RollerCon never sleeps. It takes an army of volunteers and a full year to plan for 5,000+ enthusiasts who make annual pilgrimage
to Las Vegas, Nevada
every last weekend of July for the largest and longest running Roller Derby
event on Earth. Most of these who attend this five-day marathon of all things Derby are competitive skaters. Veterans return to renew friendly rivalries and some to hand down their skills to the legion many newer skaters who queue up early in the morning to attend their classes and seminars. Even with over 160 scheduled competitions, hundreds of classes and seminars, and dozens of official events and parties, there is a certain frantic-ness as this Convention
kicks off. There is a sense that, if you blink, all of the best of a sumptuous banquet can be gobbled up before you can get through registration. There is so much to do and so much to see. Even for the initiated, making the most out of RollerCon takes some planning in the year before the event.
RollerCon was created back when modern flat-track Roller Derby was in its infancy by a small group of friends who wanted to get together to play some mash-up Derby for fun and to throw a party. The same holds true today, only this friend-list is somewhere in the ballpark of 4,000-5,000 and the number of these mash-up, challenge bouts is around 160 events starting at 9AM and ending at 11PM every day for five days on two tracks.
Even for those attendees who do not even want (or cannot) skate, many of these challenge bouts feature some of the best current talent in the world. Many of these "old-friends" are now the vanguard and the elite of the Roller Derby community. The "fun mash-ups" are now heated (if friendly) rivalries with bragging rights going to the victors. RollerCon is one of the only times a year in which the likes of Jackie Daniels, Quadzilla, Demanda Riot, Scald Eagle, Peter Pan, The Smactivist, Smarty Pants, and Stephanie Mainey will be skating in unique and sometimes dazzling spectacles such as "Team Vagine vs. The Caulksuckers, "Magic Mike vs. Chippendales," "Fasholes vs. Tomboys," "Riedell vs. Antik," "East All-Stars vs. West All-Stars," "Chupacabras vs. Team SeXy," "Co-Ed Cripplers vs. Elitist Scumbags," and many other fantastic and sometimes flamboyantly attired competitions.
These, however, are only a sampling of the many challenge bouts that take place over RollerCon's five days of Roller Derby. There are so many opportunities for skaters of all levels of experience to compete in! Still, for the uninitiated and unprepared, the planning and execution of these challenge bouts is an almost assured enigma. It was only nearing the conclusion of my first RollerCon, did I begin to have an understanding that planning for participating in these challenge bouts begins the previous November.
On Thanksgiving morning at midnight, the RollerCon FORUM is updated for the following year. Interested captains for "potential" challenge bouts open their posts for skaters to sign up to skate in. Even though a challenge can have up to 20 skaters per team, and many more "alternates", there is no guarantee that a skater will be accepted to skate in any given challenge. There is not even a guarantee that a challenge "posted" on the forum will be "accepted" by RollerCon. The captains of the challenges must submit their rosters starting midnight, March 1st. The RollerCon organizers write that within that first hour on the first of March over 200 challenges get submitted for approval with only 160-ish available time-slots. For those challenges that get accepted, there is no guarantee of a particular time-slot. The challenge could be at 9AM on the first day or 8:30PM on the last. Many of the challenges are rivalries with stable line-ups that have been going on for years, and some of these may (or may not) get preferential treatment. For these, some Captains may not even post to the forum looking for prospective skaters.
Give up yet?
Such a level of uncertainty can certainly be intimidating for someone wanting to participate in the challenges at RollerCon! But veteran RollerCon attendees will encourage those who may be so intimidated that there are many opportunities to skate in these challenges even if they logon and find all of the rosters full on the forum. Most inevitably, there will be many skaters on the rosters for these challenges who, for a plethora of reasons, are not able to participate in the challenges they signed up for. Cancellations, injuries, and travel problems are a few causes. Scheduling conflicts and over-indulging at a party the previous night are others. For these and many other reasons, for a great deal of challenges, skaters just don't show up and captain's find themselves scrambling to fill their rosters at the last minute. It is rather commonplace to find skaters "jumping in" in this manner.
For any skater who wants to get in on as many challenges as they can get in this manner, all they require is patience and an assortment of different colored shirts! A "jump in" skater must take an existing number on the roster for Officiating purposes. I have seen some skaters who have taped up the tails of their tee shirts to expose their lower backs on which multiple numbers have been written and crossed off.
For more on RollerCon challenge bouts and how to prepare for them, go here.
Anyone who desires to participate in some way on skates at RollerCon requires valid insurance issued by WFTDA or USARS and a skater pass. These passes are typically available in quantity at least until the late Spring before the convention. Yet, for many attendees, the ability to participate in the on-skates training classes offered at RollerCon is the primary reason to attend.
Those same elite and veteran skaters who come to compete also come to share their many years of experience with tomorrow's aspiring stars. In previous years, Smarty Pants has taught "Footwork for Jamming" for skaters new to contact, Carmen Getsome has taught "Pack Performance" to bout-experienced skaters, Mercy Shammah taught "Stop That Bitch" to advanced skaters, and Sausage Rolls has taught "Edges Edges Edges" to skaters of all levels. I personally took a "Basics of Jam Skating" class with Quadzilla during my first RollerCon. Smooth and funky, I was not!
Every on-skates class is limited to the number of participants (usually 50 per class). There is a sign-up registration which opens a couple of hours before each class and the most popular classes taught by the biggest names in Derby usually fill quickly.
It is also necessary to purchase a special MVP pass instead of a regular skater pass to participate in these on-skates classes. All passes go on sale shortly after Thanksgiving during the previous year. MVP passes can sell out quickly and often do so before the start of the new year. Blocks of MVP tickets to periodically go on sale after they have officially sold-out, as the result of cancellations, but any skater wanting to skate-with-the-greats would be wise to buy themselves an early Christmas gift!
But what about those who do not skate, those behind-the-scenes people without whom Roller Derby could not happen? For them, opportunities for learning also abound. There are many classroom seminars for them and for skaters too, on a dazzling array of knowledge to take back home to embetter themselves and their home leagues.
For multiple years, Val Capone has taught announcing and held roundtables for announcers. There has been business, financial and management seminars to help grow and manage Roller Derby Leagues. There has been seminars to recruit and retain skaters, officials and volunteers. There has been specialized seminars on turning a league into a 501C3 enterprise. There has been marketing seminars, seminars on promoting events and on fundraising. For coaches and trainers, there has been seminars on coaching and seminars on physical therapy, nutrition, conditioning and cross-training. And for officials, high level certified officials teach rules, standards and practices, including a few round-table rules discussions for the skaters to participate in, those care to learn the rules!
Unlike more conventional conventions, in which attendees, vendors and organizers have rather clear demarcations, volunteers handle every aspect of RollerCon. This will come to little surprise to Roller Derby insiders, who organize and manage their own leagues back home. This DIY volunteer, skater-ran culture has allowed Roller Derby and RollerCon to grow very quickly and has kept the cost of the event extremely affordable.
All kinds of jobs need to be done at RollerCon: emergency medical technicians, registrars, vendor liaisons, track managers, announcers, coaches and seminar leaders, photographers, and an army of logistics volunteers called "Dicks" all keep the the convention running smoothly. Oh, and of course the officials, a group with which I share some experience with.
I attended RollerCon for the first time in 2013, the same year I began to officiate Roller Derby as a skating referee. Like many who have shared the experience as a RollerCon newbee, I found myself woefully overwhelmed and unprepared. It was only afterwards that I understood that the convention is run on the goodwill of hundreds of volunteers and that volunteers and attendees alike had been preparing for their RollerCon experience late in the previous year.
All volunteers must sign up with a website called Volgistics which manages the volunteer schedules for RollerCon. Once a volunteer's account is created, the volunteer can sign up for any available shifts. For many groups of volunteers, shifts are specific blocks of time. Officiating shifts are organized in time blocks for the scrimmage/open skate track but by the game-time allotment per competition for the challenges and full-length bouts.
An experienced official should have a history of over 20 documented regulation games and over two years of experience to officiate in the R2 and N2 (R for referees N for NSOs) category of events, usually A level or A-B level gameplay. For those with less than 2 years of experience or less than 20 documented games, it is recommended that these officials stick with the R1 and N1 tier of competition. The most popular full length games get staffed by an application process closer to the convention date.
As the calendar year progresses, and the RollerCon planners accept challenges, they will begin to assign shifts to officiate. This is a staggered process throughout the Spring and Summer, and scheduling changes are to be expected. A skating referee can participate in up to 5 refereeing positions per day and an unlimited number of non-skating positions per day. With just a little bit of diligence early in the year, it is possible to create a fairly comprehensive schedule of officiating shifts by the time RollerCon is eminent.
Inevitably, just as with the skaters, there are volunteers who miss their shifts due to a variety of reasons. Some excuses are more permissible (injury) than others (hangovers). It is ill-advised to miss an officiating shifts and a history of such behavior can get one black-listed from volunteering at RollerCon. To fill these vacancies and vacancies caused by a lack of volunteers, the track managers rely upon the "Shark Tank" of volunteering officials who want to pick up shifts that they have not signed up for. These typically late-evening or early morning shifts are good ways for officials to get in more Derby, and the only way to get spots if they did not sign up for them in advance.
To learn more about volunteering at RollerCon, go Here!
The rewards for volunteering are tangible! A volunteer logging into ten hours of service earns a discounted pass for the following year. A free pass can be earned with 25 hours of service! Of course, volunteering is not just about earning discounts. For volunteer officials, RollerCon is a venue to work with officials from across the country and the globe. New and different disciplines, strategies and viewpoints can be learned. It is also an opportunity, should it be pursued, to expose oneself to greater levels of gameplay than one can back home. One might even get the opportunity to be knocked down by someone who skated in the WFTDA championships!
A Decade of Derby Magic
Of course, the real reason that anyone volunteers at RollerCon is for the love of the sport and the love for the community that is Roller Derby. Every year, I warmly and excitedly anticipate returning to Las Vegas during the last week of July for this great event. Being a "People Person" I share this real sense of belonging and fellowship among "Derby People." This mass camaraderie started with only a small group of founders but grew quickly and expanded yearly. RollerCon's founder and current co-organizer, Ivanna S. Pankin,
"RollerCon started just like most of the new generation of DIY Roller Derby leagues. In the winter of 2004...there were just a handful of leagues, very spread out...and the WFTDA was still in it's infancy. We all traveled when we could to see each other play...We all needed a long weekend the following summer to have some fun, some drinks, some skating. In 2005, with the help of a lot of skaters from all parts of the U.S., we organized three nights worth of bands at the Double Down, some group rates down the street at Terrible's Hotel, a scavenger hunt, a wedding, some pool parties, a raffle to benefit Planned Parenthood, a group photo, and the now infamous High Noon Scrimmage. That hour and a half of 117 degree sun pounding down on our idiot heads while we had the first ever, that I know of, open-to-everyone, free-for-all casual scrimmage changed everything for RollerCon. In spite of the puking sunstroke and lobster sunburns, the joy of that open scrimmage made all the work to make it happen worthwhile." 
In 2006 RollerCon moved it's conference rooms to the Union Hotel on Freemont street and expanded its schedule to a ten day long event. One of the hallmarks of RollerCon, the first 30-minute challenges, were held that year for the first time after the sun went down right on Freemont street. Thereafter, RollerCon settled into the five day format which the convention has maintained since, growing in attendance through a succession of larger and increasingly numerous hotels and convention centers, often relying upon the organizers personal vehicles and van services to shuttle attendees between sites. By 2010 the convention was large enough that the organizers had logistically outgrown the ability to execute a multi-site event. RollerCon moved all operations into the Rivera Hotel and Casino in 2011 and through 2014. Contracts were in place to remain at the Rivera through 2016, but in February of 2015, as plans for the ten year anniversary of RollerCon were well underway, the Las Vegas Convention And Visitors Authority decided to buy and close the Riv. Under what I am sure was extreme duress, the organizers had only five months to start planning from scratch in the Las Vegas Convention Center and Westgate Hotel.
RollerCon is not the biggest convention in town, but it earns a positive and unique reputation wherever it is held. Wherever RollerCon ends up in subsequent years, for those five days, that place will know Roller Derby. Roller Derby people seem to be a bizarre center of a Venn Diagram of contemporary countercultures, something that some long-term Derby People may say is in decline in flamboyant-ness, flavor and flair. Fact, fiction or subjective opinion this may be, but if Roller Derby continues to thrive, then RollerCon shall thrive along with the sport and the community.
Derby People are a bit on the loud, colorful and boisterous side of life. These are people living life to the hilt with the philosophy, "Leave it ALL on the track." They live a sweaty, stinky athletic side of life, ready to be gleefully knocked to the floor and compliment the skater who put them there and likely will buy them a pool-side drink afterwards. I personally do not participate very heavily in the nightlife of RollerCon, such as the Black N Blue Ball, the Riedell Party, Karaoke Madness, Pants Off-Dance Off, or the late-night-end-of-RC-pool-party, but I have seen some wild shit at RollerCon. These people know how to let the Freak Flag Fly and year-after-year, sponsored by The Fabulous Sin City Rollergirls, there is no better place to fly it than in Las Vegas!
Can't wait 'til next year!
 "The Official 2015 RollerCon Program" by Ivana S. Pankin
RollerCon Help Wanted
RollerCon Challenge Bouts
Photo Spreadsheet from RollerCon 2013
2015 Photo recap by Beaker The Muppet.