Activision’s E3: The event that refuses to die, even as eSports grows in prominence

The animated shorts program, which pre-dates eSports by a good 20 years, took time off for “essential changes.” When E3 returned last year, it reorganized and put a younger, core team in charge. Its…

Activision’s E3: The event that refuses to die, even as eSports grows in prominence

The animated shorts program, which pre-dates eSports by a good 20 years, took time off for “essential changes.” When E3 returned last year, it reorganized and put a younger, core team in charge.

Its new leader, Jason Rubin, is a veteran game developer who worked on the original “Gears of War,” created Nintendo’s “Fire Emblem” franchise, and co-founded a key core team for Call of Duty. The industry leader of eSports, Activision’s Eric Hirshberg, made a sizable investment in the awards earlier this year and will have some role.

And the festival, now in its fifth year, has parlayed its growing popularity into more exposure. In 2016, the festival made its PlayStation debut, broadcasting a half-hour preview. This year, it’s the home of the biggest showcase for next-generation games. In addition to this year’s featured event, Sony PlayStation Online Studios broadcast a series of events that showed off four new titles: “PlayStation VR Worlds,” “God of War: Chains of Olympus,” “The Sims 4 Pets” and “Farpoint.”

But there was no room for major releases. Events devoted to high-profile releases like Rockstar’s “Red Dead Redemption 2” and Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed: Origins” were held elsewhere in Los Angeles.

Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, did take the stage in a dignified tradition. But usually, these “big name” founders that open proceedings don’t attend because they are too busy with their own stuff — platforms, franchises, movies, etc. — and want to avoid the political circus that unfolds each year.

But “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” for Wii U wasn’t ready, and Epic’s Kim Swift came out to announce the game for Nintendo’s latest console, the Switch.

Nintendo took an unprecedented approach to the awards. The company sponsored them for a third year. The majority of the video presentations were moderated by Nintendo executives. When no one was present, moderator Kevin Schreier, chief executive and co-founder of Gamasutra, stepped in.

The expansive show featured technical elements too, including the use of VR on television, and performances from Troye Sivan and Flume.

But the showmanship – and the award categories – were heavily influenced by esports, especially South Korea’s “PUBG”. There was a first-person, point-of-view opening video. ESPNU and KIXEYE highlighted them. There were a couple of presentations where a specific title was the recipient of awards for “PS4 Pro,” “PS4 Fortnite” and “Unity.”

In addition, Sony was keen to play up its event throughout the week. A billboard in downtown Los Angeles illustrated its featured title, “Sea of Thieves,” with the backing of “walking corpses” that looked like a patchwork of bodies. Sony Interactive Entertainment just around the corner from the awards was a massive, “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation”-themed party with mirrored walls and floor space. The event drew a handful of celebrities, including Courtney Love, Mickey Rourke and Liv Tyler.

The entire gaming industry saw a great deal of opportunity in having what was considered an important event. Nintendo and Sony stepped up their involvement in both sponsorship and presentation, and there were indications that smaller companies also put money toward it.

But it’s uncertain if the event’s power has been eroded by the rise of eSports. After all, it’s the industry’s annual E3, after all. The only mainstream games – and critical successes – can command more attention.

On the media side, Myspace is still credited with a bit of recognition, as it played a lead role in creating the first reality series about eSport, “Olympic Insiders.” These days, as part of its rebranding, Myspace has little respect for the event, billing itself as more of a “social utility.”

Co-founder Ben Rubin, who helped put together the first awards and has been away from the event, wrote about the evolution of eSports, including showing the initiative from former E3 producer Seamus Blackley.

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