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How a gaming weekend with mates turned into an award-winning annual convention with 4000 attendees

Fast-forward seven years, and these guys are running an award-winning analog gaming festival that attracted no less than 4000 attendees to its most recent event.

a group of fish swimming in the water with logo airecon

It was just another average weekend when Mark Cooke decided to invite his mates around for a mini tabletop gaming convention – what better way to while away the hours while his wife was away on a hen do? Granted, it was a pretty impressive weekender considering it all took place at Mark’s flat (he even managed to secure a sponsor). But still, it would have been hard to predict just how game-changing (sorry) the whole thing would end up being for Mark and his friend-slash-co-founder, Ben. 

Fast-forward seven years, and these guys are running an award-winning analog gaming festival that attracted no less than 4000 attendees to its most recent event.

AireCon, which currently takes place at the Harrogate Convention Centre, provides a place for eager tabletop gaming fans to convene, play and connect with like-minded people. It prides itself on being super welcoming and inclusive – there’s no need to rally a group to attend with (although you can if you want to!), as those visiting alone will get tons of opportunities to connect with others. 

Keep reading to learn all about Mark and Ben’s awesome journey – from mates killing time one weekend, to co-founders of one of the country’s most successful gaming conventions. It really is impressive stuff.

✅ Key takeaways

💭Getting creative when it comes to devising ways to help attendees make friends is a great way to ensure everyone gets the absolute most out of a convention.

🎟️ Allowing attendees to buy tickets for certain elements of the convention in advance helps things run smoothly on the day – and means attendees have more time to relax and enjoy things without worrying about logistics. 

💡Every event is a learning opportunity for the next one – when talking about the logistics of upscaling their venue this year, Mark talks about how it’s impossible to know how everything will pan out until the event itself is happening!

a group of people sitting at tables playing cards

Ticket Tailor: So, what’s AireCon all about? Give our readers a quick overview:

Mark: AireCon is an analog gaming festival. We focus on all sorts of tabletop games, such as board games, RPG games, miniature games, social deduction games and more. We have lots of exhibitors showing off their games and related products, as well as events, special guests, a huge library of games to borrow from and lots and lots of tables to sit down and play games with others.

Ticket Tailor: How did it all come about? Rumour has it, things began in your very own flat… 

Mark: Yep! My wife went away for a hen weekend, so I decided to hold a mini-convention at my place. We had such a great time that I decided to team up with my friend Ben in setting up another convention, but this time in a church hall. After two sell out events we quickly realised that we’d need to upsize, so partnered with a local board game store to move the event to larger premises at the Harrogate Convention Centre. It’s been held there ever since – continuing to grow, year-on-year. 

Ticket Tailor: From your earliest days to now – what have been some of your biggest milestones and challenges along the way?

Mark: The biggest challenge we face is retaining the welcoming atmosphere AireCon has become known for, while also accommodating the growth of the event. But by focusing on making sure there’s plenty of space for everyone to play, and initiatives that help people find others to game with, it’s still an event where people are able to make friends for life. Some of our biggest milestones have included moving from a flat to a church hall to a convention centre, and seeing the attendance grow from just 30 people to nearly 4000 in just 7 years. We’re also proud to have won ‘Best UK Tabletop Gaming Event’ from both the SME Awards and Innovation in Business awards. 

Ticket Tailor: AireCon seems to be packed full of amazing events, exhibitors and activities… What goes into organising a convention with so many elements? 

Mark: There is a lot going on! But thankfully we have an amazing team of people that help out. We’ve got a core team of 12 people who all oversee different elements of the convention, and then an army of nearly 50 volunteers give up their time to help make AireCon a great event for all attendees. The thing we’re well known for is the amount of space we have for people to sit and play games for a weekend – as a team we always make time to meet in the gaming halls, and look around, enjoying the sights and sounds of people having fun.

a person standing in front of a shelf of board games

Ticket Tailor: Sounds awesome. So, how did AireCon 2023 go? Any highlights or interesting challenges that you had to overcome?

Mark: AireCon 2023 saw us moving into even larger halls. There were logistical challenges in getting everything set up, but also ensuring it all felt cohesive. Some of these things are never obvious until you run the event. We were really pleased with how the event went, but have learnt a lot to be able to start planning to make AireCon 2024 even better!

Ticket Tailor: It’s clear that AireCon is a great place to meet people – your website offers lots of advice for those who might be feeling a bit nervous about attending alone, for example. Why is this focus on inclusivity and accessibility so important to you?

Mark: Gaming, by its nature, is a very social hobby. As you sit down to play with a group of people, you all instantly have something in common in the game that you’re playing together. So we look for ways to help people overcome that initial barrier of introducing themselves to others. We try to get creative with initiatives to achieve this – for example, we have ‘light sabres’ that people can put on their table to show that there’s a game with space for players. We also have a bespoke online system that allows people to arrange games in advance. We gear a lot of our events around helping people get to know others, too – for example, via group games, or mixers at local cafes before the halls open.

In terms of accessibility, we consult with a group of very knowledgeable people to ensure we’re getting all the necessary information out there in advance, to ensure anyone with accessibility needs knows what to expect and can plan accordingly.

Ticket Tailor: How do you go about ticketing your events?

Mark: A lot of work goes into budgeting the event and making it affordable for anyone that wants to attend. We offer single day and multi day tickets. We also use Ticket Tailor for event tickets and to allow attendees to pre order merch.

Ticket Tailor: For your 2023 event, people could buy tickets for RPGs (role-playing games) in advance – what’s the thinking behind this particular ticketing strategy?

Mark: It allows people to plan their weekend in advance. RPGs usually need a minimum number of people to run, so this shows us in advance if we're going to be short on a game, and also allows us to quickly see which games still have space during the show. Having the tickets available in advance also cuts down on the amount of admin required during the show, meaning people have more time to enjoy their convention experience.

a board game with different objects on it

Ticket Tailor: We have to ask… Why choose Ticket Tailor as your ticketing partner? We’d love to know if there are any features you find particularly useful for your kind of convention:

Mark: The low cost plus high functionality works great for us. We also like the integration with Stripe and having a great widget for our website, so people can buy with confidence!

Ticket Tailor: That’s great to hear! Finally, what does the future hold for Airecon?

Mark: We’re expanding the brand, having launched two more events this year, one in Telford (ACWest), happening on the 27th-29th October, and one in Manchester (ACNorthWest), happening on the 8th-10th December. We hope to be able to continue to replicate the success of our original event, and see more people enjoy the fantastic hobby of tabletop gaming!

Ticket Tailor: We’re sure you will! Good luck and thanks so much for chatting to us!

To check out this awesome analog gaming convention for yourself, head over to the AireCon website >

And to find out how Ticket Tailor can help you run your own brilliant convention, with low-cost ticketing and tons of time-saving features, just head here >

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