If you thought this might be the year of E3’s in-person comeback, its creators and showrunners have bad news for you. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) confirmed on Thursday that it will not proceed with a traditional exposition floor plan for E3 2022, an event that, in previous years, was the gaming industry’s biggest coming-out party of the year. Instead, organizers have pledged to bring the expo back as an online-only version, as we saw in 2021.
The ESA’s official explanation for the move, first offered to VentureBeat, references “the ongoing health risks surrounding COVID-19 and its potential impact on the safety of exhibitors and attendees.” When asked directly about whether E3 will return to last year’s online-only format, ESA representatives declined to answer. Instead, they said the organization is “excited” about such an option.
Ars Technica’s attempts to contact the ESA’s E3 news line, which was live during its E3 2021 period, bounced back on Thursday as undeliverable. [Update, 6:03 p.m. ET: In an email to Ars Technica, an ESA representative confirmed that “the show is going to be virtual this year,” then forwarded the same statement sent to VentureBeat.)
“This is spin”
Shortly after VentureBeat’s story about E3 2022 went live, reporter and business analyst Mike Futter refuted the ESA’s official line. “This is spin,” he wrote, before suggesting that E3’s virtual future was determined as far back as November 2021. That’s when, according to sources, the ESA had given up the option of locking down the Los Angeles Convention Center for its traditional early-June window in 2022.
Whether E3 had any intention of returning in a physical capacity or not, the ESA had its work cut out in terms of returning to the concept. The last time the show happened at the LA Convention Center was in 2019, and rumors surrounding the physical version’s meltdown in 2020 suggested that the rising COVID-19 pandemic was the final nail in an already struggling event’s coffin—especially as major partners like Sony bowed out before COVID-19 had become an international headline.
Should June 2022 indeed remain the ESA’s target date for something dubbed “E3,” this five-month heads-up is in contrast to other upcoming tech events that have remained committed to in-person plans in the first half of 2022, including the developer-centric Games Developer Conference (GDC) and the fan-focused PAX East. Exhibitors and attendees alike are holding their breath to see how those spring 2022 events will react to rapidly developing pandemic news.