Debrief: Dragon Con 2020

Debrief: Dragon Con 2020
September 3 through September 7, 2020

 

 

Dragon Con 2020 is done.

Obviously, it wasn’t the situation that we wanted, but the Dragon Con social media team did phenomenal work to develop a platform that could deliver the convention experience at home. Alongside the convention staff, several track directors and their respective staffs were fantastic in both building content and stoking the fires throughout the weekend.

This convention gave me a chance to get comfortable with video content at home, and it gives me plenty of ideas going forward to develop ideas and content going forward. It was also good to touch base with my geek family, and even though it wasn’t in person, it still offered me the chance to catch up with them in an era when so many of us are isolated.

 

Thursday

Typically, Thursday would include breakfast at the local Waffle House, picking up our badges for the weekend, and introducing hundreds of newcomers to the convention via the Dragon Con Newbies events.

Instead, the convention got started here with a Zoom recording with the irregulars from the American Sci-Fi Classics Track. In what was scheduled as a one-hour event, we sat much longer and swapped tales of our various shenanigans and favorite memories from the convention.

It was a good way to catch up and almost feel home again.

 

Friday

Friday started with some browsing of the Dragon Con Goes Virtual channels before settling in for a chat about the second season of Lost in Space on the American SF & Fantasy Media Track.

The panel was moderated by my long-time friend Lindy Keelan, who I met during our time at The Scapecast. We were joined by Kevin Eldridge of The Flopcast and Nathan Laws of The 42Cast, and the panel was a great discussion about the season, the series so far, and what might be ahead for the family Robinson.

The next panel for Friday was one that I recorded before the convention with the BritTrack and the crew of Earth Station Who. Mike Faber, Mike Gordon, Mary Ogle, and I joined Caro and Rob to talk about where to get started in Doctor Who.

It’s a large topic to tackle, especially since the franchise has been around since 1963 in so many various ways, but this was a fun and informative discussion and I hope that newcomers and long-time fans find it useful.

 

Saturday

Saturday started with a bit more Dragon channel surfing and a trip at 88 miles per hour with the 35th anniversary of Back to the Future.

I teamed up with Michael Williams, Shaun Rosado, James Palmer, and Joe and Gary to talk about this film, its franchise, and the legacy that they still maintain in science fiction. It got deep at times and was really fun.

Later that night, I popped back into the Classics Track for a look back at the Marvel films that preceded the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Michael Bailey, Jessa Phillips, and Keith R.A. DeCandido also joined the party as we tried to cover the history of Blade to Iron Man in one hour. We needed so much more time.

 

Sunday

Sunday brought me back to my podcasting roots on the Digital Media Track with a topic that Mike Faber and I have been talking to people about for quite a while: How to get started in digital media.

The video is available on the track’s Twitch channel, and (with Mike and myself) included Matthew Malis, Sean Weiland, Tyra Burton, and podcasting newbie Channing Sherman. The goal now is to get Channing to record a podcast. Because he really needs to get his content and character on the airwaves.

 

Monday

Monday brought three more events to round out the weekend.

First up was a pre-recorded panel about Doctor Who that is similar in style to the classic Roll-a-Panel.

With Sue Kisenwether, Jm Tuffley, L. Jagi Lamplighter, Keith DeCandido, and me, Caro spun the wheel and let fortune drive the discussion through the universe of Doctor Who.

The second panel was a discussion on mathematics in science fiction.

I joined Darin Bush, Deanna Toxopeus, Sue Kisenwether, Gary, and Joe on a journey through how our favorite genre uses and abuses one of our favorite technical topics. This is another one that could easily spawn multiple discussion panels.

Finally, the convention came to a close for me with the Dragon Con Newbies team and a quick discussion on Dragon Con TV about coming to the con in person next year.

I joined Kevin Bachelder, Kim McGibony, and Sue to cover some of the basics. We also invite anyone interested in Dragon Con to visit both the website and the Facebook group to get information from a group of helpful convention veterans.

 

General Notes

As I mentioned before, the biggest benefit to going virtual was that we could have some semblance of a convention this year. That’s key in a time where we’re all siloed and unable to physically convene in celebration of our favorite works.

The other benefit that really stands out is two-fold and focused on the fan tracks: First is ingenuity and creativity, and second is continued access.

Each of the fan tracks had to decide how to best present themselves this year to a virtual audience, and many of the ones that I was able to follow this year did so through widely available platforms like YouTube. Using Zoom or Streamyard, these tracks were able to bring experts and fans together and stream their panels to the world. Those panels remain available for as long as YouTube stores them, and they remain an example of both creative problem solving and what the track has to offer for newcomers.

It’s a win-win.

That path was forged by Joe and Gary with the “quarantine panels” that they have done for months leading into this event. Search this site for “Quarantine Con” or visit their YouTube channel and see. In my estimation, those two are the MVPs of this event.

I’m not just trumpeting that to, as Michael Bailey would say, “wax their car”. It’s absolutely true.

 

And that brings me to the things that would improve this system going forward.

First, there was too much divergence on where content was available, and that was confusing for the man-on-the-street who just happened to wander in. My perspective on this comes from the fact that I have a Roku device, an XBox, and a television that can run apps. That means that I can stream YouTube and Vimeo from my couch.

I could literally attend Dragon Con this year from my couch.

The convention’s core programming (Dragon Con Main, Dragon Con Fan Tracks, and Dragon Con Classics) was available in one location (dragoncon.tv/virtual). Those streams were hosted on Vimeo and mirrored to a Roku app, but that app was broken for the first day and did not transmit the Fan Track channel.

If it hadn’t been for the broken code, the Roku app would have been perfect for that intent. But, it also limited who could simply switch on and watch since not everyone has a Roku. Ideally, going forward, a Dragon Con streaming app should be available on multiple platforms for more universal access.

A contributing factor was each track’s individual programming. Some tracks used YouTube, which is universally available for anyone who can click a link. Others were limited to Facebook and Twitch, which are fine for attendees who were on their computers or could use one of the streaming sticks (Chromecast, Amazon Fire Stick, etc) to mirror the computer to the television. But Facebook and Twitch are not available on the Roku, and that was a deciding factor in which Dragon Con Goes Virtual content I chose to partake from.

An argument of “well, you wouldn’t have watched anyway” won’t fly here because I have watched several other panels this year that I usually don’t have the time to watch at a live event. One that stands out is the Star Wars droid-building presentation. Others were puppetry panels, including interviews and a Puppetry 101 discussion, and Michael Bailey’s presentation on Green Lantern and The Flash.

I also have a long list that I want to see because they’re now stored on YouTube for the foreseeable future.

An easy solution to that hurdle is to require every streaming track to have a YouTube channel. It’s not that far of a reach since everyone was using Streamyard and Zoom to broadcast, and those tools have the built-in capability to stream to YouTube.

If a track director has a question on how to do it, we obviously have several experts available to share that knowledge. I’m sure that we also have experts who could tie those YouTube videos into the apps (like the Roku one) to make one-stop-shops for people.

The second big stumbling block was the schedule. The main schedule for the three Dragon Con TV channels was available in the Quick Start Guide and on the Eventeny site for the con. The fan tracks, on the other hand, were buried behind a link hidden in plain sight in the Quick Start Guide. That schedule was a Google Sheets file which was not formatted well.

The schedule should have been more accessible and legible. So much content for this con was hard to find because of this stumbling block.

And, again, ingenuity and ease of access, I’ll point to an example: Kelley at the American SF & Fantasy Media track set up all of her panels ahead of time. She sent emails in advance to the panelists with their links to join the Streamyard recording, and she set up each YouTube livestream in advance so anyone subscribed to her track’s channel would have a ready list of what was going on at what time.

All anyone had to do was select the video and wait for it to start. Joe and Gary did the same on Classics, but I noticed it first from Kelley.

Both of these issues popped up while the con was in motion. Fixing them going forward would greatly improve the experience in the future.

 

Wait. Going forward?

Yes. Because there is some serious potential here for “off-season” programming and contingency planning for the future. Each of these tracks can literally produce panels at any time with this infrastructure, thereby keeping the interest alive throughout the year outside of Facebook groups and localized meetups.

Joe and Gary have a huge library of material to choose from – Dragon Con defines a sci-fi classic as any genre property over ten years old that is not taken by another track – and they have proven that there is interest beyond the scope of their mandate with panels on representation, social issues, and more.

Classics, SF & Fantasy Media, BritTrack, Digital Media, Star Wars, TrekTrack, Space, Science, Skeptics, Animation, Puppetry, the literature tracks… that’s just off the top of my head. All of these tracks have an evergreen presence because there’s so much to talk about. Doing panels year-round (even on a monthly basis) baits the hook for people who might want to come to contribute in person.

The potential is nearly endless.

 

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed Dragon Con Goes Virtual, and I applaud the teams that made it happen. This wasn’t an easy choice, I’m sure, but they did fantastic work under the circumstances.

My deepest gratitude goes out to the staff, the directors, the pros and guests, the volunteers, and the attendees for this event. As one of the local news stations reported, the programming was accessed over 600,000 times by fans from over 49 nations.

That’s not insignificant.

You’ve done good work, gang. Congratulations.

I’m looking forward to see you in person next year.

359 days to go until next Dragon Con.

 

Until then…

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