Image: Jess Joho
On June 13, under the baking Los Angeles summer sun, 15,000 eager video game fans stood at each entrance into downtown's LA Convention Center. The fevered horde was not a typical sight at the decades-old, industry-exclusive trade show. What was once an event for publishers, vendors, and the press, has opened to 15,000 video game fans who paid $150-$250 per ticket, if they were lucky enough to snag one.
The shift caused a spike from an average attendance of about 50,000 gaming professionals to a mixed bag of 68,400, according to the Electronic Software Association, which puts on the show.E3 is where some publishers choose to announce their next big game, and where companies like Microsoft announce new hardware, like the Xbox One X. If you're a fan of video games, it's a pretty exciting week.However, if you follow a lot of game developers and game press people on Twitter, you've probably noticed that the people who attend the show the most are a little jaded about it. E3 demands long days of meetings, walking around the loud convention floor—and if you're covering the show—a lot of tight deadlines.This year especially, I've seen a lot of professionals at the show complain that the influx of new attendees made E3 more frustrating to navigate than ever.Who would pay $250 to wait in line for hours only to play a few minutes of the new Call of Duty?I went to the first public E3 to find out, and what I've discovered by talking to the new civilians at the show is that they loved it more than I could ever imagine. If the dream of E3 is still alive after years of people predicting its death, then it's in the eyes of these first-timers.*
Emily Wargo and Gabe Marsh, young Ohio couple, 20 minutes into the Far Cry 5 line:Wargo : It was our anniversary back in February when they opened tickets up for sale—and it'd be his 21st birthday three days before E3. So I got him the tickets by just sitting at work and obsessively refreshing the page over and over again—while my sister was back at home doing the same for me so we could both go together. Even then, even though we were repeatedly refreshing at the exact minute they started selling, I was still like the 400th person in line.
I didn't know what to expect. When we got here on day one, we accidentally came about a half hour late, after the doors opened—and it really wasn't that bad. But driving by on our way in, there were unbelievable lines surrounding every single door. And honestly, when I planned this trip, I thought it'd be more for him. But it's actually been really cool even for someone who doesn't play a lot of games. I probably won't play a lot, and I kind of feel like an outsider. But it's still been fun to see."Marsh: Far Cry has what really matters to me: co-op. Ever since we knew what video games were, my brother David and I have been playing co-op—and I'm really happy my girlfriend's in line with me too, because hopefully we'll play together now. I'm really excited by what I've seen of the new Far Cry. My brother back in Ohio is keeping me up to date on the press conference while I'm waiting around. He's been keeping me up to date on the news while I'm telling him what's happening on the ground at the exhibits. And I mean I've been watching E3 ever since I was about 11 or 12 years old. So actually being here… I don't want to say it's dreamlike, because I can believe I'm here. It's just surreal. Like, I'm here next to a bunch of famous people, talking to a VICE journalist, while Markiplier and Pewdiepie are probably around here somewhere. I'm next to professional esports stars. It's insane. I never thought I'd get to be around people like that, since I'm from like a cornfield in Ohio. But this is my home. My gaming community home, all right here. And that's what I really love about it. I feel really welcomed.
Markell Williams of North Carolina, with Bakri Muhammad and brother Saudy Muhammad, at Xbox FanFest:Bakir: It just all feels pretty unreal for us, me and my brother, to be here. Because back home, there's five of us brothers, so we lived in a house where we had to find a medium we could all do together. And we grew up in a bad neighborhood, so gaming was always something that kept us busy, home, out of trouble. We've grown up with it, like other people have grown up with basketball or baseball. And to be able to come here and participate in something we love this intimately, as tech and game enthusiasts, there's no better place to be than here.Markell: The excitement for me was in just sitting there at the press conference. I'm a car enthusiast, so when Forza came onto the stage and they show me a 2018 Porsche that no one else has even seen yet. I lost my shit. Or all the shit I had left—it was all just fucking gone. That was by far the best thing ever: seeing a car that should be in Nürnberg, but on the stage right here. In front of me. That must've been the highlight of my life. And then they ended it with Anthem. Perect. The second greatest thing so far was playing the new Assassin's Creed with the dev sitting right next to me and he's telling me about all the shadows in the game—something I'd never even notice on my own. Overall, the appeal of E3 is just being at a place that I love. I'm a gamer at heart. And being around the devs, the execs, the games. It's just the pure energy in here.
Ling Wingate, New Zealand, waiting in line for Mario Odyssey for two hours:This is my first E3 and I've been wanting to come here since I was about, oh I don't know, this high [points to her knee]. I remember when I first got my ticket I just drove my manager crazy, I drove my boyfriend crazy—I left my boyfriend at home! I just screamed out when I got it, and I've been counting down the days from February 13 ever since. So to be here is just surreal. The smile has never left my face once. I don't even know why it feels different than any other convention, but I just knew I always wanted to come here—just to be here, where it all happens. I mean I was right there when they opened the floodgates this morning, and all I could think was, "Whoa, this is the craziest thing I've ever been part of." I was in line near the underpass far out from the convention center by about 10AM, so that was a full two hours before they even opened the doors.
Derek Hartley, from Portland, Oregon, sitting on the floor in line for Call of Duty: WWII for 2 and a half hours:I've followed E3 for so long—games have always been important to me, and that's only grown as I get older. I just remember watching my first E3 with my cousin, who's like my bro, and I didn't even realize it wasn't open to the public. I was so disappointed. When you think of games, when you think of this whole community, the first thing that comes to mind is E3. It's the king of kings. Except the fucking lines. You expect it, you know it's gonna be bad. But man when you're just standing there…I haven't even played Destiny 2 yet, and that's my game. I'm salty about it. But I get it. There's 15,000 people. I'm not gonna fault anyone. But is it a pain in the ass? Fuck yeah.
Aaron Baldwin, from Kentucky, sitting on the floor waiting in line for Call of Duty: WWII for 2 and half hours (along with his girlfriend, playing on her Switch, and not interested in talking):I got here 30 minutes before they opened the doors. We just couldn't wait to get inside. We've now been in line for over two hours to play. They tried to close the line, but then we talked to them and they let us through. I explained we came from 2,000 miles away and spent a lot of money coming out here just to be part of what Activision had to offer. I've been an Activision fan for about 10 years now, play every Call of Duty every year. And you know it's my first public E3, obviously, but I've watched every single one at home ever since I've been able to play video games. I mean it's a dream come true to finally be here in person. Every gamer wants to experience this. This is like their championship. Every year they get to come here and experience the real deal. You get to be around people with the same interest as you, the ability to network and connect. I mean as soon as I walked in I was overwhelmed with how much effort all of these developers put into their craft. I'm still at a loss for words. I'd say my one disappointment is that we don't have more time—instead of just 12-6PM, at least a couple more hours to roam around. But who knows we've got a couple more day! We'll see what we can do.