Requiem for a roBOT CONvention

This weekend is Last BotCon, they say.  One last go for the stalwart of the Transformers fandom.  As the great scribe William Joel once penned, “Stack the chairs on the table tops, hang the sheets on the chandeliers.”

BotCon was life changing for me as I suspect it was for many of you.  The friends I have made, the places I’ve gone, the things I’ve done thanks to this convention — it’s astounding when I step back and think about it.

I wasn’t at the first BotCon; no, silly me thought it was stupid to drive six hours to a town I barely recognized to be with people I only knew of online to talk about Transformers.  Surely, it was pure folly, something I didn’t need to go to.

I was stupid back then.  (I’m stupid now, too, but for different reasons that are irrelevant to this discourse.)  After reading how much fun it was, I decided I would have to go to the next one, if there was one.  So in the summer of 1995, I and several online friends packed my old Dodge Caravelle and made the trip to Dayton to meet more online friends.  We planned to leave early Sunday, but I dragged my feet and we stayed longer because I simply Didn’t Want To Go.

Not wanting to go is how most of my BotCons ended.  Sure, 1996 was rather pathetic in terms of professionalism, but that’s where I met a good many people who I’m still friends with today. The weekend was fun because of my friends and in spite of the foul ups.

BotCon 1997, the first 3H con, truly set the high bar.  Guests! A comic!  PETER FRIGGIN’ CULLEN!  VINCE FRIGGIN’ DICOLA!  (Front row seats, too.)  The first MSTF! (Hey, it was important to me.) This con the standard for all BotCons — heck, I’d say most unofficial Transformers conventions — to come, including Last BotCon.  If there hadn’t been any more after 1997, the fans would have had a great final BotCon.  But instead we got more.  We got the East Coast.  We got a multi-year story.  We got more intricate toys and packaging.  We got more guests.  We got more activities. We got me as a performer in MSTF. (Again, important to me.)

We got The Split.

Ah, yes, the 3H/BotCon/OTFCC rupture, one that did kind of tear the fandom apart in ways.  Some sided with the Hartmans, some sided with Glen.  I went to OTFCC and BotCon.  I had considered all of 3H friends, or at least good acquaintances, and I wanted to support both.

The OTFCC years were interesting.  I won’t go into everything because this is about BotCon. Yet, a lot of BotCon was in OTFCC, and I must say that if it weren’t for Glen, I wouldn’t have had one of the highlights of my life — playing a duet with Vince DiCola at OTFCC 03.  OTFCC wasn’t called BotCon, but it felt pretty much like BotCon.

And then came BotCon 2004 which was, at the time, thought to be Last BotCon, a celebration by the Hartmans again, done out of love to the fans.  We knew the Hartman BotCon was going away, later we knew OTFCC was going away, and we didn’t know what was coming.  It’s very similar to today’s uncertainty.

In some ways, BotCon 2004 should be considered Last BotCon.  When Fun Publications took over, BotCon changed. The focus shifted.  Toy output increased… and so did the prices.  We heard all about the collector, and little about the fan. But FP did good, as evidenced by BotCon growing by leaps and bounds.  Having a big budget movie helped, sure, but FP didn’t squander the opportunity, and having BotCon 2007 at Hasbro, with a tour, and guests, and the movie, and Generation 1 themed toys — it also set a high bar.

These high points came at a price, though.  And in this case, I’m being both metaphorical and literal.  The cost of attending BotCon went higher and higher.  Many of my friends were priced out of attending, and those that could afford it now were older with other priorities.  Today, we have box sets tickling the $400 mark, Golden Tickets at even more insane prices, and walk-ins get a cheap price but virtually nothing more than a handstamp.

Hasbro has said this is the last BotCon in this format, and I feel sad, but not just because it’s done.  I feel sad because in a way I’ve been saying goodbye to it for a while now.  I was at nearly every BotCon through 2008, including ten in a row.  I stopped going because of finances or distance until last year.  And I was amazed at how small the convention was, and how few of my friends were there.

In 1999, Rob “Tengu” Gerbracht and I talked about how BotCon was our family reunion.  Today, that family has found other ways to reunite, and I have to admit: 

BotCon isn’t BotCon any more. 

I write this with no malice intended, but now that Fun Publications’ time is over, it’s time to take a long and hard look at what we received. I personally experienced higher prices, long lines, dismissive statements by those in charge, insane delays in registration, credit cards not being kept safe, and a variety of other issues — and that was just me! These and other things drove my BotCon family away, and I can’t be okay with that.

Still, I wish I was at Last BotCon, because, well, it’s BotCon.  Some of my best friends in the entire world I met at BotCon, and I wish I could be there to spend one final weekend with them at BotCon.  Because whatever comes next, it won’t be BotCon as we know it.  Even if there is a fan convention, it may not be called BotCon, and even if it is, it may not be, you know, BotCon.

We’ll keep you alive, BotCon, in that unknown future.  Because no matter how much the convention structure changed, the core essence of you was still there.  It may have been hiding deep, but you could still see it peeking out every now and then when the BotCon family got together.

For the people you allowed me to meet, for the experiences you allowed me to have, for allowing me to be on stage two hours making jokes with friends — thank you, BotCon.  To the friends I met at the con, the friends I spent a long weekend with every summer — thank you for being a part of that.

Good bye, BotCon.