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Simcident Report: How FlightSimCon Became FlightSimExpo

todayDecember 9, 2022 20 1

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Welcome to Simcident Report, where we take a look at noteworthy, dramatic, and historic events in flight simming.

This is the story of the collapse of FlightSimCon and the rise of FlightSimExpo. How one convention split from another over creative differences over how to make a more community-focused event… or unfairly stole the resources and format of another because of toxic male privilege, depending on who you ask.

Control of the virtual skies

Every hobby, no matter how niche, has a con.

For a while, FlightSimCon, held annually in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, and led by organizer Nicole Glander, held the title of North America’s premier convention focusing on “networking and learning for enthusiasts of desktop flight simulation programs and aviation in general.”

Glander stated that she came up with the idea for FlightSimCon when her flight sim enthusiast husband Chuck said that he had never met any of the people he played flight sim online with. The pair set out to create a convention for flight sim fans at the nearby New England Air Museum with their event planning company, Glander Associates Event Management Solutions. Although similar conventions existed in Europe and Australia, there was no such event in the United States at the time. Glander Associates had found a niche and were working hard to fill it.

FlightSimCon 2013 was a small event held in a hotel ballroom but attendees and exhibitors were excited about the convention’s future. One of the earliest exhibitors at FlightSimCon, Boston Virtual ARTCC, took a particular interest in the event and worked closely with Glander Associates to help grow it into a larger con.

Founded in 2006, Boston Virtual ARTCC, or BVA is an organization dedicated to simulated air traffic control operations in the New England region using the VATSIM network. BVA pilots and controllers fly together using VATSIM and offer controller services to other pilots on the network. The group also offers training for new controllers and organizes community events within the flight simulator.

BVA was involved in FlightSimCon since the beginning, being featured on the con’s website from 2013 onwards. Through the years, BVA heads Evan Reiter and Phill Coyle became more involved in the planning and organization of the convention. The pair would often appear alongside or in place of founder Nicole Glander in official interviews and promos for the event.

By 2017, FlightSimCon boasted over 700 attendees and featured some of the biggest names in the flight sim industry. This included flight sim developers such as Laminar Research, (XPlane) Dovetail Games, (FSX: Steam Edition and Flight Sim World), and Lockheed Martin. (P3D) Also in attendance were big-name add-on developers such as Orbx, Aerosoft, and flyTampa as well as real-world aviation organizations such as the Civil Air Patrol and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Unfortunately for Glander Associates, 2017 would be the last year that FlightSimCon would be the largest and most successful flight sim convention in North America. Behind the scenes, disagreements over the future direction of the convention were taking hold.

Whose con is it anyway?

In December 2017, a newly formed group calling itself the Flight Simulation Association made a post to its Facebook page announcing a brand new flight simulator convention called FlightSimExpo to be held in Las Vegas in June of 2018. This conflicted with the already announced FlightSimCon 2018 which would also take place in June at a new venue in Dallas.

It soon became apparent that the team from BVA had broken away from Glander Associates and was starting their own flight sim convention. FlightSimExpo billed itself as the “community-focused” convention. Their choice of venue, The Flamingo Las Vegas Resort, they claimed, had been a result of feedback they had received from vendors and attendees at FlightSimCon 2017.

Some comments reacted with confusion. Boston Virtual had become pretty much synonymous with FlightSimCon and many in the community were under the impression that the con was a BVA event. Why was BVA starting a competing flight sim convention? Had some major disagreement driven the organizers of FlightSimCon apart?

FlightSimCon would later clarify in Facebook comments on their 2018 event announcement posts:

To be clear, FlightSimCon was never a Boston Virtual event, nor managed by Boston Virtual. While BVA was always an important customer and partner of FSC, and while BVA members certainly contributed a great deal (including myself!), BVA was just that – a customer and partner.

and

FSC was always intended to be a multi community event, and was never a BVA exclusive thing. But since up until this year the event was held in New England, there were a lot of BVA people that attended and assisted. So it would be easy to see why that perception existed.

FlightSimExpo would also explain in a comment on their announcement post:

Although FlightSimExpo is being run by a group of members from BVA, we’re an independent convention, 100% driven by the wishes of the community. In truth, it’s the flight simulation vendors — and the Launch Partners you see on our website — that are behind this event. Sadly, our team has parted ways with FlightSimCon.

The FlightSimExpo team would add on Reddit,

Many of our team members were involved with FlightSimCon in the past. In our role, we worked closely with the flight simulation community. It was clear that flight simulation developers from around the world, led by FlightSimExpo top sponsor Orbx, were extremely interested in a convention in Las Vegas. Also, I think alot of attendees were looking for a change in scenery as well. Unfortunately, the same view wasn’t shared by FlightSimCon’s event managers. As a result, the team from Boston Virtual ARTCC worked with the flight simulation community to develop and launch FlightSimExpo. I am really glad you asked this, as this is something we really want to be upfront about. It is something I really want to talk about with the community, as well as inform those who aren’t aware.

FlightSimCon would later deny that there was any bad blood between FlightSimCon and FlightSimExpo when addressing another comment on their post.

We love BVA and all their members. But there were some folks from BVA that wanted to create a spinoff. We’ll be able to share more about what happened soon. But for now, we’re excited that the Dallas event is gathering a lot of excitement and momentum.

And so it was official, 2018 would be the year of two competing North American flight sim cons which were totally ok with each other guys really.

Con Artists?

In January of 2018, any semblance of the teams behind the two conventions being on good terms with one another crumbled away when news site FSElite published an exposé on the internal power struggle which occurred in the aftermath of FlightSimCon 2017. FSElite reported that near the end of the 2017 con, a closed-door meeting between the various add-on developers took place in which the idea of moving the convention to Las Vegas was casually floated. The idea somehow leaked out of this meeting and onto the general convention floor and soon enough FlightSimCon 2018 Las Vegas was all anyone was talking about.

Orbx, one of the key sponsors of FlightSimCon made it clear in emails to the con’s events team that they were interested in sponsoring the next year’s event once again, provided that it takes place in Las Vegas.

Glander Associates was uneasy about the idea of FlightSimCon moving to Las Vegas. The con was intended to be a family-friendly event, and Las Vegas didn’t seem to fit that description. While Glander Associates was open to the idea of moving to a larger venue and began exploring options in other cities, Reiter and Coyle of BVA were making moves on their own.

Although various members of BVA were under contract with Glander Associates for the 2017 event, their contract with the firm expired at the event’s closing. More importantly, no members of BVA had signed a non-compete agreement with Glander Associates.

Reiter and Coyle were convinced that Glander Associates was not interested in hearing the feedback from the developers, and not interested in moving the convention at all. It was their belief that if FlightSimCon was held in Connecticut once again, it would become difficult to convince the sponsors and attendees to keep returning.

It was at this point that the BVA team made a formal push to take over control of the convention from Glander Associates, stating in an email “Nicole, at this point, the best way you can help grow the future of FlightSimCon is to transition the responsibility of running the event to [us].” The two parties reportedly engaged in negotiations but were unable to agree on a purchase price for the FlightSimCon name and assets. By September 5th, the BVA team had formally ended their partnership with Glander Associates and began planning FlightSimExpo.

The FlightSimExpo team insisted that their decision was not about money; It was unlikely that FlightSimExpo would be a profitable venture. Instead, the team desired to create a con that would draw in more support from the flight sim community.

FlightSimCon publicly called out FlightSimExpo on the AVSim Forum for what they described as unethical poaching of clients and attendees for their event. In the view of Glander Associates, the BVA team had no right to make a bid to take over an event that had been started by Nicole and her husband and was just now finally becoming profitable. They dismissed FlightSimExpo’s claim that they were ignoring community feedback since they had moved their event to a more centrally located and accessible venue in Dallas.

With both event teams heavily involved in the past conventions, and with both having numerous contacts within the flight sim community, ultimately, it would be up to the vendors to decide which event better catered to their needs and would ultimately be the bigger success.

In This Corner…

Over the coming months, both FlightSimExpo and FlightSimCon would announce more and more exhibitors, sponsors, and partners coming to their respective events. By June of 2018, FlightSimExpo, which had branded itself as “North America’s Community Focused Flight Sim Convention” featured a lineup that included all of the major flight sim developers, all of the big name add-on developers who had attended FlightSimCon 2017 plus some new ones as well, community multiplayer organizations like VATSIM, and peripheral makers such as Thrustmaster and Stay Level Avionix. Speakers booked by the con included noted aviation consultant and TV personality John Cox, Robert Randazzo of add-on developer PMDG, and X-Plane lead developer Austin Meyer. The con would also take full advantage of its Las Vegas host to offer some unique aviation-related experiences outside of the convention.

FlightSimCon, which had branded itself as “The Original FlightSimCon” had its own lineup which featured home cockpit builder group Cockpit-Fest, several full-scale flight simulators, aviation training school Gleim Aviation, and multiplayer network IVAO. Speakers and appearances included former Top Gun Instructor, Congressman, and convicted felon Duke Cunningham, head of the National Association of Flight Instructors Rick Todd, and a Tom Cruise impersonator named Maverick.

FlightSimCon’s list of featured exhibitors and speakers was by no means a bad showing, but it was clear that FlightSimExpo had grabbed all of the big names that made FlightSimCon 2017 such a draw in the community. Although attendees reported having a good time at the convention, overall FlightSimCon 2018 felt like a step down for the former largest flight sim convention in North America. Although no attendance numbers were announced, it’s clear from the videos of half-empty halls that FlightSimCon 2018 wasn’t as big as its organizers had hoped it would be.

Meanwhile, FightSimExpo 2018 was by all accounts a roaring success. The sold-out con boasted over 1,100 attendees and gained a lot of positive media coverage in the flight sim community.

It was clear that the average flight simmer, cared little about the internal power dynamics of two competing conventions. For them choosing FlightSimExpo over FlightSimCon wasn’t some moral judgment, it was simply a matter of which convention had the better lineup. Despite being a new con in its first year, FlightSimExpo had managed to draw a larger crowd and generate more industry buzz than the well-established FlightSimCon. It appeared that FlightSimExpo had picked the winning strategy by catering to the wishes of the major players in the industry.

True to their word on trying to create a community-focused event, FlightSimExpo held a poll to have the community vote on the next venue for their 2019 con. The Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld in Florida was chosen and preparations were underway for the weekend of June 9th.

Fiery Crash

Meanwhile, FlightSimCon announced their 2019 event which would explore “Flight Sim Greed” with a focus on former members of FlightSimCon who had stolen from the convention. The convention was of course scheduled for the same weekend as FlightSimExpo, ensuring that attendees couldn’t attend both if they wanted to.

Family fun for all ages.

The announcement from FlightSimCon was met with disappointment from the simmers who had grown tired of the pettiness and just wanted to see FlightSimCon try to carve their own niche and expand their event… or with ridicule from those who just wanted to watch a plane crash. By the time registration opened in May, the convention was an online-only affair featuring multiple presentations on piracy, greed, and theft.

While FlightSimExpo 2019 had over 1,600 attendees, FlightSimCon 2019 saw little in terms of attendance or coverage.

Throughout the rest of 2019 and into 2020, FlightSimCon continued to post excerpts from emails between the BVA staff and various parties alleging that the convention was stolen from Glander Associates because of toxic male privilege.

Each of FlightSimCon’s posts would accuse an ever growing number of former staff of plotting against the event.

Although her comments were dismissed by most of the few who were still watching, Glander did have a point. According to surveys conducted by Navigraph just 0.7% of flight simulator players identified as women. This number is minuscule even when compared to the global pool of real-life pilots of which women make up a whopping 5%. To their credit, FlightSimCon did spend considerable time and effort promoting the achievements of women in aviation.

FlightSimCon celebrates the achievements of women in aviation, past and present.

Something FlightSimExpo was… a bit less good at.

FlightSimExpo celebrates a computer owned by a female flight simmer.

It certainly wasn’t a great look for a major flight sim convention formerly run by a woman to be taken over by a group of mostly men, even if there were valid reasons behind the change. At this point though, FlightSimCon had already burned whatever goodwill was left between them and the flight sim community, and their Facebook posts amounted to little more than desperate screaming into the void.

Defying Convention

FlightSimCon’s website went offline in late 2019 and their Facebook account hasn’t posted since early 2021. It’s safe to say, FlightSimCon is officially dead.

FlightSimExpo, on the other hand, continues on. Their 2020 event in Las Vegas was canceled. In 2021, the event returned, this time in San Diego to 700 attendees before taking a break for 2022.

It’s hard to tell how long FlightSimExpo will remain North America’s largest flight sim convention. FSExpo plans to return in 2023, this time in Houston Texas. Hopefully, the organizers remembered to have their staff sign non-compete clauses. 

An earlier revision of this article was previously posted on Reddit.

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