BronyCon is back, and this year it’s bigger than ever. DHN was there to get an impression on the biggest pony convention in the United States. Find out what this reporter thinks of the event after the break!
On Friday, August 2nd, the largest US-based pony convention, known as BronyCon, opened its doors. Thousands of pony fans walked, drove, and flew to the Baltimore Convention Center, roughly double the number that the New York BronyCon pulled in the year prior. With over two hundred artists and a plethora of panels and special guests, expectations were high for the convention. But did it live up to the hype, or even its predecessor? I am happy to report that, for the most part, the answer to that question is a solid “yes.” BronyCon was a fantastic convention experience, and while I do have a few nitpicks here and there, I can heartily endorse my experience of the convention.
The biggest change to BronyCon was the location this year. The convention was held in the Baltimore Convention Center, a much larger place than the previous year’s venue. Events were held on all three levels of the convention center, with the artist alley being held in the lowest level, panels and event rooms in the middle, and large events and concerts being held on the top floor. The vender hall looked nearly identical to how it was held last year, with blue barriers separating each row of artists from the next. Things were reasonably well set up within the hall, however in some places, particularly at the ends of an aisle with popular booths like the Pony Plushies booth, there was a bit of congestion in the flow of foot traffic. Despite that, there seemed to be plenty of room within the main aisles itself, and artists had a good amount of space behind their booths to hold their equipment and personal items.
As for the panel rooms, my opinions are mixed. One of the biggest issues I had with last year’s convention was the dreadful sound quality of their panel areas. This issue was soundly resolved this time around. Even the “mane hall” was set up in a way that everyone in the hall could hear, and it did not interrupt any of the events going on below it (with the exception of the minor earthquake caused by Bronypalooza the first night). However, a new issue and the biggest critique I have of this convention came about due to the size of the smaller panel rooms. These rooms filled up fast for many events, and many people ended up being turned away from panels held within them. This should not have been an issue with the amount of space within the venue, and should be something the staff should look into fixing for future endeavors.
Despite the logistical flubs, the panels themselves were highly entertaining this year. Every aspect of the fandom had some kind of panel going on. The panels included topics including fiction writing, show guests, artists, musicians, military members, PMV creators, show analysis people, improvisers and comedians, lauded psychologists, and many, many more. Of particular interest to myself (and many of the convention attendees as well) were the late night 18+ panels. These panels were required showing a valid ID at the door in order for you to be let in. Of those panels, I attended the “Grimdark” and the “Ficwriters After Dark” panels. The addition of these panels was a boon to the convention, and gave recognition and attention to members of this fanbase that are not normally seen as much as more “acceptable” creators within the fanbase. However, one issue did hamper these panels. Despite having to be ID’d at the door, the panelists themselves were told to try and remain “PG-13.” This rule clearly made it difficult for the panelists, whose topics ranged from “R” to “NC-17.” If these panels are to continue at pony events, this restriction needs to be lifted. And I would highly recommend that they do continue, as the massive line I saw waiting for the erotic fiction panel shows that clearly there is a very large demand for them.
The special guests this year did not disappoint, though there were some pretty major names missing. Representatives from the official side of MLP were many and varied, including voice actors and writers from the show, along with three of the MLP comic staff and one pony novelist. Guests were available for autographs and could be seen in between those times wandering around the convention area and vendor halls. Some guests were doubling as vendors, selling commissions and memorabilia at specific booths within the vendor area. Though the VIP list was very well rounded, the absence of the majority of the guests from last year’s convention did not go unnoticed. The reasons for their absence vary. Some were not able to come due to being already booked at GalaCon, which went on at the same weekend. Others are still burned by the repercussions of Unicon and convention politics. Care should be taken to avoid these scenarios in the future, as these guests would have been of great value to the attendees, and the guests themselves would have had a wonderful time.
Plentiful also was the amount of fandom talent on display at BronyCon. You couldn’t throw a reasonably priced plush pony doll in the convention without hitting a musician, artist, video maker or cosplayer. The artist alley was filled with every kind of print and button imaginable. Also for sale were various plushies, articles of clothing, trading cards, mousepads, shot glasses, and many other things. The convention was also host to the premieres of the newest in fanworks, including new video games, animations, and PMVs. Cosplayers were a common sight throughout the convention, with individuals cosplaying as not only ponies, but other characters from shows and video games including Assassin’s Creed, Homestuck, Team Fortress 2, and Final Fantasy. Full fursuits were a big attraction this year as well, with more pony suits than I’ve seen at any other convention thus far. Bronypalooza went on for the first two nights, where the attendees enjoyed brony music, and brony musicians enjoyed playing for attendees. There was even two well stocked game rooms (one for tabletop gaming and one for console games), a children’s play area with various activities, a meet and greet room, a pony LARP room, and a pony museum for the entertainment of the attendees. Overall, interaction between fandom creators and fandom consumers was incredibly positive for all involved, and everyone had something they could do to socialize and entertain themselves.
Bronycon is the biggest pony convention ever, but does bigger always mean better? From a pure spectacle standpoint, the answer is yes. More people means more varied merchandise, events, and sights to see. But what about from the community standpoint? The pony community has, for all of its various interpretations, been very focused on and proud of its sense of community. Whether you identify with the elder /co/ members who started the fandom, the squeaky clean community of Ponychan, the cult of love and tolerance, the readers of FIMFiction, the fanbase of Equestria Daily, the users of Tumblrpon, the members of Reddit, the anonymous legions of /mlp/, exiled anons who all lost their jobs because of a certain milkmare on MLPchan, or of course the followers of DHN, who are all roguishly handsome, incredibly intelligent, and very dateable indeed, the MLP fandom thrives on its close-knit and welcoming communities. At a large convention like BronyCon, it is easier to meet people for the first time and start up connections, but it is much more difficult to have one-on-one time with old friends and comrades, due to there being so many in one place. This is an area where smaller conventions like Cutie Mark Con shine. It ends up being a question of what a consumer is looking for; are you looking to meet lots of people and see a lot of things, or are you looking to spend some quality time with a small group of close friends? Some people will prefer one choice over the other. I’d personally recommend trying both, as it’s a completely different experience on both ends.
Overall, my final verdict of BronyCon 2013 is an incredibly positive one. Though there are still a few kinks that need to be worked out, the convention staff has come a long way in improving the convention experience for everyone involved. Staff members of BronyCon, from the highest-up members to those on the ground floor, should be very proud of what they accomplished over that frantic weekend. I give BronyCon a hearty recommendation as a convention I would attend again.