Monday, 15 January 2018

UK Pony conventions old and new

My conbooks from BUCK 2013-14 and UK PonyCon 2014-15-16-17
So... much... nostalgia value
2018 is shaping up to be a very interesting, and potentially record-breaking, year for the UK as far as My Little Pony conventions are concerned. While much of the news from America over the last few months has been of cons calling it a day – Nightmare Nights and EQLA being two big names to do so – here in Britain we're apparently going in the other direction. There are two established cons to consider and two newcomers, so here's what we know so far.

UK PonyCon: venue TBA, date TBA
This is the biggie, being both the longest-running (by far) and the largest British MLP convention. It is unusual both as a multi-generation event and for its extremely strong family-friendly ethos, but as it's sold out three years in a row that approach clearly works. Plans are already well under way, with committee applications having closed earlier this month. I'm biased, having loved almost every minute of UKPC 2017 in Bristol, but this is the convention I'll be aiming at as a priority in 2018. Last year's con was in mid-October and details were announced in late April.

BronyScot: venue TBA, date TBA
Last year, BronyScot in Glasgow was the only specifically brony-targeted convention in the UK. I don't think I've seen any definite confirmation that the con will happen again this year, but BronyScot will have a presence at Hearth's Warming Con in the Netherlands in February. That's a pretty good indication that we can expect a 2018 iteration. Last year, for various reasons, some details were very late in arriving, but with luck that won't happen in 2018. Last year's con was in late November and ticket sales opened in August.

Griffish Isles: venue Manchester, date 19 May 2018
Now we're on to the new conventions. This is a one-day event organised by HypnoHooves, a name well known to many from other conventions and his organising of the regular Lancashire meets. Although exact locations have not yet been revealed, the con website states that there are two, both walking distance from Manchester Piccadilly station. The only reason I can see for having two venues at a single-day con is a separate music event, as with Rock Nessie at BronyScot. Mention of hotels on the website does hint at an evening component.

Sparkle Nights: venue Bristol, date TBA
The fourth UK con of 2018 doesn't have a date, though "sometime in May" was mentioned on its Twitter, but it does have an exact location: the SGS College WISE Campus near Bristol Parkway station. With a team headed up by another familiar name on the UK fandom scene, Jollyoldcinema, this con is aiming for "laughs and fun" and describes itself as "a more teenage/adult event", though a reference to a target age group of 14–25 seems to have disappeared since I first checked the site. Sparkle Nights has the most eye-catching and detailed website of all four cons at the time of publishing.

Some personal thoughts past the cut.

I must admit, I am a little surprised to see these new conventions being announced, though I had heard a few rumours before Christmas. We've only ever had one Pony con in this country that wasn't part of the BUCK/UK PonyCon/BronyScot triumvirate, and that was the Great British Brony Convention in 2015. The GBBC filled an obvious space, being held in Manchester in the "gap year" between BUCKs 2014 and 2016. So far, 2015 is the only year when more than two conventions have taken place. That's rubbish, as Culdee Fell points out in the comments! What GBBC did do is maintain the three-cons total for 2014, '15 and '16.

Assuming Sparkle Nights does choose a May date, neither it nor Griffish Isles have left very long to get everything organised. Many people need to request leave from work several months in advance, and (especially in Manchester) hotel prices can rise pretty steeply if you leave booking for too long. Neither convention has yet announced ticket prices, let alone put them on sale, nor do we know anything about events, guests or vendors. There's also the question of getting the word out, assuming they want more than "overgrown meet" status.

The spring conventions seem to be aiming at slightly different targets, which is good given that many people will have to choose, whether for financial reasons or because of work or family commitments. GI seems to be positioning itself as more in BronyScot's mould of a general event – held in the city that might be called UK bronydom's spiritual home! – while SN is almost harking back to the earlier days of the fandom when meme-making and silliness were the order of the day.

I may be being unfair here, but there is a slight overtone in SN's website text of "Come to our convention for all the stuff we can't do at UK PonyCon!" what with the repeated assertions that "mild language" is fine. There's no doubt that UKPC's rules are quite restrictive in some respects, and while I personally like it that way I can appreciate that not everyone does. GI, at least from the minimal information out there so far, seems to set less store by slick presentation and more on simple information.

Nobody who knows me will be surprised that, of the two new conventions, Griffish Isles is the one that appeals to me more at this stage. Manchester and Bristol are roughly equal in terms of accessibility from where I live in the Midlands, so if SN were to pull some unmissable rabbit out of its (doubtless memetastic) hat, I could drop everything and go there instead, at least for a day. It would have nostalgic appeal to return to Manchester for a Pony event, though. I could even go and see the Bridgewater Hall again!

An intriguing decision will be ticket prices, as is always the case with any convention. BUCK, by the end of its life, was charging £99 for the cheapest weekend ticket – making it the most expensive brony convention in the world – and I can't see either of the newcomers justifying prices anywhere close to that. In 2017, UK PonyCon charged £35 for two days and BronyScot the same price including Rock Nessie. As such, a standard price of any more than about £40 for GI or SN is going to need something eye-catching to justify it.

I've concentrated on talking about the new conventions for the most part. BronyScot, while it would appeal if I lived closer, is unfortunately not a realistic proposition for me: it's just too far and too expensive for a one-day event. UK PonyCon is, as I said above, my priority as I think it's an outstandingly well run convention and one whose atmosphere I adore. Depending on where it's held, UKPC is likely to be my number one priority. A day trip to GI might be possible, but a lot would have to go right for that to happen.

Regardless of how much they appeal to me personally, I hope all four conventions go ahead and are roaring successes. We've managed to avoid any Las Pegasus UniCon-style disasters here – My Little Convention was thankfully cancelled before it did too much damage – and I think the British MLP scene is in pretty decent health right now. Who would have thought that we'd be talking about a record number of conventions after more than seven years of the G4 fandom? Well, we are – and that's great.

7 comments:

  1. "So far, 2015 is the only year when more than two conventions have taken place."

    We had three conventions (BUCK, BronyScot and UK PonyCon) in both 2014 and 2016.

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    1. Um... yes. You're right, of course. I have no idea why I wrote what I did, as it's obvious rubbish. That'll teach me for writing up a long blog post at one in the morning! Fixed now; thank you. Hopefully that was the only error of fact.

      It's a good job four would still be a record, otherwise I'd have to rewrite half the post! :P

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  2. Do these cons have an application process for hosting panels? You ought to think about doing one on fanfiction.

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    1. It's not entirely out of the question. My social anxiety would probably come into play, though. I do get involved in more informal fanfic discussions, however.

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    2. Of course, it will rest entirely with you to lead the discussion in person, but I can help you develop material for it if that'd make it more likely.

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    3. Thank you – I'll keep that in mind. It'll be some months before I even know whether I'll be able to attend any of these cons, though, and the most likely one (UK PonyCon) hasn't yet announced its theme for 2018.

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