The second I arrived at the Los Angeles Convention Center for E3 2017, I knew this year would be different. Massive lines of wide-eyed, neon-badge-wearing fans spilled out from the convention center’s halls all the way onto the sidewalk, creating the kind of scene I'd expect from a Comic Con and not the gaming industry's biggest trade show.
E3 2017 opened its doors to the public for the first time in the expo's history, allowing thousands of fans to plunk down $250 for a chance to roam the halls of gaming's Holy Grail. Many of these gamers were living a lifelong dream, but was the experience worth the high price of admission?
I asked a bunch of showgoers to find out.
As any E3 veteran will tell you, this year's event was a lot more crowded than usual. According to the Entertainment Software Association (the folks that put on E3), a whopping 68,400 people attended E3 2017 -- a big jump from last year's 50,300. That's likely because of the 15,000 tickets that were sold to fans.
For us press, this attendance bump just meant bigger crowds to wade through en route to appointments. For fans, that meant lines that went out the door of the convention hall, and 3-hour waits to play tiny slices of unfinished games.
"The lines kind of suck ... I haven't been able to play all the games yet," said Devin from Toronto.
"We tried to line up and get into Mario Odyssey, but they capped the line before it was even 10 o'clock," said Callie from Arkansas. "It's just crazy. It was wrapped all the way around the booth."
The scene Callie describes is one I saw all too often at E3, with game booths from Bethesda and Warner Bros. somehow amassing gigantic lines the second the show floor opened. Still, most fans I chatted with kept a good attitude about the congested convention.
"Even waiting in line was fun, because you get socialize with all of these other people you might not get to see in a regular setting," said Jonathan from Tennessee.
"The lines are probably one of the most stressful parts," said Mickey from Toronto. "But at the same time, you meet a lot of cool people. And I mean, look at you, you're going around interviewing us, that's kind of cool!"
So Many Games, So Little Time
So what did folks actually spend their time playing at E3? Of the 2,000-plus games and gadgets on the expo floor, titles such as Call of Duty: WWII, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Monster Hunter World and Detroit: Become Human stood out as some of the major highlights among the attendees I spoke with. Several people were pretty pumped up about the Xbox One X as well.
"We tried Call of Duty the other day, which was really great in that it's going back to World War II," said Ricky from California. "They did a really good job with the feel of it, especially with the sound effects that the guns have."
"And Detroit, which was absolutely phenomenal," he added. "It's really nice to play a game where your decisions actually matter and the smallest thing you do has the biggest impact overall."
"I loved Wolfenstein II," Jonathan said. "I waited in line 2 hours just to go see that. It was incredible -- I can't wait to play the full game."
Lots of fans were blown away by Nintendo's booth -- not just because of the games, but also because of the dazzling recreation of Super Mario Odyssey's New Donk City that engulfed a huge chunk of the LACC's West Hall.
"Mario was one of the coolest parts, if you haven't seen us wearing these hats," Mickey said. (Nintendo gave showgoers red visors inspired by Cappy, Mario's new sentient hat. It was both creepy and cute.)
Even with the huge crowds, Michaela from Arkansas managed to play over 30 games within two days, citing Nintendo's and Capcom's offerings as some of her favorites.
So, Is E3 Worth the Cash?
Despite long lines and high ticket prices, nearly every fan I talked to seemed happy about plunking down the cash for an E3 pass. All of them said they'd like to return next year.
"I'm not the biggest fan of the $250 price point," Ricky said. "But it's not crazy compared to Comic Con or any other big events. There's a lot of people here -- the developers, the publishers, all of this going on. There's got to be some sort of higher price point."
For aspiring gaming professionals like Callie, buying a ticket to E3 provides a chance to learn from the industry's brightest minds.
"I'm a student in game design, so it's really interesting to go to all the panels with all the developers and see them present their game." Callie was referring to the new E3 Coliseum event, which was packed with developer panels and was one of several new attractions that made E3 2017 feel more like a fan convention and less like a trade show.
Michael from California praised E3 as a time for fans and game makers to come together.
"It's worth the experience just to play some games, talk to developers, get their input, and have that firsthand experience of getting to know what a game or genre that you love is really all about."
E3 has changed, and based on this year's massive turnout, its new fan-centric direction is likely here to stay. There certainly are some kinks to work out -- the ESA would be wise to host a press-only day to mitigate some of the chaos on the show floor -- but it was hard to ignore the infectious energy that came from thousands of folks who were there simply because they love video games.
If you're expecting to leisurely roam the convention and play every video game on the floor, E3 might disappoint you. But talking to fans gave me the sense that if you want to make new friends, network with the industry and soak up the atmosphere of gaming's biggest spectacle, you just might find buying a ticket worth it. Just be sure to pack some snacks, water and maybe your Nintendo Switch -- we're not kidding about those lines.