You weren't seeing things. This was the biggest E3 in more than a decade, by far.
The Entertainment Software Association says 68,400 attended E3 2017, an increase of 16,200 and 31 percent more than 2016's attendance of 50,300. It is just short of the 70,000 who attended E3 2005.
This was the first year E3 sold tickets to the public, and 15,000 were snapped up about as quickly as they were offered. As such, day one of E3 on Tuesday opened its doors 15 minutes early to relieve the potential safety hazard posed by large crowds gathered in the lobbies of the L.A. Convention Center and outside on the sidewalks.
E3-goers’ shock over the crowd size seemed to abate as the expo wore on, but lines remained long throughout — five hours for a 10-minute VR demonstration in one case — and the most popular booths, such as Nintendo's, were stormed at every opening.
Last week, an ESA representative told Polygon that, in light of opening the expo to the public for the first time, the show would reduce the number of passes granted to media, analysts, influencers, streamers, games industry professionals and others associated with it.
“You’ll see an increase in the number of people,” Rich Taylor, the ESA’s senior vice president of communication and industry affairs, told Polygon, “but probably not by 15,000 though.”
That appears not to be the case. If all 15,000 public passes were bought up, that means 1,200 more qualified passes were issued this year than in 2016.
E3 2018 will take place June 12 to June 14, again at the Los Angeles Convention Center. A news release from the ESA did not mention its plans for public attendance next year.