The Helsinki Worldcon is now well underway, and the big topic of conversation is the attendance. On the face of it, this is a good thing. We all want Worldcon to grow. The largest number of attending members in history is still LA Con II in 1984 with 8365. LonCon 3 in 2014 had more members in total, but only 6946 attending. The last I heard Helinki was up to 6001. Some of those may be day members, who have to be counted somewhat differently from full attending members, but even so it is an impressive number. Helsinki certainly looks like being in the top 5 Worldcons by size.
Unfortunately, based on previous Worldcons outside of the US/UK axis, expected numbers for Helsinki were more like 3500. Messukeskus could handle that easily. It is more than big enough in terms of exhibit space for what we have. But the function space, where programming happens, is stretched to the limit.
There are many things that a Worldcon can do to cope with the unexpected, but building new program rooms is not one of them. Seeing how memberships were going, Helsinki did negotiate some space in the library across the road. It did not try to turn empty exhibit halls into function space because we all know how badly that went in Glasgow in 1995.
Hopefully tomorrow, with more program streams in operation, the pressure on space will ease, but right now what we have is every program room packed solid and many people getting turned away. Messukeskus is very hot on fire safety. Personally I’m going to avoid program at much as I can because I have been to many Worldcons and there are lots of people for whom this is their first experience of the convention. Hopefully other regulars will do the same. I don’t envy the Helsinki team trying to sort this out, but I guess if you must have a major problem it is better to have one that was caused by your amazing success in other areas.
Everything else appears to be running fairly smoothly. There are plenty of food vendors open at the convention and they seem to be doing excellent business. The dealers, fan tables and art show are all up and running. If I’m not trying to get to panels I may see more of the convention tomorrow.