E3 widely believed to be cancelled due to coronavirus; organisers slow to confirm

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) appears to have called off the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3): the world’s largest expo dedicated to gaming.

Update: E3 has now been officially cancelled, with the ESA stating: “Following increased and overwhelming concerns about the covid-19 virus, we felt this was the best way to proceed during such an unprecedented global situation. We are very disappointed that we are unable to hold this event for our fans and supporters, but we know it’s the right decision based on the information we have today.” The ESA will be looking into hosting parts of the event online, including announcements and demos.

E3 2020 was scheduled to take place over three days in early June at the Los Angeles Convention Centre, attracting delegates from around the world. Game developers and hardware manufacturers use the event as an opportunity to debut their latest products, with games revealed at E3 2019 including 'Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order'; 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare'; 'FIFA 2020', and 'Borderlands 3'.

E3 2020 was likely to see the formal unveilings of the much-anticipated PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, which are both tentatively slated for release towards the end of 2020. The coronavirus epidemic may push back the release date for these products, given the slowdown in manufacturing in Asian countries.

Multiple sources familiar with ESA’s plans have told Ars Technica that it is planning to cancel the event. One source told the publication that they had heard about the cancellation directly from ESA members and that an official statement had been planned for earlier this week but had “slipped”. Game publisher Devolver Digital has since posted on Twitter: “Cancel your E3 flights and hotels, y’all.”

It is not known at this time whether E3 will be entirely cancelled (as reports suggest), or postponed, or possibly replaced with a virtual event which substitutes livestreams for in-person presentations. A source told Bloomberg that an official announcement is expected at 12.30pm (EST) today. If cancelled, this would be the first year without the E3 event since 1996. 

While the obvious explanation for E3’s cancellation is that the ESA is concerned about the transmission of the novel coronavirus at a large gathering of international delagates – with the ESA stating on the event website that it is “monitoring and evaluating the situation daily” – reports suggest the possibility that the event may have disintegrated for a multitude of reasons.

Ars Technica noted that E3’s contracted creative directors had stepped down from preparation for the event, respected E3 producer Geoff Keighley confirmed that he will not be involved with this year’s show, while E3 has been under increased pressure as some big-name game publishers such as Activision-Blizzard, Nintendo and EA have all (to differing extents) distanced themselves from the event in recent years.

The novel coronavirus, which has infected at least 120,000 people and killed more than 4,000, has battered the global economy and caused widespread disruption and uncertainty as authorities and businesses take measures to contain its transmission. A succession of major events have already been cancelled in an effort to minimise the risk: technology events affected include Mobile World Congress; the Game Developers Conference; I/O (Google's developer conference); F8 (Facebook's developer conference); the Geneva Motor Show, and the New York auto show.

Later today, the White House is due to host a meeting with representatives from Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter, Apple and Microsoft to discuss efforts on how best to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

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