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E3 2021: When is it, what will it be, and who's attending?

The gaming industry's biggest event will be much different this year.

E3 will be different this year. The video game industry’s equivalent of the Super Bowl was outright canceled in 2020 amid the then-emerging Covid-19 pandemic. That meant gamers didn’t get a weekend full of exciting reveals and announcements, leaving a void in the usual gaming hype cycle. Instead, the Summer of Gaming spread the event out across several months' worth of digital showcases.

Luckily, E3 looks like it’ll return this year with a format that’s more prepared for the digital age. While the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) — which organizes and presents the event — hasn't confirmed the exact details of the show, a leaked pitch document sets the stage for an all-digital showcase full of press conferences and demos. Here’s what we know for sure about the giant gaming expo’s 2021 show.

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When are the E3 2021 dates?

E3 2021 will take place from Tuesday, June 15 to Thursday, June 17. Those were the dates the ESA originally locked in when the 2021 show was canceled and it’s sticking to its guns on that. According to the leaked pitch documents, the show will also have a preview night on Monday, June 14 with streams from smaller publishers and influencers.

What’s the E3 2021 format?

This year’s show looks as though it’ll be all-digital, though the ESA has still yet to confirm that. Instead, it’s stated that this year’s expo will be a “transformed” experience.

The opening gates at a previous E3 expo.


The leaked pitch documents sent to partners offers some more clarity as to what that means. According to a report from Video Games Chronicle, the ESA has sent an example schedule out to publishers. In this proposed format, each day of E3 would begin with a 30-minute pre-show run by one of the ESA’s media partners and then a 2-hour press conference by a “console platform holder” (presumably Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo). A Q&A and panel reaction would follow, not dissimilar to how some media websites approach their own E3 live coverage shows.

After that, the days would feature various smaller streams from third-party publishers. The documents mention an awards show component and charity streams during the show as well.

Will E3 2021 include game demos?

Yes, or at least that’s what the ESA hopes. Its plans mention that demos will be made available on “consumer platforms.” Partners will have the option to remotely stream game demos and set up one on one meetings with players.

It’s not clear if any of that will be available to the public. The one-on-one demo sessions will likely be reserved for press and influencers. Media will also get briefings about the show weeks in advance, according to the pitch documents. However, it seems like the ESA is hoping to encourage developers to release demos to wider audiences on platforms like Steam. So fans will hopefully be able to bring the E3 experience to their home.

What publishers are participating in E3 2021?

Here’s the catch: no one, yet. The ESA’s plans are entirely hypothetical at this point. What they’ve done is set up a pitch document to try and get partners on board with its plan. That doesn’t mean that companies will go along with it or even agree to the terms laid out. All of this could shift depending on the wishes of developers.

It’s going to be a hard sell for the ESA. Many companies have already ditched E3 entirely, even before the pandemic. Sony infamously ducked out of the show in 2019 to set up its own event. Nintendo has long scrapped the idea of a live conference, opting to host its own Nintendo Directs instead. Microsoft is the only company of the big three that actually holds a conference at this point.

Will everyone get on board with the digital show this time? Probably not. E3’s reputation as a “can’t miss” showcase isn’t quite what it used to be. With events like Summer Games Fest stepping in to fill the gaps last year, developers may opt to release announcements throughout the year, rather than prep a whole stream’s worth of content for one weekend. Whatever the case ends up being, it’s not going to be the massive party it was in the 2000s.

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