s organising duties were handed over to ReedPop’s cosplay contest organiser, Morgan, as part of AVCon hosting this year’s Adelaide heat of the Championships. Her experience organising such contests were a big reason why this year’s competition ran so well and (from an audience perspective) so smoothly.
One element that did cause minor concern in the lead up (and it may have been out of Morgan’s control) was that confirmations and marshalling information for the contestants were only sent out on the Wednesday… TWO DAYS before the festival. Maybe that’s normal now?
With approximately 18 contestants that was considerably down from the usual maximum 40 cap that previous year’s competitions usually had (most of the time all 40 never show up on the day anyway). Whether or not the cap was lowered for this year is unknown.
Usually, when that happens, as past hosts and MCs have revealed, they’re instructed to stretch out proceedings in order to fill the allocated time, which results in a slow and dull show. That didn’t happen this year (mostly likely due to the packed schedule) and all credit to the two hosts who did a great job keeping things going at a reasonable clip. The hosts were good last year but this year they were excellent (FYI same duo). They asked great questions, they were energetic and entertaining without making it about themselves, and they knew to keep directing the audience to the contestant.
Three elements do stick out as being questionable… The first is the lack of formal pre-judging this year. This is possibly due to having two other contests on the same day that required pre-judging space. This was never a major issue in the past before it was introduced to AVCon’s contest, nor is it a problem for many other similar competitions. I myself have done the “looking you up and down and asking question during marshalling” bit but doing that in the dark may not work as well as hoped. It does feel like it’s a backward step.
Second, in terms of the judges, there are three positions on the judging panel but this time only two of them were actual cosplayers. Again this isn’t usually a problem as I’ve said in the past (a guest can often sit in as their career-related POV can be beneficial), but this year the third spot was taken by AVCon’s treasurer. This was apparently a last-minute addition as the original judge was transferred to another contest.
It’s just very odd that the event with a whole team of cosplayers at their disposal on the cheap still weren’t able to fill that last position when one of the Avengers fell ill and none of the Avengers were occupied with the Madman contest so…
The most troubling issue with the contest is apparent lack of prize money or alternatively the lack of a suitable prize. At this stage and level a simple trophy is no longer enough. Even if it can’t be prize money, at least something of substance or even related to cosplay as a prize.
In isolation, each of these aren’t problems but combined they do make it appear as though the contest has taken a step backward. AVCon’s contest evolved over time to be a big deal to match the crowds it was attracting (back in the day the lines were snaking around the Centre an hour before show time, once it even required a second theatre to stream the contest to). To take away pre-judging as well as prize money makes it on par with a Parade and these two things are meant to be different.
It’s a bit of a balancing act because the streamlining of the award categories helps to make each award more prestigious but if all they’re getting is a trophy then what is the event saying about all their hard work and skill?
These odd choices appear to be the result of AVCon overloading the Sunday and not from the contest organiser.
Again, the show itself was fun and enjoyable to watch, some contestants have said that marshalling was good, but it’s these three issues that set back the competition from being as prestigious as it has the potential to be.
In any case congratulations to all the winners and well done to everyone for stepping up on that stage. It’s always a major leap to show off your work to a large audience like that and you all looked fantastic!
Championships of Cosplay
Mislabelled in both the AVCon booklet and on AVCOn’s YouTube channel as “Champions of Cosplay”, Oz Comic-Con’s Championships of Cosplay had a very uneasy lead up.
For months there was zero information from ReedPop about whether or not the contest was still coming to Adelaide despite the success of last year’s Press Play event. This made anyone who wanted to enter hesitant about working on their costume. Despite what many people may think, cosplays made for the Championships are not mere afterthoughts but are deliberate works of art meant to achieve the highest of quality that could potentially represent Australia on the world stage. The uncertainty of the contest means that many potential contestants may not have the mindset to work on something if the reason for it doesn’t eventuate.
For anyone suggesting that cosplayers should work on their entries anyway regardless and “just in case” really lack the understanding of what goes into such high-level competitions let alone how cosplayers fit these into their work/study/life balance. That uncertainty both this year and last year may have resulted in only three contestants entering.
There are things that are done and choices that are made for a competition level costume that don’t always happen for a regular “on the show floor” costume. That’s the difference in both effort, cost, and mindset that needs to be taken into consideration when allowing adequate time.
AVCon finally made the announcement about it on May 8th. Entry deadline was June 23rd.
When the announcement was made, there were concerns within the cosplay community due to AVCon’s reputation for organisation. That first concern was immediately quashed when it was found out that ReedPop’s own organiser would be running the contest. Again, a contest of this calibre needed the experience that Morgan brought with her.
The second concern, and I may be biased here, was whether or not friend and fellow cosplayer JusZ Cosplay would be back hosting the competition as she has done for the last few years at the various Oz Comic-Con’s around Australia. For a hot minute the scuttlebutt was that AVCon were looking to replace her with one of their own hosts. Fortunately, that idea did not eventuate and would’ve looked rather odd to not have the ADELAIDE-BASED host to be MC of the contest in the very city she lives in.
And again, the competition itself ran smoothly and professionally, short as it was with only three contestants.
However, most troubling were the allegations as to why the audience in attendance was so small. There were only a few dozen people in that theatre, compared to the always near-packed AVCon Cosplay Competition.
A number of people were not happy about missing out on seeing the contest and claimed that they were told the incorrect time by volunteers manning the entrance. Punters were turned away and told to come back later (no one wants to wait in an empty theatre for an hour). Unfortunately, the show started earlier than what the volunteers were telling attendees (the only reason I knew the contest was starting was because I could hear JusZ Cosplay begin the show as I happened to be walking past) .
This not only angered the people who missed out but it also enraged a few of those involved. What can be seen as a simple mistake, a miscommunication (more on this later), ends up looking disrespectful to another event.
The Adelaide convention scene took a massive hit when ReedPop decided to pull out of here and left behind a substantial hole in the geeky calendar. Events like Oz Comic-Con and Supanova connect our community to other communities around the country and around the world in a manner that AVCon have been incapable of doing. So to treat that last vestige of connection seemingly with contempt almost guarantees our isolation.
The Championships of Cosplay are a big deal. The first ever winner of the Crown Championships in Chicago was an Aussie, an Adelaide cosplayer made it to third place (in the world) earlier this year at those finals.
This was the bare minimum effort that ReedPop could put in to have their contest remain in Adelaide and AVCon essentially smacked it in the face. What reason do they have to return now?
Before we get to the big one, there were a couple of minor incidents on the weekend that are worth highlighting.
The first is actually an issue directed at the Adelaide Convention Centre security and not the fault of AVCon. On the Saturday evening while recording b-roll footage for my video of the crowd leaving the Quiz Night, a member of the ACC security approached and demanded I stop recording. I pointed out that it was a public space but he insisted that it was written on the nearby banner that I had to ask for permission first. Without missing a beat he then took an aggressive stance in front of me. Fearing that my expensive camera equipment was about to get damaged I decided not to argue the point any further… this is despite the fact that he was 100% wrong.
AVCon‘s Conditions of Entry on the matter clearly states that photos and video of the crowd are permitted and that anything involving individuals would require permission from the subject first.
It’s one of the most perfectly worded pieces of policy that any event can write. It’s succinct, direct, and addressing the two aspects of event photography balancing safety and practicality with the needs of creative intent and organic promotion (i.e. crowd shots are good for conveying the vibe of an event).
The banner the security guard was referring to was The Cosplay Sentinels Project banner only a few metres away which only covers half of the official AVCon policy on photographs. Because the Cosplay Sentinels are not specific to AVCon, their banner displays the code of conduct in broad terms so that the group can go from event to event and still give a basic idea on the general rules. These are the important dot-points framed in an easily digestible format.
Imagine for a moment the logistics of trying to ask permission from a crowd of people going about their business. It doesn’t make sense on any level!
As someone who has been taking photos at events for over a decade as well as being a vociferous promoter of teaching manners when taking photos at such events in regards to public safety, I knew this intimately.
I also know that ACC staff are not briefed on specific AVCon policies. Security staff are there to manage general security concerns not the nitty gritty of these events. Which means the security guard in question overstepped their boundaries to misinterpret a sign and enforce a “rule” they had no knowledge, context, or permission to enforce.
To say that the security guard simply made a mistake is trivialising it. The guard in question put an attendee in a potentially harmful situation because they were either bored with their specific role or they wanted to flex their ego. The irony of an insecure security guard will never be lost on me.
On the Sunday, during the Cosplay Competition, the Events Coordinator approached myself and a friend to tell us that recording videos in the main hall was banned.
I decided not to argue the point because by then I was already at the end of my rope but my friend did proceed to question the rule (keeping in mind no one was recording the entire show, just clips to use for montages).
And the thing is she was technically correct, recording of video is mainly prohibited in that room (or at least allowed in the vaguely titled “common areas”)… except for the fact that the policy has never been enforced over the last 10 years and my friend along with a heap of others had been allowed to do so previously. Others around us were not not told to stop recording either. My friend, quite rightly and calmly raised all these points and it was only then did the show hosts make an announcement that recordings were not allowed (which still did not deter the folks in front of us and no they didn’t have Media Passes).
The problem isn’t that recording video is restricted, the problem is that we were targeted. Others were not spoken directly to the way we were and the announcement only came toward the end of the show.
The other problem is the inconsistency of the policy. It’s so inconsistent that no one realised, not even I, that recording was banned in the main hall. According to the policy on the website, there are meant to be signs indicating these restrictions.
There were no signs, there never have been any signs indicating such over the last decade. In fact YouTube is full of videos proving that this “no recording in the main hall” policy has never been properly enforced in that entire time.
It’s an annoyance more than anything else, and to be the only ones directly told when others were allowed to continue recording seemed unfair (an announcement when the show was almost over wasn’t going to stop them by that point).
When you consider the reason other events ban recordings and photography in certain sections of the event it’s because those events have in the past monetised that content as well as have agreements with guests. Oz Comic-Con’s panel restrictions are now even more restrictive than before. AVCon doesn’t really monetise a lot of its content in fact it’s not very good at uploading its content in a timely manner.
AVCon has always been rather lax in uploading content like photos and videos from the event. In the past, photos from the guest photo booth could take anywhere between 6 to 10 months, videos just as long or even longer (it took SIX YEARS for the Jessica Nigri panel from AVCon 2013 to be uploaded to YouTube and a timelapse of the 2014 Dealers Hall was uploaded after this year’s show).
Most of the time, delays in uploading content are all down to the people involved in processing and editing said content have actual jobs and other (paid) priorities. A turnaround of two or three months is expected. However, a lot of the content appears to also be deliberately withheld as a means to promote AVCon at other times of year, which is a big failure because you want to capitalise on the energy your attendees are feeling post-event, not have them waiting on tenterhooks for pics of themselves. For example, the official photos of the 2018 Cosplay Competition were only uploaded on the day before the 2019 festival began.
Photos from this year’s Launch Party are still not available at this time.
Last year’s live stream to YouTube of the various panels and contests were a great solution to this. Regardless of the few tech issues, it showed that AVCon had confidence and were considerate to the fans who could not make it as well as addressing the need to provide content in a timely manner.
There was an attempt to live stream the Opening Ceremony this year, which sadly failed and then there was a more successful stream for the Closing Ceremony and auction on Facebook but sadly not for anything else.
Fortunately, many of the main hall videos did appear on YouTube in the days immediately after the festival. This is a positive move as it allows fans to enjoy the event again while they are coming down from the weekend. If this was hastened by the incident in the main hall on the Sunday afternoon then all the better for it.
As mentioned, the Sunday had a sombre feel to proceedings due to previous days errors but there were definitely things that lifted the mood somewhat including how enjoyable the cosplay contests were from an audience point of view.
It must be reiterated that many of the common aspects of AVCon, from an attendee’s perspective, are good and fun and work well enough: the Artists Alley was vibrant, the dealers hall had lots of vendors, the gaming area was well laid out and appeared to be running as it should (although there was a report of a chair being thrown by a sore loser). Again it’s the more ancillary stuff that can determine just how enjoyable these things are if at all.
The biggest two issues are somewhat related…
Having advised and proofread past weapons policies for other major events, this was of particular interest to me.
What happened with AVCon was an unmitigated disaster from go to woe.
On the Saturday afternoon, word had spread about a PSA on AVCon’s Facebook page detailing, out of the blue, their weapons policy with a curious highlight: No items over 1 metre on the festival floor.
There was obvious blow back to this, with many people quite rightly pointing out the policy on the website did not match this and had no mention of any length restrictions.
AVCon not only responded by claiming that the 1-metre policy had been in place since 2015 but it also deleted every comment and screen grab that pointed out the lack of length restriction on the website.
The Facebook post was edited half a dozen times over the course of the Saturday evening as prominent cosplayers started calling out AVCon on their error. By Sunday morning, the website had been altered to include the 1-metre maximum restriction, and it happened without mention or apology of the change.
Watching all this occur in real-time online was like witnessing a car crash in slow motion. The interstate cosplayers we were with that evening were gobsmacked at what was going on. It was not a good look for AVCon.
There’s a lot to unpack and it requires another history lesson: roughly 7 years ago the major conventions officially started introducing the 1-metre rule to their weapons policies. In an effort to keep up, AVCon, quite rightly, added it to theirs a year or two later.
In 2016, Oz Comic-Con updated their Weapons/Props Policy (to be more of a “behavioural policy” according to one of their organisers rather than a black & white list of restrictions), which increased the allowable length of props to something more akin to “if it can fit through the door”. Supanova did similar later in the year as a trial run in Adelaide but then officially applied it to all cities the following year (according to one of their organisers, Adelaide is the most amenable and easiest to deal with in regards to props out of the entire tour).
Around the same time, AVCon slowly and quietly stopped policing the 1-metre rule. So quietly in fact, no one actually noticed it was never in their weapons policy for all those years.
Visiting the “Wayback Machine” on Archive.org (which takes “snapshots” of websites all over the internet for archival purposes) it reveals that the 1-metre rule was never officially featured on their website’s weapons policy:
Nor in 2016…
This contradicts AVCon’s “since 2015” claim.
As many pointed out, the 2019 website also did not have the 1-metre rule until it was edited in overnight without addressing it. This is backed up by the fact that the 2019 booklet also does not feature the rule (which could not be sneakily edited like the website but AVCon insisted featured the 1-metre rule).
And here’s the 2018 booklet just for the hell of it…
If AVCon were to claim that these were errors (ostensibly throwing the graphic designers under the bus in order to save face) that would be pretty downright heartless.
As for AVCon’s assertion that the 1-metre rule has been in place since 2015, it’s actually a sign that there is little to no knowledge of the history of the policy. Now I’m about to throw a bone to AVCon here but it wont be as juicy as one would hope: In the AVCon Social Club on Facebook, there is a document published in 2014 that lists the festival’s weapons policy. It features a reference to a 1-metre restriction and is still there today.
However, the Facebook group is closed off and kept private to approved members only, meaning that it is not publicly accessible by the majority of attendees, and that in turn means that whatever information contained in there is null and void. See, if it’s not easy to view then what’s the point of the information? If that is meant to be the official policy then why isn’t it on the official website?
The irony is that AVCon began removing people from the Facebook group along with the comments on the post that quite rightly pointed out AVCon’s error. Had they not been removed from the group then these people would have seen that FB document (regardless of it not mattering at all).
Posting a PSA about your weapons policy in the middle of the day on social media doesn’t happen out of the blue. There was a reason, an inciting incident. It’s alleged that someone either had an oversized prop (they brought with them or had bought from the Dealers Hall) and may have been swinging it around or brandishing it dangerously on the show floor.
IF that was the case then that can be covered under the behaviour portion of the policy. In fact the weapons policy as it was for the last 4 years as well as the beginning of the weekend was more than sufficient to cover this alleged incident and others like them. The manner in which it was worded is broad enough to allow AVCon staff and volunteers the discretion to ask that props be examined or checked in for any reasonable criteria. It did not need the 1-metre requirement.
If this entire mess was simply about a volunteer or staff suddenly, for the first time in 4 years, enforcing an outdated restriction then AVCon certainly went overboard in standing their ground.
Ignoring that AVCon used the incorrect, Americanised spelling of “meter” instead of the British/Australian/International System (SI) spelling of “metre” (which says so much), the fact that the FB post had been edited at least half a dozen times adds credence to the idea that there was no official length restriction in the policy for that year.
In that final edit that appeared before midnight on the Saturday, it words the restriction in a manner that means the oversized prop would be required to be inspected rather than banned or stored away altogether. This only came about after the backlash and after a number of prominent and influential cosplayers in the community spoke out against the earlier PSA further proving that they were making it up as they went along.
Their conviction that it’s been in effect since 2015 shows a lack of knowledge of the history of the policy or how the rest of the industry does it, and highlighting that the 1-metre rule is in the booklet means that no one at AVCon read the bloody booklet before it went to print!
This disaster shows that AVCon is lagging behind their contemporaries. Supanova‘s weapons policy has extended their prop length requirement to 1.5 metres, SMASH! in Sydney (a more analogous event to AVCon) has their length restrictions at 1.2 metres, and Oz Comic-Con updated theirs to the vague and whopping 2 metres (again, if it fits through the door)! Out of all the major events, this 1-metre “update” makes AVCon’s prop policy the most restrictive and outdated in the country.
Some have defended AVCon saying that they have the right to alter their policies as they see fit especially if it means the safety of its patrons. And that is actually correct… to a point. The problem here is that’s NOT how AVCon dealt with the situation. They falsely stated and acted as though it was always the case, they deleted all mentions that proved AVCon was mistaken and at fault, they underhandedly altered the website to back up their own false claims, and never addressed the change.
We’re all human, we’re all prone to making mistakes. And that is most likely how this began – a simple mistake. But instead of owning it, admitting fault, and genuinely correcting the manner, AVCon tried to save face, leaned into it and made things worse.
The biggest problem here is that AVCon lied.
They lied to their audience, they tried to gaslight their critics, and they poorly covered it up. That is the core of why this situation spiralled out of control, this is the reason others in the industry look down on AVCon and by extension Adelaide, and this is just another reason why the local community has a hard time trusting this event.
The earlier Twitter incident was meant to be a learning moment and self-contained it appeared to be a straightforward way to cleaning up a simple PR blunder. But this weapons policy incident would lead to someone losing their job if it were at a proper organisation. If AVCon can’t be honest with its customer base then why should its customers return?
The real tragedy is that all this could have been avoided by utilising the policy as it was already in place.
As if to pour salt into the wound, after all that it was rather tacky to be glorifying props and items that were over a metre long… remember “optics”.
That incident definitely killed the mood for a great many people the next day – staff, volunteers, and attendees alike.
Staff and Volunteers
No matter which one you visit, the volunteers at these sorts of events tend to have a rather unfortunate reputation – claims of incompetence, arrogance, being power mad, or lazy and trying to hitch a free ride.
But with every one of these write ups there is an attempt to address that cliche and give a fair assessment especially in this regard. My own interactions with this year’s staff and volunteers were predominantly positive. People were both polite and helpful not only in assisting when needed but just helping to keep up a friendly mood. The trend across many other events too seems to indicate that volunteers are getting better at performing their jobs.
My overall experience, however, appears to be very different to so many others as there seemed to be a rise in complaints about Volunteers not only on social media in the wake of the event but, according to some, there was a stark increase in formal complaints made.
That’s odd as most attendees may brush off a volunteer’s lack of experience or just voice their complaints online, rarely do people bother making official complaints. That means something went horribly wrong.
As stated before, Friday night is when everyone is finding their feet, Saturday feels like trial-by-fire, and Sunday is normally when everyone hits their stride; the inexperienced finally get a handle on their roles, the bigger egos are deflated as the reality of their insignificance sets in, and those with a genuine passion for what they do are relieved that they’re over the hump. Unfortunately, that didn’t appear to be the case this year.
No one behaved like they wanted to be there by Sunday.
In the comments section of a previous write-up, a volunteer provided some much needed and valuable insight into what happens on the ground: the basic gist is that Volunteers are at the mercy of the information and instructions they are provided from either department heads or from staff higher up. Events like these have lots of moving parts so good communication is vital to a smooth running show. If volunteers get the wrong information or conflicting instructions then the machine can potentially shut down.
Consider for a moment, what is a volunteer to do when two different department heads are giving them two conflicting instructions? If they make the wrong choice someone’s weekend could be ruined. If they take the time to try and clarify the instructions they possibly waste time, if they clarify with a third party they may end up with even more conflicting info.
Hearing “I don’t know” from a volunteer was allegedly quite common, which is very odd considering AVCon somehow expected the punters to get all their information from a booklet they may or may not have picked up. A very handy suggestions would be for every volunteer to be given a booklet and taught how to look up the info required when asked by an attendee (especially cosplayers who are often unable to carry around said booklet). Something as simple as that can go a long way and yet somehow has never been implemented? If it has been implemented then why do so many volunteers appear to not have booklets to reference (right there is an issue with relying on attendees to look for the info themselves when your own people can’t hold on to a guide).
In the same way bad info could be passed on, a bad mood can also affect things from the top of the pyramid to the very bottom. It affects decision making, it affects the performance of others who are making a genuine effort, it affects the overall enjoyment of the show. The events of the previous day clearly had an impact on how staff and volunteers interacted with some complaining of volunteers being aggressive or dismissive.
That’s not only disappointing but it’s a major problem. Volunteers are the customer service face of any convention, like in retail and in hospitality they need to know what they are doing and they need to be able to do so in a manner that makes the customer comfortable. If something is wrong, there is very much a “grit and bear” it mentality that needs to be maintained just like those other fields.
Speaking of customer service, it’s still bizarre that they are called “Invaders”. Yes, I’m aware of the etymology and origins, no it doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable that someone who is meant to help me is called an “Invader”.
Admittedly, I have a minor advantage when it comes to volunteer and staff interactions. More prominent cosplayers may have had even better experiences than I. But imagine someone who doesn’t share that same privilege?
On the Saturday evening, I was discussing the weapons policy debacle with two members of staff and although we didn’t agree on the matter, the exchange was a positive one. A third staff member was much more dismissive of me (as reflective of the general mood). So it’s swings and roundabouts.
As the name suggests, Volunteers are about whoever puts their hand up for the role and in a not-for-profit structure like AVCon that sometimes cannot be helped. So it’s important that the structure has good leaders but also people that are there for the right reasons. Laziness can be weeded out, incompetence can be re-educated but at the end of the day the buck stops with the people in charge.
“Least enjoyable” does not mean “not enjoyable” nor does it mean “bad” but this year’s AVCon has a lot to answer for.
The festival should be admired for lasting as long as it has. From its humble beginnings at the University of Adelaide to being a major event on the calendar, there is something that it is doing right, there is a reason it is still capable of putting on a show every year.
The 2018 festival proved its ability to bounce back simply by staying the course and sticking with what it knows, which was clearly made easier by the absence of a major rival. But something went horribly wrong with the 2019 show.
Normally, whatever behind the scenes turmoil there is every year it rarely ever seeps up to the surface. But this year it flooded the entire ground floor and everyone started noticing the mould growing in the carpet.
It squandered almost all of last year’s goodwill with the way it treated its audience with absolute contempt. AVCon lied to its patrons, it gaslit and tried to cover up its mistakes, it attacked people who dared speak up, it potentially exploited those whose hard work remains improperly compensated.
When organisers from other events are looking at AVCon as an example of what NOT to do, when some of the most level-headed people you know are throwing their hands up in defeat at the behind the scenes turmoil you know something went bad.
There are always people behind the scenes who want the best for AVCon and work extremely hard to get things running as best as they can. The fact that one of them reached out specifically for feedback from ME is evidence of this
But there are core issues that desperately need to be fixed.
The first main issue behind AVCon’s struggle is the revolving door of experience, which is both a blessing and a curse as it allows for fresh blood to shake things up and correct the mistakes of the past but it also can reset the level of experience required for certain roles.
That was one criticism that a number of event organisers floated in regards to AVCon. Because it’s purely a fan-run event, few to none of them are experienced at running major events implying that they also lack the necessary skills to problem solve on the fly. Even those who have been working at AVCon for many years are only skilled in their specific area and are unable to assist in affected areas.
When you listen to all the behind the scenes stories you then get a clear picture as to why so many burn out and leave. When you talk to people about other events they talk about it like a regular job. When you talk to past AVCon staff and volunteers they talk about it like they’ve come back from war.
That revolving door also has an affect on AVCon’s inability to evolve as necessary as it’s continually trying to get the basics right. It also struggles with being consistent.
Just one example can be seen in the quoted attendance numbers for the festival. In the 2019 Artists Information Pack, attendance for the 2015 show is estimated to be approximately 18,000 (which is very impressive). However, the 2016 Exhibitors Information Pack lists the attendance for that 2015 show to be 20,000. Again for the 2016 Sponsorship Pack it stated that the 2015 show attracted more than 18,500 people “our highest attendance to date” which contradicts a news story from 2012 that claimed “over 20,000”.
That 20,000 figure seems to pop up a lot (the only consistency) despite contradictions. It was mentioned by the Deputy Lord Mayor at the 2018 ceremony as the attendance for the 2017 show. If that was truly the figure then why was it not featured in the 2019 information packs? On that same token why does the 2019 website claim that 20,000 is still the goal?
(In all fairness, as a matter of record, a news report from 2013 had that year’s convener claim “a projected attendance of 20,000” which is how it should be phrased so well done).
The reason for highlighting this discrepancy is not to catch people out, it’s to show that events like this have so many moving parts that when combined with the aforementioned revolving door of talent, something as simple as a single number can get lost in the spin and exaggerations. If that’s the case then imagine something much more vital.
The final major issue with AVCon is not that it’s a not-for-profit organisation, it’s that it relies on it as a shield to hide behind. AVCon should be applauded for doing something amazing every year with its volunteer workforce but that doesn’t mean it’s immune to criticism.
AVCon is a product and service and has to abide by Australian Consumer Law just like any other not-for-profit. It’s an event that costs just north of $600,000 to put on every year and according to sponsorship documents from the Adelaide City Council, it estimates that it brings in roughly $3 Million to the surrounding businesses in the Adelaide CBD. If all that is legit, then that’s not insignificant, that’s a lot of other people’s money, that’s a major injection into the livelihoods of the surrounding businesses.
And yet, every time someone points out a mistake, highlights where it may have taken a misstep, it hides behind its not-for-profit status like a child’s safety blanket. If it wants to maintain the highest level of quality and continue to draw crowds in the tens of thousands then it needs to stop pretending it’s still a humble university club and act as if it belongs on the national stage. It needs to admit and own its mistakes, it needs to be open and honest with its audience, and it needs to respect the very community it relies on.
No one is denying that putting on an event like this is challenging. It can test even the most patient of people. But that’s all the more reason to make sure the missteps are at a minimum for the sake of everyone else.
There are plenty of other not-for-profit events out there. The most analogous to AVCon would have to be something like SMASH! – The Sydney Manga and Anime Show. It too undoubtedly has its own issues but having spoken to a number of people including regular attendees as well as past organisers it’s bewildering how positive they are.
From the energetic atmosphere to the open and vibrant layout, the redundancies in place in its volunteer structure (to account for the lack of experience and well as prevent burn out) to the extensive guest list (dealing with Japanese managers apparently isn’t as straightforward as some might assume).
It’s an event that began with 1,435 attendees in its first year in 2007 and grew to attract around 22,000 in 2018 (that’s a two day weekend as opposed to AVCon’s three days – 1 weekend pass equals 3 to the tally, you do the math). Yes, SMASH! has the advantage of being in Sydney, meaning it not only has a larger audience to attract but also a larger pool of talent to draw from, but there has to be more than just “…because Sydney”. When asked, people seem to choose SMASH! over AVCon, which must mean they are doing something right.
SMASH! have even put out the question about whether or not it should remain independent and not-for-profit? That’s clearly an event that considers its future and its community.
AVCon, on the other hand, want the broader pop-culture audience but not do anything of substance to attract said broad pop-culture audience and no amount of repeating the term “pop-culture” at every turn will magically change AVCon from the niche event it is.
This write-up exists because a promise was made. It is available publicly because AVCon need to be held accountable to the community it serves.
AVCon are not irredeemable.
There is a good reason AVCon has lasted as long as it has, there is a reason it continues to draw the crowd it does, and there is a reason so many people continue to be passionate about it. AVCon has proven in the past that it can put on a great show and embrace the community it serves.
There is a reason I have been to every AVCon since my first one in 2009. It was my first ever convention and it began this adventure that I still find myself on today. So the festival is special to me. Every time someone declares that it’s getting worse every year I’m always quick to correct them because in reality it’s peaks and troughs from event to event.
Unfortunately, this year was one of the lowest troughs of the last decade. It was the first time AVCon broke my heart.
Despite its longevity, last year’s write up warned against becoming complacent and arrogant just because it found itself back on track. This year’s event proved AVCon needs to listen to the community rather than the egos behind the scenes.
Here’s hoping the newly elected committee learn from this year’s mistakes and are able to correct the course. I genuinely wish them all the best.