Anxiously Awaiting the 2017 Dragon Con App and Schedule? Chill Out a Bit.

Posted: August 14, 2017 in Conventions, Dragon Con, Holidays

I want to say upfront that this isn’t directed at everyone. It’s not directed at a majority of the folks out there. Hell, it’s not even directed at a large minority of the folks out there. It’s directed only at what looks right now to be a small but very vocal minority of the folks out there. But, still, when you’re dealing with roughly 80,000+ people, that can be quite a few people. This is also, hopefully, being seen as nothing more than a metaphorical tap on the shoulder and gentle nudge back in the right direction for many of those in that vocal minority. A bit of reminder that we should all be a little nicer to members of our convention family. 

I should say at this point that I have been a volunteer at Dragon Con for the years 2014, 2015, and 2016. 2017 was planned to be more of a family focused convention and is not a year I’m volunteering. I say that in part so that we all know where we stand here and in part because I’ve mentioned being a volunteer as a disclaimer here and on other websites in the past when writing pieces on Dragon Con. I could leave it off now since I’m not volunteering this year, but I see no need give anyone the idea that I’m hiding that fact here.

It’s August. Everyone is in the home stretch with regards to their personal countdowns and planning for Dragon Con. It’s that time of year when everyone gets antsy and impatient. Sometimes that doesn’t always lead us to keep our heads on straight and keep proper perspective. Recently, on a number of social media pages both official and fan run, that lack of proper perspective has involved the subject of the app.

Everyone is getting online and asking when the app is going to be updated and when the schedules will be out. That’s fine. That’s just asking for basic information. It’s also sometimes done in jest. A few unofficial Dragon Con pages on social media have even made drinking games out of posts about the schedule and the app. But this year I’m seeing more than just a handful of posts that are being, well, less fine about it.

I’ve seen more than a few posts this year where someone says- using these words or stronger -that it’s pissing them off having to wait this long for the schedule updates to come out, and the people doing the Dragon Con scheduling need to get their acts together so people can plan their weekend properly. When some have pointed out to these people that the app usually only updates with the schedule a week to ten days out because so much of the schedule goes through last minute changes, it’s made clear by the original poster that this doesn’t matter. After all, it’s just the small stuff that changes, but the big stuff doesn’t change and people need to plan their weekend.

First, I’m not sure what these people mean by the “big stuff” when they make these posts. Do they mean things like the Night at the Aquarium? Do they mean something like the Dragon Con Parade? Do they mean the already advertised balls and events? Do they mean the convention itself? Because, frankly, those are the only real big things I can think of that won’t change too much with regards to scheduling, and they’re already posted and set. Even then, I can think of at least two things that could derail each of those; more if we get into way out there possibilities like a major ka-ka incident at the Atlanta CDC or the upcoming eclipse kicking off the zombie apocalypse.

The idea of what the “big stuff” is likely gets a little squishy in discussions anyhow. Your “big stuff” isn’t the same as mine and mine isn’t the same as still another person’s. Besides, it’s all subject to change right up to the convention itself; every bit of it. Guests may cancel and delays may happen. A lot of people saw as their “big stuff” this year the idea that Lena Headey and Karl Urban were both attending. A lot of people said they wanted a Dredd reunion panel with the two of them. There was enough chatter about it that it could even have made it onto the tentative schedule. If that schedule had actually gone out a month or more before con and people started planning on it, it would have been useless information the moment Headey had to cancel. So, rather than not planning, people would have been planning a month or more out for an event that was not to be.

Both Urban and Headey are perfect examples of an issue that arises with Dragon Con scheduling. They also move us into the “get their stuff together” comments.

Those are the Dragon Con tracks of programming. Thirty-six small conventions in their own right, they’re held together under the Dragon Con umbrella to make the convention as a whole. Each track has a director. The track directors propose ideas for the tracks and put together proposals for their track’s schedule. All of this goes through an approval process. Sometimes, there’s also a lot of juggling involved in that process.

Headey, Urban, John Barrowman, and a boatload of other guests technically fit on more than just a couple of those tracks because of their body of work. The powers that be occasionally have to shoot down an idea for one track because they need a guest to be at an event or for a panel on another track. Sometimes it just a matter of logistics. If you have four guests from, say, new era Doctor Who, they might also have ties to projects that fit in XTrack, Military SciFi Media, and Science Fiction Literature as well as for Doctor Who panels on the BritTrack. If you want the BritTrack to have a couple of panels over the weekend where all of them on it, you have to juggle the scheduling on four different tracks. If they find out last minute that they will have a delay getting in, if one or two of them cancel, if something else impacts any one or two tracks, especially BritTrack, you might find that you have to rework things more than a little bit.

There’s also the ‘X’ factor that track heads deal with. Sometimes, they don’t know who is actually going to be there until late in the game. Any large convention, not just Dragon Con, may still be finalizing getting a guest until almost the last few weeks. Sometimes they have a heads up that a guest for their track is being discussed or worked on, but, from what I’ve been told, sometimes they don’t. They can get a big announcement for a guest at the proverbial last minute that requires changing up the schedules for at least two tracks.

All of this falls on the heads of the track directors. Do you know who the track directors are? They’re volunteers. They’re doing this because they absolutely love the convention and love putting on this show. But they are volunteers.

They and everyone else there do in fact have their stuff together and then some. They’re taking on this enormous task and pulling it off spectacularly every year for all of us while dealing with day jobs and life as it’s happening. I know some of the track directors. They and their teams bust their backsides and put in a lot of hard work getting these tracks pulled together. It’s not easy, and if you want to see how truly not easy it is you just have to look up on google how many convention horror stories exist where cons- in some cases much smaller cons -have had people who weren’t up to the task mishandling guest arrangements, schedules, photo opportunities, and planned events. Every year, long before the convention starts and well into the four day madness of it all, these volunteers keep Dragon Con from having those kinds of convention horror stories.

But one thing they cannot do is keep things that are outside of their control from changing the schedules. The joke during con is that nothing on the schedule is finalized until five minutes after it’s over; and even then it might be questionable. During the con itself; nothing is in total control and things change as a result of it. But there’s still more that they can control about that schedule in those four days than they can in the weeks and months before con.

They have their stuff together. They’re working harder than you know or could likely imagine given the size of the convention and all the plates they have to juggle running up to and then through the convention weekend. They can also get pretty frustrated with the scheduling on their end of things from time to time, but they work through it so that you and I can have the best possible convention experience we can have all year when Labor Day weekend finally comes around.

There’s one other thing that’s possibly the most important thing of all here. The simple truth is that it’s just not that big of a deal.

I understand wanting to map out the weekend and wanting to have the best possible time of it. I understand wanting to be able to plan events with friends. I can also sympathize with some of you posting questions about the schedule and the app in this fashion if it’s based on having had a really retched year and maybe fixating on this weekend with everything it has to offer. You’ve maybe had a miserably bad year and this is your weekend of seeing friends you rarely see- even more rarely see all in one place -and enjoying one of the best events of the year with them. You don’t want to miss out on anything. Again, I can sympathize with that right now more than you could possibly know. 

But you need to relax about it and chill out about it just a wee bit. You won’t miss anything.

Maybe, on top of having a frustrating year, you’re newer to the con. There’s been a huge influx of attendees every year for some years now after all. Maybe this is only your first, second, or third Dragon Con. Well, you need to know something about the app to help out with getting a little perspective.

If it’s your first Dragon Con, the app and the schedule are in a way barely going to help you. Almost everyone plans out their first Dragon Con in excruciating detail. Almost everyone has their plans go out the window as schedules change and, maybe more importantly, new things are discovered or new opportunities open up to enjoy things you didn’t schedule for. A lot of a really enjoyable Dragon Con involves picking the day’s highlights you absolutely want to see on the schedule and then going with the flow for most of the rest of the day.

If this year’s Dragon Con is your first, third, or fifth Dragon Con, you need to know something about the app and the release of the schedule in the weeks before the convention. They’ve only been doing this a handful of years now. The app and the release of the convention schedule through it weeks out from con is a relatively new thing to the convention’s 31 year history. There are kids in elementary school who are older than the app.

For a lot of us, half or more of the Dragon Cons we’ve attended had no app. We didn’t know the schedule until we picked up our attendee badges and got the pocket guide. We could still sit down on Thursday or Friday and have our planned weekend schedule plotted out in under an hour. Even now, even with the app, some of us don’t really plan out the weekend until we get into Atlanta and pick up our attendee badges and the pocket guide.

With the volunteer work I do, I’ll typically be on location Thursday morning. I can’t plan things out fully before then. I know what my rough volunteer schedule is, but there’s always a chance that things will change before the convention and the day my volunteer duties start. By Thursday, my volunteer schedule is pretty much locked down barring an emergency. With what I’m doing Thursday morning, we have periods where we’re really busy followed by periods where nothing is happening. The entire day follows that cycle. As big as the con has gotten, even stopping to do what I need to do when people come in looking for assistance, I can sit down with the paper pocket guide and a highlighter and have my convention schedule mapped out in no time at all. I can then go off of that and have it in the app on my phone faster than if I was just using the app to map out my weekend. Usually, it takes me just under an hour. You can sit down with that pocket guide that you will get with you membership badge, map out your entire weekend, and then put that into the app over a meal with friends.

You’re anxious for the fun to start. You want to be as ready as you can be to enjoy the weekend to its fullest. I get that. We all do. But, relax a little. Chill out a bit. The people behind the scenes at Dragon Con have their stuff together more than most, they’re working as hard as they can to deliver the best convention experience possible, and there’s really no point in trying to make a solid schedule for yourself weeks out from con.

The people behind the scenes are huge fans of the convention just like you are. A part of being a fan of Dragon Con is wanting every other member of your four day (now five) Dragon Con family to have the best time they can have. If it would actually make a difference, if it would actually make things better for everyone coming in for the weekend, they would give you a locked in schedule months in advanced if it were at all realistically possible. If they could do that, it would certainly make life easier for them. But it’s not possible, and they can’t.

Despite that, you’re still going to be able to plot out your weekend to the fullest when you get there and have a fantastic time. Just have some patience until then, and be a little nicer to the people who are making this annual convention weekend happen for all of us when you’re on the official and unofficial boards that some of them are also on.

Enjoy the convention this Labor Day weekend. If you’re having fun, thank the track heads and other volunteers you see there. Because, without them, none of us are doing anything in Atlanta this Labor Day weekend or any other Labor Day weekend to come.

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