Today I heard some of the saddest news I could hear outside of some tragic loss of a loved one. Today it was revealed that E3, the largest and premier gaming convention for the last 20 years was no more.
I can't say I'm surprised though. The writing has been on the wall for some time but that doesn't make its inevitable end any less sad.
Of course, I only was able to attend a couple of shows in L.A. during my time with Midway Home Entertainment in the late 90s but those trips were packed full of memories. I will cherish the memories and experiences I had there for as long as my concussion-addled brain can remember them.
I haven't kept up with the show in significant detail since my time with Midway came to an end but I have tried to at least keep a curious eye out for it's presence. For several years after I stopped attending I would find articles by current attendees who expressed dissatisfaction with the show's evolution and/or the underwhelming experience that so many had come to expect from the annual convention.
So what was E3?
E3 stood for Electronic Entertainment Expo. Essentially, it was a massive convention for video game publishers, developers, console manufacturers, and more to come together under one roof to showcase their latest releases and upcoming projects. The showroom floor was abuzz with activity and lights from the innumerable screens running commercials, game demos, tournaments, and more for three solid days. Meanwhile, the upstairs portion of the L.A. Convention Center was packed with hardware to support the showroom floor and the offices not jammed full of computers, burners, and various other electronics were set aside for sales meetings, business deals, marketing discussions, and more.
For workers like me, we flew out from our office in Texas to L.A. a few days before the show's actual start. We would spend those days setting up our booths on the showroom space allocated for our company, burning demo disks to be used for the show, putting together promotional packages to be handed out during meetings, and pretty much whatever those in charge needed from us.
Those long hours of setup were usually followed by a walk through downtown L.A. from the convention center to our hotel before we walked from the hotel to dinner and back. We didn't typically have a lot of time for sightseeing. The show was a major event so every waking hour was devoted to ensuring a spectacular show was ready before opening day. For the three days during the show, we were working the showroom floor or upstairs rooms in shifts. We would get to explore the show during our breaks but our primary function was to work the show, not attend it. When the show ended, we rushed to break everything down and hop a flight back to Texas where we would be back in the office working the next day.
Well, that was the routine for most, but not me.
I got lucky with my job duties when it came to E3 and was afforded more flexibility and time to do more than others. For some, being asked to help me with my tasks was a welcomed reprieve from their other duties.
With my background in IT, I was often in charge of transporting, setting up, using, and tearing down expensive equipment designed by companies like Sega to produce discs of proprietary formatted content to be used with their development consoles. I was responsible to putting the equipment in shipping containers, dropping those containers off at one airport, picking them up from the other airport, and then putting it all back together again. This meant that I had access to rental cars when others didn't. This meant that I was able to leave the convention center to perform my tasks while others toiled. This meant that I had extra responsibilities that required me to take different flights than many of the others. This meant that I was allowed to pick 2 co-workers to assist me given the size and weight of the containers were too much for a single person to safely handle.
During the show, the extent of my responsibilities were largely limited to make sure that all of the content for the show and meetings were ready in time and sufficient backups were available just in case. This meant that I had more time to explore the show than others. While we all had time to roam the expansive space that is the Staple's Convention Center in L.A., I found myself spending large portions of the show days taking in the sights. I took pictures with several of the "booth babes", models hired by companies to promote their wares, usually while dressed in skimpy outfits. I played wonder arcade games like the Star Wars Pod Racer game before it was released to the public. I talked with the team behind Everquest shortly after the groundbreaking MMO's release in 1999. I acquired SWAG from a variety of booths.
Those were great times.
My co-workers from back then and I still talk some and still share laughs from those trips. From one getting an evil look from the Olsen twins after shouting, "I love you, Ashley," from the walkway above the doors as they entered to that same co-worker bumming a cigarette off a bum after the bum failed to bum one off him. From meeting Micheal Buffer during the show to watching Gladiator at Universal Pictures after show while me, Mark, and John-Mark waited for our flight after everyone else had already gone to the airport. So many fun things to reflect on with such fondness.
With E3 now being officially cancelled, those memories will be all that I will ever have. There will never be another chance to go to the show just as a spectator.
There's hope that the show will rise from its own ashes like a mythical phoenix but there is no guarantee that a new iteration of the show will share any of the features that made it so popular for the past two decades. But here's to hoping.