Hey, can I see your yellow badge?

The Yellow Badge is a mark found on some of the most tired, stressed, and driven patrons of DEF CON. These people walk with a purpose, talk with a coarse throat, and are always eager to share what they have been working on (assuming nothing is on fire at the moment). It's possible that this mark intrigues you, or scares you. Perhaps you dream to model such a mark.

Long, long ago, I accidentally created something ridiculous and people liked it. I knew it wasn't destined to be played by the masses though, it had a very specific audience. I had only been to 3 DEF CONs prior, but I knew that's exactly where my audience could be found. Naive enough to think that I could apply with the conference only weeks away, I did just that, and was accepted to host the first ever Schemaverse Championship at DEF CON 19.

WooHoo! Accepted! wait.. what did I just do?

Have never run a contest before, or really any event, I suddenly had a lot to prepare and very little idea on where to start. To save you from that same gentle panic attack I have worked to minimize of the years, here are some steps to getting your own contest off the ground and into a booth.

Starting with your idea

I had my idea, and my idea was basically functional, so that was a plus.

We all have our own specialities. Find how you can apply yours to challenge others.

Find Help

You really don't want to do this alone. Find people who like the idea and want to help. Maybe they want to do some cool art for it, which will help it get noticed. Perhaps they want to help spend some time at your contest booth, allowing you the sweet luxury of eating lunch, or using the bathroom.

Building your team might take time, maybe even multiple years. Keep your eyes and ears open to those offering help. They usually aren't just being polite and likely share the same excitement you have for your idea.

Get building

It's possible that DEF CON will want you to prove that your contest is functional, or on its way to be. They put a lot of trust into the Yellow Badge folk to deliver, but don't expect that to be blind trust at all times.

One year I had sent in an idea for a new contest that I knew was going to be rad as hell. DEFCOIN had just been announced and I knew I wanted to gamify it (what would later become Coindroids). I submitted my idea and waited... and waited... and waited. Finally I get an email a month later - they thought the idea was cool but needed to see a demo later that week.

Guess who spent the rest of that week without sleep building that proof of concept? I had a month of waiting that was wasted and that was all on me.

There is a process for getting your contest accepted, but that's not the same process as building your contest. Treat them separately. Have faith in your idea and that faith will be apparent when it's needed.

CVE Submissions

This process changes every year. The only advice I can give is to start paying attention to the following things around February:

Sometimes it's obvious, some years it is done quietly. Sometimes applications start in January, sometimes they starts in April.

What could I count on DEF CON to provide?

Our idea is in, accepted, and it's time to build our presence up. What foundation are the wonderful organizers of DEF CON able to provide us with?

Social Media Attention

Be prepared to author your own content, but they will happily share all the content you provide to their loyal followers - before, during and after the conference.

It's up to you to write teasers, updates, debriefs, and anything else you may want to get your contest noticed. DEF CON is there to help make sure it's seen.

On Twitter, you want to be especially nice to @TCMBC (wrangler of the DC forums), @DCIB (the DC Info Booth), and @DEFCON

Admission to the show

Yes, that's right, you get free entry to DEF CON with that glorious (but heavy) Yellow Badge. Members of your team may also get in for free depending on the requirements of your contest.

You even get your own "Inhuman" registration area, rather than dealing with the infamous Human reg line.

Remember though, nothing in life is free. In reality the Yellow Badge is one of the most expensive badges to acquire in terms of time and prep costs.

The Booth

Ah, the most glorious part of running a contest - a home base to call your own. Assuming you ask for it, and successfully plead the case of your requirements, you'll get:

  • 1x power outlet
  • 1x ethernet cable
  • Tables
  • Chairs
  • 1x Projector
  • 1x Projector screen

But I want/need xyz!

Plead you case to the CVE team and see what they can do. Especially for your first year as a contest, I wouldn't expect much beyond the above (unless your contest is drastically different like a Hacker Jeopardy). Don't see it as the bare minimum, see it as a solid base that every other Yellow Badge is thrilled to build upon.

So what else am I missing?

In no particular order, here is a list of things you are going to want to consider. The requirements for your own contest may be different but it's likely that most of these will be relevant to you.

A sign for the booth

The first year that we ran Schemaverse we didn't think to make a sign for the booth. Then we learned that it's weird as hell to sit at an unmarked booth. We also learned that getting a sign printed IN a casino/conference centre is extremely expensive - and you will pay for it anyways, because sitting at an unmarked booth is weird and you worked damn hard on your contest.

A good banner will probably cost about $150. This can be re-used each year you return though, so it's a good investment.

If you can, don't stop there. Find ways to personalize the booth and make it stand out.

A vertical banner that explains the basics

Another $150 but worth every penny.

The first hour the contest area opens up, you will quickly develop a blurb that you will repeat to the x% of the 25k DC guests who come by your booth. By the time that DC is over, you will literally be reciting it in your sleep, much to the dismay and confusion of the fellow passengers on your flight home.

Figuring out what information each interested party absolutely needs to know to get started in your contest, and finding a way to display it all in one easy to read area will greatly enhance your life.

Informative handouts

Take that same information that's on your banner, expand upon it a bit more, and print it out on regular paper.

$0 if you have a printer at work that you are totally authorized to use....

Swag

People love swag.

The humans will dart across a busy street if they see a free sticker, button or, god help us all, a t-shirt. This will make some people excited for your contest, and it will act as free advertising if you can make it something that they will immediately attach to their conference badge, or person.

Depending on your swag, this can cost you between $100 and $600, but realistically, you can just keep spending and they will take it all. I've done years without swag when I just don't have the money for it, and it is what it is, but then you end up dealing with disappointment.

In years when you don't have swag, buy a bunch of small candy ($20-$40 worth) and litter your booth with it. People like candy ALMOST as much as swag... almost.

While on the topic of swag, be ready to protect your belongings

Got a nice pen? Did you set that down on your booth? That's swag now.

Did you leave your car keys on the booth and can't find them? Somebody likely thought they were decorative.

In 7 years of running a contest, I have never had anything stolen from me or any of my group. I have had numerous things go missing due to looking like swag though.

Either be clear in how you setup your swag, or be ready to defend the contents of your home base.

Drink water

Just do it. Drink water, like, repeatedly.

Drink Alcohol

(or don't if it's not your thing)

DEF CON has put their trust into you to run something cool that a small percentage of the people attending may really enjoy. You are about to talk to thousands of people over a three day span, sharing labour of love that you have drained all your time, money and abilities into.

Don't forget to have fun.

Having somebody behind the booth that looks like they are enjoying themselves is as much a selling feature as the pretty sign you had printed up.

Booth Infrastructure

You'll want to bring power bars, networking switches, networking cables, source feed computer for the projector, A/V cables, and likely some other items specific to your contest.

When trying to decide how much power and networking to plan for, keep in mind that your most interested players may want to grab a seat with you and work at your booth. Be ready to host these people with style and luxury... or at least power and ethernet.

Sometimes you can get lucky and find things you forgot/need in the vendor area. Otherwise, if you are really in need, sometimes Amazon prime can save the day and deliver within hours to the casino floor.

Find friends local to LV

If you can find somebody local to Las Vegas, they can be a huge help to act as a shipping address on potentially late items. They will also know the area well if there is something obscure that you need right away.

Prizes

You'll want to offer something cool to the winner(s) of your contest, to help entice players to spend their time. You can get creative here, or I also suggest contacting regular DC vendors or other related companies to see if they will donate prizes.

Keep in mind though, you can't use the booth space for advertising. They will sometimes allow small tasteful advertisements, but don't rely on this.

Don't get discouraged

The first year of the Schemaverse tournament, we had about 10 players. The second year of the Schemaverse Championship, we had 1 player. This year, in the 7th year of the championship, we had the largest turnout of highly skilled players yet - people that spent weeks preparing.

There is a lot to do at DEF CON, and it's likely that even though a number of people find your contest awesome, they may not have time to participate. Find ways to build excitement leading up to the conference so that your potential players can be more prepared and invested before they even arrive.

Be open to criticism and feedback.

The rules

Spoken or written, here are the general rules relating to being a Yellow Badge. Aside from running my own contests, I have no affiliation with DEF CON directly and these are not my rules to set.

  • Don't sell things at your booth without explicit permission
  • Don't use the defcon logo on your swag without permission
  • Man your booth during the times you said you would
  • Clean up after yourself
  • Respect the DEF CON supplied equipment
  • Don't use duct tape

Conclusion

Try to operate with two goals:

  • Holding a great contest that you are proud of and enjoy doing
  • Returning to do it again next year

The Schemaverse Championship turned 7 this year and Coindroids ran for a fourth year. Two teams totalling 12 people work year-round to prepare, spending way too much money so that we can host hundreds of players to a weekend of fun.