DreamHack Melbourne 2024 Shone In The Places PAX Aus Falls Short

DreamHack Melbourne 2024 Shone In The Places PAX Aus Falls Short

DreamHack Melbourne has wrapped up for another year, and after attending over the weekend, I can confidently say that the third Aussie iteration of the global expo feels like an event that’s finally found its identity. Once a much more esports-focused event, DreamHack Melbourne recalibrated this year to focus more on creators and communities and was all the better for it. I’d go as far as to say that the three-day festival succeeded in all the places PAX Aus doesn’t.

Walking around DreamHack Melbourne’s floor, there were, of course, plenty of comparisons being drawn between the gaming event (once described by many as an esports event, although no more) and PAX Aus. After chatting to attendees and drawing my own conclusions from the three-day expo, it seems like many feel DreamHack has cut its own path out in the Australian gaming event scene to feel like something completely unique to what other organisers currently offer. Sure, it’s gaming-focused; there’s somewhat of a show floor, panels, cosplayers, community meetups and activations. But, for me, that’s where the similarities stop.

DreamHack Melbourne 2024
Image: ESL: Sarah Cooper

PAX Aus may have its own solid community base of dedicated attendees, and DreamHack Melbourne might be too early into its multi-year run to have built that same group of event-specific fans. However, somehow, organisers ESL managed to create an environment that felt infinitely more suited to fostering pre-existing communities and allowing them space to thrive, grow, and connect. 

This is all to say that the things I often feel are missing from PAX Aus, thanks to the sheer scale of things to do, lines to wait in, and show floor to wander, were very much present in their best form at DreamHack Melbourne. You could have a yarn with your favourite streamer without having to dash off to wait three hours for a game demo. Creators could collaborate without the drone of the crowd completely drowning out their conversation. Cosplayers could get the perfect photo taken without having to leave the event at all. 

This isn’t to say that DreamHack Melbourne didn’t have things to do, because there was plenty on. The Artist Alley, which doubled in size to over 100 local artists, was a highlight of the event, and events like hololive production’s 3D performance and the ESL Challenger still went off with massive crowds. People were still kept busy, if they wanted to be.  The event still had its issues – while the smaller showfloor on the Rod Laver court had its pros, it did also serve as a jarring location both for those wanting to check it out and those in the seats trying to watch panels and events, and it was easy to get lost in the maze of Melbourne Park if you wandered too aimlessly.

DreamHack Melbourne 2024
The DreamHack Melbourne showfloor situated behind the panel and event space. Image: ESL: Caleb Smith

I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why DreamHack Melbourne felt like such a prime event for communities and creators to really get their time without any distractions or logistical juggling from punters. It could be the unique nature of Rod Laver Arena and Margaret Court as a venue and the large open-air precinct space, the shrunken-down expo floor situated at the back of Rod Laver, or the hosting of the major drawcard events late in the evening when everything else had shut up shop. Maybe it’s all of those things. 

Whatever it was, DreamHack Melbourne managed to pull off an event that leaned in on all the bits I miss from an event like PAX. If we’re comparing events, it felt much more like a TwitchCon-style offering – seeing your favourite streamers, getting to chat, meeting up with other like-minded people and generally just vibing in a space geared towards those shared interests. 

The beauty of all this is that everyone who attended seems to have come away with a vastly different experience. My friend and yours David Smith felt that the esports focus seen in previous years (and from an event often known as being heavy on the esports globally) was all but diminished in favour of creators, making the event feel like PAX Aus without as much of a differentiator thanks to esports taking more of a backseat. By comparison, I feel like DreamHack Australia felt decidedly like an anti-PAX by leaning into things PAX doesn’t nail by virtue of the October event’s scale, and it’s those things that set it apart.

DreamHack Melbourne 2024
Image: ESL: Sarah Cooper

Despite all this talk about esports being less of a focus, esports was most certainly present at DreamHack Melbourne, though. I got to catch the LCO Split 1 (League of Legends) Grand Final and the ESL Challenger tournament (Counter-Strike 2) on Sunday evening and the crowds for both were eating it up. But again, even at these events the community-focused nature continued to be at the forefront thanks to groups like the Row F squad for Counter-Strike – shoutout to them for still bringing all the hype of IEM Sydney for a much smaller arena.

Whatever ESL is doing when it comes to DreamHack Melbourne, it’s working. The event had 35,513 attendees through the doors over the three-day festival, a massive jump from 28,851 in 2023. Everywhere I looked, punters were getting the chance to interact in ways I haven’t seen at similar events in some time, and I’m keen to see how the event grows into its own unique identity even further in 2025 when it returns to Victoria.

Image: DreamHack / ESL: Michael Quelch & Sarah Cooper

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