Thursday, October 17, 2013

LeakyCon 2013 ~ A Not-So-Very Potter Review

Harry Potter is 15 years old (16 if you're in the UK). It's touched millions of people, created millions of fans, and will probably go down in history as one of the biggest pieces of pop culture (and/or literature) from the beginning of the third millennium. And, much like the Trekkies and Ringers from previous generations, Harry Potter fans have sought brotherhood among their own kind in gatherings and conventions.

Most notable among these conventions in the US is LeakyCon, organized by founders of The-Leaky-Cauldron website. The site has been one of the biggest HP news sites ever since its start in 2000, and has since held interviews with J.K. Rowling, published predictive books, and hosted the renowned PotterCast podcast. They are considered one of the premiere sources of HP knowledge, resources, crafts, etc. on the web.

It only follows that attending one of their conventions would be a once in a lifetime experience, right?

Well, last September I went ahead and took the plunge. LeakyCon 2013 was to be held in Porland's Convention Center, practically in my own backyard. So I went ahead and put down the $120 for the weekend pass, plus another $60 for the Lit pass, gaining me access to extra panels, workshops, and signings from a TBD selection of YA/Fantasy authors.

Notice that TBD? Did I mention that NONE of the guests were announced at initial registration? Yeah, that went for non-lit persons as well. Ah well, it was LeakyCon, right? They have connections, so they were sure to get some awesome people.

But I waited... and waited...and waited... until March when they finally started announcing Wrock (Wizard Rock) bands that would be attending. Then a list of some of the authors was released on March 20th, a mere 3 months before the con, and well past the early registration cost expired.

The list was a bit...underwhelming to tell the truth. I'd only read one of the authors, though I did recognize three others. And after looking them up on Goodreads, I at least knew I'd be interested in a few of the others as well. Still, would I honestly pay extra money to attend their panels? Eh, probably not.

To put it in perspective, I attended another Potter convention in 2008 in Chicago and paid $40 extra to attend a dinner/speech by one of my favorite authors, Tamora Pierce. This was an added bonus to attending a free/included discussion/signing that had maybe 10 people attend (because it was held at the same time as a PotterCast) AND happening to ride in an elevator with her (my very first time meeting a celebrity).

But moving on, let's skip forward to the actual event, shall we?

Thursday was pretty low-key, offering a fifteen different meetups during the first four hours. Among those were the generic (First-Timers, 18+, Men's, Alumni) and more specific (Disney Sing-Along, Aussie/Kiwi, Slash & Fanfic). Then we were left an hour and a half to check out the merch booths and stand in line for the opening ceremonies. Keep in mind, this picture to the left is of the END section of the line. There were probably a good 500+ more people stretched out along the convention center ahead of us.

The ceremony itself was a lot of fun. Featuring the Forest of Fandom, tons of characters from all of pop culture, Team Starkid actors, and a FANTASTIC parody musical number headed by the one and only Anthony Rapp...
Afterwards was the Wrock concert, which I didn't attend because I've got enough hearing loss from marching band, thanks.

Friday began the main programming with lectures, panels, signings, photographs, Quidditch, and Mainstage Productions. At any one time there were between five and twelve things happening in different locations/rooms. There were quite a few HP-centric panels/discussions I was interested in attending, as well as numerous other fandoms present including Doctor Who, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and The Hunger Games, just to name a few.

I, however, having spent good money on this LeakyCon Lit pass felt obligated to attend solely those panels. And yet, even then, they always held TWO at the same time. So no matter what, I was missing out on half of the 10 Lit panels.

I get it, you want to make sure that people get the most out of that extra cost, so if they don't want to attend one, they can attend the other. But what about that other $120 (or more for later registers) we dropped on this convention? Why do we have to choose regular panels vs Lit panels? Was there really no better way of spacing things out, perhaps into the evenings?

Saturday, unfortunately I felt utterly exhausted and skipped all of the morning. Granted, I only wanted to attend eight discussions, FIVE of which interfered with each other. I did make it in time for the Lit-exclusive Author House Cup Tournament, which was a blast to watch. The Hufflepuffs (my house) consisted of Anthony Rapp, Rainbow Rowell and Coe Booth. You can check out some hilarious photos from the event here.

I then attended two more panels before the two hour break preceding the Esther Earl Rocking Charity Ball. Which I stayed for maybe a half hour due to my hearing issues and lack of dance skills anyway.

Sunday was probably the biggest letdown of all with only 10 events total for the day: a StarKid panel, a film screening, Quidditch, autographs, a NaNoWriMo panel, bookclub discussion, sing-along, Dr. Horrible screening, Portal playthrough with Anthony Rapp, and the closing PotterCast. Had I known that the closing was nothing BUT the final PotterCast (which I never listened to in the first place), I probably wouldn't have gone at all the final day. But as it was, it was alright. Not great, but not horrible either.

To sum things up, I was a bit disappointed by the offerings of this convention. The scheduling was horrible, especially for those who paid for the Lit pass or the RockStar (which included even more events!). Why did there have to be TWELVE things happening at once, and why so much down time at others? Just because you have 14 rooms available, do you really need to fill all of them at the same time?

And the celebrity guests were announced so late. I can sorta understand not wanting to announce things so far in advance that schedules can change, but I'm sure a lot of people *can* plan a year in advance. It is especially difficult to know if you want to put up the extra money for autographs or the Lit pass if you have no idea who is attending.

With registration opening for LeakyCon 2014 in Orlando, I felt I should offer a bit of advice for any interested attendees:
  • Wait on putting money down. Unless you're well versed in all of the fandoms, well read in tons of lit, or plan on collecting autographs for autographs' sake, wait until some celebs are announced before spending the extra cash on Lit or Rockstar passes. I notice this year the Lit is available by itself, so that might be a valid option if you plan on attending the author panels over any general events.
  • Make a full vacation of it. Arrive early, see some sights, make sure you're well rested before the start of the con so you can power through the weekend. As much as people say 'don't overdo', you'll want to attend as much as possible, which means very little sleep. Get your money's worth, and make sure you don't regret sleeping in.
  • Power through. Along the same lines as above, try to power through the blocks of panels as best you can and wait until there's nothing you want to do to take a breather. Take snack bars and water bottles, so you can wait to eat until there is that huge block of nothing in the evening. Don't kill yourself, but do manage your time wisely.
  • Don't be afraid to leave. If you aren't enjoying a panel or event, go to something else. If they're going to offer 12 things at a time, you might as well find one of them you like. The point of this thing is FUN, so go have some.
  • Attend with friends. I had the luck of meeting up with a friend from college and hung with her for the weekend. Admittedly, I did miss a couple things I had planned on attending, but it was okay because I completely forgot from the fun I was having. If you *do* plan on going solo, try to hook up with others from Meetups or early events.
  • Warning for Big People:

    DO NOT go to Universal Studios, or the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. At least not if you want to ride any of the attractions. Went to Disney World, had no problems whatsoever. Went to Universal, could not ride a single thing at HP. To make things worse, they had no one posted at the outside test seat, so I had to wait until the indoor test seat to be told that no, I could not ride. They then had me wait at the exit of the ride for the rest of my family to go through. Not the gift shop down the stairs, at the dis-boarding area. So unless things have drastically changed in the past year, I warn against paying for this park.
  • Have fun. Know what you're getting in to before you go, but once you've committed to it, you have to make it what you want it to be. If you want it to be memorable, make it so. If you want it to be relaxing, make it so. The LeakyCon people lay everything out for you, but you have to choose which things you want to do. It can be a bit overwhelming, but try your best. And have fun.

To any of you who have read this far, I hope you've gained something from my rambling and ranting. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the Lit panels I attended, and had fun overall at Portland's LeakyCon, but it honestly wasn't nearly what I had hoped for. I can blame myself for a lot of that, but I also feel like the format of the con as a whole was working against me as well.

I don't really know how much will change in the year between this and next, so I simply wanted to get some of my own experiences out there before people start flooding the registration site on the 19th. If you've got plenty of money and are involved in HP and other fandoms, go right ahead. But if you're a little tight on cash and aren't sure about the extra tiers, then I'd definitely wait for more information to come down.

Best of luck to LeakyCon and its future attendees.