E3 is Not Ready for a Disaster
Throughout all of E3 2017, I found myself qualifying every observation and interaction with an admission that this was only my first time attending. There’s no way it was as rough as I imagined. It couldn’t have been that poorly managed. I’m simply more comfortable with the docile crowds of GDC or the expansive floor of PAX West.
By the end of E3, a single observation rang truer than any other, unburdened by the second-guessing of a modest greenhorn.
E3 and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) are simply not prepared for a disaster.
Evidence of this piled on early, only diminishing as the week neared its end. Upon my arrival to South Hall, the line for entry had already stretched from the center of the lobby to the street corner outside. It certainly felt like an extra 15,000 people had been dumped into an event that did very little to accommodate such a drastic attendance increase. From that curb, all the way to the third floor where my outlet’s meeting room was, I was never stopped or asked for identification. The only time I was asked was briefly before when I stopped by the sponsor registration desk to receive my badge. However, if I had skipped that desk and walked to the left escalators, where no guards or volunteers stood at around 9:30am, I could have easily made it past the line and possibly even into the showfloor without so much as a glance from security.
Furthermore, at no point did I ever witness badges actually being scrutinized by security or volunteers at either floor entrance. At best, guards briefly looked at badges from a distance, waving people through with relative ease. I saw one guard briefly wave what appeared to be a pen flashlight over a badge, though it didn’t appear to have an UV functionality to look for hidden markings. Considering the badges are simple paper inside a laminated cover, (there’s not even an embedded RFID chip like GDC’s badges) it doesn’t feel like a stretch to assume that some might be forgeries.
The ESA has also neglected to consider the necessary separation between the media and consumer attendees. The concourse between the west and south halls featured a few things for fans to enjoy, but a larger sub-area was dedicated to meeting and demo rooms designed specifically for the media, with drab, temporary walls individually housing around 20 businesses or media outlets. Over the course of multiple appointments in this room, I witnessed numerous groups of consumer attendees allowed access. A coworker of mine was asked at least once if there was anything in there for fans. For the most part, these lost attendees simply gave it a once-around and left in disappointment, but in an industry where high-profile figures are often the subject of calculated harassment, it’s not a stretch to suggest that allowing anyone entry to a area with constricted paths and one exit per business (often with no way to see someone approaching) might result in the harassment or harm of an individual.
Doubling my concern is the fact that “swag bags” appeared to rarely see inspection. Some bags were practically twice as big as the people wearing them. I never actually saw where people acquired these bags, but again, it would be laughably easy to conceal banned materials while walking into the show floor. I will admit, however, that some of this concern comes from witnessing an adult man scream threats and obscenities at nearby LA Live restaurant patrons while wearing a Yakuza 6 bag.
This of course all culminates in a broader feeling of suspense, not for the next major game reveal, demo, or celebrity signing, but for the seemingly inevitable. It is one thing to need a minute to yourself because you’ve been shoving your way through dense hordes of people all day. It’s entirely another to need one because you’ve realized just how dangerous a panicking crowd of that size and indirection could be in a worst case scenario.
I am not here to tell the ESA what to do. I am the furthest thing from a security expert. I am only here to relay my personal observations and feelings about my first E3. It goes without saying that no attendee, journalist, business person or otherwise should feel a sense of fear while they are visiting an event with such passion, mysticism and raw joy. The ESA and E3 staff were clearly caught off guard by the logistics of managing an extra 15,000 people with little to no media training or familiarity with the show floor. While security noticeably increased over the week, it still seemed to fall short of a truly comprehensive strategy. And I’m not the only one to notice. A top post on Reddit’s r/gaming showcased two young men documenting their efforts to get into the show for free by posing as temporary food service employees and evidently succeeding. The two young men even made it past security, who they claim were only scanning every fifth badge, and made it onto the main floor.
The ESA is lucky this year did not escalate into more serious circumstances. While much might be made of the business or coverage lost as a result of increased confusion (I certainly overhead enough conversations between PR reps and executives), we as both fan and business communities must first ensure the wellbeing of those we share this industry with.