RIP BronyCon (2011-2019)

                With My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic coming to an end early next year, so too does BronyCon, long considered to be the “main” MLP convention.  BronyCon 2019 is the last year that we’ll gather in Baltimore, Maryland by the thousands to celebrate small talking horses, the lessons they teach us, and the waifus with which they bless us.  How did this final BronyCon pan out, though?  Was it the best night ever or the worst possible thing?  It was, truthfully, a bit of a train wreck, although that didn’t stop heartbroken attendees from creating a frankly rather bizarre shrine in BronyCon’s memory in the convention center.  The shrine itself started off fine; people would leave little mementos of their experiences at the convention and in the fandom to pay their respects.  A bit cringey, yeah, but it was cute.  Then people started leaving food, and that’s when it took a turn for the weird (and the ant-infested).  It wouldn’t be bronies if we didn’t do something absolutely bizarre and unsettling, I suppose.

                To be clear, I still had a lot of fun at BronyCon this year, but as has been the case in the past couple years, I had fun in spite of the convention more than because of it.  I’ll start with my personal experiences before I get into what I heard secondhand.  I got into town late Tuesday night to meet up with my fam a day early and have an extra day of drunken debauchery.  Badge pickup ran from 6 pm if I remember correctly to 9 pm that night.  We figured that the younger and more energetic bronies would be lining up hella early to pick up their badges, so we decided to wait until later during that window to pick ours up.  We got there about an hour and a half or so before the end of badge pickup Wednesday night, and not only were there still hundreds of people in line but con staff had cut off the flow of people.  With an hour and a half still left, they said “No one else can get in line because you won’t get helped before the end of the pick-up window.”  Geeze, I sure wish we’d been allowed to do that back when I delivered pizza.  Okay, so that seems like a bit of insufficient planning, but that’s fine.  Not the end of the world.  We ended up going the next morning towards the middle of the pick-up window, and we only had to wait like 20 minutes.

                My group and I skipped the opening ceremonies – we opted to nurse our hangovers and play more Quiplash in the hotel – and skipped the vendor hall on Thursday entirely.  Despite being a four-day convention for this last hurrah, the event line-up for Thursday was relatively sparse, and in my opinion as well as the opinions’ of most of my friends, the content they had lined up was largely uninteresting the whole weekend.

One of the things that my friends and I do all enjoy is the concert/rave on each night of the convention, an event called Bronypalooza.  I personally skipped Thursday night’s performance as I wasn’t terribly interested in the acts that night, but a few of my friends did go.  They were also immediately repelled by a miasma of con funk.  How that many neckbeards could get that disgusting smelling is one day is beyond me, but I’m told it was truly horrendous.  I also skipped a ‘palooza Friday night, but I went for the last couple hours on Saturday night as the final act of the final night of the final Bronypalooza was Odyssey Eurobeat, one of the earliest, most talented, and most prolific of the brony musicians.  For one reason or another, however, his set got delayed an hour.  He was supposed to start at 1 am; he didn’t end up getting on stage until 2 am.  Because of this, he had to cut out half of his set, and of all the brony musicians I’ve seen during my eight years in the fandom, he is by far the best performer.  From his stage presence to his live vocals to his actually live mixing most of the music, everything about Odyssey is incredible.  Naturally, therefore, I was already pissed that they kept delaying his set.  What made matters worse was that the “BronyCon Super Band” they had playing in the interim was terrible.  Individually, most of those guys are quite talented.  Two components of the band that I specifically remember and have seen play on their own in past years, Cyril the Wolf and The Wonderbolts, are really talented folks who give pretty good shows.  This band, however, for whatever reason, was frankly kind of terrible.  Cyril’s vocals were not up to par, the sound crew dropped the ball hard on the audio balance seemingly going for either all bass/no treble or all treble/no bass (although, in fairness, BronyCon sound crew has ALWAYS been an exercise in incompetence), and they had this bizarre choir of like a dozen random people, and they were just awful.  It was like “Hey, there’s this legit legend of brony music who’s supposed to be playing, but here’s an hour of crap instead.”  When Eurobeat finally DID get to perform, sound crew struck again, and only one of his songs had any real bass.  To be clear, these are songs with which I’m familiar.  The songs have bass; what randomly didn’t have bass was the speaker system.

As I mentioned, the panels were not all that interesting to me.  The one panel I did think sound interesting simply for morbid curiosity because it sounds like a cringe-fest even by brony standards – “How to Be a Furry” – apparently filled up just from the line before they even started letting people in.  There were a good number of VIPs at the convention this year – show creator Lauren Faust and god-tier writer M. A. Larson, for example – but I have a hard time justifying paying dozens of dollars for someone to write their name on something, so I steered clear of the autograph booths.  The vendor hall, to my immense dismay, was also somewhat lackluster.  There was some cool stuff there, to be sure, but in addition to being overly flooded with art prints and plushies, there were a TON of body pillow vendors.  I’ve got no problem with body pillows – hell, I bought a Sunset Shimmer body pillow cover at BronyCon last year – but oversaturation makes things less exciting.  One thing that I DID love, however, was seeing two book vendors.  I’m not talking random used books or official Hasbro-licensed books; these guys were selling popular fanfiction printed in hardback.  I LOVE collecting hardback fanfics, so this was a big deal to me as I’ve taken part in a handful of printing projects over the years especially where the Fallout: Equestria series is concerned.  One of the fanfics I’ve wanted most physically is Fallout: Equestria – Project Horizons, a massive story that, if memory serves, spans more than 2 million words.  To put it into perspective, it’s more than twice the length of the Christian Bible.  One of the sellers had it on hardback in a seven-volume set, but they, unfortunately, sold their entire stock of the set in less than two hours on Thursday.  Still, though, I was able to get vol. 2, 3, 6, and 7 as well as another Fallout: Equestria side story, Dead Tree.  There were a couple of others that I had debated buying, but much to my wallet’s relief, they had sold out by the time I finally decided to bite the bullet.  Other than that, the vendor hall was largely mundane although I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to plug my two favorite plush artists, HibiscusStitch and Sophie Scruggs.  Pictured below is an AMAZING and quite hefty plush of a jelly-obsessed background pony created by HibiscusStitch.

From HibiscusStitch’s MLP plush page

This year, despite having the largest attendance of any year at a fair bit over 11,000 attendees, isn’t what people will remember about BronyCon, though.  2015 was when the con hit its peak, but 2013-2015 were like the BronyCon trinity – the three years of absolute and unrestrained pony bliss.  The vendor hall was always amazing, Bronypalooza was jaw-dropping from start to finish, the panels were awesome, and the VIPs in attendance were fantastic.  Everything about the convention was amazing those years.  That’s what BronyCon should and likely will be remembered for.  Those three conventions were the most fun weeks of my life and the times I’ve felt the most accepted and just generally “right” if that makes sense.  During that time, BronyCon became a religious pilgrimage for me.  I’m not a religious person, but the point of the show and celebrating it with a bunch of like-minded (even if hygienically challenged) people was amazing.  After 2015, the convention changed management, and it was a major step down in quality after that.  That also roughly corresponded when the show started to decline as the great writers left and the episodes went from being fantastic to either pretty good or simply okay.  As disappointing as this year’s convention was for me in a lot of ways, though, I can’t bring myself to regret buying the pass or say “I wish I hadn’t paid for the actual convention badge” because regardless of what it became in recent years, BronyCon was an amazing experience and an amazing event for me and thousands of other fans of the show, and it deserved a big send-off.

Most of the reason I say the convention was a bit of a train wreck is less a handful of major screw-ups and more just a multitude of smaller issues compounding on several years of poor management, and that’s a shame because, back in the day, this really was an incredible convention that will always have a special place in my heart.  I mentioned this briefly already, but the best part of the convention for me wasn’t even the con itself.  It was just being with a group of friends that have become closer to me over the past several years than people I’ve known four times as long.  They’re more family to me than most of my blood kin.  Really, I think that’s the true legacy of BronyCon.  When I first went to BronyCon back in 2013, I only knew the friend of mine I went with.  Now, six years later, after making countless friends at the convention year after year, I have a real family I talk to every day and who I know for a fact will always be there for me no matter what, and that’s all because of this convention.  We’re spread all over – Pennsylvania, Florida, Nevada, Kentucky, North Carolina – but we all met at this dorky convention about talking horses.  No matter how poorly the last couple years of BronyCon were run, no matter how disappointing certain aspects were this year, no matter how relentless an assault on my olfactory nerves most of my fellow con-goers were, I’ll always be grateful to BronyCon for the memories I’ve made, the fun I’ve had, and the family I’ve gained.  For all that and more, thank you, BronyCon, and let this heartfelt and undoubtedly cringey article be dedicated to my beloved family I’d never have met without you – Anna, Robyn, Tony, Chris, Sara, Heather, Ben, DJ, Matt, Mike, Womble, and Andrea.

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