Attendees walking in with badges obscured. Security declining to approach an injured show-goer. Robberies, one allegedly carried out by security guards. No metal detectors, no bag checks. E3 2017, by many accounts, had significant issues with crowd control and security.
This year’s E3 Expo was the first in the gaming trade show’s 22-year history to officially open its doors to members of the public, selling 15,000 additional tickets and bringing total attendance up to 68,400 from 2016’s 50,300. In my observation as a show attendee, it didn’t seem like E3 had changed its structure much to accommodate the hordes of wide-eyed enthusiasts. But while the massive crowds were mostly just a pain in the butt, lax security put attendees and their possessions at risk. Security workers at the show, however, told me that security was intensified this year, raising questions about whether it wasn’t enough or if some incidents are just inevitable at a show of this size.
Show attendees Brandon Sheffield of Necrosoft Games and Mathew Kumar of development studio MK-Ultra told me about an incident in which they witnessed a man collapse just outside the convention center, his head hitting the ground hard. Sheffield said that while attendees ran to call 911 and get security, the guard nearest to them apparently refused to approach the injured—even when Sheffield said he witnessed the injured attendee begin to have seizure-like symptoms.
“It didn’t appear that any of the security had been trained to deal with this situation,” Sheffield said in an email. “Essentially, for those first five-or-so minutes, in spite of us having a door security person with a walkie-talkie in our line of sight and shouting distance, we complete amateurs were on our own dealing with this guy. Nobody saw what happened, nobody around was a medic of any kind, so we were just using our best judgment in keeping this guy from... dying?” An ambulance and on-site medics arrived five minutes later.
I also heard two reports of theft at E3. Scott Swarbrick and Kevin Campbell, of the independent development studio Milky Tea, said that two people grabbed the studio’s laptops from the Dell stand where they were showcasing their game. “One of them distracted the Dell employee,” Swarbrick said, “asking him questions about the hardware and directing him to one side of the stand. As we were all distracted, another person picked up one of the laptops and walked away.” This, he said, happened twice in one day, and while security tried to help afterward, they’ve yet to recover the laptops.
In an even more disturbing story, an E3 exhibitor that wished not to be identified for fear of reprisal from the ESA, the gaming industry trade group that runs the show said that equipment was stolen out of its LACC meeting room by security guards.
“Our meeting room was broken into the night before the show started by E3 security staff,” a representative of the company wrote in an email. “They stole a laptop, two consoles, and four headsets. They used one of our backpacks to get it out. [Security] had clear camera footage of the guards entering and exiting, but because they couldn’t actually see them carrying the stuff, they gave us some bullshit excuse about it not being prosecutable/enforceable. We’re still pushing them for a satisfactory conclusion.”
Another representative of the same company told me that the security company in question, had identified the guards that were allegedly involved and said it would fire them, but that’s all it could do. On the upside, my reporting prompted the company that was robbed to reach out to their contacts at E3 again, and they said they now have more support in attempting to prosecute the guards in question. They’re still not happy about how all of this turned out, though. “If we attend next year,” said the second rep, “we are likely going to have to invest in our own security measures for inside our meeting room, which will increase the cost of attending this already expensive show.”
Security isn’t just about making sure people don’t bring things out; it’s also about making sure people don’t bring certain things in. With the general public now admitted, there’s a higher potential risk of people walking in with weapons or other dangerous implements. This year, however, the LACC still had no metal detectors or bag checks, just security guards posted at entrances, outside the halls, and near meeting areas.
The ESA does not seem to believe there was a big security problem with this year’s show. “E3 was a great success from a security perspective,” ESA VP of media relations and event management Dan Hewitt said to me in an email, saying that the show had “minimal issues.”
Some attendees, though, have been talking about concerns since the show ended last week. In a post harshly critiquing E3 for lackluster security, Rami Ismail of indie development studio Vlambeer claimed that he was able to enter the show floor on at least three occasions without wearing his badge. “Every time I was carrying a backpack that was never checked for its contents,” he added. “It would be trivial for someone to bring any sort of weapon to the event, and security would not be able to react fast enough in the hall to prevent anything from happening.”
On Twitter, others who attended the show voiced similar concerns. Another claimed that, on the final day, there were stretches where doors just weren’t guarded at all. In my experience, security did seem to drop off a bit that day, but it had also noticeably ramped up the day prior.
While at the show, I talked to nine security guards, one security manager, and one police officer, all of whom told me E3 security was in fact much higher this year than in 2016, at least in regards to the number of security personnel on hand.
Multiple security companies took up posts in addition to the convention center’s in-house security. These included the Global Protection Group, CSC Los Angeles, and AMB Security Services. I also saw a few bomb-sniffing dogs while I was attending the show, and there were police stationed near entrances to the convention center as well.
Security guards unanimously offered two reasons for the increased security presence: the admission of 15,000 members of the public to the show, and highly-publicized acts of violence in the United States. In light of recent mass shootings, not to mention a harrowing weapons threat against a former Power Rangers actor at this year’s Phoenix Comicon, those concerns would seem to be valid.
It’s impossible to know if the stepped up security kept E3 from having more incidents, and it’s conspicuous that some common safety measures like bag checks weren’t used. E3 will return to the LA Convention Center in 2018, and the ESA will have a chance to improve its safety measures again.