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The inaugural year of GrandCon surprised its creators Brian Lenz and Marc Specter with a much larger turnout than expected.
"We had a huge amount of community support. This whole thing was predicated on being received by the community," says Specter, "and it happened far in excess of what we could have hoped. It's crazy, we didn't know if anyone would show up."
"Marc says that lightly," Lenz adds,"We knew there would be a few. We were thinking two or three hundred, maybe up to 500 would be our numbers. We're pushing nearly 1500 up to the weekend as far as attendees."
Frank Belter of MSTB Gaming, who handled badge and event sales for GrandCon and tracked attendance numbers, says the creators had an incredible first year.
"First year conventions, especially regional ones, only get 80 to 120 people,” he says “And that's it."
The Prince Conference Center overflowed with eager gamers, families, artists and comic collectors. The show boasted 55 exhibitors and artists, and over 200 events. Additionally, Lee Maile’s GenCon Games Library, containing $15,000 in board and card games, was available, allowing attendees to try games before purchasing them.
"We outgrew Prince Conference Center about three months ago," says Specter, "We've been turning away people from our vendor room and artist gallery for three months."
The collection of special guests comprised the greats of gaming and comics, including Ed Greenwood, Andrew Pepoy, Michael L. Peters and Tracy and Laura Hickman.
"Just getting to network with all the different authors, all the amazing artists and all of the different fine arts people that are here is amazing," says conference attendee Erin Wiseman-Parkin, "To come here and see the interaction at such a personal level is amazing."
Specter and Lenz reached out to industry veterans to bring speakers to GrandCon.
"I had the opportunity to speak with a lot of them and build the rapport and relationship that we wanted for GrandCon," Lenz says. "They're here, they're having a fantastic time and many if not all of them will be back again."
"We were very charmed by Brian [Lenz]," says Tracy Hickman. "There is just something about Brian that is endearing to us and impressed us, and so we agreed to come and threw our rulebook out the window. We wanted to help and support him here."
"He explained that it was the first one," says Laura Hickman,"and we were excited to hear that."
In supporting GrandCon, the Hickman’s hosted a charity fundraiser event aptly named The Killer Breakfast, an improv event in which players attempted to survive as long as possible on stage. Charity is one of the things Specter and Lenz kept in mind while designing the conference.
"From the beginning," says Specter. "We knew we needed a community to support us. And it’s a little cliche but we always wanted to have a pay it forward mentality."
As a result of that mentality, the Helen Devos Children’s Hospital Foundation will receive one dollar from every badge sold.
"Last year in October, with the help of Schuler Books & Music, we put together an event that raised $3400 with a 24 hour game-a-thon," says Specter. "This year GrandCon was our game-a-thon."
With the close of GrandCon 2013, plans are already underway for next year. The convention is slated to take place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Convention Center on September 19-21. Organizers advise those interested in attending to follow the GrandCon website for information regarding pre-registration.
"Its been wonderful to see the families with their kids walking through the door whether they are just coming in to check us out or actually coming to play the games," says Lenz. "Thank you, all those that have showed up. We can't thank everybody enough."
Russ is a full-time student at GVSU studying writing and psychology.