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E3 2020 is officially canceled

Harrison Hill-USA TODAY/Sipa USA
Harrison Hill-USA TODAY/Sipa USA
Nick Summers
·Senior Editor

E3 won't be happening this year. Today, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) confirmed that the annual show -- known for its glitzy press conferences and blockbuster video game reveals -- won't be going ahead. The decision confirms reporting by Ars Technica and Bloomberg yesterday. The cancellation, unsurprisingly, is due to coronavirus fears. E3 is an almost week-long event that consumes Los Angeles and attracts attendees from all over the globe, so the health risks were substantial.

In a statement, the ESA said: "After careful consultation with our member companies regarding the health and safety of everyone in our industry – our fans, our employees, our exhibitors and our longtime E3 partners – we have made the difficult decision to cancel E3 2020." It has also promised to contact attendees "with information about providing full refunds."

The decision isn't surprising. Countless video game and technology-related events, including Mobile World Congress (MWC), the Game Developers Conference (GDC), Google I/O, Facebook's F8 conference, SXSW and the Geneva Motor Show, have all been abandoned in the last few weeks.

"Following increased and overwhelming concerns about the COVID-19 virus, we felt this was the best way to proceed during such an unprecedented global situation," the ESA added. "We are very disappointed that we are unable to hold this event for our fans and supporters. But we know it's the right decision based on the information we have today."

Like GDC, the ESA is now considering some kind of "online experience" to fill the void. If that fails to materialize, the industry will be left in a strange position. A number of new consoles are launching this year -- juggernauts such as the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, but also smaller systems like the Atari VCS, Playdate and Analogue Pocket. Sony had already bowed out of the event, but other publishers including Bethesda, Ubisoft and EA would have likely announced titles for the PlayStation 5. Microsoft will be talking about the Xbox Series X and xCloud next week, but almost certainly had some surprises planned for its E3 press conference, too.

If the online experience doesn't happen, these companies have a few options. They could, for instance, press ahead and switch to alternative venues inside Los Angeles. More than a few publishers, including EA and Devolver, have used offsite locations to unofficially extend E3's footprint. The more likely scenario, though, is that each company creates and hosts their own Nintendo Direct-style stream. Xbox chief Phil Spencer has already confirmed on Twitter that his team will be creating a "digital event" instead. "Details on timing and more in the coming weeks," he said.

Alternatively, companies could shift their announcements to another event like Gamescom, Tokyo Game Show, or Paris Games Week. They could also hold their own dedicated event later in the year, similar to XO19 and PSX.

The ESA's decision could be a blessing in disguise, too. Last September, a leaked pitch deck suggested that E3 would have turned into a "fan, media and influencer festival" this year. The shakeup would have included a focus on "high-flow game pavilions" and on-floor "activations," according to the deck, which probably meant statues and celebrities that fans might photograph and share on social media. Geoff Keighley, the organizer of The Game Awards and long-running host of the E3 Coliseum track at L.A. Live, announced that he would be skipping the show last month. Iam8bit, best known for its video game vinyl releases, resigned as E3 creative directors a few weeks later. Neither party gave specific reasons for their withdrawals.