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E3 2021 will be a free online-only event, ESA confirms

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Following reports that E3 would be returning this year as a digital event, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has now officially confirmed that E3 2021 will be an online-only affair: and it will be free to watch.

Taking place between 12th to 15th June, E3 will return as a "reimagined, all-virtual" event allowing developers to showcase their latest games and news. "The ESA will be working with media partners globally to help amplify and make this content available to everyone for free," the ESA said.

"We are evolving this year's E3 into a more inclusive event, but will still look to excite the fans with major reveals and insider opportunities that make this event the indispensable centre stage for video games," said ESA president and CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis.

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The show has so far been backed by Nintendo, Xbox, Capcom, Konami, Ubisoft, Take-Two Interactive, Warner Bros. Games and Koch Media. That's already a solid lineup, and the ESA promises there are "more to come". Although it's worth noting Sony appears to once again be absent, suggesting the company may be skipping the show for the third year in a row.

The ESA's heavy emphasis on this being a free event is likely in response to a report claiming the ESA had pitched plans to put some content behind a paywall (via VGC). Understandably, this idea didn't sit too well with many online, and the ESA swiftly stepped in to reassure fans that there would be "no elements" of E3 behind a paid-for pass or paywall.

Last year's E3, of course, was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And although this year brings the promise of vaccines, it seems we're some way off from a return to massive live events. The ESA has certainly taken a more cautious approach this year, but said it "looks forward" to welcoming guests to an in-person show in 2022. This year's Gamescom, meanwhile, is due to have a "significantly expanded" digital show, and a final decision is yet to be made on whether the physical show will return. Given 373k people attended Gamescom in 2019, I imagine at least a couple of changes will have to be made.

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