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E3 2021’s in-person event has been cancelled. Are in-person conventions done?

E3 1
Courtesy of E3

With the coronavirus pandemic still raging throughout many parts of the United States including California – in particular, Los Angeles – events like the Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3) could be on their way out. 

For the longest time, E3 was known as a place where publishers, developers and companies could showcase their upcoming titles, consoles and other video game-related inventory. Prior to 2017, E3 was an industry-only event, meaning the only people allowed to attend the convention were those who were already in the video game industry. 

However, once E3 was made open to the public, over 68,000 people flooded the Los Angeles Convention Center in 2017 to experience the convention for the first time. The following year, that number increased to 69,200 attendees, the largest since 2005, which had 70,000 attendees. 

That said, with the way current events are shaping up, it looks like the traditional convention model that E3 has used since 1995 could be a thing of the past. 

As it stands, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted how people, corporations, businesses and organizations operate. What was once considered an amazing feat – getting over 60,000 people to attend a three-day convention – is now seen as incredibly dangerous. It does not help that E3 is based in Los Angeles, which has been a hotspot for COVID-19. 

Though numbers of positive and new COVID-19 cases are decreasing in the county and with vaccines becoming more readily available to those who need them – almost three million people have been vaccinated in the state – the various mutations of the virus still make it difficult to see a fully functioning in-person convention in the near future. 

It is important to note that while the vaccine is being distributed around the world, new variants of COVID-19 are popping up, with a prominent variant found in the United Kingdom and California. Also, in a relatively small sample size – 324 patients – 69 were found to have been carrying the new variant. Not only that, researchers also hinted the new variant could be better at evading the immune system therefore causing more ICU admissions and death. 

Again, it is important to state that the aforementioned numbers are not indicative of another pandemic – rather, it is how coronaviruses operate. Simply put, coronaviruses tend to mutate over time, similar to the flu (which is also a coronavirus). 

As more variants are found, different vaccines are created in order to fight the variants. At the same time, a person’s immune system continues to build off of the vaccine it currently has in order to fight off whatever variant is prevalent at the time. The cycle continues in perpetuity.

E3 2
Courtesy of the Board of Los Angeles Convention and Tourism

Because of the mass uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the ESA – the Entertainment Software Association – outright cancelled E3 2020. Additionally, it was recently discovered that the ESA would be cancelling its in-person event for E3 2021, according to paperwork filed by the Board of Los Angeles Convention and Tourism.

Instead, it has been stated that the ESA is “working with [a] production team on broadcast options at LA Live/LACC.” Similarly, San Diego Comic Con and Anime Expo are set to go virtual as well.

A quick note: for those not familiar with Los Angeles, L.A. Live is an entertainment complex across the street from STAPLES Center – home of the Los Angeles Lakers – and just a few blocks away from the convention center.

This might be how conventions are conducted at least for the next few years: a mix of small gatherings and streamed events or just completely virtual. Because of the uncertainty regarding the coronavirus pandemic, the general population’s way of life has been upended and this seems like the most viable option for the time being.

It has to be noted as well that in previous years, Sony, Wargaming, Disney and Electronic Arts – among others – have skipped E3, for various reasons, and established their own events to showcase upcoming tech and video games. Nintendo, meanwhile, has both a booth at E3 and its own separate showcase: Nintendo Direct.

Nevertheless, with all factors in mind, it makes sense if this is the beginning of the end for in-person conventions like E3. With streaming’s meteoric rise, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic, in-person conventions with tens of thousands of people could be a thing of the past. 

Though it will be sad to see that day come, it just makes sense in the grand scheme of things. Companies do not necessarily need E3 nowadays compared to years past now that YouTube and Twitch have grown exponentially over the past few years. 

That said, everything is just conjecture at this point. It will be interesting to see where in-person conventions go from here, especially as the world continues to grapple with the “new normal” caused by the pandemic. 

Until then, the best bet is to wait until a good majority of the population gets vaccinated and see if in-person conventions are still needed.

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