DreamHack seems to be becoming “a games SXSW”

DreamHack, one of the oldest live event series in esports, is in the midst of a serious brand refresh. Last September, the company merged with ESL, another leading esports brand owned by Swedish holding company Modern Times Group. With the two brands now operating as a single entity, ESL Gaming, DreamHack seeks to return to its roots as a more general gaming and lifestyle festival while maintaining its connection to the competitive gaming scene through ESL.

The Pivot is a bold but measured move by one of the biggest video game festivals – and a sign that powerful companies in the esports space are increasingly craving the attention (and money) of non-hardcore players. While esports competitions drive sales of popular titles like Overwatch and Call of Duty, hardcore esports fans are only a small fraction of gaming enthusiasts who might be willing to fork out tickets to gaming events. live.

The first DreamHack festival was held in Malung, Sweden, in 1994. At the time, it was both a gaming event and a party for Scandinavian ‘demoscene’ – a sub- culture in which programmers show their coding skills by creating highly stylized computer programs. “You would get together for two to four days, and different groups of people or individuals would compete against each other to create the best computer-generated creations,” said Shahin Zarrabi, vice president of brand and corporate marketing at ESL Gaming.

Since then, DreamHack’s reach has grown significantly. Over the decades, it has evolved from a grassroots demo team into a full-fledged company, with an annual list of paid festivals including both esports competitions and gaming culture celebrations. The last DreamHack event before COVID-19, DreamHack Anaheim 2020, featured a total prize pool of $ 566,000 and reached a peak Twitch audience of nearly 150,000, according to Esports graphics.

Along with this expansion came growing challenges: DreamHack events were popular, but they lacked a cohesive identity, straddling the line between esports’ money generator and the larger gaming scene from which the festival has emerged. “Before merging ESL and DreamHack, I don’t mean we stuck in a corner, but we were very dependent on esports,” Zarrabi said, adding that the company was feeling the pressure from advertisers and partners of the brand to focus on profit. esports side of its activity.

Future DreamHack events will have some significant changes. While they will still offer tournaments for esports titles such as Counter-Strike and Dota 2, these tournaments will now be explicitly marked as ESL events. “DreamHack Open is renamed ESL Challenger, but ESL Challenger Atlanta will still be held at DreamHack Atlanta,” Zarrabi said.

The renaming of DreamHack’s esports offerings is just the start of more ambitious plans. Looking to the future, creative Justin Burnham’s DreamHack vp envisions the festival as “a south by southwest of games.” As a cultural festival for all things gaming, DreamHack will keep its traditions of artist aisles and cosplay contests alive, with eventual plans to honor its demoscene origins with additions such as a dedicated hackathon. “When they come back we want them to come back with quality,” Burnham said.

As a result of the ESL-DreamHack merger, Burham said, the two major gaming brands will support each other in symbiosis, with ESL acting as the most buttoned up competitive gaming side and DreamHack cultivating a community of casual gamers who can then be guided into. ESL’s esport properties. .

“DreamHack is almost like some sort of incubator,” Burnham said. “Because we could have a community tournament of this in-the-making game – the next Rocket League or the next Fall Guys, whatever it is – and since it’s working well within the DreamHack infrastructure, we’re seeing it increase, and oh wait, now it should be an esport, now it’s an ESL product.

The re-introduction of DreamHack as a more general gaming-focused brand follows its decision to adopt a new brand visual identity last year before the merger.

“[At DreamHack] we don’t feel like esport is the end of everything, it’s just one of the factions of the entire gaming world, ”said Marta Swannie, senior creative director of Superunion agency, who helped develop a new visual branding for DreamHack and ESL. “So for us it was a lot different than, say, ESL, where it was specifically esports with lots of tournaments and lots of levels. That’s a nice twist.

Ultimately, the in-person experience at DreamHack events will be more or less the same for most players already in attendance. But instead of presenting itself as an esports tournament, the brand will use its relationship with ESL to maintain a connection to competitive gaming while also attracting more casual players who make up the majority of the gaming community.

From its roots as an annual Swedish festival to its position as one of the most important international gaming and esports events, the DreamHack brand has come all the way. Through it all, he never lost sight of his origins as a celebration of nerd culture as a way of life. “We could really build on this community of players or this platform,” Zarrabi said. “Not a digital platform, but somewhere we can just bring a lot of people together with a common passion and let them define what’s going to happen. “

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