E3 goes online-only for 2021 – What will that look like?


The year 2020 ushered in a time where live events are, to this day, uncertain. Fans worried that their favorite presentations might not see the light of day. In the case of E3, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) canceled the live event. This comes after the event was called off last year in June 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19.

Video Games Chronicle detailed the information about the digital E3 event from a leaked pitch document. The pitch states that E3 2021 “is a vanguard and culturally significant digital tent-pole for all corners of the industry and its consumers, from mobile and PC gaming to eSports to watershed console and AAA debuts, all of which will generate massive mainstream attention, offer unprecedented secure game demos while accelerating your B2B, B2M, and B2C objectives.”

Fans feared the ESA would hide some of E3’s content behind a paywall. The ESA has not confirmed a lot of the leaked information. However, the people behind E3 made a clear statement on Twitter. 

Later, the ESA also added their own follow-up statement:

“We can confirm that E3 2021 will be 100 percent free for attendees and that there will be no elements at E3 2021 that will be behind a paywall.”

As for the content, the ESA intends to hold multiple keynote sessions from their gaming industry partners. We may see an awards show and a preview night. Another key feature ESA may introduce is on-demand game demo streaming through the cloud. They would like to partner with Nvidia and use GeForce Now, allegedly, to allow either the general public or the press and businesspeople to stream via an E3 app.

Is E3 necessary anymore?

Over the years, publishers like EA and Activision have pulled out of previous E3 events. Sony abandoned the 2020 event before the ESA canceled it, stating that the event is not the right venue for what they’re focused on. As much as we enjoy the earliest sneak previews of upcoming games, the gaming landscape has changed. Publishers have taken more initiative, enjoying more control over their events.

Sony at E3
Sony – E3 2013

Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony all held their online presentations separate from E3 in 2021. Game publishers like Square Enix put on their own event called “Square Enix Presents,” choosing how to show off their video games. 

On April 8, 2020, a Venture Beat article stated that Microsoft said they wouldn’t attend any physical events until August 2021. Even as organizers prepare for conferences in the coming months, there’s no guarantee that they will pull the same crowds they used to. Often, video game companies and news outlets send hundreds of employees to attend E3 alone. From here on out, we very well may see publisher-led virtual showcases. I, for one, like the idea.