Previously, I had been sceptical towards online conventions. Admittedly, as soon as I learned about the first one, I decided to attend it and give it a try. I was quite positively surprised by the outcome. Since then I visited a few more of them and I learned something new during each event.
A Lot Depends on You
I think it is also true with regard to standard conventions but when it comes to online events a lot more responsibility for enjoying them lies on your shoulders. For me, the social aspect of the con is really important. I care about the programme and how good the event is organized but the reason why I am still attending conventions are people and the atmosphere. While going around the convention venue, you feel the atmosphere. You can easily chat with people and it is quite possible that others will start chatting with you. Of course, you can relatively easily avoid conversations and meeting people but you are constantly submerged in this specific con climate.
Discord is a great venue for social space during online conventions. It allows for both voice and text interactions. Video conversations are also available. If the server is established before the convention like Konline (on screenshot here) did it strenghtens the fannish bonds.
During an online convention, the situation is a bit trickier. You need to actively look for the atmosphere to feel it. Don’t understand me wrong – it is there, different than during a real life experience, but still awesome. The difference is that it is extremely easy to step back. You can only attend programme and disregard all social aspects and you won’t even remotely feel them.
Judging from my experience so far, it is really worth to actively participate in online conventions. It may require a little more effort, but it is nicely rewarded. The less distracted by daily chores I was, the more I enjoyed the con. Yes, it is more difficult to chat on Discord or other platforms than it is in person. Yet despite the differences, the feeling of contacting fans online can be surprisingly similar to the one you get at a con.
Thanks to the fact that events are online, they are easier to attend. Instead of flying to the other part of the world you can just join it from your home. Of course the time difference still poses a challenge, but it is partially manageable. I am using this opportunity to understand the conventions in US (I had the chance to visit only one US con before). Thanks to the event being online, I also managed to visit SFeraKon again.
The opening ceremony during SFeraKORon.
Going online is also an opportunity for each convention. Although the events I visited were smaller than they usually are, they also attracted fans that normally would not attend them. There is a chance that such fans will decide to visit the con in person next year. Of course, not everyone would do it (e.g. I would not manage to travel to a few US cons each year), but some may want to return. Unfortunately, it seems that this opportunity is to a certain extent neglected.
Where to find them?
The big issue I can see so far is the lack of information about the online cons. It was easy for me to learn about the online version of cons I usually attend/consider attending, but learning about others was not so easy. I learned about some of them just accidentally, despite the fact I was actively looking over the internet to find such information. Some websites list info about cancelled/moved cons and even sometimes it is mentioned which con went online, but the data is not always up to date. I would really love to find a site listing all the online cons around the world.
List of cons available at scifi4me.com is quite extensive and I will be using it for sure.
What can be done to learn about online conventions? I do not have a clear answer – I am trying to look over the net and google for online cons. I also check what conventions take place in a given month and I visit their websites/fanpages to learn whether they moved online. Facebook groups like Concellation are also a good source of information. So in general one may find some useful information in the internet but it requires some time and effort.
Prepare for the “Excursion”
Once I know which convention I would love to attend, I prepare for it. It is partially similar to what I would do in a regular situation. I mark the dates for the con in my calendar and I consider whether I would need a day off work or not. Obviously, I check the website to get all useful information. Quite often, I go through the programme to check which items would be interesting to me. If the Discord server is available before the con, I join it and try to participate in some conversations – it is a good way to meet people. Lastly, if there is a need/option to buy membership/register, I do it.
My badge from LajcONik. People who wanted were getting personalized badges with their nick and picture from Discord.
During the con, I try to somehow mimic my “standard” behaviour. I choose t-shirts from other cons instead of the “everyday” ones. I plan my time considering when I would like to eat something and I also try to have some free time to hang out with people. If the convention has badges, I put my name on them etc. The big difference is that I spend some more time doing things at home (like cooking or some minor chores). Also, because of the time difference, I do not always manage to participate in the evening activities during cons like Demicon and Balticon.
How rewarding is the experience?
All in all, I found the conventing online is really rewarding. The feeling is different than the one at the in-person cons but it has also some similarities. The most important aspect is that it allows me to socialize with fellow fans. I do hope that sooner rather than later in-person cons will be possible, but even then I think I would like to find some time for the online events. They have their own certain value not only as a “replacement” but also as events worth spending time on even in the “regular” times.
I can only agree with Balticon organizers that ‘Together fandom is unstoppable’.
If you did not have the chance to visit any online convention yet, I believe you should give it a try. The ones I attended so far were allowing to participate without the need to pay anything (although some were suggesting donations). The risk of trying this new experience is really low when compared to any other con and it is likely that if you love the regular conventions, you will at least like, if not love, the online ones.