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DreamHack has always been an outlier compared to other gaming conventions and esports tournaments. At its core, DreamHack is a grassroots convention that scaled. The festival started in 1994 as a LAN party in a school cafeteria in Sweden. Over time, it expanded to include esports, music and other gaming-adjacent communities.
This “big tent” ethos has stuck with the company through two acquisitions — first by ESL Gaming’s parent company and then by Savvy Games Group in 2022. Unlike its ESL Faceit Group (EFG) sister brands which focus on firmly on esports, DreamHack serves the intersection between esports and the wider gaming community. Flush with cash, DreamHack and its leadership has ambitious plans to grow the festival’s audience.
DreamHack’s ‘Big Tent’ strategy
DreamHack’s one-of-a-kind formula blends esports tournaments with a consumer-facing convention. Last weekend, DreamHack San Diego (DHSD) hosted esports tournaments — both professional and grassroots — in a variety of games alongside exhibitors, brands and artists on the show floor.
DreamHack also understands that it can tap into adjacent communities to bring more fans into the fold. DreamHack preserves its LAN party roots through the BYOC — Bring Your Own Computer — section of its events. Similarly, Magic: the Gathering tournaments are also welcomed under the umbrella.
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Building on esports, DreamHack San Diego is also leveraging gaming personalities and creators. The event featured a King of the Hill activation where fans could compete directly against pros. Similarly, DreamHack had a Stream Studio for creators and invited personalities Jake Lucky and HUN2R to create content from the show floor.
“Fans are what make esports run. DreamHack supported our vision of talking to them and telling their stories,” HUN2R told GamesBeat.
Moreover, DreamHack tapped into the crossover between gaming and entertainment. DHSD hosted meet and greets with iconic voice actors and a screening of the Super Mario Bros. Movie during opening weekend. The event also featured a concert with Set It Off, City of Sound and Scene Queen playing on the main stage.
“There are no direct competitors to DreamHack that offer all of the content that we do,” Shahin Zarrabi, DreamHack’s VP of strategy & growth, told GamesBeat in an interview. Following both COVID and the acquisition by Savvy, the company saw an opportunity to expand this audience even more. “Previously we were owned by a publicly traded company and that made you look quarter to quarter. Now we can look more long-term,” Zarrabi added.
With both a long term strategy and long term funding, DreamHack can experiment with ways grow gaming culture and its audience. Each event is a large scale experiment where the company can cater to the unique interests of fans in each of its host cities.
“The future of DreamHack is tapping into the local community. When we’re in San Diego, the focus is on gaming adjacent communities. For Atlanta, it’s more focused on the fighting game community. Meanwhile, Dallas is all about core esports,” explained Zarrabi. “We provide the framework and then each market fills it up with their local flavor.”
San Diego was also an ideal opportunity to reach out to major partners in addition to the local fans. Psyonix — the developer of Rocket League — chose to host the RLCS’ Winter Split Major at DreamHack. Additionally, Qualcomm — the manufacturer of Snapdragon chips and the title sponsor of the Snapdragon Pro Series — is also based in the city. About 110 of the company’s executives attended the event to learn more about the community.
“DreamHack is an awesome opportunity to humanize esports for our colleagues that don’t come from a gaming background. It’s invaluable to see the true impact you’re having on a community firsthand — you can’t capture that in a presentation,” said Matthew Grossman, Qualcomm’s manager of product marketing for gaming and esports.
Unlocking new revenue streams
With its “big tent” format, DreamHack has unlocked a unique path to monetization. The event can use the monetization strategies of both traditional trade shows — selling floor space to exhibitors and tickets to attendees — and esports content — partnering with brands for broadcast partnerships.
“DreamHack has more revenue potential than a traditional trade show through brand partnerships and by integrating esports,” said Craig Levine, co-CEO of ESL Faceit Group, in an interview. “Scale matters. By bringing together all of these different communities and games, we reach a meaningful audience. It lets us sign bigger deals and deliver great results to our partners.”
Additionally, esports tournaments hosted by DreamHack are typically funded through each publisher’s esports program, lowering the cost burden compared to a more standard esports event. DreamHack pitches itself as a budget friendly opportunity to tap into the festival’s crossover culture and introduce games to its attendees.
Ultimately, all of DreamHack’s monetization opportunities are enhanced by growing the community. The event organizer went into overdrive to grow its in-person attendance for San Diego. In addition to an affordable price point — day passes sold for as low as $35 — the event also reached out to families and military service members.
The festival gave away over $1 million worth of tickets to local schools. Meanwhile, DreamHack also sold family passes that allowed parents to bring kids under 13 to the event at a discount. Similarly, DreamHack offered ticket discounts to members of the military. San Diego is home to over 115,000 active duty service members.
These efforts worked — DHSD set a new record for its U.S. festivals with over 41,000 attendees. But ESL Faceit Group has more ambitious goals.
“We want 100,000, 200,000 attendees and you do that by creating more cultural momentum behind it,” Levine said. “I think DreamHack is the most exciting opportunity that we have in the EFG family because of how expansive the concept can be.”
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