E3 2021 dates confirmed by The ESA, but questions linger

Thanks to a perfect storm of complications, the state of E3 remains in question. [UPDATED]

(Update 4/7/2020) While there was initially some talk of a digital E3 taking place in June, a representative for the ESA has now confirmed to PC Gamer that the organization will not be directly involved in any digital presentations. "Given the disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we will not be presenting an online E3 2020 event in June. Instead, we will be working with exhibitors to promote and showcase individual company announcements, including on www.E3expo.com, in the coming months," the rep said. "We look forward to bringing our industry and community together in 2021 to present a reimagined E3 that will highlight new offerings and thrill our audiences."

(Original story 4/6/2020)

For the last couple of years, E3 has been experiencing something of an identity crisis. A steady decline in exhibitors and media coverage, as well as a catastrophic data breach in 2019, have had the Entertainment Software Association scrambling to rebrand the show in an effort to drum up enthusiasm for an event that many are calling irrelevant. Then the coronavirus hit, and E3 became one of many shows to be canceled due to safety concerns. 

“Following increased and overwhelming concerns about the COVID-19 virus, we felt this was the best way to proceed during such an unprecedented global situation,” The ESA’s announcement read. “We are very disappointed that we are unable to hold this event for our fans and supporters. But we know it’s the right decision based on the information we have today.”

Some analysts, such as Piers Harding-Rolls of Ampere Analysis, speculated that the coronavirus will have a major impact on the future of E3.

“E3 used to be largely a retail show, with retail buyers connecting with publishers to see upcoming games for release later in the year and place orders,” Harding-Rolls told GameDaily last month. “Times have changed though, and although it will be a blow not to be able to have face-to-face meetings, the importance of E3 as a B2B show has definitely shrunk over the last few years. I do think the coronavirus outbreak might lead to some permanent change to events like E3, which were already struggling to define themselves in the rapidly changing landscape of games. Next year, E3 may well be quite different.”

That sentiment hasn’t stopped the ESA from looking forward to 2021, though. Last week, the organization announced dates for next year’s E3, which will take place June 15 to 17, according to GamesIndustry.biz, and will reportedly resemble the ESA’s plans for a rebranded experience. 

For Lewis Ward, research director of gaming at analyst group IDC, the ESA’s announcement is nothing short of premature.

“E3 2021 feels extremely far away at this point, and while I suppose ‘the show must go on,’ as we’ve seen, practically every big live event that’s put on the calendar also carries a ‘subject to change’ asterisk on it until further notice,” Ward told GameDaily.

On the development side, some are optimistic at the prospect of the return of E3 next year. This includes Kate Ludlow, who works in “special ops” at indie publisher Devolver Digital.

“The week of E3 remains a big platform for us and our developers and we applaud the return of the show next year,” Ludlow told GameDaily. “While others have been hoarding toilet paper, we’ve started stockpiling barbecue sauce and tequila for just this sort of announcement.”

When the ESA canceled this year’s E3, the organization explained that it was planning to host a number of online presentations in June, but there hasn’t been much news on that front as of late. 

In all, E3 has been in a state of flux for a few years now, and the ESA has been dealing with a perfect storm of complications. The organization has yet to specifically address the fallout of last year’s data breach that resulted in the doxxing of hundreds of journalists, and now it’s being forced to deal with the impact of a global pandemic amid waning consumer and media interest in the show. Considering all these factors, if the show goes on as planned in 2021, it’s going to look vastly different and should be a major litmus test for how E3 operates (or if it operates) going forward.

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Editor-in-Chief

Sam, the Editor-in-Chief of GameDaily.biz, is a former freelance game reporter. He's been seen at IGN, PCGamesN, PCGamer, Unwinnable, and many more. When not writing about games, he is most likely taking care of his two dogs or pretending to know a lot about artisan coffee. Get in touch with Sam by emailing him at sam.desatoff@gamedaily.biz or follow him on Twitter.