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Gamescom plans ‘hybrid’ event for summer, focusing on superfans (but ignoring superspreaders)

Video game fair Gamescom is planning to hold a “hybrid event” combining in-person and digital activities later this summer, despite uncertainty surrounding the ongoing pandemic and the risk the trade show could turn into a “superspreader” event.

Like many big events that involve hundreds of thousands of people flying in from all over the world to breathe the same air for days at a time, Gamescom decided to cancel its 2020 show and instead held a series of virtual spectacles. This year, though, organizers want gamers and industry insiders to return to the show floor, albeit in reduced numbers.

“We will hereby be placing a focus on the superfans”

“In late summer, we are striving to make an on-site Gamescom event possible for the gaming fans again at last,” said Felix Falk, managing director of the German Games Industry Association, which co-organizes Gamescom, in a press statement. “We will hereby be placing a focus on the superfans and the on-site testing of the latest games this year.”

As proof of the event’s safety, organizers are promoting their adherence to so-called “#B-SAFE4business” guidelines outlined by Koelnmesse, the exhibition center in Cologne, Germany where Gamescom is usually held. According to Koelnmess, safety measures include mandatory face masks (except at seating areas for eating and drinking), contact-free navigation through doors, reduced visitor numbers (so attendees can maintain at least 1.5-meter distances from one another at all times), and “sufficient ventilation.”

A pitch deck for the event suggests it will take place between August 23rd and 29th, five months from now. And although it’s impossible to predict what the global COVID-19 situation will be at that point, that uncertainty is definitely not in the organizers’ favor.

Just this week, German officials warned of an “exponential” growth in infections, attributed in part to the spread of the new B.1.1.7 variant. And while Germany still plans to offer every citizen a COVID-19 vaccination by summer, there have already been unforeseen obstacles to this goal like the recent suspension of the Oxford / AstraZeneca COVID vaccine.

Even if Germany does have the pandemic under control by August, the wisdom of inviting attendees from around the world to share air in a single location is dubious to say the least. It’s been proven that such big gatherings can become superspreader events. A single biotech conference in the US last February is thought to have led to some 300,000 new cases, for example. And even small events which test all attendees have led to new cases.

Gamescom, though, isn’t the only organization determined to return to “normal” in 2021. Mobile conference MWC is also currently scheduled to go ahead in June, even though numerous firms — including Sony, Nokia, Ericsson, and Facebook — have said they won’t attend due to safety concerns.

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