I don't think there's any serious debate about whether WorldCon should continue, but there have been serious discussions about the viability of NASFiC and Westercon. Some pretty respectable folks have been making arguments that one or both should fold.
For those of you who don't know, NASFiC is the North American Science Fiction Convention. It takes place in years that WorldCon is off the North American continent. There was one this year in Seattle because WorldCon was in Glasgow.
It got some pretty mediocre reviews. It got no glowing reviews.
So what's up with that? Well, for a lot of people, it's the "also ran" convention. "Oh, I can't go to WorldCon, because international travel is too expensive, so I'll go to NASFiC." It doesn't have the resonance that "WorldCon" does. It's smaller than the area's annual local convention. Why go?
There's going to be another one in St. Louis in 2007 (when WorldCon is in Yokohama). A few folks rattled some cages when, at the last minute, they came in with a bid to run NASFiC in San Jose as a small relaxacon on the way to Yokohama. I've got some issues with how this all played out, but when one of the biggest complaints about the Seattle NASFiC this year was "It was designed for 4 times the attendance it garnered" there is perhaps a grain of a good idea inside it.
I had an excellent time at the '99 NASFiC in Anaheim, but I think St. Louis has a lot of work ahead of itself to be more than just another "also ran." I'm not sure NASFiC can ever get out from under that, and I don't think that we're well-served by another big, complicated small convention. I'm looking forward to St. Louis, but if they can't pull the rabbit out of the hat, perhaps NASFiC should go.
Westercon is a different animal. It's the West Coast Science Fantasy Conference, and while the name still says "West Coast" it's much more a regional western phenomenon, with the last two years in Phoenix and Calgary (hardly coastal). It's an annual event, not just from time to time when the stars are in the right configurations.
Westercon has been suffering many of the same problems that NASFiC has. The last Seattle Westercon was also characterized as "Norwescon Lite" (Norwescon is Seattle's annual convention and draws over 2000 people) and ran in a hotel much bigger than necessary. I'd say it's a Seattle thing, but Phoenix was smaller than either of the local annual conventions, and Calgary was only bigger than their local because they've never had a convention over 400 people.
The thing is, Westercon shouldn't be thought of as an "also ran;" it's not. It's not the alternative to anything. It's got decades of solid continuing tradition and defines itself in regional character. Recent committees haven't done a great job executing that, though.
Westercon has to be worthwhile to local fans; it needs to promote itself as bringing something special to the area in the form of guests, presenters and out-of-town members who aren't available for local cons, but will come to a Westercon because it is Westercon. It needs to promote itself as bring local flavor to Westercon so guests, presenters and out-of-town members will see something more than just "It's a Westercon."
San Diego and San Jose get to battle this over the next two years.
Except for San Diego Comic-Con (the 800 pound gorilla of a convention), San Diego (like Calgary) doesn't have any big local conventions, so they don't have to worry about being anything "lite." They do have to worry about drawing out-of-town members who haven't been to San Diego in recent memory and locals who don't know about the fannish convention scene.
San Jose is going to have a real fight to not just be "BayCon Lite." BayCon is 2400 people, bigger than Westercon has been in years, and it's only a month before WesterCon. They've got a great base of people who already come to a convention in San Jose, but they've got to convince these people to go to WesterCon (so they don't end up like Seattle has twice). They're also going to have to work with the other conventions in the Bay Area (and there are quite a lot of them) to bring a more general "South Bay" feel that will bring folks who aren't BayCon attendees.
If there isn't a revitalization of NASFiC and Westercon by 2007, I'm probably jumping on the "None of the Above" bandwagon for both of them.