Ever wondered what it’s like to attend CES, North America’s biggest consumer electronics conference?
Every January in Las Vegas, the world’s leading electronics brands gather to showcase their newest products, make sales, share knowledge, and meet with other top execs. It’s a fun and crazy few days with upwards of 175,000 attendees each year.
This year we sent Jason Scriven, AE’s Head of Enterprise Sales, to check out the gaming and eSports scene at CES. Keep reading to discover what his first time was like!
What was your first impression when you arrived?
My first impression was, “holy cow there’s a lot of people here!”
CES is hosted at Las Vegas Convention Center, which is made up of 3 separate buildings that are about a quarter of a million square feet each. Plus there are 7 hotels that host conference sessions on top of that. Despite that huge amount of space, it was absolutely packed.
I spent most of my time at the eSports sessions. The room sat 200 people and was full, every time. With only 15 minutes between sessions, a lot of people didn’t move. They just whipped out their phones and kept working it. So the overall pace was really great and there wasn’t a lot of waiting around for people to get settled.
The information in the sessions was solid, though I’m surprised that the trade show wasn’t more related to eSports…but it’s still a small industry!
Did you have to do a lot of research beforehand to know what you wanted to see or did you just show up and figure out your schedule?
No, I definitely had to research ahead of time.
It turns out there were trade show booths in both the hotels and the conference center, which is amazingly complex to get around. There’s not very many maps and the numbers on the floor are unclear. It’s one of those things where I was in the conference center for an hour and a half and spent 45 minutes of that lost.
There were people I wanted to visit in two of the conference center areas and in one of the hotels, and then my actual sessions were in another hotel. So logistically, I had to plan out the day and a half I had very carefully.
What was your favorite session or speaker?
There was a talk with Ann Hammond on the panel, who is the chairman and CEO of Super League Gaming. Super League Gaming’s mission is to create a space where people could have a pro experience even if they’re amateur eSports players.
It was very clear that she lives the values of the company. During the session she talked about inclusivity quite a bit and how, video games in general are, regardless of your economic level, your geographic location, your gender, your ethnic background, very inclusive. So that was one thing that really kind of stuck with me.
In terms of making business connections, did you find that it actually was worthwhile?
Oh yes, though you have to work at it a little bit. And, again, I had a plan. There were certain trade show booths where there were influencers in our space. I knew that if I got introduced there, they would be able to introduce me to others.
For example, Sports Innovation Lab had a whole lounge set up at the back of the room where the eSports sessions were going on. They had charging stations, free soda and muffins, and other stuff for their clients and guests to be able to come in and relax and hang out there. I went and met their CEO, their VP of Product, their Head of Sales, and all those people introduced me to other people. And the only reason I got in there was because I talked my way in, because I wasn’t invited. I used a referral from someone I met on the plane and that got talking with one person, who got me to another person, and so on.
Did you find that most people were pretty friendly and open to having a conversation?
The session speakers were obviously the big fish. After they’re on stage for five minutes you get a sense of who they are and if you want to talk to them. And, depending who the speaker was, there could be a lot of people waiting to talk to them backstage. But if you do get a chance to talk to them, it’s key to make eye contact, exchange business cards and say here’s why we want to talk to you – are you okay with me following up to next week? If you get a “I’m sorry I don’t have a business card,” then you know the speaker clearly didn’t want to be followed up with. “If you give me your card I’ll call you,” is another line. Don’t expect a call back.
It was great to be able to make personal contact with people who I’d already met or that I’d been in contact with online. And then I was able to see them face to face, and that led to follow up after CES.
What made you want to go to CES versus other gaming-related conferences?
The attraction here was a full day of eSports specifically around data, fan engagement, and analytics. We felt that this was a good opportunity for AE to learn about how people think about data in eSports and to scope out potential opportunities.
Is there anything you would do differently if you were to go back?
Yeah, I’d stay for more days! I would have loved to see more of the trade show.
It’s one of those places where it’s okay to go down a rabbit hole if you have the time. If you dive deep into it and just kind of wander, you can discover so many cool little things. It’s a lot easier to do that then having a specific booth you wanted to go to and figuring out how to get to it!
Also, I sat down in the plane next to someone who told me it was their 5th or 6th year going to CES. She said she always goes to the trade show on the afternoon of the last day. Why? The vendors don’t want to take anything home so they are just giving away thousands of dollars of electronics.
Anything else you want to tell someone thinking of attending CES next year?
For us, it only made sense to go because of the full day on a topic that was intimate for us. If they didn’t have that track dedicated eSports, then we likely wouldn’t have gone.
So much of what goes on at CES is about electronics and hardware. Make sure there is a strong reason to go if that is not your business’ focus.
One more thing. You have to be patient going from conference to hotel to whatever. With 175,000 people, the shuttles and the ride share services are overwhelmed. As a result, you’ve just got to be patient. Pick and choose your times. Get to know the doorman at your hotel and ask if they can store your bags or get you a taxi really quick. Just be prepared for a lot of people!