LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 07: Attendees arrive for the start of CES 2020 at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 7, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES, the world's largest annual consumer technology trade show, runs through January 10 and features about 4,500 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to more than 170,000 attendees. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Attendees arrive for the start of CES 2020 at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 7, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Every January the tech geek pilgrimage known as the Consumer Electronics Show takes place in Las Vegas. CES, as its called, is the mecca for all things innovative and cutting-edge in the world of electronics. When the latest phone or TV technology drops its usually at CES. However, CES is not traditionally known as a gaming trade show. In fact, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) emerged out of frustration that gaming was on the back-burner at CES. With this in mind I attended CES to see just how the show treated games in 2020 and if games were more of a side show or integral to the shows success. So here is my (a gamer’s) perspective on CES and how it involves video games.

You Cannot See It All

Before we get too far into this accept that seeing everything on the show floor(s) is nearly impossible. No matter what people would have you believe, the full gamut of the show take place in over 10 sites along the Las Vegas Strip and Convention Center. Shuttles make life easier, but trying to pack everything into one day will only frustrate you. Now with no further ado here’s the gaming stuff.

Hardware ONLY!

Don’t expect to attend CES and get your hands on the latest games or apps. This is a show dedicated to showing off the guts of gaming, the hardware. More specifically, the peripherals. Sony, Microsoft, Google and others all have show floor presences at CES, but they are geared towards TV, PC and Smart Home tech respectively. Sony even dropped a car concept on CES that left the show in awe. Even though we know PS5 and Series X are on the horizon, they didn’t have any presence at CES at all.

Sony’s Vision-S, an all electric concept vehicle, is displayed at the Sony booth during CES 2020 at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 7, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Instead, what you did see, was a ton of Chinese aftermarket brands and well know PC makers. Alienware announced one of the few pieces of gaming specific gear the “Concept UFO” hand held that looks a lot like the Nintendo Switch. Although it looks massive and can run anything a PC can, it is just a concept. Razer, a legacy PC brand, unveiled the Razer Kishi. The Kishi is a controller dongle for your phone that reduces input lag and hopes to solve one of the big barriers for mainstream gamers adopting mobile as a platform. These products are good indicators that even the PC giants are thinking about gaming on the go as a part of the future. And with widespread 5G on the horizon, its hard not to predict that mobile/cloud gaming will be a massive avenue in hardware makers’ roadmap.

VR, VR and More VR.

I’ve often lamented that VR tech is simply too expensive and too niche and that prevents it from being truly widespread. But this hasn’t deterred Exhibitors at CES. There was loads of VR and VR adjacent products on the show floor. One that for sure caught my eye was the Cybershoes VR peripheral. Its best described as a pair of roller shoes that you strap on top of your normal kicks. The wheels on the bottom translate into movement in the VR environment. I tried them out in a VR No Man’s Sky-style game and it wasn’t as disorienting as I expected. The movement was pretty intuitive and if you’re someone who plays a ton of VR games, I could see it as a good addition to your experience. However, I don’t see it becoming the killer app that moves VR units.

The VR interface products didn’t stop at the shoes. There were VR vests to emulate the elements in the game or mimic damage you take, a buttload of VR driving sims, and an immeasurable number of non-gaming applications for first responder training and more. VR is very well represented at CES, but it still remains to be seen if its truly the wave of the future.

An amazing Razer driving sim
Photo: Norris Howard

Esports is a thing?!

Esports had an entire day of panels at CES. While not held at the Convention Center the talks at the Aria Hotel & Resort were informative in nature. Sometimes its hard to forget that not everyone exists in the esports realm 24/7 like I do. But it felt a bit strange that among some of the most cutting edge tech in the world the concept of esports was still fairly fresh.

Over the course of Wednesday, the talks ranged from fan engagement, data aggregation and the demographics of esports. It was a bit disappointing that the extent of esports information at CES was relegated to just panels. There were no sizzle reels for different esports, no fanfare around the guests or Q&A sessions for people not in the know. It became clear that as the day went on that about half the room was totally into it and the other half were sent by their bosses. The disconnect was even more apparent considering the massive line across the hall for more traditional media content talks hosted by NBC/Universal, Spotify and others. Nothing against the esports panelists folks, but it also felt like CES didn’t really want to push esports too hard. Tech giants, in my opinion, have a vested interest in making esports become a thing as its much more tech reliant than TV will ever be. If the growth numbers of esports hold true, we may see conventions put much more effort into esports.

Applications of Other Tech

There’s plenty to draw on from other areas of tech show off at CES that could really enhance gaming as a whole. From the hardware side with things like LG’s massive curved screen surface (ceiling? wall?). As well as the Samsung backed Neon AI that wowed convention goers. Neon is software that creates procedurally generated people that would have fooled us all had it not been for the exhibitors going out of their way to make them do crazy things. I can’t help but think this is the future of NPC’s in sandbox games. AI that thinks, has a backstory, personal style, desires and needs is at the same time amazing and frighting. But as games continue their push towards hyper-realism, its hard to think software like Neon wont be a part of that future.

The Samsung NEON AI created all of these people.
Video: Norris Howard

In Closing

CES is still the preeminent show for all things with a circuit board. Its a perfect place to see how the brightest minds and brands will affect your life in the coming years. At CES, There are tons of emerging companies looking to be the next big thing, and titans of industry that are continually pushing the envelope to stay on top.

But if you’re a gamer, CES may leave you disappointed. Unless you’re heavily invested in mobile gaming, PC hardware or VR then you might have some difficulty in finding things that get you hype. E3 is still the top event for getting your hands on the next top games. Not to say that there aren’t great things to see at CES. But the value for a gamer to attend the Vegas event is of the future casting sort. If you attend both E3 and CES you should have a robust view of what’s to come in tech for the next few years.