Report: E3 2021 Digital Event Moving Forward as ESA Seeks Exhibitor Support

It looks like E3 2021 will be moving forward with a digital event, at least if the ESA can rally publishers to the summer event. A new report from VGC reveals a series of pitch documents that the E3 organizer is circling to various publishers and exhibitors in an effort to gain support for E3 2021 in June. When E3 2020 was canceled, the ESA promised the show would be returning in 2021, and it appears the aim is still to hold an event this year.

According to the VGC report, the E3 2021 proposal by the ESA includes “multiple two-hour keynote sessions from games partners, an awards show, a June 14 preview night and other smaller streams from games publishers, influencers and media partners” during the June 15-17 period that the show is supposed to take place. It also mentions media previews the week before the event, bolstered by a series of demos released on various platforms to coincide with show.

The ESA hasn’t officially ruled out a physical show this year, but the general understanding is that with the ongoing pandemic, its unlikely that a physical event will be happening, so focus is on an all-digital online show for E3 2021. Publishers and potential exhibitors confirmed to VGC that they are operating under assumptions that physical events are not happening this year as well.

E3 2021 pitch documents outline a typical day consisting of a 12-hour stream from 10 am to 10pm EST, with regional replays scheduled for other regions. Sample schedules showed 30 minute pre-shows for two-hour press conferences which were then capped off by post-show Q&A and analyses. The remainder of the day’s events would be various third-party presentations.

Will E3 2021 Actually Happen?

Of course, having a proposal and actually moving forward with the event are two different things. At this time, the ESA is still seeking support from its members, namely some of the largest game companies who have traditionally exhibited at the show in years prior. It’s unlikely Sony will take part in E3 2021 after having opted out of the last two years (prior to E3 2020 getting officially canceled). VGC says that one major company confirmed it’s going to opt for its own digital event “rather than paying the six-figure sums required to join E3 2021’s schedule.”

Geoff keighley skipping e3 2021
Geoff Keighley is reportedly not going to be involved in E3 2021 at all.

Geoff Keighley, who distanced himself from E3 2020 citing being “uncomfortable” with the direction they were taking, also confirmed to VGC that he would not be involved in E3 2021 if they manage to put the show together. As the champion of bringing the games industry together, it’s particularly telling that Keighley is unwilling to work with or be involved in E3 in any way. Keighley instead launched Summer Game Fest in 2020, which was a broad umbrella event over three months under which various companies could hold their own individual showcases and events throughout the summer. It’s expected that he will do something similar this year, but nothing has yet been confirmed.

Asked for a comment by VGC, the ESA told the site that it was having “great conversations” with publishers, but failed to name any companies that had agreed to sign on for the event. “We can confirm that we are transforming the E3 experience for 2021 and will soon share exact details on how we’re bringing the global video game community together,” an ESA spokesperson told VGC. “We are having great conversations with publishers, developers, and companies across the board, and we look forward to sharing details about their involvement soon.”

So will E3 2021 actually happen? Even before the collapse of physical in-person events thanks to the pandemic, E3 and the ESA were under a lot of pressure. A number of companies had stepped away from the official show—Sony, EA, Activision, and Microsoft, to name a few—to hold adjacent showcases or simply not show up at all. The ESA opened the show up to the public with paid passes, but the quality of the show floor declined sharply as various exhibitors reduced or eliminated their presence at the show.

E3 2020 coronavirus

With E3 2020 forced to cancel the in-person event, the ESA couldn’t even muster an online digital show to replace it—thanks to publishers rejecting the ESA’s pitch for an online event—making 2020 the first time in 25 years that the event hadn’t been held. Games companies found various ways to connect directly with both their audience and the media through independent showcases, streaming gameplay preview events, and other methods to adapt to the new digital state the pandemic put us in. The question this year is if companies will sign on (and pay up) to be part of the E3 2021 digital showcase, or if they’ll opt to handle things independently or via other channels.

The ESA’s argument for E3 2021 is as a “unified digital games event would grab the world’s attention more effectively than a series of smaller shows,” but it effectively wants to gather together what other companies are already doing for themselves with digital showcases and streamed media preview events and lump them under the E3 banner. It’s unclear what exactly the ESA is pitching as a benefit that warrants the alleged six figure cost to join in as part of the show, and without the support of multiple major companies, the proposal of a unified games event seems dead on arrival.

What do you think about E3 2021? Will the ESA pursue it regardless of whether or not it has support from other companies and figures in the games industry? Or will a lack of support from ESA members cause this year’s show to be canceled too? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.