Podfest Multimedia Expo

Over a month ago now at the beginning of March, Craft Brew Geek and I had the opportunity to attend the Podfest Multimedia Expo, the largest indie podcast conference in the world. While it was a bit of a scary experience to travel and attend when the coronavirus was just starting to make waves in the United States (which wasn’t aided by an over 4 hour delay at the airport for our flight back home), it was still a great conference even if it was plagued by a poor venue and questionable organization.

The sessions at Podfest covered a wide range of topics. Interested in video? Audio drama? Traditional podcasting? Marketing? The technical aspects of recording and audio engineering? There was something there for you to get some value. The organization of it all was pretty clunky, though. The first day of the conference was dedicated to a sub-conference called “Vidfest”, and that required a different pass than the “standard” pass. So while you could arrive for the first day to check in and get your badge, there was nothing for you to attend.

The second day focused on break-out sessions. These were also broken out into different categories, access to which once again was dependent upon the type of pass you had purchased. This resulted in a lot of people with the general attendance pass being limited to a small number of breakout sessions that were being conducted in rooms without nearly enough seating; many sessions I had to stand and people were spilling out of the doors into the hallways. After a break for lunch, we decided to pick a room that seemed to have the most promising sessions for the remainder of the day, get there early to snag seats in the back, and simply NEVER leave to avoid giving them up.

The third day felt like what should have been the first day; the entire morning was dedicated to the keynote… which we may have arrived a little early for if the photo above is an indication that we had literally the entire room to ourselves for about 30 minutes. The afternoon had more breakout sessions, though at this point everything was open to all attendees. While the rooms were still more crowded than I would’ve liked, it wasn’t quite as bad as the day prior. The last day followed this and just had a morning of breakout sessions.

Overall it was a fun experience, even with the looming specter of COVID-19 hanging over everything. I learned a few things I was able to use to help in my own podcasts, with good timing considering how we’ve switched to remote recording for both the Unusually Pink Podcast and the Same Shade of Difference Podcast while everyone is self-quarantining.

One of the big benefits of the event was that it was held in Orlando, which has plenty of things to do. I can only hope future events pick a venue with much more space (a complaint the organizers made known they were already well aware of by the time of the keynote.) Craft Brew Geek and I spent our first day patrolling the area for cool street art. While some of my favorites we came across are above, be sure to follow his Instagram account so see everything we saw on this trip and more.

Being the professionals that we are, Craft Brew Geek and I selected our hotel not for proximity to the conference (we had about a 30 minutes drive to get there each day), but for proximity to breweries in the area. It’s important to have priorities. We visited many cool places, including Dead Lizard, RockPit, Hourglass, Crooked Can, and Ten10. They were all terrific places, though RockPit was my favorite of the trip. They had amazing beer, terrific service, great WiFi, and excellent food from the barbeque joint next door. We spent about 6 hours sitting there drinking, eating, and working on the day we arrived in Orlando. We were able to put up stickers both there and at Dead Lizard. Ten10 is worthy of note for not only having excellent beer and food, but for being the first brewery I’ve ever seen to block VPN access on their WiFi. I even got to satisfy my taste for liquor by enjoying Delaney’s Tavern’s take on the Old Fashioned: a New Fashioned.

One of the coolest experiences of the trip happened at Dead Lizard, though, where we took over a table and set up all of our equipment to record a podcast on-location. It was a fun time, and it showed us that our travel podcast setup works pretty nicely… even if the microphone stands are entirely too heavy. The TSA apparently agreed since they had to open my bag and see what the hell I had in it.

On the whole, I definitely had an enjoyable trip. I learned plenty of new things at the event, got to see the sights in Orlando, had an opportunity to catch up with some family I rarely see, and (of course) drink a LOT of great beer. I’m also glad I was able to go on a trip immediately preceding the current lockdown as a means of holding off the cabin fever we’re all currently experiencing.

BlizzCon and the AXS of Evil

As we mention in our latest episode, our plans have changed and we will not be going to BlizzCon this year. We could just let it go and accept that it is what it is… but remember how I mentioned my love of throwing salt into the Internet? So we’re gonna do that instead!

AXS: The most useless ticketing service

We mentioned a few of our issues with AXS in Episode 5. It’s the new ticketing service that Blizzard decided to go with this year. Using AXS was a first for them; last year they went with Universe. In theory, it seemed like a good idea for a convention as popular as BlizzCon where there’s always a massive scramble to get tickets. Instead of having to hope you’re lucky enough to click on the button to buy tickets within 0.23 seconds of it going live, AXS is supposed to serve as an equalizer. They open up a lobby 30 minutes before tickets are available. Anyone who is in that lobby at any time before tickets go live is supposed to have an equal chance at getting them. Hopeful customers are randomly selected from the lobby and are given 7 minutes to purchase their tickets. Seven minutes is plenty of time, but if you don’t purchase them within that allotment then you’ve lost your opportunity and someone else from the lobby is given a chance at them.

The problem is that it didn’t fucking work at all. Instead of getting tickets when I submitted the purchase after getting lucky RNG, I got this error. Over and over and over.

I immediately opened support cases with both Blizzard and AXS. Blizzard was insanely unhelpful. They first asserted it must’ve been an issue with my card. I told them I tried 3 different cards with the same results, and that I saw pending transactions for each of them. They then told me it would have to be handled through AXS. This isn’t surprising, but I was hoping they would be a bit more accommodating considering it was an error on the side of the partner they were ignorant enough to select. So I then waited to hear something on my support case with AXS. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Days went by without hearing anything, so I hit them up on Twitter where they asked me to DM them. I sent them my case number and they responded with the following lovely exchange:

Essentially they just admitted that their service didn’t do the one thing it’s supposed to do. On top of that, they didn’t even bother to read my reply, let alone respond to it. As I point out with the arrows I drew in the screenshot above, the blue check next to my original message means that it was “Seen”. The grey check next to my follow-up questions simply means that it was “Sent”. If that isn’t garbage-tier customer service, I don’t know what is.

Also, this apparently counted as covering the support case I opened as I never received an email or anything else in regard to it.

Despite this setback, we were still planning to go. Brandi had been in touch with someone we met at BlizzCon last year who has a friend who works for Blizzard and thus was supposedly able to hit us up with tickets. They weren’t on lockdown yet since internal folks apparently get their tickets later on, but we figured worst-case scenario we’d get to hang out in southern California for a few days. It was a nice bonus because I we got a great deal on a hotel… until we didn’t.

Hilton us where it hurts

If you’ve ever been to BlizzCon before, then you know the Anaheim Hilton is the place to be. Along with being right next to the Anaheim Convention Center for easy access to BlizzCon, it’s also the after-hours social hub of the convention with parties breaking out each night. The Hilton embraces this and last year had a bunch of pop-up bars in the lobby selling Bottle Logic’s special StarCraft 20th Anniversary beer. It was awesome.

Last year we didn’t stay at the Hilton because, on top of just being a Hilton, event prices are pretty insane. Staying for just 4 days, for example, easily pushes over $2,000 USD. I have family who works for Hilton which means I can often get a “friends and family” discount, but events are always blacked out. Brandi and I just happened to check this year, though, and sure enough discounted rooms were available. Suffice to say we pounced on one, booking 5 days for half the price most people were paying for 4 days. Even if something fell through without our BlizzCon tickets, being in the area and in the epicenter for the happenings of the convention still seemed super fun. Unfortunately, a week later I got the following email:

“We are contacting you regarding your upcoming Go Hilton reservation at Hilton Anaheim – Confirmation # XXXXXXXXXX. Unfortunately, due to a misconfiguration in our booking system there were Go Hilton rates offered that should have not been made available. This affected reservations booked between May 09th and May 13th 2019. We regret to inform you that we can no longer honor these reservations, and they will be cancelled shortly. We are deeply sorry for this inconvenience and appreciate your understanding due to the systems error.”

Followed shortly by a cancellation email with the most tone-deaf greeting possible:

“JOHN, we’re sorry to see you go! We hope you allow Hilton Hotels & Resorts the opportunity to serve you in the future.”

When I let Brandi know, we were both pretty fed up with the whole ordeal. Along with losing the insanely good Hilton pricing, now a week had passed since most people would have booked their rooms… meaning that the availability of something else in the area had already been shrinking. We would have to settle for a worse room at a higher price. Did we really want to spend the money and go through the hassle when neither of us having even played a Blizzard game in the past three months? Ultimately the answer was no, so we’ll be bailing on the convention this year.

With the money we aren’t spending on BlizzCon, Brandi and I will likely do other cool shit this year. I have a few other trips in mind that I’d like to take, and Brandi is getting a freaking puppy! Expect TONS of puppy pics on Instagram when that happens!

In the meantime, keep the Morton’s flowing and stay pink!