E3 (ne the Electronic Entertainment Expo), is video gaming’s biggest event. Each year, tens of thousands pile into the Los Angeles Convention Center to listen to press conferences, attend panels, soak up cosplay and play demos for unreleased games. Last year, due to COVID-19-related concerns, E3 was canceled. This year, it returned from June 12 through 15 in a virtual-only format, a reminder of the increasingly digital landscape of our lives.

Typically, attendees at E3 are able to wander the exhibition halls, with members of the media scoring key interviews during the event. In the past few years, these press conferences started being broadcasted online, which helped democratize the E3 experience. But this year, with a fully digital E3, the push to bring the industry show to the masses was accelerated like never before, with any computer or smart device owner — press and public alike — able to check out the festivities. The velvet rope of years past was largely gone, which, honestly, is not a bad thing.

This year’s E3 was relatively lowkey. In comparison to the Tokyo Game Show it was jam packed with news, but when compared to previous iterations, it wasn’t exactly mindblowing.

There were a decent number of announcements, with Nintendo among the leaders of the pack with reveals for new, upcoming games: teasing, with some truly gorgeous footage, a 2022 release for a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; Metroid Dread, the followup to 2002’s Metroid Fusion, and the first 2D Metroid game in 19 years; and Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, remastered versions of the classic Game Boy Advance games in a new cartoon art style.

Among the Japanese game makers, Square Enix put in a particularly good showing, with a Guardians of the Galaxy game from Square Enix-owned Eidos Montreal and Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin, an action roleplaying game slated for 2022 and co-developed by Koei Tecmo’s Team Ninja. The original concept and character designs were created by Final Fantasy VII character designer and Kingdom Hearts designer Tetsuya Nomura. The debut trailer did carry a strong Nomura influence in regard to the clothing, but his signature extravagant hairstyles weren’t so prevalent.

There was, however, a noticeable absence. Sony was AWOL from this year’s virtual E3 — an unusual move considering that the electronics giant typically makes the biggest splash at the event.

“While, much like previous years, Sony does not plan to participate in E3, we continue to focus on delivering the leading and reimagined showcase for video game news, announcements, reveals, networking and interactivity that has made E3 a beloved experience for decades,” said gaming industry group ESA in a statement to TechRadar. This isn’t the first time Sony has sat out E3, as the company also missed the 2019 show, choosing to focus on its own State of Play showcase and announcements.

Virtual or not, Sony’s skipping of E3, downsizes the event’s scale. For the press, covering E3 can be overwhelming, with a steady onslaught of news and announcements. The booths are massive; crowds are large. And absorbing everything about new games feels like drinking from a firehose.

That’s not an issue anymore, because with online press conferences, events like E3 (and also Tokyo Game Show) are increasingly losing their stranglehold on the news cycle. One of the main points of trade shows is to get news out to a wider audience. But with the proliferation of YouTube, Twitter, Twitch and other social media platforms, game companies are no longer wholly reliant on costly industry events.

But even for gamers, who often find enjoyment and friendships in virtual worlds, even more of daily life has moved online during the pandemic. Online games, which have long been a way to “meet up” and spend time with friends, became an increasingly indispensable way to socialize. And thanks to the increased use of Zoom, FaceTime and other communication tools, our real-world lives and our digital ones overlapped more than ever before.

The in-person spectacle of previous editions was missed at this year’s show, but there’s glimmers of hope on the horizon. According to Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, E3 2022 will be an in-person event. The digital E3 experiences are, no doubt, here to stay, but the crowds, the lines and the chaos will return. And that will be wonderful.

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