Days like today are what Daily Reaction was made for. Alas, I’m missing my counterparts that once provided a sense of discussion to this column years ago, but when Geoff Keighley announces he’s not going to be participating in E3 for the first time in 25 years, I can’t help but think back to Daily Reaction’s roots. To some people, the news that “some gaming guy isn’t going to some gaming event” might not seem like such a big deal. It’s a page six mention at best (that’s a newspaper reference, for those of you not old enough to know what I’m talking about). But Keighley’s absence from this year’s show is absolutely headline news, and probably far more important than you think it is.
We’ve poked fun at Keighley our fair share over the years. He’s the industry pundit, the hype-man, everybody’s friend. He’s the Mountain Dew and Doritos guy. He ranked among the top 40 hottest men in games. But Geoff Keighley has been passionately covering games since before some of you were even born. Keighley has innovated and created, failed and gotten back up again, never stopping and always coming back even stronger than before. At this point, he’s seen as one of the go-to presenters in the games industry. He’s the creator and host of The Game Awards (formerly the VGAs). He runs gamescom’s Opening Night Live. And for the last three years, he’s hosted the E3 Coliseum live stream event, covering the show from the center of the show itself.
Why Geoff Keighley Skipping E3 2020 is a Big Deal
Keighley’s ultimate vision is gaming togetherness. He wants to bring gamers and the industry together to celebrate games. This is the guy who I would expect to rally around a consumer and influencer-focused show. So when he says that he’s not participating in E3 this year because he’s “not comfortable” with the ESA’s vision for it, that’s pretty monumental.
Keighley has expressed his discomfort through more than one outlet. He used the term in his official statement to The Hollywood Reporter. He said it again in replies to questions on Twitter. It’s not that he’s not happy with it. It’s not that he doesn’t think it will be a good show. It’s that he “doesn’t feel comfortable participating,” and those words speak volumes.Rumors kicked up last year that the ESA was looking to change up E3 in a big way. The summer gaming event has been getting progressively more influencer and consumer focused even as it hemorrhages its biggest exhibitors. Even those still presenting at the show have been pulling back to smaller booths and quieter meeting rooms in recent years. Those same rumors said Geoff Keighley was being consulted on shaping the new vision, but was quoted as saying that all parties had to come to the table.
The ESA obviously couldn’t make a compelling enough argument to get Sony back to the show. The company announced it would be skipping E3 for the second time in two years. While 2019 was seen as a reasonable year to skip it (Sony didn’t have much to show at the time), E3 2020 sits less than half a year ahead of the PS5 release. For Sony to determine that E3 is not the PS5’s stage is a pretty huge move, but it also shows that the ESA wasn’t doing enough with the show to convince Sony it was worth showing up. Particularly as Sony shifts its attention to the PlayStation community, it seems even the ESA’s consumer-focused vision of E3 just wasn’t working for Sony.
I don’t think that Sony stepping away alone was enough to convince Keighley not to participate in E3 this year. While his vision is to unite everyone, Keighley could have still made things work without Sony at the table. After all, he hosted E3 Coliseum in E3 2019 when Sony wasn’t in attendance. That’s clearly not the big(gest) issue here.
Keep in mind that not only is Keighley not participating in E3 this year as part of the show, he’s not even planning on attending at all. That’s a lot more than just some minor breakdowns in creative vision. He’s genuinely so uncomfortable with the direction the show is taking this year that he is opting not to attend for the first time in a quarter-century. As I said, Geoff Keighley has been going to E3 for longer than some of you have been alive. What were you doing 25 years ago? Yeah, Geoff Keighley was heading to his first E3.
Look no further than the recent issues E3 has had as evidence that there’s a lack of a solid creative vision and direction for the show. Last year played host to a massive data breach of thousands of attendees, mounting distrust for the ESA from the media. This year, the ESA aired a vapid and empty “response” to Sony announcing it wouldn’t be exhibiting at the show. All of its statements around E3 2020 so far have also used a lot of buzzwords without ample evidence as to how this year’s event will actually “shake things up.”
E3 isn’t even that big of a consumer show to begin with. E3 2019 has about 66,000 attendees, approximately 15,000 of which were general public passes. Comparatively, gamescom 2019 saw a staggering 370,000 people attend. Paris Games Week, which has been steadily increasing year over year, recorded 316,000 attendees in 2018. E3 could barely handle the new influx of 10-15,000 gamer attendees over the past few years. It’s doubtful it can ever reach the heights of other consumer-focused shows. Despite the E3 brand itself being instantly recognizable to most people, it’s actually one of the smallest video game events due to its roots as an industry-focused trade show, not a consumer event.
I keep coming back to Keighley’s words. “I don’t feel comfortable participating.” That’s not disinterest. It’s not just being unhappy with the direction of the show. It’s discomfort with how the ESA is handling things (and you can bet he knows a lot more about this year’s event than we do). It’s something that goes so against the core of Keighley’s sensibilities that he’s saying, “not only am I not participating in E3 2020, I may not even be in the area that week.” As someone so wholly passionate about games, and about innovating, creating, and taking the showcase of the video games industry to new heights, him stepping away from E3 with a feeling of discomfort screams volumes about what the event has become.
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