When Erica Warren was diagnosed with cancer in fall 2012, she was able to attend one last gaming convention before a combination of surgery, chemo and radiation treatments left her feeling very ill.
Every convention Warren usually attends, including the popular Gen-Con in Indianapolis, is at least an hour from her home in South Bend. Still, she continued playing games like Pathfinder and Risk with her friends, and eventually conversations turned into discussions about having a local convention.
“Cancer teaches you that if there is something in life you want, grab it,” said Warren, 34, in an email interview. “And we know that ‘if you build it, they will come’ are wise words.”
So the group of friends formed the South Bend Gaming Association (SBGA). They are planning the first River-Con, a gaming, anime, sci-fi and fantasy convention scheduled for April 19, 2014, in downtown South Bend’s Century Center.
“We have such a rich gaming community here,” Warren said. “I knew the area was prime for a convention.”
Warren and her friend Molly Bush lead the SBGA, which consists of 10 members from St. Joseph and Elkhart counties. The group wants to encourage families to play games together, and River-Con is a big part of that message.
River-Con will be open to all ages (children younger than 16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian) and will feature card games, board games, tabletop games, live action role-playing games, pen and paper role-playing games, and more. Many tournaments and games will be free, while others will have fees.
Attendees are encouraged to dress in costume, or cosplay, and a costume contest will be judged by Michigan City-based Amanda Joyner, better known as Chef Bizzaro Millinery, and other judges.
Local crafters and businesses will be selling items at booths in a vendor hall. Panels planned for the first River-Con include a women in gaming panel and a history of comics panel, which will be moderated by Allen Stewart of the Hall of Heroes Museum in Elkhart. Nerd Life Productions will host a “geek speed dating” event.
More activities and events are in planning stages. A complete schedule will be released as River-Con moves closer.
Putting on a convention can cost between $15,000 and $20,000, so the SBGA is hosting several fundraisers to help cover costs. Four days remain on River-Con’s Kickstarter campaign. The original goal of $2,000 has been met, but the group is looking for funding to cover stretch goals, which will add more panels to River-Con, bring a special guest to the event and allow SBGA to rent more space from the Century Center.
“We have just gotten a ton of local support,” Warren said. “Bicycle Art and Tattoo, Better World Books (in) Goshen and The Ludus Machine have all committed to support us.”
Other fundraisers include a blood drive and gaming event at Better World Books planned for December and a humans vs. zombies nerf war at The State theater in downtown South Bend. SBGA is hoping to host another blood drive in February and is working on plans for a fundraiser in March.
“We can’t do this alone,” Warren said. “If people can give to the Kickstarter or any of our fundraisers, awesome. If not, help spread the word about the convention. A lot of vendors and game publishers look at (attendance) numbers, and the better our numbers, the more we can bring (attendees) next year.”