All hail small cons!

The summer is fast approaching and there is an increasing amount of “Con-related” emails showing up in my inbox. However, most attention is typically fixated on one convention, sort of the convention, if you will. That’s right, Gen Con. In early August Indianapolis will once again host one of the biggest gaming conventions in the world. Despite all that, let’s not forget about the smaller events though.

As amazing an experience as Gen Con is, I’m not here to discuss that. I want to take a few hundred words to expound on the value of smaller conventions. They have their merits. Perhaps most importantly, smaller conventions have more freedom than GenCon has. There are expectations that come with being one of the most visible events in the hobby. A smaller convention simply doesn’t have to worry about that.

What do I mean by a “small” convention? There really isn’t a specific metric to this. How could we quantify the size of a convention? The number of people in attendance, or those that purchased tickets? The number of tables available to play at? The number of food trucks available to feed convention goers? In my head though, and for the sake of this discussion, if the entire convention can fit in one room say something the size of half a football/soccer field, then it’s probably a “small” convention.

Gen Con most definitely is not a small convention. It is a massive sprawling affair covering multiple buildings, packing all available hotels in Indianapolis, and of course, boasting a modest fleet of food trucks to feed hungry gamers. It’s quite a unique experience.

My impression of Gen Con was that of a professional trade show for TTRPGs, but one that allowed the public to enter. It makes it possible for publishers to show off new stuff, discuss old stuff, and sell things directly to the consumer. Literally. I met Rob Heinsoo at the Pelgrane booth and could have bought 13th Age books directly from him. I’m not sure it’s more direct to the consumer than that.

Smaller cons don’t really have this sort of “official” presence. At least not in this capacity. It really isn’t the point of visiting a smaller con though. The real draw is what is available, gaming.

At smaller cons, people aren’t showing up for panels, cool, exclusive merchandise, or any of that. People show up because they know there are two important things, games and gamers to share them with. Period. There’s almost no other part of the equation that matters.

This was my recent experience at CanGames in Ottawa. It was a decently sized space that could comfortably house the gamers. There was a wide variety of games to be played from TTRPGs, board games, miniature/war games, and more. People were in a good mood and everyone just wanted to have fun. It was a very affordable, laid-back, and fully enjoyable experience.

It’s important to have larger events like Gen Con, but in my opinion, people show up to enjoy games. It’s something that brings people together to elevate their hobby. Gen Con is a particular type of event, and that’s probably why it’s not replicable. That’s fine. In fact, it’s probably for the best.

Small cons are the kind of thing that really makes the hobby what it is. People will come out to share in a game or two, meet people, and reconnect with friends. Little cons are an expression of the local gaming scene. What’s more, it’s the kind of event that helps show curious people what the games are all about.

Are they for everyone? No. Small cons might not click with all gamers. I’d go so far as to say that most gamers aren’t big on cons at all. I wish they were, but it’s OK. A gaming convention is a very particular type of experience. If you like games and want to go to a convention, don’t assume that it’s got to be Gen Con or Bust. Smaller cons are great and absolutely something that should be supported.





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