The geography of furry conventions: how our biggest events tell us about the fandom's past, present, and future
Furry conventions are inherently tied to the places people are, and thus can give us both context about furry history and perhaps a glimpse into the future. Plus, there are quite a few misconceptions about the world that annoy me; this may help break a stereotype or two.
For some reason - perhaps thanks to my autism - I was curious about how the success of a furry convention was tied to its location. Originally, I wanted to see which cities had furry conventions and which did not, and why Pittsburgh, of all cities, had the biggest furry convention in the world (I started my research before this year’s MFF, and though MFF’s peak was greater than Anthrocon 2022, I mostly cared about the most recent figures). This led me to start a Google My Maps1 of as many furry conventions as I could find and their exact venues, though sometimes I would count cities as approximate locations if I couldn’t find information (like in a lot of East Asia).
I used WikiFur’s attendance list and Google to find as much information, geographically, as I could. That list also has a few things that I would personally consider “meets” or “camps” instead of conventions. In my definition, if there is an event comprising of multiple, smaller events in a hotel or convention center, it’s a convention and not just a big meet. Thus, I likely may have missed some conventions, or classified some meet as a convention by accident. I did not have the time, energy, nor money to travel to them all to check for myself, so keep that in mind.
This is also only part 1 of a two-part series; one which is quite short but something I want to get out to the world, and the second which is far more detailed and a more niche topic, though still related to furry conventions and geography. This is because part 1 focuses on a macro scale, while part 2 focuses on a micro one.
Macro furs in America
With that said, the macro results don’t seem that interesting at first if you take all furry conventions that are on my map. According to the map, furry conventions are mostly located where people are, and where people who can afford a furry convention are (reminding me of a certain xkcd). Thus, it is mostly Europe, North America (read: the US and Canada), Oceania, and East Asia that have furry conventions, with a few extra in South Africa, South East Asia, and Latin America. This is hardly surprising, as even if there were furries in, say, Venezuela [there are - including an organization now celebrating its tenth year], there are probably many who are more worried about basic needs such as food and a job rather than being able to attend an optional event like a furry convention. That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be a furry convention in the future here, in the sense the people in poorer countries should be able to afford things like travel, a happy life, and optional expenses. That is, of course, something to be aware of when looking at the map.
However, things quickly change once one takes attendance into account. I decided to separate conventions on the map into three categories: cons with over 1,000 attendees, cons that were close (over 800 attendees and StratosFur, which had 798), and every other con.3 Once I did this, and even before I did this, I noticed a pattern. Out of the 43 conventions that either were close to 1000 or were above 1000 attendees, 34 of them were located in the US and Canada (which had four of those). The vast majority of big and sizeable furry conventions are within the United States and Canada. This is despite the population of the EU, Japan, and Australia all having huge populations of their own, with the EU having about 100 million more people than the US.4 I’ve heard some people in the US express that there are “a lot of” furries in Europe, and they’re not wrong. It is very true that there are furries all over the world, from South Korea to the UK to South Africa to Pakistan and Brazil. However, as initially surprising as this data is, it does make a lot of sense. After all, despite the widespread propagation of furries through the internet and thus the world, it’s also true that the phenomenon of furries is, in truth, a very American thing.
I don’t mean to imply that furries are “mostly” American, and I also don’t want to sound too similar to J.J. McCullough (in my opinion and from what I’ve heard the guy’s kind of a douche, at least online). However, I do think that there’s a very simple explanation to both why America has so many large furry conventions and why Pittsburgh, specifically, has one of the larger ones: momentum.
The fandom truly did start in the United States, both with Disney’s Robin Hood releasing in 1973, and with those who I shall call “pioneers” such as Fred Patten, Uncle Kage, and many others. The origins of the fandom are messy, but knowledge of in which country the fandom was founded - the United States of America - is not. The first formal and specifically furry convention was also founded in the United States, ConFurence.5 Although it was dissolved in 2003, its impact both within the furry community and outside of it (Brony conventions wouldn’t’ve existed without ConFurence, I’d argue) is outstanding and enormous. Thus, with a shared language, culture, and a lack of borders - both literal and figurative - it makes a lot more sense for furry conventions to spread within the US than for it to suddenly appear as big and important in, say, France. I’m not an expert on furry history, but it does make logical sense. Both Anthrocon and Midwest FurFest are American, as well, which brings me to talking about Anthrocon.
Founded in 1997,6 Anthrocon is one of the oldest still-running conventions in the furry fandom, though nowadays it’s located within a convention center, not a hotel like DenFur (my local con, which I use as an example). After outgrowing its previous venues, the founders of Anthrocon were looking for a new one – preferably bigger, of course. In a surprising twist of fate, Anthrocon’s current venue did not approach Pittsburgh’s convention center – the city and its convention center approached Anthrocon.7 Officials came to them, and greeted them not just with open arms, but an understanding and knowledge of the fandom that some would call suspicious nowadays but I (and I’m sure Uncle Kage) would call a breath of fresh air. It was a good idea on their part too, as with its location in downtown Pittsburgh, every year, the convention brings good money to the economy. Last year, that number was $7 million dollars.6 This is an amazing boon for a city that is only now recovering from its Rust Belt reputation, as being formerly a city known for its steel industry up until the mid 20th century. It may be reasoned that Anthrocon may have played a part in this recovery, however small. Anthrocon also benefited from this arrangement, as it continued to have more room to grow and grow up until it became the second-biggest furry convention to this day.
This makes sense, too, as people tend to attract people. Businesses, too, like to cluster together,8 as it makes a lot of sense to create hubs of industry in certain cities. The Bay Area, for example, is well known for being a tech hub, both with Silicon Valley in San Jose and San Francisco itself. New York is a hub in general, with banking and many more industries as well, and Los Angeles is known for being a film hub with Hollywood. This isn’t just because of the efficiency of cities, as having to transport goods and ideas through shorter distances to more people is incredibly efficient, but also because of how businesses being close to each other means that certain things serving those businesses are close together. For example, Detroit was close to a lot of the steel and industrial production of the Great Lakes at the time, so car companies cluster in Detroit for efficiency of goods, ideas, transport, and more. Even to this day, the headquarters of many American auto companies are located in Detroit, despite the depressing reputation of the city. Thus, it makes perfect sense that furries attract other furries (in this geographical context, not just the scandalous one). So, with the momentum of Anthrocon already started and with its space to grow, it would continue to attract more and more furries. This is also why MFF, which is also a historically significant convention, attracts so many furries as well.
This extends to other, smaller conventions and some larger but still newer conventions, though it requires more than just geographical explanation. For example, Biggest Little Fur Con (named for its home city’s nickname) is not very little at all: it is somehow the fifth largest furry convention by attendance. Rather, I thought the correct word was “somehow”, but once I learned more about it it, the word “impressively” but also “not surprisingly” both make more sense. The unique thing about BLFC is that it’s not located in a convention center nor, necessarily, a hotel; it’s located in a resort. Thus, besides the fact that Reno is seen as a more affordable Las Vegas to many, it also had a very tempting draw of the resort itself. Assuming you paid for a room, you don’t really need to venture outside of the venue for much of anything. The venue has its own restaurants, shops, gambling (of course), pool, bowling alley, arcade, go-kart racing track, concerts, and more.9 I didn’t mean to turn this into a BLFC advertisement, but I cannot deny that many would be attracted to the idea of spending time with furry friends in both hotel room parties and also other activities that could be considered a furry vacation. This, I think, is what makes BLFC so unique for a convention, as I will discuss more in part 2.
DenFur is also a spiritual successor to Rocky Mountain Fur Con, meaning that for this context I will talk about the two like they’re the same thing (even though Patch of DogPatch News fame will yell at me). The unique thing about Rocky Mountain Furcon, and thus DenFur, is that it is located within Colorado, the first state (technically) to legalize marijuana. (Note: this personally used to upset me, not because I dislike weed but because Washington state legalized weed in the same year, and yet we’re the ones that get called the “weed state”. Of course, I am no longer upset, as although Oregon legalized mushrooms first, we also uh… just did that this year. So, now I shall own up to the stereotypes and eat more edibles.) So, a surprising amount of people came to RMFC to smoke weed, and it became known as the “stoner con”. Once it was (rightfully) dissolved, though, and DenFur was founded, the title somewhat moved on to DenFur before other states (rightfully) started to legalize weed. However, thanks to the fact that people (especially in furry-filled Colorado) were already going to the convention, the momentum continued anyway, making DenFur a surprisingly big convention despite its local-sounding name.
This means that although being located near population centers helps, it’s also true that sometimes, you don’t need a big city to have a big convention; you simply need momentum. This is the case with BLFC, Anthrocon, DenFur, and to an extent MFF. Thus, it makes a lot of sense that the bigger conventions are within the United States. This doesn’t mean that this will be true for long, however.
Furry conventions, both in the United States and Canada and outside of it, are still growing by attendance numbers, especially after the pandemic has significantly calmed down (thanks, vaccines). This is partially because the furry community is growing, but it’s also because other places outside of the US and Canada are finally gaining the momentum that they deserve. Eurofurence is the largest furry convention outside of the US, and it is located in Berlin, Germany. This convention is only slightly bigger than DenFur, but it still reaches the top 10 of furry conventions. This is partially because Germany is more furry-accepting than many other countries in Europe (as far as I know), thus it is more likely to attract furries from all over Europe. In the same way that MFF is located near a large international airport (ORD), Berlin (both by train and plane) is easily accessible from the rest of Europe, thus making Eurofurence truly European. It can also attract people from other continents thanks to its size, for reasons of both population and momentum. Despite its already large size, it is also still growing in attendance numbers. This is also true for a lot of conventions within Europe, such as Furnion, ConFuzzled, NordicFuzzCon and Furry BlackLight.
The same goes for conventions in east Asia and even South East Asia, with conventions such as Japan Meeting of Furries, Infurnity, FurryPinas (which is, thanks to American influence possibly, the largest furry convention in Asia and beats out all of Oceania easily), and others. This suggests that while the furry community is already international thanks to the internet, it is only becoming more globally diverse and even more international thanks, simply, to momentum. This momentum will also cause larger conventions to exist in more places, such as Osaka, Japan; perhaps Aukland, New Zealand [previously host to FurcoNZ 2012]; and more. However, the momentum in Europe and Asia isn’t what gets me the most excited about the future of the furry fandom and its conventions; it’s a different, currently poorer10 region that’s getting me excited.
Confuror is currently the largest furry convention outside of Europe and the US/Canada, clocking in at almost 2,000 attendees.3 It is located in Guadalajara, Mexico, and this year it was the second furry convention I attended (my first was DenFur of this year, which I personally hated for anxiety-related reasons). Despite being in Mexico, I loved it far more than I liked DenFur, and would argue that it is directly comparable in terms of quality to conventions in richer countries, especially the US. It had a conbook, plenty of panels and activities, a dealers’ den, an artist’s alley and so many more things that one would expect from a richer country con. Plus, the hotel is/was quite fancy and accommodating, and the Fiesta Americana is a hotel that people in Mexico have heard of and view as being quite, well, expensive.
Confuror, overall, was a great con with great people and a great atmosphere, even though I didn’t go to any room parties for my introversion and nativity in the fandom. I probably got a better experience for I speak Spanish (despite not being even slightly Hispanic), but a lot of the other Americans that I talked to still very much enjoyed the con (including Patch) despite their lack of Spanish skills. There were also a few people (read: few) who only spoke English to me even though I prefer Spanish, though it doesn’t help that I’m more familiar with Colombian and Peruvian Spanish than Mexican Spanish (wey, que onda con los cabrones? - I somewhat butchered that, but my point is proven).
The reason why I’m talking about my experience at Confuror is because I’m trying to break stereotypes. Mexico is not only becoming a richer, more prosperous country over time (though not as quickly as other countries in the world), it is also true that in the first place, even a decade ago, it was possible to hold a convention in Mexico. Cost of living is lower in Mexico, so what one would consider to be middle class in Mexico looks poorer than the middle class in the US or Germany. However, there are still many Mexicans that can afford to travel, at least to other parts of Mexico. They may travel via intercity bus (which, in Mexico, is significantly better than Greyhound is in the US, by the way) and take public transportation and stay in a mid-range hotel rather than fly in first class then take a shuttle to Fiesta Americana, but they can still travel. In a similar way, costs to hold a convention in Mexico are lower, simply because prices are lower so that Mexicans can afford it.
I also want to break the stereotype that Mexico is overly dangerous for a convention. Yes, cartel violence is very real in Mexico, but it is also based on where one is, both within the country and within the cities of said country. Confuror was located in a very rich neighborhood in the west part of the city, and even though I stayed in a separate hotel, I was still able to walk at about 1am at night back to my hotel by myself. The entire way was lit until my hotel. This isn’t to say that I didn’t know what I was doing; as someone who’s had the privilege and opportunity to travel by myself to Peru, I knew which precautions to take in order to feel safer. However, pretending that Mexico is a poor, crime-ridden country when it is a far more complicated and nuanced place than simply only poverty or only crime (although they still very much exist) is not only disingenuous, it is discriminatory and potentially racist.
Although that last section may have felt like a complete tangent, it wasn’t, because I believe Confuror gives us westerners a glimpse into the future of the furry fandom. Just like Mexico, Latin America (including Brazil) has rich parts and poor parts, safe parts and dangerous parts, and is a very complicated and nuanced place, both between countries and within them. However, the most relevant similarity is that Latin America’s many economies are growing (except for, very arguably, Argentina, which is famously weird in the world of economics). As Latin America grows in wealth and influence, the ability for the average Latin American to not only travel within their country but indeed to travel between countries only grows stronger. This isn’t just because of the recent rise of budget airlines like Gol in Brazil, VivaAerobus in Mexico, and others in Latin America, but also simply because as a country becomes more prosperous, the ability for its citizens to do more expensive things in their off time grows.
Latin America is now more forward-thinking than it ever has been before. Mexico legalized gay marriage country-wide this year, and other countries such as Uruguay, Colombia, Chile, and Costa Rica also legalized gay marriage. With greater LGBT acceptance often comes, at least eventually, greater furry acceptance. Thus, as the furry fandom grows within Mexico thanks to cross-border influence, it will also invariably grow in the rest of Latin America thanks to a shared language and the internet (or in the case of Brazil, a similar language and the internet). Confuror is already growing in popularity, and as Confuror becomes more popular, more conventions (both small and large) will invariably pop up (or simply gain popularity) in other places. Therefore, I don’t believe that the future of the furry fandom is not exclusively found in the already rich parts of the world; it will also be found in some parts of the world that will be rich in the future.
Overall, it is a wonderful and amazing thing that the furry community is growing worldwide. As we bring in a wider variety of people, the artistic, musical, and social contributions within the fandom will only grow in quality and quantity, and the experiences had at furry conventions will, likewise, improve as well. While bigger does not always mean better (as is the case with MFF for most introverts), it’s still true that, regardless of if my predictions are correct, that furry conventions will grow in size and improve in quality pretty much everywhere. However, I believe that simply letting the future take its course is not ideal, as it can not only get better faster, but also in a less dramatic fashion. Learning about how furry conventions are created and maintained - not by population or luck, but by momentum - will allow more people in places where furry cons are still gaining momentum to learn from our successes and create local furry communities that are better than ours.
Learning that the fandom is also more American in origin will also allow us to understand our context better, and perhaps to understand the differences between conventions in the US/Canada and conventions outside of that region. Understanding both the non-native-English-speaking furry community’s potential to grow and the reasons why they haven’t reached the same heights as conventions in the US/Canada will help to break stereotypes and, perhaps, make our community more united and better for everyone. Also, I honestly think that learning about different countries around the world is a lot of fun, despite myself not being an economist nor an expert on pretty much anything.
I think that the global furry community will only get better, or at least bigger, as time goes along, especially in Latin America. Perhaps, then, instead of simply ignoring the momentum as many Americans often do, we should embrace it and help these non-US/Canada conventions grow in numbers and popularity (if we can afford it, of course). Perhaps we should continue to do what furries have always done a good job of doing: being an accepting, loving, and open-minded community. Hopefully not just in English, though.
- Map of Furry (and Brony) Cons
- "Heatmap", xkcd
- "List of in-person furry conventions by attendance", WikiFur
- "Population, total - European Union, United States", The World Bank
- "Confurence 0 Conbook", The ConFurence Archive
- "Our History", Anthrocon
- "Here's why the world's largest furry convention is in Pittsburgh", PennLive Patriot-News
- "Why do businesses cluster together?", British Council
- Grand Sierra Resort
- "GDP per capita, current prices", International Monetary Fund