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Amidst events like E3 getting canceled in favor of virtual alternatives, in-person events like DreamHack San Diego are more important than ever. A blend of respectable esports tournaments with impressive prize pools and an abundance of casual gaming opportunities, DreamHack is about more than gaming — it’s about community and culture.

Esports Illustrated spoke with DreamHack’s VP of Strategy Shahin Zarrabi about DreamHack San Diego and how it has impacted the gaming world as well as what they plan to improve for next time.

DreamHack’s VP of Strategy Shahin Zarrabi

DreamHack’s VP of Strategy Shahin Zarrabi

What is the importance of an event like DreamHack?

Zarrabi: It’s important to create a live event experience that’s not just about consuming an IP or a game or anything like that. It creates connections between people. It lets visitors have fun with each other and the games they love and their favorite creators — and not just pay $20 for an autograph or watch a trailer for a movie.

This was the biggest gaming event in North America, I’ve heard. How hard was it to put together something like this?

Yeah, it’s the biggest in the states. We’ve been working on this for eight months and it’s been tough. A bit complex.

What are some of the difficulties you ran into?

It’s the first time we’ve had an event in the city. When you do that, you have to learn new things about how the city operates and how the venue operates, how to get things here and build things here.

Everyone has been of great help internally and externally. We’re super happy we’re able to pull it off. We hope that we can come back next year and it will be much easier as well.

It’s crazy how much was put into this event — the RLCS Winter Major, the free play area, panels… How did you pick what should be in DreamHack San Diego to represent the gaming community?

We want to bring everything gaming under one roof. We do know that gaming creators — YouTubers, streamers — are of great importance and want to give them a platform to create content together with the community.

We also worked with game developers and publishers to allow attendees to play new games and give them feedback and playtest stuff that’s not out yet.

Esports is one of those pillars that’s adjacent to gaming and part of the gaming culture. It’s not just about playing the game. It’s about spectating or meeting the players, seeing them lift the trophy. It’s one of multiple content pillars that are important within gaming.

Esports has been going through a rough patch when it comes to esports organizations and canceled events. What do you see in esports’ future?

Esports is going to continue to grow as it has always done. It’s such a good equalizer in the sports world. It’s one that does not differentiate people as much as in real life sports do. There’s so much more opportunity within esports.

And we’re not capitalizing on all of that. For example, it’s very male dominated at the moment. We believe we can do much better there. Because, when you think about it, there is no differentiator in video games. It’s a unique opportunity for people to become the best.

It seems like DreamHack was all about exclusivity with tags like “THIS IS YOUR WORLD” in different videos around the convention center. It seemed like there was a wide variety of things for all communities, including cosplay and streamers and casual competitions.

We know that there are problems within video game culture, especially online where you’re anonymous. For us, to create an event like this, we want to get as far away from that as possible and create an environment where they can be themselves.

Here, you can focus on games. It’s not about who you are — gender, age, skill level. It’s about loving games. You love games, I love games — let’s have fun. Let’s play. Let’s watch people compete. That’s what’s important.

Is there anything you’d change for next time based on what’s happened this weekend?

When we do it here, we want to do it bigger. We want to create even more opportunities for more communities to come. We chose a couple different esports tournaments and areas we built out. But we want to bring even more gaming into DreamHack so it appeals to even more to the gaming community.

Did you have any favorite moments from DreamHack San Diego? What has stood out to you so far?

It’s been going great. The biggest challenges were the lines in the morning yesterday [Friday, opening day]. That’s a luxury problem to have but not the best first impression. Since then it’s been resolved and it was much better on Saturday.

The show inside has been great. There are so many people here. All the smiles you see, the families you see… I couldn’t be happier.

And when you walk in and see that pyramid… We built this huge LED-based pyramid where you can go up and try to beat a pro and stay there as long as possible as contenders come to challenge you. That is something we planned. It came about as a joke but we conceptualized it and built it out. That made me happy to see.