I just… seriously folks, I have no words to sum this up.
I arrived back at around 11pm on Sunday (15 May) after the two-day City of Heroes 2 convention at the Birmingham Metropole Hilton hotel. It wasn’t fun. If there is an opposite of amazing, that’s what the entire experience was. The only adjective that springs to mind is ‘craptacular’.
Rocking up in the bustling metropolis that is the Birmingham Resorts World and National Exhibition Centre on Friday afternoon, we made our way to register straight away. The way that Rogue Events run the registration is that certain letter groups printed on your e-ticket are called at certain times. Starting at around 11am, the day BEFORE the convention proper starts. So, humping luggage to the Vox Conference Centre, a building that wasn’t the venue but was on the other side of the complex, my girlfriend and I rushed to register before her block expired. When we got there, we were able to register when we eventually discovered that they were just letting anyone register as and when they got there. Okay, logic for once, since some people were flying in from Europe and beyond and would have supreme difficulty getting there for 11am.
Crap went downhill rapidly after that.
I’d been worried about this event from the moment I bought my ticket. To maximise profit and minimise tax, rather than have a traditional online store Rogue Events make you pay via direct bank transfer. No credit or debit card payments, no Paypal, nothing. To add confusion to consternation, you had to make payment within 7 days of your ‘reservation’ but you would not get anything confirming payment was made. E-tickets would be issued at some point before the event, watch this space.
So, the other half is issued with her e-ticket in due course. Apparently they would all be issued over the following ten days. A week and a half later, I am repeatedly checking Gmail in panic because I’ve had nothing. Nope, not in spam folder, wait could it have gone in already and been automatically deleted? Aw hell… Finally it arrived. Yay, job done. But then, Rogue Events had decided to stretch the event over two halls, with talks from guests being made simultaneously. And thusly offered more tickets. People applying for late tickets for hall 2 weren’t getting them; a friend of my girlfriend, who was travelling from Brazil, got a basic email that doubled as an e-ticket when she was somewhere over the mid-Atlantic.
But this being my first Rogue con, I tried to put this to the back of my mind. Alongside the phenomenal cost when compared to some other convention companies. I bought a few extra autographs and balked at the price, but still. Checked in, went to the party, went to sleep.
Cue Day 1. This was the only opportunity to meet a good part of the main Arrow, Flash, Gotham, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl casts, but… Stephen Amell’s talk was pretty good; the guy clearly cares about the shows he appears in and the role of the Green Arrow clearly isn’t just a paycheck. He also dropped a few hints about how he’s planning to market his upcoming feature-length project Code 8 that he and his cousin Robbie (the original Firestorm in The Flash) are starring in. But things began to go to crap immediately after.
A huge screen to the left of the main stage in hall 1 announced when photo shoots and autograph sessions were starting, and what groups were being called. Almost straight away my girlfriend’s group was called, interrupting the second talk. She was back within 5 minutes. Turns out that the trained chimp working the screen had announced the wrong groups and the stewards just turned people away en masse. The only other way to find out WTF was going on was to follow Rogue’s live Twitter feed.
I hate Twitter. It is an appalling place for morons, racists, sexists, homophobes and all-round arseholes to shout their pointless opinions to the world and be made to feel important when like-minded idiots agree with them. But in order to try and understand what in the name of Odin’s raven was going on, I actually had to re-activate my dormant Twitter account. And, as it turned out, their Twitter feed was just as inaccurate as the big screen. This backs up the horror stories I’d heard about Rogue’s recent other conventions, Storybrooke and Asylum 16. Announcements weren’t so much trumpeted from the rooftops for all to hear, as whispered quietly by a fieldmouse with laryngitis.
Still, time progressed. After the lunchbreak, we discovered that the morning’s autograph sessions had overrun by so much due to the insane volume of people being crammed into a relatively small space, that Colton Haynes and Willa Holland’s talk was being cut short. As it turns out, more than cut in half to roughly 20 minutes. The next talk, scheduled to be Katie Cassidy, was in fact cancelled although nobody officially said anything officially until this appeared on Twitter at 2.07pm:
(nb: this wasn’t posted at 6 in the morning; Twitter always runs on LA time…)
The reason for this was this:
Yep, a guest pulls out for blatantly understandable reasons and the con-goer only finds out when someone screen-prints a Tweet and puts it on an unofficial Facebook group. But you’re not gonna let the previous speakers keep going instead because reasons, despite their surprise at just how short their timeslot was. Awesome way to treat your customers…
By the end of day 1 I had been called for the grand total of two autographs. I got John Barrowman to sign my Journal of Impossible Things (even if he did think it was psychic paper) and Stephen Amell to christen my DC autograph book. Very nice guy, incidentally. Feeling drained from all the hanging around, we didn’t even make it to the party on Saturday night. Instead, I had to witness the dubious joys of the Eurovision Song Contest, but that’s a different story.
So, to day 2. First off, great panel by the three Gotham guests of David Mazouz, Sean Pertwee and Cory Michael Smith. Cory in particular was on fire for this one. So far, so good. Then we start getting called for autographs again and everything goes south.
Managing to miss most of the next two talks, we spent what felt like an eternity waiting to be called after getting to the second autograph room. There was no communication; people were brought in to the room seemingly at random and the stewards weren’t kept abreast of what was happening in the photo rooms or the other autograph session. Queues for guests snaked seemingly at random around the room and nobody knew where one line started and another ended. The room was boiling hot, guests were overworked and kept having to dash out for a breather and a rest to avoid RSI from signing their name five hundred times. The lack of communication about what was going on in other rooms meant that I realised with only minutes to go that my group had been called for the other room.
Scuttlebutt had been that if you had a clash, tell the stewards and they’d rush you through so you could get to the other appointment. I told the stewards; nobody knew what the hell to do about it since they hadn’t been briefed on what to do in a situation like this. Grumbling, I legged it across the hotel, no mean feat since the Hilton is HUGE and the auto rooms were in separate wings. I managed to see David Mazouz and Emily Rickards, then legged it back to my now-closed other session. Got through the door thanks to a sympathetic steward (and a security guard who wasn’t looking) to get the last two autographs, then lunch of a bag of crisps, a cereal bar and a much-needed bottle of Sol.
At around this time, the printer Rogue had brought in to run off their photo shoots broke down completely. It’d had problems on Saturday but on Sunday it finally ran up the white flag and stopped altogether.
Bring on the afternoon session and things continued on their downward trajectory. Although I didn’t manage to see most of the afternoon talks due to queuing up for other stuff, the word was that David Ramsey’s talk was, like the one after lunch on Saturday, cut back to 20 minutes. But I digress. To the horrors of the autograph room (again).
At one point the room became so insanely crowded that you couldn’t get to the stall in the entrance that was selling 10×8 photos for signing. Queues were so tightly packed that you had to elbow your way between them after you’d got your autograph. At one point a lady had a seizure while standing in line. To their eternal credit Colton Haynes and Falk Hentschel vaulted their desks and came out to help her. I suppose there’s worse things to find when you come round than Arsenal and Hawkman standing over you, but still…
Colton Haynes is officially my nomination for hero in this story. Not only did he realise that the event was being managed unbearably poorly, at one point he went out into the crowd and started signing autographs for people still queuing up to speed things along and enable them to get the hell out of there. Again, the stewards had received minimal instruction and were trying to keep the huge number of people moving on their own initiative, to varying degrees of success. I started getting very annoyed at stewards jumping the queues, until it turned out that this was the only real perk to the job. They were unpaid; in fact they were attendees who had volunteered and actually paid Rogue for the privilege of being yelled at.
Having finally made it out of there, I got to the main hall just in time for John Barrowman’s Q&A. Ever the showman, he put on a great session but the hall seemed strangely empty. I didn’t figure out why until he wrapped the session up at 6pm.
Hundreds of people were queuing up from the photo rooms, all the way into the main hotel reception. These were of course the people who had paid truly unholy amounts of money for photo shoots and hadn’t got their pictures. Told to wait, they were hanging around for hours with no word on when or even if they would get the pictures they had paid for. As I left the hotel they were still there and there was no word on what was going on.
My joint nominations for heroine of this debacle are Danielle Panabaker and Katie Cassidy. Katie in particular managed to make it to the event on Sunday and despite a town bicep muscle, spent ages meeting fans and signing autographs. Danielle gets a nomination for this:
Yep, rather than disappear like a phantom into the night, she stayed behind with the intention of signing any photos that had been delayed. Despite this, Rogue eventually gave this up as a bad job, announced that the photos would just go up on their website at some juncture and that everybody should just shove off.
So, all told an unmitigated disaster. Some people managed to get everything they wanted with no trouble, but the rest of us did not. I got all the autographs I wanted, but had to pay £140 on top of the £110 entrance fee for some of them and it was more by accident than design that I made it round everyone. The people in charge tried to absolve themselves of all responsibility, as seen here:
I’m calling bull on that.
Yes, there were some great moments, primarily the autograph session with David Mazouz. I mentioned that my t-shirt, which announced to the world that “I’m not saying I’m Batman, but nobody has ever seen us in the same room”, was kinda irrelevant now and how it was good that nobody I knew was there to photograph the meeting. He replied with this:
But all told, this event was a complete fustercluck. If this had been my first convention, it would’ve put me off for life. I’ve heard tell that the management of Rogue ran round setting up electric fans in the autograph rooms to compensate for the lack of aircon. If so, somebody must’ve stolen them by the time I got there. There was nothing of the kind. The rooms were overcrowded, overheated chaos and the sheer lack of a single damn given from on-high for the people who had parted with hundreds of pounds for this experience was truly incredible. And this just takes the cake:
“Yeah, we’ve no idea where we’re holding the next event, or when it is, and most of you have had a truly horrific time, but GIVE US MORE MONEY NOW!” Hardly surprising, considering the number of upgrade packages available for varying amounts of money – some people paid almost £2000 for their tickets!
In the aftermath, prominent volunteers have publicly walked away from any future involvement with Rogue. Given their lack of preparation, the attempts to break the world Sardines record by cramming ~500 people into a relatively small room and complete lack of management engagement I do not blame them. I’d do the same.
No. Once bitten, twice shy. This is me and Rogue Events done. I don’t care if they get Henry Cavill, Ben Afleck, Gal Gadot and the entire cast of Suicide Squad next year, nothing is getting me back there.