What comes to mind when you think of E3?
As someone who's now attended seven consecutive E3s in person and has been watching and reading coverage of them for years before that, increasingly E3 has become about hype. And, hey, I love hype. I love getting excited for new games. But the kind of hype that comes out of regular press events, like the ones that will be happening over the next few days —that hype can feel incredibly manufactured.
Just look at how these press events are structured: You get some executive or, if you're lucky, a lead designer up on stage. They brag about the numbers behind their latest success. They mention the name of a popular franchise or upcoming game. The crowd cheers. They play a trailer or a short demo. They tell you when you can go to the store and purchase the game. And that's it. Please be excited.
When Nintendo stopped doing proper E3 press conferences a couple of years ago, I was skeptical. How would they do big game announcements? How would they keep everyone informed?
That's still a legitimate concern. But as it turns out, they found an infinitely better way to get people excited.
Rather than getting executives on stage, Nintendo gathered together some of its most ardent fans, people who play and adore every Nintendo game, even people who make a living playing Nintendo's games on Twitch and YouTube. They gave these fans (and, by extension, the games they love) the spotlight. It felt like a celebration of the culture around Nintendo and the people who love it moreso than a business meeting built to sell us games.
That sense of passion came through to the competitors as well.
"It was electric," Joshua "Jovenshire" Ovenshire told me after the event. Ovenshire creates videos for the popular YouTube channel Smosh Games. He was knocked out in the very first round of the Nintendo World Championships but had a blast regardless.
"I may have lost, but look who I lost to," he said. "I did a speedrun against other speedrunners. I did as good as I possibly could have, and I was part of Nintendo history. That's where the magic is at."
Or just look at one of the few moments where the Nintendo World Championships featured an exec. Nintendo president Reggie Fils-Aime got on stage not to talk about the company's strategy heading into the future nor to ask you to run out and pre-order an upcoming game. Instead, he joined for a funny, lively competitive match against well-known Super Smash Bros. player Hungrybox.
Given, Reggie got absolutely destroyed in a way that made it look like he's never even touched one of his company's most popular games. But what other publisher would allow an exec to go through that on stage? And what other exec would have the trash-talking skills to make it so fun? And all that for a game that's been out for over six months, not some hot new thing they're trying to sell you on.
Of course, Nintendo did devote some time to new products. But again, rather than just showing a trailer or having an exec talk, they integrated them into the ongoing tournament. The competitors were made to play Blast Ball, a game they had never played nor even heard of before it was announced at the event.
Later, in the wonderful final round, the two competitors who had not been eliminated faced off in Nintendo's upcoming Super Mario Maker for Wii U. Nintendo had them race through some deviously designed levels.
I saw some friends on Twitter saying this event single-handedly sold them on Super Mario Maker; I feel similarly, and one of the key reasons is that it wasn't something that felt created solely to sell us the game. We got to experience the joy, frustration, heartbreak and triumph of passionate Nintendo fans playing these levels for the first time live on stage. Their reactions, their outrage, their slow understanding of new mechanics were no different from any of our own. That's exactly why it was such a good showcase for the game and exactly why the Nintendo World Championships as a whole felt so much less cynical than the average E3 event.
I left the Nintendo World Championships feeling energized, which is not a feeling I'm used to at E3. I felt in love with games again — not just Nintendo's games, but games in general. It made me more excited for the week's deluge of press conferences and demos, because it reminded me why I'm so passionate about this stuff in the first place.
Nintendo created a wonderful shared experience between its fans, something that's worth remembering and rewatching. That's something I'd struggle to say about any generic, everyday E3 event.
"It's so great to see Nintendo bringing this back," Ovenshire told me. "I think this needs to be a staple at every E3." I couldn't agree more.