E3 Should Leave L.A.

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Is the biggest gaming expo in the US meant to stay in Los Angeles?

“L.A.’s not a convention town.”
- Jeff Bell, corporate vice president of global marketing for Xbox, 2007

A few weeks ago, the Entertainment Software Association announced that E3 will be staying in Los Angeles at least until 2015, after months of negotiations that might have resulted in the mega-event moving somewhere else. The issue is the Staples Center‘s old West Hall, the square-shaped exhibit hall that has traditionally been the home of Sony and Nintendo‘s mammoth booths, along with media registration and more. The City of Los Angeles is planning to demolish West Hall to make way for a new, adjacent, state-of-the-art NFL stadium. (The larger, football-shaped South Hall will be uneffected.)

Losing West Hall to build a new stadium means more to E3 than having less exhibit space to use. Construction around the site will have a huge impact on things like traffic patterns and access to the Staples Center (not just for attendees, but loading docks for exhibitors, too). Fortunately for Los Angeles, they and the ESA were able to find a solution that worked for both parties. Namely, E3 will get to make use of additional facilities throughout Los Angeles, including the Staples Center’s next door neighbor, the L.A. Live complex, and other as-yet-known venues.

I can see using L.A. Live for private meeting rooms and the like, but I’m not familiar with any indoor space at the complex that would be big enough to house booths like Sony’s or Nintendo’s. L.A. Live’s biggest indoor space is the Nokia Theater, a 7,000-seat performance hall that’s home to the Emmy Awards and MTV’s Video Music Awards. Not exactly a space that could be easily converted into an exhibit hall.

But no matter. All is well in E3 land. The trade show gets to stay where most industry insiders think it belongs, in its longtime home of Los Angeles.

The thing is… this is the wrong move.

First of all, there’s this whole “spreading out” of the booths and the meeting rooms, which will force attendees to walk greater distances or arrange for cab rides. Maybe exhibitors who are stationed further away from the Staples Center will provide free bus or van rides. But we saw how well spreading out the show worked back in 2007, when E3 was drastically scaled down and moved to Santa Monica. As someone who attended that year, I can attest that all that coming and going and walking and riding was a needlessly tiring experience — particularly for an event that’s already exhausting. Travel time ate into my schedule, making it hard to get to appointments on time. Even when I gave myself plenty of breathing room between meetings, I was still at the mercy of the free transportation provided to journalists.

E3 has to be under a single roof. There’s just too much to see and do to be forced to add in extra travel time.

Then there’s housing. This isn’t a construction issue; housing has always been a problem for E3. It’s not that there aren’t enough hotel rooms. L.A. has hundreds of hotels. The problem is that there are only a handful of hotels that provide easy access to the Staples Center. Of the 45,000+ attendees, only those lucky few who score a room at one of these hotels are within walking distance to the show, and let’s face it — most of those rooms go to the suits at the biggest game publishers. The rest of us are stuck miles away, where the notion of walking to the Staples Center from your hotel is laughable.

Granted, attendees have plenty of parking to choose from at the Staples Center, so driving is a relatively easy option if you have a car. And there’s always the Metro bus with its confusing routs, a cab ride that will require half the budget of your trip, or you could do what I did: hitch a ride with a local. E3 graciously provides buses to get journalists to and from local hotels, free of charge; but as before, the downside is that you’re on their time table. And that’s not a feasible solution for a bustling event like E3 where every minute counts.

There are also meals to consider. With no restaurants near the Staples Center, it’s not like you can stroll down the block and grab a bite to eat at lunchtime. Unless you want to pack an energy bar, you’re left to fend for yourself at the Staple Center’s on-site vendors. Like every other convention center in the world, these vendors are stupidly expensive, offering very few food choices that are in no way satisfying. Quality issues aside, there are also crazy long lines at these establishments. Waiting to get your food can easily suck up half an hour or more of your time. Sometimes a lot more. (Don’t even bother getting in line at the on-site Starbucks unless you have loads of time to spare.) This is unacceptable for journalists with schedules full of appointments.

Plus, Los Angeles… how can I put this delicately… umm, it kinda sucks. E3 is an important event, deserving of a top-notch venue. L.A. is dirty, it’s hard to breathe, and its traffic is among the worst in the world. Put simply: Los Angeles is not a city well suited to house a trade show of this size and importance.

Before L.A.’s construction issue was resolved, the ESA mentioned New York City, Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco as candidates for E3′s new home. Las Vegas has long been a rumored alternative as well. Now, there’s a town that knows how to put on a big show. The whole city specializes in producing hands-on entertainment experiences for visitors from all over the world. E3′s vibe is perfectly sympatico with Vegas’: both woo visitors by overwhelming the senses with huge, mind-blowing sights and sounds. Like E3, Vegas works hard during the day and parties all night. And there’s an enormous convention center right on the Strip, along with dozens of adjacent hotels offering thousands of rooms each, and fantastic restaurants at every turn. Vegas would be a perfect home for E3, but any of the other cities listed would provide better options than L.A.

With so much money being thrown at attendees, with so much valuable PR at stake on the part of the game publishers, why would these very people working so hard to get our attention ignore the most basic conveniences we need to do our jobs?

Make no mistake: wherever E3 is held, we’ll keep coming. We may complain about E3, about how tiring it is, how it smothers you in sensory overload. But don’t believe it. We live for E3. No other event in the world can compare to its excitement, its sights, sounds, games, (and of course, its primo swag). We’re talking about 3+ days and nights of glorious gaming goodness.

It’s gamer heaven!

Too bad it’s stuck in purgatory.

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