Picture two giant convention hallways in the dark, filled with PCs and rigs crafted, thanks to the creative ingenuity of gamers gathered together just to play games and mingle with one another all day long. Now picture that same congregation with an eSports and livestreaming space and stage featuring the most talented professional gamers and YouTube/Twitch streamers. Also, add in a live Swedish concert and cosplay contests.
Sounds like a gaming smorgasbord mess? Hardly. This congregation known as Dreamhack is arguably the one true community-driven mecca of video games. Held in the Swedish city of Jönköping and established in 2001, the event is filled with all things that will drive a youth to pack up, play games 24/7 with their friends and even family, and watch others do the same.
The hallways look like a giant-as-heck LAN cafe, with stage areas brightly-lit for eSports pro-gaming heroes like Seon-woo “Infiltration” Lee and Kim “Hero” Joon Ho doing battle in their respective fighting games and real-time strategy tournaments. The event is split into two: Summer and Winter variants that take place in June and the tail end of November respectively, usually around the school holiday period. Think of it as an elaborate Asian cybercafe setting, but hundred times more in spectacle and scope.
One would think that a gaming event with a possible identity crisis may not do well, but Dreamhack is focussed enough to be what it wants while pulling in the numbers. This year’s Dreamhack Summer event had 21,642 unique visitors, with 9,444 of them bringing their own computers and rigs to use and put up for display. The last two Dreamhack events in 2013 totalled up to more than 40,000 visitors, and does not look like its numbers will be slowing down soon.
Dreamhack event organiser Frederick Nyström told e27 that the entire event would not be possible if it didn’t network with its plethora of sponsors and listened to the gaming community since its inception in 2001. “Riot Games (the people behind League of Legends) is a good partner for us for many years. They’re doing really cool stuff and has been a big part in the change in the gaming industry, because of how it got its community together to deliver input and feedback.”
He brought up Epic Games, the creator of Gears of War, that is going to create the next Unreal Tournament game with the fans, changing the system of making games. Other partners who worked closely with them include Asus, ESPN, and various clothing and youth-centric brands.
Despite being based in Sweden, gamers and professionals all over the world come down to show off their skills in games like League of Legends and DOTA 2. Nyström said that while a majority of them are from European countries, a number of South Koreans come down to represent their country for official StarCraft II tournaments. It’s also no coincidence that eSports is bigger in Sweden compared with any other country due to its PC reform policies, said Nyström. “Companies could give PCs to their employees for an extremely good price with a big tax reduction. The fast broadband speeds and low latency help too.”
Throughout the event’s lifespan, it has amassed a talented number of in-house crew members to keep the gargantuan event in tip-top shape. Nyström stressed that its crew is trained in setting up computers, making sure people behave and not bring alcohol and/or illegal substances inside, and also check whether user computers have potential malware or not that can spread within the halls. If anyone have issues with their custom computers, the crew not only can help diagnose it on the spot, but also help customers pick out and buy spare parts from local retailers who set up shop in the hallway.
“We’re taking all of this very seriously, just to prevent any kind of problems to occur. We have strict policies and work with the authorities to make sure it’s a safe environment.” Having said that, Nyström said that the organisation wanted Dreamhack to be more of a gaming and hardware expo than a political agenda championing gaming as a legitimate professional activity. “If we had everything all politically-focussed, it won’t be Dreamhack anymore.”
The Swedish event is also open to experimenting with new games and tournament formats, all for the sake of catering to community diversity.
Nyström said it was the first time that Dreamhack Summer 2014 had held a Hearthstone tournament and a cosplay tournament, featuring renowned cosplayer Yaya Han as a judge for the latter. “(The cosplay contest) is one of the many new ways of broadening Dreamhack’s appeal to the general public and a way to bring in more women participants/viewers. When it comes to participants with their own computers, it’s heavily male-dominated. When it comes to day visitors, women dominate the ratio by half.”
One other question to pose is whether Asia can do the same event on this scale? Nyström said that for a country to pull it off, it requires both the community and the organisers to see eye-to-eye and work together. It’s easier said than done, as Dreamhack’s big advantage was that it had 13 years to work out its bugs and kinks as well as to get the support from the government and private companies that may not necessarily be tech-focussed.
Due to the change in the gaming landscape featuring free-to-play fares like League of Legends and DOTA 2, Nyström said that gaming and eSports is really close to being mainstream than being a niche following. “The gaming industry has changed enormously. It’s got a lot to do with Twitch livestreaming and the fact that everyone has an eSports plan. Everybody wants in on it.”
He felt that in time starting now, games like Hearthstone, that hit a target audience that’s between the casual and hardcore level, will be a deciding factor in keeping events like Dreamhack alive. “More games that will attract a broader audience 9like the midcore) will come. By that logic, you can even say that Candy Crush Saga is eSports. It is; you compete among your friends, you have a high score list. Many people are doing eSports, but they don’t know it.”
Speaking of which, Dreamhack will soon have tournaments focussed on the smartphone and tablet platform as a means to keep up with recent gaming trends. “World Cyber Games (WCG) may be gone now,” Nyström said, “but they’re one of the first organisations to host a mobile gaming eSports tournament featuring Asphalt 4 back in 2008. The hardcore eSports community was furious about the inclusion, but at the same time, you can’t deny that WCG was ahead of its time. ” It has yet to announce something concrete, but the idea to bring in popular and competitive mobile games is laid out in pre-production format.
And really, that’s what most organisations and companies need to make a large-scale event like Dreamhack work in a country like Asia — a supportive gaming community, along with companies and partners that are willing to co-operate mostly not on self-interest. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Dreamhack certainly wasn’t a phenomenon when it first started eons ago. With over 21,000 unique visitors for the first half of its two-parter expo this year, positive fanfare, and progressive thinking, it’s enough proof that setting up building blocks and long-term dedication eventually leads to something grand and established.