TanaCon had all the traditional markings of a first-year convention; a distinct lack of organization ebbed and flowed throughout the event, but diehard YouTubers weren’t too frustrated by the amateur vibe — at first.
By 10 a.m. Friday, when TanaCon ticket buyers were told by management company Good Times that official registration would begin, the parking lot behind the Anaheim Mariott Suites hotel was already lined with fans. There were about a thousand people there, all talking excitedly about YouTubers they planned to meet once they got inside the hotel lobby. Shane Dawson, actress Bella Thorne and, of course, Tana Mongeau, the convention’s host, were some of the most popular creators scheduled to appear.
The Southern California sun was blistering, with no shade anywhere in the parking lot. No one from the event organizers or hotel staff provided water, but none of that seemed to matter. People who had lined up since 6 a.m. were admittedly feeling a little worn down by standing in line, were still excited there was an alternative to VidCon, arguably the biggest convention for YouTube creators in the world.
“It’s a better version of VidCon for sure,” a big Shane Dawson fan and TanaCon attendee who didn’t want to share their name, told Polygon while waiting in line. “Well, I can’t say that for sure because I’m not inside yet, but the idea of it is better for sure. Just the amount of access we’re going to get. And price wise! A community badge ticket for VidCon is $150. I got two VIP tickets for TanaCon for less than that, and money to spare for merch.”
The fan added that what VidCon “did to Tana was just so wrong,” alluding to the series of events that led to TanaCon’s creation in the first place.
A “fuck you” convention
Tana Mongeau is a popular YouTuber with more than 3.5 million subscribers and a strong following on Instagram. More importantly, she’s an influencer with a large group of highly recognizable influencer friends. Her videos switch back and forth between elaborate stories (some of which have been called out as exaggerated or total lies) regular vlogs, and collaborations with those aforementioned famous friends. Mongeau has painted a version of her world that people want to be a part of, singlehandedly creating a level of FOMO (fear of missing out) culture, making everyone want to be a part of her inner circle.
Mongeau posted a couple of videos earlier this year that called out VidCon for not giving her a “featured creators” badge last year. That badge would have provided more security for Mongeau walking through public spaces near the convention. Not having the badge helped create what Mongeau called a chaotic, bad experience.
“If I were running an event that was based upon creators meeting their fans, and the entire premise of your event, where the entire mission statement of your event is where creators and fans can finally meet, if this creator shows up with millions of followers and hundreds of people are there … why wouldn’t you just print another stupid little fucking badge,” Mongeau said in the video above.
Former VidCon CEO and YouTuber Hank Green addressed Mongeau’s video and her frustrations, and asked that Mongeau ask her fans not to harass a VidCon team member, who was on the receiving end of their backlash.
“The online video community is lucky to have a huge number of talented and popular creators, and VidCon is lucky to be able to work with so many of them,” Green wrote in the comments section of Mongeau’s video. “The only bad part about that for VidCon is that, since we can’t feature everyone, creators who have active, enthusiastic communities who are wonderful and make fantastic stuff sometimes end up unsupported in public spaces, creating situations that are dangerous for creators and fans alike. We work to keep situations like that from escalating.
“We understand that this might seem overboard from the outside, but it’s the call we felt was right,” Green said.
Still, Mongeau was upset about the perceived shade she was thrown, and her quip about running a convention quickly became a reality. Mongeau and her team started working on creating TanaCon, an event that came together in a couple of months. The concept was relatively simple: everyone and no one would be a featured creator. TanaCon would be a fan-first, creator-focused experience — something that she believed VidCon wasn’t capable of providing.
“I wanted to throw a con where everyone is a featured creator,” Tana said while on stage before a panel at TanaCon, much to the uproarious support of her fans. “I wanted a con for bad bitches. TanaCon would be nothing without bad bitches.”
That was the message reiterated throughout the day by Mongeau, her friends and even people in the crowd. People truly believed that TanaCon wasn’t just an alternative to VidCon, but it was the only convention that really took fans’ best interests to heart.
“Everyone is so supportive of each other here,” Emma, a young fan who managed to get inside the hotel after four hours and didn’t want to give her last name, told Polygon. “We don’t even know each other, but we’re bonding over supporting Tana and coming out here. I’m making more friends here than I ever have at VidCon, and so far it’s a really good atmosphere. It’s way better than VidCon right now.”
That was around 1 p.m. Thousands of people who bought badges were still waiting in the parking lot trying to get in, and it still wasn’t too packed inside. It was relatively quiet. There was quite a bit of room for people to sit down and walk around the main ballroom.
Outside was a different story. Reports of people getting nauseous or feeling faint from heat exhaustion started making the rounds on Twitter. People were getting antsy, but most fans Polygon spoke to in the morning and early afternoon were willing to wait it out to show support for their favorite creators.
“Just knowing that I’ve watched Tana for so long, getting the chance to finally see her and meet her and support her own convention is important to me,” Kerry, a young fan who also didn’t want to share her last name, told Polygon while standing in line. “I’m just so proud of her. TanaCon is fucking better and VidCon fucked up. TanaCon is such a big improvement for her, and like, I’m so proud of her for taking a stand.”
“Tana worked so hard for VidCon and then they just fucking banned her,” Isabelle, a friend of Kerry, said, reiterating what Mongeau said in a previous video. “That wasn’t fair. Why not just say a big ‘fuck you’ to VidCon? She doesn’t need them.”
Some fans were angry on behalf of Tana, and that led to a very physical show of support at TanaCon. Other fans just wanted to get a close-up selfie with Dawson or Thorne. As the afternoon progressed, it became apparent to everyone that everything was getting out of control. Thousands upon thousands of unregistered fans showed up in the parking lot, and reports spread on Twitter that they tried to rush the door.
Pre-registered fans, people who waited in the heat for multiple hours, started yelling and complaining, demanding refunds for their wasted time. Mongeau used Twitter and Instagram to try to quell people’s frustrations, but provided few updates as things got worse, but it eventually all came to a head when they were told to shut down the event for the day. It became a major safety concern, Mongeau tweeted, and people were concerned that if things got out of hand, it could result in someone getting trampled.
“In a meeting [right now] almost done making sure tomorrow will be safe and organized for every person who has a ticket,” Mongeau tweeted early Saturday morning. “Unfortunately what made today so chaotic was 15,000 unticketed people showing up outside.. If you have a ticket I want to meet you and give you a promised show. Every person who entered their phone number with their ticket will be texted information and I will be updating you once I make sure everything can be done safely. Ticketed people. No outside mobs.”
Though outside mobs were part of the issue, people also expressed concerns over the lack of space inside the hotel for the pre-registered fans.
“It’s really hectic,” Emma said, sitting on the floor inside TanaCon’s main ballroom. “We keep getting switched into different rooms. It’s so hectic. No one knows what’s going on.”
It felt like it went from being painstakingly empty, as security and event organizers tried to figure out how to get everyone in, to overwhelming in a split second. People kept piling into the area and it was clear there wasn’t enough space to hold everyone in line, let alone the thousands of fans who showed up unannounced. It’s a stark difference that’s almost comical; what started as a dead con inside quickly became a riotous affair.
A mad, chaotic dash
Videos of TanaCon at its busiest have emerged since the event, showing people running in groups down packed halls and trying to make sense of what happened. Security guards are seen in the video below running through a crowd of teens, trying to figure out how to corral everyone safely while breaking up large groups that were forming.
The scene in the video above took place in the main lobby of the Anaheim Marriott Suites hotel, an area that wasn’t supposed to be overtaken by TanaCon attendees. Fans were expected to remain within a small ballroom that could maybe hold a thousand people, uncomfortably. Across the narrow hall was a smaller room that could hold 50 people, with chairs lined up into a few rows directed at a screen. Just behind the rooms was a merch table, selling t-shirts, jackets and sweaters for $150 to $300.
People walked around curiously, but upon realizing that this was the extent of the convention, started to wander throughout the hotel. Although there was security, many of the popular creators attending TanaCon walked freely throughout the hotel space, leading to fans dashing around trying to grab a selfie with people. It felt like forced chaos; there wasn’t enough space or activities to keep people entertained for hours on end, so fans started exploring elsewhere. There was one bathroom space in the hotel lobby that fans were allowed to use, but people on Twitter complained of long lines and needing more space.
Unorganized is the best word to describe the con; it certainly seemed like something thrown together in a couple of months.
“…as a 19 year old with her first convention, in two months that we did everything as good as we could for 5,000 people,” Mongeau tweeted. “Not 20,000. So now we are making it safer for any capacity.”
Safety and security is one of the biggest issues surrounding conventions like TanaCon and VidCon. Jim Louderback, VidCon’s new CEO, told Polygon that following a couple of incidents in the past — including a scavenger hunt led by Logan Paul last year that resulted in absolute chaos and unsafe conditions — security is the number one priority. Louderback said it’s easy for fans to get over-enthused, and that can lead to some prickly situations.
“We’re also going to be on the lookout for folks who may not think they’ll attract big crowds, but if something does happen we can easily get to the point where it’s like, ‘What gets you a safe space?’” Louderback said. “If we can, we’ll set up these more structured meet-ups. You can actually meet fans and say hi in a way that’s structured, and that isn’t going to cause a free-for-all. 150 or 200 people running over because so-and-so is over in the corner talking to fans has the potential to cause big problems. We work really hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
TanaCon didn’t have the same level of security or organization that VidCon, a convention in its ninth year, has learned to build around the event.
Despite security moving people outside the building at TanaCon, reportedly following orders from the fire marshal to shut everything down, people didn’t leave. They hung out in the parking lot where Mongeau and friends, like Thorne, stood with microphones talking about trying to salvage the situation. People stood around hoping to grab a selfie with any creator who passed by, revealing the true heart of something like TanaCon — opportunity.
It’s something that people have complained VidCon doesn’t do well. VidCon can charge a hefty fee — on top of the $150 community entry fee for non-creators, press or industry people, and there are a limited amount of spots. It’s disappointing for many con attendees, especially those who traveled from out of state or country, to not get a meet-and-greet with their favorite YouTubers. TanaCon launched on the premise that almost everyone could meet almost anyone for a much cheaper price, and that’s a big reason why so many hopeful teens showed up in the first place.
“Not everyone can afford VidCon, and there’s a lot of controversy going on with VidCon,” a young fan named Sally, who didn’t want to share her last name, told Polygon. “I can’t afford that. But I can afford this.”
Now, with TanaCon cancelled, people are looking for refunds and answers as to what happens next. Twitter is full of stories from TanaCon goers who paid hundreds of dollars in airfare, hotel stay and an additional $65 for VIP tickets, only to be left wondering how they’re supposed to get their money back. The lack of communication is startling for many, and it’s prompted creators like Shane Dawson to promise refunds from his own pocket if Mongeau’s management company doesn’t come through with refund options.
Even though TanaCon objectively went bad, Mongeau isn’t giving up on the idea of hosting another convention. She told DramaAlert’s Keemstar that creators deserve a space to meet with fans outside of participating in VidCon. It’s something that Mongeau told her fans on Instagram and Twitter, too, apologizing for not being well enough prepared. But she promised to continue trying.
“Everything will be made right no matter what,” Mongeau tweeted. “Never giving up. Creators deserve a voice. For free. This is about the fans and that’s what it will be about.”
Polygon has reached out to Good Times for more information about future TanaCons and the current refund situation.