E3 2016 photo via ESA

Last week, I got an e-mail from a reader named Ben. “I was just wondering if you and your team had any advice for first timers that are heading to E3 this year since it’s opened to the public now,” Ben wrote. “Any Do’s and Don’ts? Do they give out tons of swag? Any tips would be greatly appreciated! I’m super excited and nervous! I’ve been dreaming about going to this forever!”

We sure do have some advice, Ben, and we figured it’d be useful not just for you but for the thousands of other fans who will be attending E3 for the first time this year.

Yes, there’s lots of swag

We’re not big on taking things from the companies we cover, so we can’t give you much advice here, but you’ll find free pens and t-shirts everywhere you look. A good general rule: the fewer people care about a company, the more they’ll want to impress you with swag. Check out some of the third-party hardware booths for plenty of free stuff.

Remember that the press conferences require their own invites

First-time E3 attendees might not realize this, but the big pressers from Microsoft, Sony, EA, Bethesda, and Ubisoft are all entirely separate events from E3 (and those events aren’t even at the LA Convention Center where E3 is). Your E3 badge only gets you into the main show on Tuesday through Thursday. Each press conference requires its own invitation, which can be tough to get if you’re not a journalist or industry professional.

Figure out a good plan of attack

Look at the E3 floor plan in advance, and plot out a schedule based on which games and companies you want to see. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to tackle the South Hall and West Hall separately. If you’re only going for one day, maybe spend the morning in one hall and the afternoon in another. If you’re there all three days, divide and conquer.

Explore the convention center

There are conference rooms everywhere, and while they’re usually booked for specific appointments, you may occasionally find some goodies or cool sights on the second floor of the L.A. Convention Center. Don’t miss the Concourse hall (between the West and South halls) either.

That big blue area on the left side of the main level is the South Hall. On the right side of the main level is the West Hall.

Stay away from “theater” demos

One of the coolest things about E3 is getting to play all of the biggest games before they’re released. One of the least cool things about E3 is that many of those games aren’t playable, but are instead shown via “theater presentations” with massive lines and no real payout. Don’t waste your time waiting for these “hands-off” demos that will all be on YouTube within a few weeks anyway. If you’re going to wait on a line, make sure there’s a controller at the end.

The first-party booths are full of games

Sony and Microsoft always book massive booths and stock them with third-party games, so if you’re looking for some cool indies or even AAA third-party games, head to those two booths first. Often, a game with a two-hour line at the Ubisoft booth will take just ten minutes if you head to PlayStation.

Check out the food trucks

They’re in the outdoor corridor between the West and South halls, which is also one of the best shortcuts if you need to mosey back and forth between the big halls in a hurry.

The shortest food lines are in the back of the hall

Also the worst.

Stay away from the cafeteria in West Hall

Unless you want to pay $10 for a terrible slice of pizza.

In fact, you may want to skip lunch

Eat a decent breakfast, bring a granola bar or two, and make plans to go to a nice dinner with your friends (and new friends) after the show at around 5 or 6. L.A. Live has some solid options for big groups. (I usually wind up at Yardhouse.)

Carry a water bottle

You will regret not staying hydrated.

Carry hand-sanitizer, too

You and several thousand other people from around the world are all shaking hands and touching the same game controllers. Avoid being sick the week after E3 by cleaning your hands compulsively during E3.

Don’t count on seeing Nintendo games unless you’re a VIP

Last year, it’d take a four-hour wait to get twenty minutes with Zelda—and that’s just if you were lucky enough to get in line before they reached capacity for the entire day. Super Mario Odyssey will likely require a similar ordeal this year, so don’t count on getting any Switch time unless you’re really, really persistent.

Not all Japanese men with mustaches are Hironobu Sakaguchi

As Chris Kohler points out, it’s easy to misidentify people. Look at badges before you make an embarrassing blunder.

If you’re press... don’t wear shorts and a video game t-shirt… or a cape

E3 is a fun, casual show with no dress code or style requirements, but unless you work for Naughty Dog, please don’t wear your Nathan Drake shirt. The best way to network, impress people, and convince your peers that you’re a professional is to dress like you’re there for business, even if you’re not. Please, please, please don’t wear a kilt.

Feel free to say hi to people you recognize

Spot your favorite game developer? Want to say hi to a Kotaku editor? Don’t be too intimidated to say hi. Just realize that everyone at E3 is swamped. Your idea for a video game about bear-on-bear combat is no doubt fantastic, but now’s not the time to tell Cliff Bleszinski all about it; just introduce yourself and then move along.