3 reasons why LeakyCon might be the king of all geek cons and considerations for the future

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Harry Potter actors! Scarlett Byrne (Pansy Parkinson), Ellie Darcy-Aldean (young Lily Evans), Devon Murray (Seamus Finnigan). Guys, I died from glee.

I mentioned LeakyCon a few weeks ago in a round-up of summer cons that would be great to take your teen to — and boy, was it ever. This was my first year experiencing the pure, unadulterated geek fest that is LeakyCon, and it didn’t disappoint. What began four years ago as a small meet-up of Harry Potter fans has blossomed into a series of days that are truly special. I started reading Harry Potter 14 years ago, and there was nothing like this back in the day. No way to easily connect with people over the internet (there was no Tumblr! Twitter! Not even Facebook!), no way of being able to share the serious feels I had about the series with others unless they were a) my friends and b) actually interested in the books. Basically, I spent a lot of time talking with my then nine-year-old brother about Harry Potter, because no one else I knew really cared.

LeakyCon is incredible, but there are three especially fantastic aspects of the con that really stood out to me — and two big considerations I think the organizers might be interested in for the future of the event. Let’s start with the awesome stuff, shall we?

There is nothing else quite like it

It’s one thing to be a fan — it’s another to seriously geek out on a book series so hard you don’t have words for it. I know Harry Potter isn’t the only series to have seriously devoted fans, but it would be a challenge to deny that the core readership/viewership doesn’t have a kind of singular beauty of its own making. Like I said, in 1999 I had nothing close to this — and it’s so beautiful to me that in 2013 anyone who can get online can find this community. You don’t have to attend the con to join in the fun, but your life — your fandom — will be seriously enriched if you do.

I cry easily at just about everything, but scenes from the Harry Potter movies and books can pull tears out of me faster than that one commercial from the 2010 Winter Olympics. I sat in on a presentation at LeakyCon about heroism in Harry Potter, and in the presentation a clip from the final film was shown:

Guys, I knew when I saw the title I’d be crying (and I did), but for the first time since I saw the movie in theaters I was surrounded by OTHER people who were also crying. There was the person who audibly gasped aloud when the title flashed on the screen, already bracing herself. There was the whole row behind me who choked back sobs throughout the minute and a half it played, and there was the entire room who applauded the clip — even though we’ve all seen it like a million times already — once it was finished.

I’m 28 and most of the attendees are between 16 and 22, but I felt like I was surrounded, like actually surrounded, by my people.

It’s not just about one fandom

I inadvertently brought my four-year-old with me to two days of the con (more details below), and as he joyously exclaimed during the opening ceremonies: “It’s Superman! And Batman! AND THE DOCTORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!”

LeakyCon started as a Harry Potter thing, but it hasn’t continued as one. The organizers have long since recognized that intense fandom isn’t only limited to the Potter universe, and have made amazing strides in including just about everything you might geek out about. The classes and workshops still emphasize the Potter connection (because, duh, that’s why everyone is there), but there was plenty to do and see if you aren’t all that into Harry Potter. There were Whovian and Nerdfighter meet-ups, Q&A sessions with actors from Buffy and the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and a whole ton of stuff that I can’t list because I don’t even know what it is. Suffice to say: there’s something for almost every brand of geek.

It’s crazy well organized

I overheard talk of how this year’s con was the best organized yet, and it showed: I don’t have previous LeakyCon experience but have attended many a con and they weren’t nearly as easy to navigate as this one. I’m not sure if it’s partially because the Oregon Convention Center’s layout makes sense or not, but I have a hunch that the Leaky folks put a MASSIVE amount of work into making sure this year’s con was easy for everyone there.

This might not seem like a crazy huge deal, but if you’ve ever attended a chaotic, gigantic con and felt totally lost.. then you’ll appreciate it. We’re not talking Comic-Con levels of attendance, but there were thousands of people in one building and I never felt overwhelmed or confused.

What LeakyCon might want to consider in the future

Of course, just because I had an amazing time doesn’t mean everything was 100% easy for me. I planned to attend around my husband’s work schedule and by myself — notably not with my four-year-old — because LeakyCon’s website alludes to being best for children who are eleven and older. I was totally cool with this (it makes sense!), but I took my son in the morning of the con to pick up my press badge and let him check it out before it got crazy. He was so instantaneously infatuated that they offered to make him his own badge, and he ran around the building the rest of the day, gleefully showing it off. He was sorted into Hufflepuff, and spent an hour meeting every other Hufflepuff he could. He loved all the costumes (there was an especially good Hagrid), and I totally blew his mind when I was able to use my press pass to move us from the back of the room to the front row for the opening ceremonies.

Families like cons, too

I was surprisingly happy my son had been able to come — we spent two of the four days making memories that he might actually remember, and sharing in a celebration for a cultural phenomena that is just so incredibly important to me. When we went back on day two, I noticed a few more people with kids and was excited — it’s FUN to see adults sharing their geeky fandoms with their kiddos.

As the day wore on and the various children started to become overstimulated (because OMG), I noticed something that was sorely lacking at LeakyCon: chill out spaces. I’ve been to other cons that were prepared for families and had designated “quiet rooms” waiting — you could feed your kid, let your kid take a nap, or just let your kiddo hang out in a room that won’t be too stimulating whenever you needed to. These chill out spaces have been lifesavers for us in the past when we’ve had our son with us, and it would serve LeakyCon well to perhaps work something similar into its future plans.

I realize most of the attendees are still light years away from having children, but at some point quite a few of them probably will — and they’re going to want to bring their kids with them. So while it might not be a pressing concern right now, the future of LeakyCon’s attendees could shift, and considerations may need to be made. Everyone was INCREDIBLY helpful and happy to have my son there — with his Gryffindor Quidditch shirt and winged shoes he was a big hit — but having a quiet space set outside would have been nice for us and other families attending, I’m sure.

The first generation of Potter fans might feel out of place

Like I mentioned, I started reading the books in 1999. Since they were first published in the US in 1998, I consider myself a “first generation” Harry Potter fan. This doesn’t mean anything other than I’ve been reading these books for a really long time, and they’re super important to me. My fandom isn’t better or greater in strength because I happened to be around when the books first came out — it just is what it is.

While I didn’t at ALL expect LeakyCon to acknowledge that fandoms come in different waves, there is a very YOUNG energy about the con. As I said earlier, this makes sense because (from what I saw) most of the attendees are 16-22. They’re about to graduate high school or just started college, which means a lot of them were babies or young children when the books first came out. They might not have had to wait years between books and films, and may not truly appreciate the utter agony of counting down the hours until midnight before rushing into the bookstore of their choice to snag a copy of the book.

The workshops and classes at LeakyCon were exceptional (I sat in on Marginalization in Harry Potter and was gleeful about getting to exercise the sociological part of my brain again) and challenging, but overwhelmingly cater to a younger generation. This could just be me being all “Man, I feel old…” about it, or I could have glossed over workshops of this nature, but I’m not quite sure that’s it. I think a few workshops here and there making reference to being among the first group of people to discover a series before it became gigantic — before the internet made it so easy to connect — would be nice.

In conclusion: LeakyCon is amazing

I think if you can come away from a con with only two slightly negative things to say, you’re onto something. I will happily be looking out for LeakyCon 2014 information, and hiiiiiighly urge you guys to do the same.

Comments on 3 reasons why LeakyCon might be the king of all geek cons and considerations for the future

  1. I love the photos of Jasper at the con, it’s great to see something that parents and children can share the same love and excitement for.

    Has he seen any of the Harry potter movies yet? Or have you read the books to him?
    Or was it just the excitement of being in such a fun place that did it for him?

    • He has seen bits of the movies in passing, but around 6 months ago my husband and I made a vow when it comes to Star Wars and Harry Potter. Now that J is old enough to start to follow along with the stories, we’re keeping his knowledge of each at the first level — so he’s only watching Episode IV of Star Wars (we’re going 4, 5, 1, 2, 3, and then 6) and we’re two chapters away from finishing the first Harry Potter book right now. Then we’ll watch the first movie, and then start reading the second book. I’m also clearly obsessed with the world — he has a Harry Potter blanket in his room, we named our dog Ron Weasley — and he’s familiar with parts of the stories because I reference them to justify or explain real world situations sometimes. HP is basically an ongoing presence in our home.

  2. one thing about the generations- i just turned 23 but i was reading the books in 1998 when they first came to the usa- so i think it is kind of hard to decide btw the generations- maybe prior to when the first movie came out in 2001?

    • I agree. I’m 23 and I attended Leakycon in Chicago back in 2012 and I’m planning to go again to Orlando in 2014. But I was 10 years old when I started reading the books, and I waited for books 4-7 and the movies to come out. To me the biggest difference between age groups at Leakycon are the teenagers that only started reading the books in 2006-2008. If you read any of the books in the late 90’s through early 2000’s than you were there with everyone else waiting in book stores and staying up till midnight to get your new books. The 1st Harry Potter generation is really those who read the books between 1998-2007. The second wave is about half way through and the third will probably be the children of those from the first wave. Either way, most of the people I met when I went in 2012 were 20-25 so perhaps it was just a younger crowd at Portland. Whatever. Everyone’s a Harry Potter fan and that means they are okay by me.
      ^__^ Till next summer.

  3. Don’t worry, Stephanie, I’m 31 and started reading in 2000. In fact, I worked as a lifeguard that summer and I would say over half of us were reading HP, and I think a new book came out that summer so we could all geek out together. I think its a valid point about “generations” of Potter fans….there is a difference between book-only, wait-two-years-for-the-next-book fandom and discovering the series able to read all the books in two weeks and get all the movies on Netflix. I’ve been in both camps with different nerd-doms, and neither is better, but for sure there’s a difference. 🙂

    • I definitely agree that there is a difference between waiting two years and all between each book. I’m one of those who read them all at once one after another, and I really do think that there should be something for those people who had to wait between those book releases you guys deserve it!

  4. Hey, it’s too bad you missed the ‘Fandom in the Dark Ages’ panel! Melissa, Anthony, and Judy (I think that’s her name) talked about how fandom has changed since they were younger–Melissa and Anthony became friends via an AOL chatroom (after Rent had become a big thing, too). There were a few other events, too, like meetups on Thursday. I’d love a panel on the differences between having to wait for it, and going to midnight book releases and spending the next 24hrs reading it, and being able to access it all at once. I’d also like to see bona-fide demographics, because I met a lot of people older than myself (and I’m 24).

    That being said, when the Backstreet Boys came on at the Ball and I started singing/shouting and jumping around, the girls I’d been dancing with stared at me blankly. They had no idea what the song was, they’d probably never heard it. Then I felt old (sort of) and odd (sort of) until another group pulled me in to crazy-dance and sing to “Everybody” with them. That’s the thing I love most about LeakyCon–that sense of acceptance and camaraderie. And that’s why I’ll see you next year in Orlando!

    • YES! I reeeeally wanted to go to that one, but had dude with me and didn’t know if he’d make it through the whole thing. I also missed the Ball because I didn’t know ANYONE at LeakyCon/felt shy, but Backstreet Boys were my first ever concert. 🙂

      MAAAAYYYYBBEEE I’ll pitch a panel along those lines next year! I’m hoping to make it to Orlando for sure!

          • Generally speaking it is a younger audience but from there you seem to have made some conclusions where are not correct. So while there is a “divide” (sic) it’s not the ones you’ve referred to and unfortunately you’re “I feel old” comment I think got the better of you.

  5. Thanks so much for this.

    I completely agree about the family stuff. I’m 34 (started reading the books as part of a Children’s Lit class in college) and we have a whole gaggle of Potterhead kids. I desperately wanted to go to LeakyCon this year, but we couldn’t. Part of the reason we finally decided not to (other than financial. It’s CRAZY expensive when there are 6 of you) is because they suggest kids be at least 11. My twins are 11, but our other kids are younger. I completely agree that it’s understandable given the demographic (and some of the topics), but the points you raised are great ones to keep in mind in the future as the fandom ages.

    Your son’s experience makes me so sad we couldn’t go. My youngest is his age and it sounds like she would have had a fantastic time.

    • You know, he had an AMAZING time, but there’s no way I would have been able (or willing) to pay full price for him to attend. When my husband and I went to Star Wars Celebration a few years back they didn’t make us buy our son a ticket, and I’m not entirely sure if the other families I saw purchased tickets for their young children or not.

      I do really believe that as the attendees age, they’ll have to figure out some kind of kid-friendly policy. People will want their kids there because OMG IT IS SO MUCH FUN to share your fandom with your kid! My son and I just finished reading the first Harry Potter book (I’m reading them out loud to him) and immediately leapt into the second, and I’m just totally giddy over it. More people planning to attend will eventually mean more kids there — I wouldn’t even be surprised if next year’s in Orlando pushes this aspect up a little, since people may want to bring their kids to the Con and visit Harry Potter World.

      There are a lot of fun ways they could work kids into the Con without bending over backward for families — a Sorting ceremony, little kid-friendly Quidditch games (for the record, my four-year-old was allowed to play, but bailed after like 60 seconds because no one would toss the Quaffle his way), and so on… if asked/given time, I could totally scheme a whole kid/family-friendly side for this shindig.

  6. I am a first generationer as well – started reading in 2000 I think? Now I read the series about once a year. It would be great to go to a con and nerd out with other people who have the same obsession as me! It’s great to hear about it first hand. I live in Portland and am so sad I missed it! It’s something I need to experience in the future I think!

  7. This was my third year at LeakyCon, as a presenter and part of the LeakyLit track, and I always love it. I’ve had some great experiences bringing my kiddos in the past, and look forward to doing so again next year in Orlando. But just so you know, I’ve spoken to the organizers about having a kid space, or someone like Kiddie Corps (which handles the child watch at SDCC) come and set up a space, so it’s something they’re aware of as a possibility. Hope to connect with you next year!!

    • Dude, I fell asleep last night thinking of different things they could do and came up with a whole kid area called “Hedwig’s Corner” (probably not the best name, but I was in between being awake and asleep. I was coming up with workshop ideas for kids (potions class!) before I told myself I HAD to go to sleep. 🙂

      • Many people have pitched the kid’s perspective to them, even offering to volunteer the whole efforts. In fact, there even was a child’s part in the past, but it did not fly (my children went to it). Given what LeakyCon is, it’s just something I’ve had to deal with for the past 3 LeakyCons, and don’t view it as neither good nor bad.

        • Generally speaking, we LOVE the idea, but it is something that has not ever paid off… we’ve lost a LOT of money on trying to do it so far… but a lot of Con attendees and workers have little ones, so it’s still always a possibility.

          • Especially with the age changes made this year, this is no longer a direct issue for me, but still curious, what are some things which not only cost so much but actually lost so much?

  8. This was my first LeakyCon, but not my first Harry Potter convention. Like you, I read the books early (not quiiite as early as you; it was spring of 2000 for me) and joined fandom shortly before the first movie came out (shortly before 9-11, actually). I met my oldest HP friends on a thread for a 5th-year fanfic called Harry Potter and the Heir of Slytherin (one of those friends was Melissa Anelli, which is why I found myself at LeakyCon at all). I progressed through the usual fandom path (fic archive forums and Yahoo!Groups, Blogger, LiveJournal, etc. I have not been able to bring myself to create a Tumblr, although LeakyCon is making me rethink that position) to my current, pretty much complete detachment from fandom.

    I also came on a press pass (mostly to cover the Lizzie Bennet Diaries) and stayed at a non-con hotel, which explains some of my feelings about the whole experience, but not all. Don’t get me wrong– I had a fabulous time (again, mostly because of Lizzie Bennet), but I too felt a bit out of place. I couldn’t have named any of the Team Starkid people (I can now, I think :P), or sung any of their songs. I know the words to exactly one wizard rock song (Save Ginny Weasley by Harry and the Potters). Most of the songs at the ball were completely unfamiliar (I don’t listen to the radio much). So most of the programming didn’t really apply to me. Fandom has left me behind, or I left it behind, or a bit of both. I don’t think this is LeakyCon’s fault. I would have had an even better time if I’d had even one friend to reminisce with about Nimbus 2003 or being able to say “delusional” or “Harmonian” and have them know what I meant (I wish, for instance, that I’d been able to talk to you and compare notes!) and I’m so sad I missed the Fandom in the Dark Ages panel (although I find it endlessly hilarious to think of LJ being the Dark Ages of fandom– surely that applies to HP for Grown-Ups?). But I also think that we oldbies can find our own little niche at LeakyCon, if we look hard enough. I hope to try in Orlando, anyway.

    And I couldn’t help but look at all the ickle teens and young adults–dressed in robes or bowties and fezzes, so excited just to be together with like-minded people– and be happy that they, too, were creating memories that, ten years from now, will make them feel like the old, out-of-place fan, wistfully remembering the Good Old Days of 2013.

  9. I’m going to LeakyCon for the first time next year with a good friend of mine. We’re both going to scrimp and save as much as we can, as we’ll also be going to Harry Potter World. It’s nice to see stories like yours that not only provide a POV, but analyze the atmosphere of the con, as well.

  10. I don’t typically leave comments, but yeah, I’m only 27 yet I felt old at this con. There were so many times I would say something and people would look at me like “I don’t remember that at all.” Then again I’ve been something of a hardcore fan since about age 12 when I first got majorly into Star Wars and wanted to attend those cons and was online with people much older than me. This is actually what’s hugely weird to me. Because when I was 14 or so and hanging out on LJ and whatnot, all the writers/fans/etc were older. They were all about 30+ and now I’m older and everyone is younger.. Very interesting dynamics. Loved this article btw 🙂

  11. I remember your boy! I remember standing in line for the opening ceremonies and spotting him and thinking 1) Aw d’aww adorable little boy with the potter shirt and 2) Huzzah for awesome parenting! (Because to me geeky parenting usually is awesome) I got a high-five from him because I heard he was seeking out Hufflepuffs and I proudly rock the black and yellow so I scooted over to him. He was super sweet, so it was great to meet him.

    I’ve gone to a number of cons since I was 18, but I got my friend Elizabeth and her 11 year old son Logan to come and they had a blast. It was their first con ever, so that was super awesome.

    For me, I can see it’s well organized, but I would argue that there are a few more things that would be really, really helpful.

    1) This is the end of the line signs/beginning of the line/end of the line that way (arrows) signs/taping out lines. Oof, especially for the opening ceremony.

    2) From what I hear they don’t have any rewarding policies for volunteers besides shirts and love. While I love shirts and love, if they were able to the policy of “work __ hours, get ___ off your admittance fee for this year/next year/any year” would be really, really nice. And then they’re still figuring things out, but I sometimes overheard a decent amount of “I don’t really know what’s going on” from volunteers.

    3) Man, a coat-check/stuff-check room would be *awesome.* Pay $5, leave all the stuff you buy in a room until the end. That would be killer.

    But I definitely understand what you mean about “these are my people.” Next year is Florida and I am really trying to figure out if there’s any way I can make that work because it was *amazing* and I’ve never been to Harry Potter World.

    • BLESS YOU for high fiving him! He’s still talking about the Hufflepuffs. 🙂

      Also: I totally just assumed volunteers got in for free!

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