An opinion piece by Joey Proulx – Nerd North Media
To quote Yoda, “Begun, the nerd wars have”. This sums up this morning’s announcement from Hobbystar Marketing – FAN EXPO LAUNCHES FAN EXPO SPORTS, THE ULTIMATE SPORTS CELEBRITY EXPERIENCE.
Now before I go any further, let me just start off by saying I have no problem with sports or sports fans. Every fandom has its small share of ass-hats that try to ruin the fun for the majority of other fans so for us to generalize sports fans as “jock culture”, (as the many comments on FanExpo’s page suggest), is the same as us generalizing our own culture by saying we’re all basement-dwelling mouth-breathers with no social lives. With that being said, there really isn’t much difference between hardcore sports fans and us hardcore nerds. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular sports hobbies:
Fantasy football = D&D or other traditional RPG
Sports games = MMORPGS, adventure games or any other game
Sports cards = Magic The Gathering
Sports memorabilia = collectibles and action figures
Sports on tv = every comic book tv show/movie
The similarities are there, so why the sudden rage over this morning’s announcement?
“Sports are as much a part of pop culture as comics or science fiction,” says Steve Menzie, President of Hobby Star Marketing Inc. “There are many similarities in the celebrity experience, with everything from sports collectibles to equally devoted fans. We are creating an event that unites fans of entertainment — whether sporting or cultural. It’s a natural fit and will offer a winning combination for all Fan Expo fans.”
Well, from personal experience let me sum up the concerns from fans (and I also stress, this is merely a summary of opinions based on experiences):
For the last two years, FanExpo has oversold their convention, stranding fans out in lines for hours upon hours and eventually turning some away. As a vendor at last year’s convention, I resisted walking around the main floor as it was simply way too cramped and uncomfortable. Even the majority of cosplayers preferred to stay in the lobby area rather than grace the convention floor for extended periods of time. Read the Toronto Star article on this here.
Being the 3rd largest convention of its kind in North America, FanExpo really needs to focus on making their con better rather than simply bigger. Rumors have it that this year they will be expanding to include both the North and South convention halls with the Sports area being completely separate, however experience shows that growing the con is merely going to cause even more disorganization which leads me to my next point…
This one pained me a lot as both a vendor and “partner”. I’ve been in the marketing business for over 12 years and never have I seen so much disorganization, miscommunication (or lack of communication) in all my years of working with conventions and events. I was a huge fan of FanExpo for doing what no other con could do in Canada at their scale – but once I started working with them I saw a very different side. From not communicating effectively to vendors, disorganization and mismanagement of tickets, media passes and line-ups, to ignoring and being condescending to us smaller companies altogether, it left a very bad taste in our mouths. I WANT to like them and WANT to work with them again, but after the way we were treated last year after throwing their official events for free (without even a thank you), I’m not sure I can put my staff through that again. We all understand that running a convention of that magnitude is a daunting task wrought with issues but things definitely need to change before adding this much growth and they definitely need to improve their vendor/partner relations. Toronto Star has more on the disorganization of last year’s event here.
Fundamentally, sports fans and geek fans are the same – both fandoms are extremely passionate about what they love and support, so theoretically this should work right? After speaking with many of our fans and reading through this mornings comments on the announcement, there are a lot of concerns over the crowds mixing – and for good reason.
Cons were our way of escape from the constant criticism and ridicule from many of those sports fans growing up. With geek culture now synonymous with pop culture thanks to Hollywood’s adoption of comic book franchises, there’s even in-fighting with fans within our own scene. Many of the hardcore, dare I say “elitist” nerds have taken to the internet forums en masse crying out against the “fake geeks” invading the scene and more specifically calling out the entire “geek girl” movement (I won’t divulge into that here). With this announcement there’s the big fear that these sports-minded “alpha-types” will cause even more harassment to female cosplayers (not to mention belittling the male cosplayers as well), and that attending cons will no longer be the fun environment to meet, mingle and share with like-minded individuals without feeling judged. Let’s hope these fears don’t come into fruition.
Remember when our biggest conflict was between Star Wars and Star Trek fans? Perhaps adding sports into the mix will be the bridge that brings us together. It reminds me of the age-old premise that an alien invasion would unite the world (Alan Moore’s Watchmen graphic novel), or even George Takei’s attempt at uniting geeks with the Star Alliance against Twilight.
With all that being said, there’s always crossovers in fandom and there’s no rules out there that say if you’re a nerd you can’t like sports and vice-versa. Although many of us that grew up in the 70s, 80s and even 90s grew up being ostracized for our obsessive passion of comics and sci-fi, there are still many of us that continue to enjoy various fandoms together, regardless of how we were treated by fans from those areas in our youth.
My Monday: I got home from work and indulged in an hour of fighting Dark Spawn with my level 20 Rogue before turning on the leafs game. During the intermission i continued my quest to find the Urn of Sacred ashes before returning to thoroughly enjoy watching men fight to put a rubber disk into a net. After the game I reviewed the advanced stats for the game before watching 4 hours of Dr.Who. Then I had some sex. After sex I went to bed and watched 4 episodes of sliders. I’M ALEX
On the flipside, what many hardcore geek culture fans see as an absolute atrocious addition to their once-beloved con, sports fans are seeing this as opportunity to explore other areas of fandom. Even many sports celebs are self-proclaimed geeks. Toronto Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey calls his bat “Ocrist the Goblin Cleaver” and you’ll recognize his walk-up music as the Game of Thrones theme. Even Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh has taken up coding lessons and is a spokesperson for the recent launch of Code.org. Perhaps it’s these kinds of sports celebrities that can help merge the two opposing cultures together and ease this transition.
“I see this in a different light…I’ve always been mildly interested in attending Fan Expo, but not being very deep into the comic/gamer/sci fi worlds figured I would be out of place in about 2.5 seconds…now with sports celebrities being added i will attend for sure and will now have a good excuse to check out the “other side” of fandom.” – Al Davis
In the end, both sets of fans will continue to be divided on the issue, some for and some against this merging of fandoms. I see what Hobbystar are trying to do – but with their track record, I think they should keep their cons smaller, more focused and more manageable. They’d be far more successful and regain fans’ trust if they could focus on bettering the experience instead of adding more bang for the buck while alienating some of the fans they worked so hard over the years to gain.
If all else fails, we can always start our own Nerd North con right? For the fans by the fans. Who’s with me?
What are your thoughts on this announcement?