NerdHQ was one of the highlights of my San Diego Comic-Con experience
NerdHQ has become a big part of the San Diego Comic-Con experience. Despite some early criticism on their fundraiser, this year’s installment was a big success.
If you’ve never spent any time in San Diego, you don’t know what you’re missing; the weather is phenomenal, the food is outstanding and the scenery is top-notch. If you’ve never visited San Diego in July, however, you’ve never witnessed nerd-nirvana at its very best. San Diego Comic-Con has been holding its convention for 45 years, but in the last 15 or so, things have gotten particularly crazy. Not only has the attendance, programs and exhibit space grown explosively, the number of things to do away from the convention center has equally grown. One of the biggest and most popular of these off-site experiences is NerdHQ.
Started in 2011 by Chuck star Zachary Levi and his partner (and former Chuck props-guru) Dave Coleman, NerdHQ aimed to offer an alternative to the convention itself. The venue – which has moved around before finding what seems to be a permanent home at Petco Park – is a place where people can see the latest video game activations, get your picture taken with some of your favorite stars, pick up Nerd Machine (Levi’s company that runs NerdHQ) gear or take in a Conversation for a Cause panel.
In advance of this year’s iteration, Levi and his team turned to crowd-funding to assist with some cashflow shortfalls to ensure NerdHQ’s viability. This was a move that was met with a good deal of criticism, including some of my own. The campaign, launched on Indiegogo, seemed unnecessary and exploitive to some. While NerdHQ does donate a large chunk of money to Operation Smile in the wake of the event, the funds being raised were specifically for The Nerd Machine (a for-profit company) to run the show. The funding is generally sourced from sponsorships, which can make for some significant difficulties in trying to plan for something that could be pulled at the last minute due to a product delay (something that apparently occurred in 2013).
While the campaign did see some success (It raised over $335k via the “Flexible Funding” option at Indiegogo), it fell short of it’s $1million goal. Levi has been frank about the difficulties since the campaign’s end, saying multiple times that taking this type of request to crowd-funders was a bad idea. He believed his goal was misconstrued, and no amount of barnstorming (check out the comment section of that Bad Ass Digest post above and you’ll find Zach defending the campaign several times) would change the perception of those who weren’t fans.
The NerdHQ 2014 experience, however, was largely free of the drama. While I don’t agree with the whys and the wherefores of the campaign – and it sounds like Zach agrees it was a bad idea – I enjoyed the hell out of the time I spent at NerdHQ. I skipped the infamous dance parties (because I don’t dance in general, and I don’t understand how anyone’s feet can do that after a day at the ‘con) and admittedly spent little time on the concourse checking out the offerings there (Though I am sad I missed out on photo-op scaling the side of a faux-building Batman ’66 style). I did, however, attend as many of the Conversations as my schedule – and ability to click quickly enough to purchase advance tickets – would allow (I’m also appreciative of NerdHQ’s Press Relations staff helping me attend a couple I did not have tickets for). I have two major takeaways from those experiences.
First, the panels are generally pretty freaking awesome. I was a little curious about the first version of the schedule that was posted, as it seemed to be an odd collection as well as missing many of the staples of earlier years. By the time the schedule was complete – and they were adding panels throughout the weekend – the plan was obvious: offer more diverse programming to appeal to different demographics — and just how much time NerdHQ favorites like Alan Tudyk, Nathan Fillion and Yvonne Strahovski would be able to spend there (Spoiler Alert: A lot).
One of the great traditions that has developed is Fillion and Tudyk spending a good deal of time at their panels auctioning off “stuff” for Operation Smile. I’d seen replays of these (All of the Conversations are streamed live and available on YouTube after they air), but I’d never experienced one live. It. Was. Awesome. The tone was set early, as the bidding for a signed (Fillion and Tudyk) Firefly poster jumped from $500 to $1,000 in one bid. Just as Fillion called “Sold,” someone followed with $1,500 (Fortunately, there were two of these posters, and both bidders got it for $1,000). What followed was some of the craziest auctioneering I’d ever seen. You’ve got to watch for yourself (be on the look out for what happens to a hand towel, and how much it goes for):
One of the other things that was impressive about NerdHQ was their amazing volunteer staff. You can’t run something as massive as San Diego Comic-Con or its smaller cousin without using volunteers; it’s just a fact of life. But the group of folks helping out at NerdHQ was just top-notch. They handled their tasks with aplomb, and seemed to be as happy to be there as the rest of us.
I’m not sure what the future holds for NerdHQ. If sponsorship funding is as tenuous as indicated, it’s a fun event that could easily disappear, which would be a damn shame. While it might be easy to look at the $260k raised for Operation Smile this year as “less” than $335+ raised via Indiegogo, I’m over that type of analysis (and that’s coming from someone who works full-time for a non-profit). NerdHQ does an amazing amount of things right, and that $260k is better spent there than on nachos during the day and drinks during SDCC late nights.