The $17,000 Ball Pit -- how Dashcon went from Tumblr Con to Conning Tumblr

Contributed by
Jul 14, 2014, 3:01 PM EDT

If you were on any form of social media over the weekend, you might be wondering what exactly a "Dashcon" is. Well, it was supposed to be a convention for Tumblr users, but what it wound up being was a heck of a cautionary tale in how not to run a convention and, more importantly, why you shouldn't take someone at their word when they suddenly ask you for a whole lot of money.

But let's rewind a moment.

On March 9, 2013, an indiegogo campaign was started for a con that would be called Tumbl-Con USA. At the end of the campaign on April 13, a total of $4,075 was raised.

The intent of the Tumbl-Con USA organizers was to bring together as many of the Tumblr fandoms as they could into one space for a chance to cosplay, game and interact with the talent from the shows, games, comics, et cetera that Tumblr users adore so much.

Nothing wrong with that. Except, of course, for the fact that none of the people planning the con boasted any previous experience hosting an event like this. In fact, according to one person who was invited to craft a track for the con, the three people who were supposed to be running the con were consistently difficult to communicate with and were constantly unclear as to how funds were to be allocated, what needed to be done by each track organizer, or how all the tracks would effectively come together to craft a cohesive weekend event.

And in case you think that might just be the complaint of a single person -- Tumblr contacted the con organizers themselves to deny them even the right to use the name "Tumbl-Con" at all; that's why the name was changed to Dashcon.

But this? This is just the set dressing.

Dashcon was set to be held last weekend, July 11-13. Organizers anticipated 3,000-7,000 attendees. Among the guests were popular comic artist Noelle Stevenson, the Baker Street Babes and the enormously popular cast of Welcome to Nightvale. Please note: We are linking here to places where you can buy products from all of these fine people. More on why we're doing it that way in a bit.

An important aside regarding guests of conventions: In almost all cases, a guest of a con will have their accommodations paid for. In many cases, their travel and meals are also covered. Most likely, guests of a con are paid for their attendance. This was meant to be the case with Dashcon.

This wound up not being the case at Dashcon.

Keep in mind that, in addition to the more than $4,000 that was raised through indiegogo, the con was charging $30 for a Friday badge, $45 for Saturday, $20 for Sunday and $65 for a weekend pass. There was also a fee for lost passes. Those are San Diego Comic-Con prices and are atypical when compared with other first-time conventions, which typically charge much less.

That's the long way of saying there absolutely should have been money to pay for the guests of the con, as was promised. But there wasn't.

During the course of the con, guests became aware that not only were they not being paid, but they were expected to foot the bill for their hotel rooms. In the case of Welcome to Nightvale, this meant leaving the convention entirely without running their show as planned.

Guests of the con are out of quite a bit of money -- that is why we chose the links we did when mentioning them earlier. Making a living as an artist/performer ain't easy.

With us so far? Guess what? We haven't even gotten to the worst part yet.

Friday at the con arrives and the attendees are gathered and told that there is a big problem -- according the people running the con, the hotel has changed its intentions and, rather than allowing the con to pay their fees as they go, they are now required to pay $20,000 by night's end, or the con is over. The organizers also claimed that the hotel was making these changes because the hotel "didn't like them." You can see video evidence of these claims made in a video that, unsurprisingly, is not able to be embedded anywhere.

Dashcon asked that attendees reach out with social media to ask for PayPal donations and, if they had any extra money themselves, to donate, as well. And that's exactly what happened. The con said it needed $17,000 additional to make good on costs and, in short order, that money was raised.

There's just one problem -- the hotel and convention center deny all of the convention organizers' claims. We reached out to The Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel, where Dashcon was held this morning. They made two points absolutely clear:

  • A contractual agreement was reached regarding cost before the con, and at no point was that agreement changed
  • The hotel was "thrilled" to have the convention goers there and had absolutely no issues with the attendees whatsoever

People have wondered if the con organizers planned to scam convention-goers or if they were just incredibly inept. I would argue this -- it doesn't matter. All that does matter is that, when they asked for that money, they lied about the reason they needed it. Whether it's long or short game -- those con-goers were conned.

And then there's the meme -- the infamous ball pit. In addition to the panels that lacked moderation, the ones that were 18+ but allegedly allowed kids in anyway, and the game room with a single TV in it, there was the ball pit. Yes, as in that thing small children play in at your local Chuck E. Cheese. Dashcon had one, and what makes its existence so meme-worthy is that, when the TICKETED Welcome to Nightvale panel was canceled, the con's mea culpa was, no kidding, "For those of you who had reserved seats, we are giving you guys an extra hour with the ball pit."

An extra hour. In. The BALL PIT. Which, for the record, looked like this:

And thus, a meme was born.

As of now, there is a plan for Dashcon 2015. So ... guess we'll see you there, right?