CoNZealand – the first ever virtual Worldcon

When in March it was announced that CoNZealand would go virtual I thought it was a really brave decision. I also believed that it was the right decision made in time to allow people to rearrange their plans. Some fans shared my opinion, others believed that it was unfair as they wanted to attend the convention in person, and lastly, some people even stated that it wouldn’t be a true Worldcon.

Attending or supporting?

Since I learned that New Zealand had been bidding for Worldcon (and I learned about it in 2014) I really wanted to go. Unfortunately, I was almost sure I wouldn’t be able to afford it. All in all, I decided to buy supporting membership and I did it in late 2018. When switching to virtual was announced I had a spark of hope that I would manage to attend…

Unfortunately, when the virtual membership prices were made public it was hard for me to make a decision whether to attend or not. The price was lower but still quite high and I was afraid most of the programming would take place during my sleeping hours. With a heavy heart, I had to resign from attending.

CoNZealand logo and inscription 'Welcome to virtual worldcon The session will begin in less than one minute' with the starry night background.Just before one of the programme items beginning.

And yet here I am writing a convention report… In July after an e-mail exchange with James Bacon and checking that some programming would take place in ‘European time’ I decided to attend. As my birthday was approaching, my family helped me with the membership and I finally found myself in a position that allows me to write a bit about the con.

Virtual venue

One of the things that distinguishes CoNZealand from the other virtual cons I attended was the membership. All other cons were available for free and even if they required registration (like Amazingcon) there were no measures in place that would prevent you from attending. Worldcon, however, had to restrict access only to members and this made things slightly more complicated.

Screenshot from the website. On top there is convention logo and below is a section called 'Fan activities'.One of the many pages ath CoNZealand website.

The main platforms in use were website, Discord, Zoom, and The Fantasy Network. In order to use them (and Grenadine event planner) one had to be authorized. I don’t know the exact technical details but one of the options was to use Discord for authorization. In general, most things worked well but there were some glitches and hiccups. Personally, I had some of my accesses missing on the first day of the con but hey – things happen.

Screenshot from Discord app. Shows CoNZealand logo and name of the first few channels on Discord.
Discord server of CoNZealand was really huge. Here you can see just a few first – introductory channels.

Most of the programming, as well as parties took place on Zoom and they worked pretty well. There were some minor issues (someone being late, speaker being on mute etc.) but I cannot complain about it. Discord was the social centre of the CoNZealand, and it also contained fan tables. Website, apart from linking to other parts of the con was also offering convention newsletter, displays, huckster room (aka dealers room) and option to re-watch programming (the last had some delay in publishing). The Fantasy Network was used for Hugo ceremony streaming as well as for re-watching the programme (I didn’t check it but it seems that the recorded programme items were available faster here than on the website).

The Worldcon where I attended the fewest programme items

Although some items were available in ‘European time’, most of them were out of my reach. I didn’t manage to switch to night life and thus I only participated in items taking place between 10 PM and 2 AM as well as 10 AM to 12 PM CET. There were not too many items falling into this category and I missed some of them (but let me get to that later). All in all, I participated in just a few programme items. It would be difficult for me to choose the favourite one but definitely ‘Planning and Attending Conventions in the Age of COVID-19’ and ‘GoH – Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon Talk’ were really interesting. The latter took place on Discord and had a room limited to just 25 participants. After the talk, we moved to a different channel and an unofficial discussion took place. I was really happy as I love some of Mercedes Lackey’s books and it was my first occasion to meet her.

Person with a parrot on her arm is sitting in an armchair. Keyboard and mouse are in front of the person.The Talk with Guest of Honour.

I was a participant in one item – Fan Funds auction. It was scheduled to last for two hours (finishing at 1 AM my time). In my naivety, I thought I will be free around 1:30 AM and able to watch some more programming. I did not expect to spend two hours after the auction on discussing the payments details and shipping addresses… Yet I am really happy. Thanks to fans who donated interesting items, and fans who decided to buy them we raised over 2000 NZD for four Fan Funds – DUFF, GUFF, FFANZ, and TAFF. I managed to buy one tuckerization from Gillian Polack. Alas, I was outbid for Loncon 3 enamel pin which went for 40 NZD.

Powerpoint window with large picture and text informing about Fan Funds Auction.The First slide of the powerpoint presentation we used during Fan Funds auction. The presentation was prepared by the DUFF delegate – Erin Underwood.

You may expect that I had plenty of time to re-watch the programme items during my days and a few days after the con (they were available for a week). You are partially right but somehow I ended re-watching just a few items (including wonderful reading by Glenda Larke, Opening ceremony, and a panel about fanzines).

Events at CoNZealand

There were a few events during CoNZealand and I even managed to participate in some of them. Because of technical difficulties, I missed the opening ceremony but I had the chance to re-watch it afterwards. It was well prepared and it even contained a nice Polish element. A part of the ceremony showed bidding and advertising and on one of the pictures a well-known Polish fan and translator – Piotr W. Cholewa appeared. During the Closing Ceremony everything worked well and I was able to see it live. I must say I enjoyed it – especially the part where the gavel was passed from the CoNZealand chairs to the DisCon III chairs.

Man posing to the picture with 'Middle Earth or Bust!!' sign. Behind him there is a background with open hobbit door and a view from a spaceship window.The Polish accent to the Opening Ceremony.

Between the ceremonies mentioned above I watched the Hugo Awards ceremony. Well, in fact I watched around half of it (it started at 1 AM Polish time and lasted for over 3.5 hours…). I enjoyed the fact that George R.R. Martin was changing his hats, doing what he had promised during the Opening Ceremony. What I didn’t enjoy were some of the other things he did including spending more time talking about the past instead of allowing the current winners to shine. Although I liked some of the stories he shared, it was not a good moment to share them all. I was especially disappointed with the fact that he seemed to undermine the decision of changing the name of the Best New Writer Award to the Astounding Award for Best New Writer. On top of that he mispronounced some of the nominees and winner names and made some jokes that made me cringe. Yet I don’t want to concentrate on negative aspects so it’s better to move on.

George R.R. Martin with a turtle shaped hat.George R-R- Martin in one of the many hats he wore during the Hugo Awards ceremony. I wanted to add a picture where this year’s Hugo trophy is visible but I did not have any decent one. Tou can see the great design at official Hugo Awards page.

Some people pointed out that the acceptance speeches were really good and I must agree with that. Some of them were difficult yet important. You can still watch the ceremony and hear them yourself (whether you prefer the full one or the one where large part of toastmasters were edited out). I also want to say that it went really smoothly from the technical point of view. Some of the acceptance speeches were pre-recorded and some went live. Everything worked pretty well and some minor technical glitches did not spoil it. The one thing I have to say here is chapeau bas for the team.

Displays and other website stuff

As I had quite a lot of time during my daytime, I managed to browse through a lot of things that were on the CoNZealand members page. I started with multiple displays and they were pretty awesome. My favourite one was the SF&F Tiki Tour of New Zealand with Stamps which contained a lot of information about New Zealand and the whole narrative was accompanied by a magnificent collection of stamps. The creator – Louise McCully did a great job and deserves recognition for this amazing work. I also enjoyed other exhibitions – those devoted to Guest of Honour as well as those that concentrated on the New Zealand fandom.

Screenshot from website showing title 'SF&F Tiki Tour of New Zealand with Stamps Contents Page'. Below the title there are 8 stamps with subtitles showing different aspects of New Zealand.The initial page of the Stamps Tiki Tour.

Let me brag a bit about myself as when I volunteered to help during the con I received a task of making one exhibit – it was devoted to Fan Funds auction. The first idea was to fill it only with the items that would be auctioned off but in the end I made it slightly broader by adding links to trip reports. It did not contain too much text as the main purpose was to advertise the auction but I hope some people enjoyed it. I certainly had a lot of fun making it (I had to learn how to use a new tool).

When it comes to the dealers and the Art Show, I did not spend too much time there. I checked on everything and I really enjoyed some of the presented art but my decision was not to buy anything so I just browsed through the site. It was nice to see the usual signs before entering Art Show. I must admit, however, that I did not obey the part about not taking in food and drink (but I followed the standard practice and refused to make screenshots presenting the art).

Screenshot from website showing a picture with following parts of the Exhibits: Exhibits Desk, Square, Art Show, Site Selection, Displays, Dealers Hall and a miniture picture of all GOHs.Exhibits Hall’o’Deck – the entry point for all of the exhibits.

What I enjoyed really immensely was a special Virtual 3D hall. It was work in progress during the con so each time I visited it there were more items there to see. In fact, it was a simple game where you had to use arrows and mouse to walk around the hall. They even added a sound of a crowd in a big space. There were proper signs before entering the Art Show, there were also stands advertising future Worldcons and bids. Of course, there were some presentations from exhibitions as well as suitcases with funny pictures. And if someone was curious enough to check whether there was something behind the curtains on the walls, there was a poster with some information about the exhibition. This was really amazing and I know I am not the only one who enjoyed this idea.

Virtual 3D interior of a big room with some exhbits and big yellow squid in the back.Entry to the 3D virtual Exhibits Hall aka Squid Hall.

A stand in Virtual 3D environment. Shows the name 'Squid Hall' a small pciture and credits for people who worked on it.
I am not sure why the credits for the creators were hidden behind the curtain but I am happy I found it 🙂

Freebies sections, leaflets and convention newsletter – Cruise Log, were all available on the website. I browsed through everything and I will have some more reading to do :). It was also here where one could download the virtual copy of Souvenir Book.

Volunteering

Back in 2013 or 2014, I attended a presentation about Loncon 3. As I had already been preparing for my first Worldcon, I was really interested in it. I don’t remember too many details from the talk but I remember one very important aspect. Presenter told us that the best way to experience Worldcon is to volunteer. I did it in 2014 and in all subsequent Worldcons I attended in 2017, 2019 and this year. I never regret it. Helping to make Worldcon happen is amazing and it is also a great way to meet people.

Violet inscription on a black background. Inscription states: 'I boldly helped take CoNZealand where no worldcon has gone before'. Next to the inscription there is a semicircular graphic. Letters 'N' and 'Z' in convention name are in yellow.This is the design of the volunteer t-shirt

As mentioned above, I worked on one display. I also joined the Ops as a rover. Although the CoNZealand programme lasted mainly during my nighttime, the Ops had to work all day long so I scheduled all of my shifts during Polish daytime. Most of the time I did not have too many things to do. Some people had questions or issues I was able to address but mostly I was just – roving to check whether everything goes well. This way each day I spent some time at parties. I felt obliged to monitor the situation around so I did not stay too long in any of the party rooms but I had some nice conversations both with other partying members and with team managing the Zoom parties’ room. When I was not roving, I spent the time in the Ops room and again had a few interesting conversations there.

Usually gophering at Worldcon means you can get a special t-shirt, groats and you have access to staff lounge with some food and drinks. The situation at a virtual con is more complicated and I was expecting only access to lounge to talk with other people. During the con I learned that there will be t-shirts shipped to volunteers and we also received options to subscribe to The Fantasy Network, receive an embroidered patch each and receive one of a dozen or so different e-books of choice. I decided to go with the latter two and I am waiting for the delivery (I just received a message that t-shirt is on its way – I am really excited!).

So how did it go?

I spent a lot of time on writing how everything worked, but I have a feeling I did not state clearly how good the con really was. So here I can say – thank you to the whole CoNZealand team. You all made a great work to bring the virtual Worldcon to the world. Yes, there were some issues, I am still unhappy that there was no badge (even virtual one) but the convention worked really well. I am sad that people did not manage to travel to New Zealand but I believe that you did what was possible to do to bring New Zealand to us all around the world. The displays, the virtual tour, the programming… you gave us a glimpse of New Zealand and I am sure I am not the only one who wants to see more.

Covers of two fanzines - 'Fanzine Time' from July 1954 and 'KIWIFAN 9' from 1958. Both covers created by Mike Hinge.I really appreciated a lot of historical convention pictures and fanzines covers that were presented in displays. The screenshot above comes from the display about Mike Hinge.

I had a good time at the con. I was tired as hell, did not get enough sleep and I relied on ordering food deliveries. Despite the fact that the ‘opening hours’ were not really good for me, I managed to talk with some people and enjoy the social aspect of CoNZealand. I am sure that people for whom the time zone spirits were kinder had even more fun. I recently received the paper copy of the Souvenir Book and I really enjoy the stunning cover graphic created by Artist Guest of Honour – Greg Broadmore. Now I am waiting for some more physical items to arrive – pin and t-shirts.

A lot of text on a white background. Text starts with 'KIA ORA! Welcome!' and list of available parties and rules follow below. In the upper right corner there is a picture of kiwi in a bag.This is a welcome screen that one saw upon entering the party room. Of course the list of parties varied depending on what was taking place at the moment.

As I said in the beginning, some people complained that it would not be a real Worldcon. I did not agree with them then and I still don’t agree with them now, after CoNZealand ended. It was definitely a proper Worldcon. All the usual elements were there. Yes – the Business Meeting was very short and limited but still, it was present. I had a good time and I believe others had it too. Of course, it was different to having the convention in person. Still considering the current situation worldwide, the decision made by the Committee was good. I can only imagine how hard it was to make it after ten years of planning but it had been made and we all had the chance to participate in Worldcon.

What else can I say here? I was delighted to learn that Brisbane in Australia decided to bid for Worldcon 2025 and I am keeping my fingers crossed for them. Some people I met during my GUFF trip are involved and I really hope I will be able to travel to Australia providing they will win the site selection in 2023. Now I have the supporting memberships for DisCon III and Chicon 8 and I really hope I’ll manage to change at least one of those into Attending Membership.

And I think that is all. I could go on writing about all the smaller things and what I did and whom I have met but I hope those few pages are enough to give you a glimpse into how the CoNZealand worked for me this year.

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