Dreamhack Melbourne 2024 Felt More Like PAX Aus Than An Esports Event

Dreamhack Melbourne 2024 Felt More Like PAX Aus Than An Esports Event
Dreamhack Melbourne 2024 Felt More Like PAX Aus Than An Esports Event

I attended the Dreamhack Melbourne festival at Rod Laver Arena over the weekend. Compared to last year’s post-pandemic revival, something stood out to me. This was an esports event at which esports felt dramatically de-emphasised.

Don’t get me wrong: esports were still going on. The League of Legends Oceanic Split 1 Grand Final returned and the ESL Challenger (MCA) Counter-Strike 2 tournament was back as well. The fighting game community was once again stuffed into the secondary Creator and Free Play building, though the space they were given was greatly expanded over the 2023 show.

What was immediately apparent was that the show had moved dramatically towards a creator-driven event, inviting just about every Twitch streamer in the country to attend. Creators were given a well-appointed private space upstairs from the show’s entry with a bar and facilities for taking meetings, and they drove just about every event and panel at the three-day festival. The overwhelming majority of panels across the weekend had nothing to do with esports at all.

Sloping around on Sunday, I must have asked 25 people what they were there for. It was seven people before someone mentioned the ESL Challenger, and another nine before someone mentioned League of Legends. Most were there for the cosplay, the expo hall, or to try to meet a favourite creator. Quite a few attended specifically for events involving anime YouTubers Trash Taste. Most saw a video games convention and decided to head along. It seemed like very few people were attending this esports festival for the esports.

That’s both very weird and makes sense from an organisational perspective. I don’t think that esports as a spectator event has ever taken off in Australia the way people hoped that it might. Dreamhack Melbourne 2024 appears to indicate that even ESL, esports’ most fervent promoters, have had to bow to that reality. Turning Dreamhack into a miniaturised version of PAX Aus was likely the only way to keep it going (and certainly the only way to pay for a venue like Rod Laver Arena).

But even that comes with its own problems. Rod Laver and Margaret Court Arenas, as a single complex, are excellent venues for spectator esports. They are not great venues in which to stage a more traditional convention. Nowhere was this more apparent than on the show’s ad-hoc expo hall floor, placed on the court at Rod Laver. Divided cleanly into two sections — one end dedicated to panels and the other an expo space for hardware makers like Asus and MSI to hawk their high-end gaming computers — it suffered from being both too cramped and way too loud. The exhibitors couldn’t sell anything because they couldn’t be heard over the sound of the panels going on right next door, and panel attendance occasionally suffered because they were hidden behind the crowded expo. At one point on Saturday morning, a heavy metal Kick creator played a gig on the panel stage, ending all conversations on the expo floor for an hour.

People walked the halls looking for ways to enter either area. Though Dreamhack Melbourne staff were everywhere and very helpful, they were also dressed in black T-shirts, making them blend into the crowd. At PAX Aus, I know where the Enforcers are because their bright yellow T-shirts separate them from the punters.

I’m sympathetic to the organisers. There’s clearly been a business need for the show to change. PAX should have competition. I think that’s a good thing.

I also think this new incarnation of Dreamhack has an identity problem to solve. Beyond being held in a different location to PAX, what is it doing differently? Exploring the show revealed they’d borrowed most of PAX Aus’ ideas. Panels, BYO PC, cosplay competitions, meet-ups, and even Saturday evening concerts and a tabletop section. It was all the same stuff we see every October at a different address. The question kept popping into my head: what’s different about Dreamhack Melbourne? (It would have been the major esports competition at its core, but, again, it didn’t seem like all that many punters considered it a drawcard).

I may have been the only one thinking about these things, though. Beyond the organisational teething problems, everyone seemed to be having a nice time. I didn’t hear about any major dramas at the show (always a win), and the crowd seemed to be quite pleased for an excuse to get dressed up and take the train to Richmond. I will be very interested see what shape the Dreamhack Melbourne festival takes on in 2025.

Source: kotaku.com.au

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