It’s the day after Fan Expo Canada 2016. Somehow we managed to get 5 days into September. That’s the magic of Fan Expo!
Fan Expo Canada is the largest Pop Culture convention in Canada and the 3rd largest in North America. It’s held at the Metro Convention Centre in downtown Toronto, roughly around the end of summer. That’s been Labour Day weekend for the past few years. The convention has rapidly grown since I started going in 2007. Back then the convention was 3 days long and only used the South Building, the part I lovingly call “The Bunker” as it’s mostly underground. Now it’s 4 days long and uses the whole convention centre.
I’m part of the Fan Expo Canada Gaming Track Crew and have been part of the RPG Organization Team with Toronto Area Gamers since 2014. My career as a TAG Fan Expo volunteer goes back even further; I was a volunteer Game Master in 2011 and 2012. I missed 2013 because Rob and I were in Saskatchewan for two weddings. A cashier at a Regina nerd store asked me why I wasn’t in Toronto for Fan Expo weekend.
2016 has been the strongest year for me personally since I joined the team. 2014 was a year of anxiety because the team was undergoing a reshuffle and many of us were in new roles or new to the team, including myself. 2015 was better, but I was in the process studying for my Pharmacy boards the next weekend and was reading textbooks during my downtime.
Things have been more stable in 2016, so the RPG Team has been able to step back and take a look at what’s been working for us and what do we need to work on. We’re the same team that works on the gaming convention Breakout and both conventions strongly inform each other. We’ve also have been taking a more active role in examining gaming tracks at other local conventions. Presenting a unique and compelling gaming experience is central to making the Fan Expo Canada RPG track a draw for attendees.
Here’s some exciting stats from our Fan Expo Canada 2016 Adventures:
- Our part of the RPG track featured 113 RPG events, which includes the Guest, Open RPG and the D&D Adventurers League games. This doesn’t include the Saturday Gaming By Storm or PFS events. This is up from 80 events in 2015.
- If you include the PFS events, Fan Expo has 141 RPG events. This makes it the second largest RPG track in Canada. The largest is Breakout and both conventions have the same RPG Team.
- 31% of our 2016 RPG Team (Organization and Volunteers) was women or non-gender binary. This is up from 16% in 2015.
- 60% of our 2016 Organization Team were women or non-gender binary.
- 25% of our 2016 Open RPG GMs were women or non-gender binary. This is up from 16% in 2015.
- 25% of our 2016 Adventurers League DMs were women or non-gender binary. This is up from 0% in 2015.
My goal for Volunteer Recruitment with Fan Expo Canada and Breakout is to eventually hit an equal amount of male volunteers and women & non-gender binary volunteers through lowering barriers to volunteering and promoting creating safe and welcoming gaming spaces. We are not there yet, but I’m excited with the results so far!
The growth in the number of events is the result of several factors. The first is our new space. We were moved from Rooms 711 and 709 (shared with PFS) in the South Building to Rooms 104A and 104B (shared with PFS) in the North Building. The next rooms have a bit more square footage, allowing us to run more tables comfortably during most slots. We never quite hit that number as I scheduled based on the old space (we were moved late into planning), but this means we can grow again in 2017.
The second factor is a stronger response to our historically quieter time slots. Thursday evening used to be a challenge to schedule for. The convention was quiet on Thursdays and the public seemed to be less aware that we had games on Thursday nights. This year I decided to gamble on scheduling a “short shift” (a shift that uses about half the table space) on the Thursday night. Those events all filled. We had a strong response to our 2 hour morning slots as well.
The third factor is more Adventurers League content that runs shorter than 4 hours. It meant that this year I could schedule 2 hour D&D games every morning. New players loved this, to the point where we switched over some of the Tier 2 content into Tier 1 content that our DMs were familiar with and the tables filled immediately.
The final factor is a stronger public awareness of our RPG track at the convention roleplaying games in general. This was a mix of ups and downs, mostly ups. We saw an increase in newer and younger players this year, probably in thanks to the popularity of Actual Play podcasts like Critical Role and the positive portrayal of D&D recent media like Stranger Things. We also saw lots of repeat players from years past coming back to play and even fans lining up to sign up at the convention on early Thursday. The downside to this is that newer players aren’t familiar with the sign-up systems at Fan Expo and showed up at game start times looking to get a seat. Adventurers League became especially competitive to get a seat in. Tier 1 games (low level content) was mostly sold out by the Friday afternoon. We managed to pull some strings and get some DMs to run more Tier 1 content throughout the weekend.
People also packed out our Guest RPG events. Eddy Webb’s Pugmire almost completely sold out in online pre-registration. Games run by Nicole Lindroos, Emily Care Boss, Andrew Valkauskas and Christopher Challice did great at the event. We even managed to slip in some games with Epidiah Ravachol, who traveled to the convention with Emily, into the schedule.
The move to the North Building was overall a huge bonus to us. We have been traditionally located in the South Building on the way to the Dealer’s Hall, but were moved to the North Building basement by the large panel theaters. The convention printed some signage which helped out with people wandering by. There were so many people seeking us out and I don’t think the move in locations affected our player numbers. It did confuse some of our players from past years, although even they commented on how nice the new space was. There was also really easy access to washrooms and water fountains.
The biggest struggle that roleplaying games had at Fan Expo Canada still seems vendors. Distribution Dude remains fabulous with their dice-centric booth and we sent them lots of customers. Between me and Rob we easily spent over $100 there. I found Sproutli Games in the Artist Alley and picked up a copy of King of Slimes. Dueling Grounds was selling old school D&D boxes and books. These vendors were super spread out from each other in the Hall, though. Pendelhaven started in the North Building boardgame area and moved downstairs to the RPG area on Friday, where they ended up doing really well.
Most of the local Toronto stores supporting indie RPG community don’t even come to the convention, though, and some players ended up leaving and trekking up to the stores to get copies of the games they played. We have answers for this challenge at Breakout, but not at Fan Expo Canada right now.
Overall, it was a very successful convention for us. We’re looking forward to an even bigger 2017. Next stops for 2016 conventions: GMing at Queen City Con and attending Metatopia!
(Edited to reflect proper numbers. My count of 105 non-PFS was based on a non-final number. Additionally, PFS added some events last minute, making the total event list much higher)