Thursday, 25 January 2018

Is It Too Early To Talk About TFNation?

 - Dorian MacQuarrie

Image courtesy of TFNation

TFNation 2018 will be held from the 17th to the 19th August at the Birmingham Hilton Metropole. 

While it may be a little early to start with the convention articles, after all there is more than six months between now and that wondrous weekend, I feel it is at least worth discussing the ways of maintaining your engagement within the larger community of collectors. Ways of staying aboard the hype-train, patiently waiting for Adam White to come along in full conductor's gear to stamp your ticket but then realising you bought an off-peak ticket and it's now during peak hours so you're unsure whether you'll need to pay extra or if he'll give you a free pass (this analogy is heading towards an odd destination...).

When I went to my first ever convention in 2010, my interest was focused primarily on the dealer room. A chance to be surrounded by table after table of bots from all corners of the Transformers brand (and a fair few unofficial ones too). As the years went on though, I began to realise the full potential of the social aspect of conventions like Auto Assembly and of course TFNation. It became a case of come for the toys, stay for the people. Fast forward to today and with TFNation 2018 in our sights I am fully in for the social side of operations and the dealer room is now just a bonus. My how the tables have turned. 

For many people, TFNation will be the one time of the year to interact with like-minded individuals, for others there might be pub-meets, organised days like the Northern Meet or even just the luck of knowing a few local collectors but sadly, we can't all be so fortunate. Even if you are geographically compromised though, there are still plenty of ways to interact with others and feel part of the larger whole outside of the weekend we all know and love. 

Image courtesy of TFNation

The TFNation team have already dropped the bombshell of STAN FREAKIN' BUSH appearing, live, in concert at this year's convention and that's before tickets are even on sale! (3rd February, in case you didn't know). I can't recall such a massive announcement at such an early stage in previous years so it's clear the TFNation team are going in strong. The hype, as they say, is real. Such early excitement might leave many wishing they could just sleep away the six months til August but rather than keep your head in the pillows, your time and energy would be better spent engaging with those you already know within the community, making new friends and in general, strengthening the bonds that were forged in the bar or at the dealer room at a previous convention, pub-meet or an accidental meeting of hands as you both went to grab that last £15 Skyshadow from B&Ms. 

Even when I had started to better appreciate the social side of conventions, there was still very little for me outside of the convention experience itself. Once everything was done and dusted, I would go into a sort of hibernation mode, just waiting for next year's event and doing little to keep the fires of friendship so recently kindled alive. This all changed a few years ago when I started to take steps to actively engage with the people I had made friends with, be it online or in person at the bar or the dealer room. It might seem like a strange thing to actively pursue friendships but I wanted to make sure every convention experience would be filled to the brim with good times and a large part of that came down to taking a more pro-active approach to bringing various people together, mashing them into one larger group of people, some sort of friendship powered combiner. With social media playing such a large part of our lives, it's the first tool with which to connect with other collectors. No longer are we relegated to newsletters, zines and news groups, instead, with a few clicks you can launch a profile and start surfing the web in a bid to make new friends or at least find a suitable space to talk about whether Rumble really is the red one (and he is!!!). There is one very important point to all this social media malarkey though, it takes time and yes, it takes effort. You can follow dozens of people on Twitter and have a great feed to scroll through but to get the most out of the social media game you need to get involved. Comment, like, retweet, join in on the conversation! Don't just stand at the edges hoping to be noticed or get a word in (an all too common sight at conventions sadly) but actually maneuver yourself into the conversation and take part. Or you know, you could just buy the Winning Personality DLC for $10 from the online store, whatever floats your boat. 

If you're more of a Facebook kind of person then try searching for fan groups. I myself follow a number of groups, the TFNation official page of course, the TFYTC, Transformers and Such and many more. They offer a walled off space within the vast landscape of Facebook where you can discuss every geeky subject your heart desires and not run the risk of a workmate or family member shaming you for your hobbies. But again, if you want to get the most out of any of these platforms you must take part. Lurking can be fine for some but I've always found the best experience comes from taking part in the back and forth of a conversation, sharing ideas and most importantly, creating some fun memories which will make any time spent in person all the more fulfilling. This, I feel, is the real magic of engaging with people over social media, the ability to continue and maintain conversations through the year, ensuring that at an event such as TFNation, you are not meeting with those people you see once a year, but catching up with old friends who you were possibly just chatting to the night before.

It may seem really simple but time and again I've come across people who feel they aren't getting the full experience out of conventions or just the community aspect of the hobby in general and I often feel this is primarily due to a lack of active engagement. Just following loads of pages or people won't give you the full experience. You can't just sit and listen, you must also speak up and join in. 

By putting the time and energy into interacting, connecting, engaging, networking or whatever you want to call it, by doing it now you can enjoy the rising wave of excitement that leads to TFNation but also maintain that feeling after the convention. Post-convention blues are a real thing and the leading cause of disengagement among collectors. They hit some people hard and can lead to a miserable time post-convention. You've just spent this amazing weekend surrounded by all the things you enjoy and then BAM back to reality. The best way to soften that blow? Have a foundation of friends you can rely on to keep those dopamine hits coming when you're struggling to get back into a 'normal' routine. Whatever experiences and memories formed from attending the convention can be relived through the social circles developed over the months leading up to and following TFNation. 

If you are successful in cultivating and developing connections, friendships and a wider network of collectors, chances are you will find someone who lives within reasonable travelling distance. At this point, if you are able and willing, go meet up. Meet up in town, go round to their home, chill out in a safe environment where you can recreate a spark of the blazing inferno of activity that is something like TFNation. Do what you can to fill your day to day, week to week schedules with the hobby of collecting you enjoy so much. It's not supposed to be something kept within the boundaries of the internet and a weekend long convention but rather something you can indulge in any time and place you feel the need or the want to. While yes, it might not be best to start quizzing co-workers or class-mates on who the best Decepticon Seeker was (Thundercracker, obviously) you can at least have these sort of conversations with that fellow collector you know who just lives a short train or bus ride away. But once again, this has to be actively pursued, developed and engaged with. It might seem a daunting task at first but in the past few years of trying to do just this myself, I have expanded and developed my social circles enormously and now I'm often able to meet up with other collectors, go round and have long chats about toys, collecting or all manner of subjects for hours on end. The time and effort put in has paid off, the seeds I have sown have given me a bountiful harvest. 

And this leads me onto the final and possibly most difficult yet most enjoyable way of staying connected and engaged with the larger collecting community. The Meet Up. There are a few organised meet ups throughout the year associated with collector groups and Facebook pages and they're largely split geographically but unfortunately they are few and far between and unfortunately I'm not aware of anything in my neck of the woods. If you're able to attend one they can be a great way of meeting people who might not have otherwise attended previous conventions, further expanding your social circles. On the other end of the scale is the humble pub meet; just a few people, arranging an evening at a local pub with the express intent of indulging in a bit of hobby talk. And of course there's the tradition of bringing a few bots along for some group play (sounds a bit rude doesn't it?). 

The larger meets ups, if you are able to attend, go a good way to recreating that group feeling of a convention and do a lot to keep the community spirit alive. Often you'll see any such meets advertised through Facebook pages or other social media platforms. If there aren't any near you then maybe the next big step is to try and organise something yourself. It might seem like a monumental task but if successful, the feeling of achievement from bringing together individuals into a collective whole is wonderful. 

And there we have it, from social media, Facebook groups, meets ups to just knowing the local collectors, there are many ways to stay engaged with the collecting community outside of TFNation or any other sort of convention you might regularly attend. The key part is it takes time, energy and maybe a little effort to step outside of some comfort zones but the pay off can be immeasurable. Not only does it maintain the excitement and buzz of a convention but it also fills your days, weeks and months with a level of interaction which allows you to indulge in your hobbies when you might be otherwise limited by the social circles you are involved with offline. 

I've posted some links to a couple of Facebook groups below which I feel are a great place to start if you aren't already a member. 

Transformers Youtube Community

Transformers and Such 

TFNation official page

Until next time, keep it #Refined

You can follow Dorian on Twitter @Vigadeath

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