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DreamHack has always been an outlier when compared to other gaming conventions and esports tournaments. At its core, DreamHack is a basic convention that is scalable. The festival started in 1994 as a LAN party in a school canteen in Sweden. Over time, it expanded to include esports, music, and other gaming-adjacent communities.
This “big tent” ethos has stayed with the company through two acquisitions – first by ESL Gaming’s parent company and then by Savvy Games Group in 2022. Unlike ESL Faceit Group (EFG) sister brands which have a strong focus on esports, DreamHack serves the intersection between esports and the wider gaming community. Flush with cash, DreamHack and its leadership have ambitious plans to grow the festival’s audience.
DreamHack’s ‘Big Tent’ strategy
DreamHack’s unique formula combines esports tournaments with a consumer-focused convention. This past 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 neighboring communities to attract more fans. DreamHack maintains 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.
Building on esports, DreamHack San Diego also leverages gaming personalities and creators. The event featured a King of the Hill activation where fans could compete directly against professionals. Similarly, DreamHack had a Stream Studio for creators and invited personalities Jake Lucky and HUN2R to create content from the show floor.
“Fans keep esports running. DreamHack supported our vision to talk to them and tell their stories,” HUN2R told GamesBeat.
In addition, DreamHack took advantage of the crossover between gaming and entertainment. DHSD hosted meet and greets with iconic voice actors and a screening of the Super Mario Bros. film on opening weekend. The event also included a concert featuring Set It Off, City of Sound and Scene Queen on the main stage.
“There are no direct competitors to DreamHack that offer all of the content we offer,” Shahin Zarrabi, DreamHack’s Vice President of Strategy & Growth, told GamesBeat in an interview. After both COVID and the acquisition by Savvy, the company saw an opportunity to expand this audience even further. “We used to be owned by a listed company, so you looked quarter by quarter. Now we can take a more long-term view,” Zarrabi added.
With both a long-term strategy and long-term funding, DreamHack can experiment with ways to grow gaming culture and audiences. Each event is a large-scale experiment that allows the company to tap into 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 playing neighboring communities. For Atlanta, it’s more focused on the fighting game community. Meanwhile, in Dallas, it’s all about core esports,” explains Zarrabi. “We provide the framework and then each market fills it with their local flavor.”
San Diego was also an ideal opportunity to reach major partners in addition to local fans. Psyonix – the developer of Rocket League – chose to use the RLCS’ Winter split major at DreamHack. In addition, Qualcomm – the maker of Snapdragon chips and the title sponsor of the Snapdragon Pro Series – is also based in the city. About 110 company executives attended the event to learn more about the community.
“DreamHack is a great opportunity to make esports more human for our colleagues who don’t have a gaming background. Seeing the true impact you’re having on a community firsthand is invaluable — you can’t capture that in a presentation,” said Matthew Grossman, Qualcomm’s manager of product marketing for gaming and esports.
Unlock new revenue streams
With its “big tent” format, DreamHack has unlocked a unique path to monetization. The event can leverage the monetization strategies of both traditional trade shows – selling floor space to exhibitors and tickets to attendees – and esports content – by partnering with brands for broadcast partnerships.
“DreamHack has more revenue potential than a traditional exchange through brand partnerships and by integrating esports,” said Craig Levine, co-CEO of ESL Faceit Group, in an interview. “Scale is important. By bringing all these different communities and games together, we reach a meaningful audience. It allows us to close bigger deals and deliver great results to our partners.”
Additionally, esports tournaments hosted by DreamHack are typically funded through each publisher’s esports program, reducing costs compared to a more standard esports event. DreamHack presents itself as a budget-friendly opportunity to tap into the festival’s crossover culture and introduce games to attendees.
Ultimately, all of DreamHack’s monetization opportunities are enhanced by growing the community. The event organizer went on a rampage to increase his personal presence for San Diego. In addition to being affordable – day passes sold for just $35 – the event also reached out to families and military personnel.
The festival gave away more than $1 million worth of tickets to local schools. Meanwhile, DreamHack also sold family passes that allowed parents to bring children under the age of 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 paid off – DHSD set a new record for its US 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 we have in the EFG family because of how expansive the concept can be.”
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