DreamHack Dallas Creates a Singular Gaming Celebration For All

Picture this: You and your old friends are together for your annual meetup. In your bag is your Magic the Gathering kit, complete with custom mat. It’s a game you always play as a group; it has been since you were little. Walking together, bathed in neon light, you catch a glimpse of another group – they’re playing Street Fighter at an arcade cabinet. A man clad in armor passes by, his broadsword tucked beneath his arm as he manages a hotdog between his gloved fingers. Three dinosaurs startle you to a laugh as they cheer at BMX riders flipping high above the ground. In the distance, a massive stage cuts lasers through clouds of smoke. Counter-Strike is in the air.

If this all sounds like a bizarre dream, it’s close. This is DreamHack. And despite how it sounds, it’s very real.

Founded 30 years ago in Sweden, the first DreamHack was held in a school cafeteria, a far cry from the globally spanning event it’s become, drawing thousands of attendees at each festival. But despite how exponentially DreamHack has grown over three decades, its core ethos remains the same: it’s all about the community. Or, rather, communities.

Rachel Mathews

DreamHack, now part of the ESL FACEIT Group, has become a festival event unlike any other – a place where the worlds of esports, cosplay, LAN parties, tabletop gaming, and just about everything else under the sun weave together to form a tightly knit tapestry of subcultures. It’s a community of communities, where fans can meet to share their passions and likely walk away with a whole new perception of what it means to be a gamer.

Recently, Rolling Stone had the opportunity to attend the latest North American iteration of the festival, DreamHack Dallas, held at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center from May 31 – June 2. Over the course of the three-day spectacle, we immersed ourselves in EFG’s unique vision for gaming culture and spoke with attendees about their experiences from the weekend.

Here’s what it was like to attend DreamHack Dallas 2024.

The Sights and Sounds

Upon entering the GA entrance of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, you’d be mistaken for thinking that you’d stepped into a more straightforward con. Rows of tables seat hundreds of players competing in Magic the Gathering, with mats, dice, and decks of cards scattered about. The murmurs of subdued chatter and occasional laughter fill the hall like a low electrical hum. Merch stands and kiosks create a central hub where shoppers peruse in between being called up for matches.

But the energy isn’t dour, people are simply focused. Friends gather, flipping through their binders and decks while deep in conversation. Near the wall, circular tables are lined with Dungeons & Dragons miniatures as older Dungeon Masters lead players of all ages through one-shot campaigns. There’s a distinct serenity to the vibe, everyone’s here for the same thing – just being together.

Rachel Mathews

In retrospect, the brightly lit tabletop arena is the perfect way to be eased into DreamHack but does little to prepare visitors for what’s to come.

Stepping out of the entry hall is a shock to the system. From the mouth of the ballroom, stairs lead down into the convention floor proper, exploding with the sound and fury of a night club made of neon PCs. To the right, hundreds gather around the hue of a massive LED with a live feed of the Overwatch Champion Series Major that looms over the teams competing on LAN. To the left, a free play coral hosts rows of powerhouse PCs where players can drop in and game to their heart’s content.

Around the bend is Cosplay Corner, where everyone from Princess Peach to the Lich King are lined up for their moment in the limelight, posing for spinning 360 cameras like they’re live from the red carpet. Just a ways down, an army of gamers donning VR headsets are housed in a warehouse sized space, facing off in an interlinked tournament without a care about how they look as they flail in the air.

If it all sounds overwhelming, it can be. Just a few steps into the main festival ground, you’ll have seen more contrasts in types of gaming (and gamers) than you’d imagine could ever be in one place. Yet, somehow, it all belongs.

Daniel, a Texas native, is here with his friends. They’re from all over the state, and some from New Mexico, and they’re here to reconnect over their favorite shared activity, PC gaming. But upon arrival, they found themselves constantly finding new experiences to have together.

Emma Andersson

“It’s pretty cool to see all the different people who like so many other things just all in one room,” he says. “You hang out here, you go check out a different spot and you pick up something new to do.”

And it’s not just local friends coming together to have a good time. Deeper into the grounds, the Creator Hub houses tons of streamers, meeting fans and going live with their own setups to their followers across the globe.

On the main stage, members of Dimension 20 put on a show for audiences and passersby who are drawn in by curiosity. On Sunday, D20’s game master Brennan Lee Mulligan hosts a massive D&D one-shot that draws a crowd to rival a small concert. Two days prior, a cosplay drag show erupts in cheers so loud, they can be heard from the front row of the EA Sports FC 2024 qualifiers, practically a football pitch away.

While one might think the inclusion of so many different aspects of gaming-adjacent culture might dilute the experience of a video game forward meetup, rest assured that at DreamHack, there’s more hands-on gaming than anyone can fit into a single weekend.

Rachel Mathews

Outside of Overwatch, there are separate stages for multiple games that will be featured in this summer’s Esports World Cup. There’s a chic suite for EA Sports FC 2024 that glows pure white. The fighting game community is in full force around the Street Fighter 6 and Tekken 8 stage, where guest commentators like FGC legend Justin Wong give their color commentary. And, of course, there’s the main event: Counter-Strike.

At the far end of the festival beyond the sea of gaming stations is the ESL Impact stage, where the world’s best female competitors are competing for their spot in the finals and a $123,000 prize pool. The biggest event of its kind for women esports athletes, it’s an opportunity to show festival goers the hype behind the ESL Impact League, and the technical prowess of its players who hope to someday move on to competing in the Intel Extreme Masters alongside their male counterparts.

ESL Impact’s product manager, Charlie Sirc, sees DreamHack as the perfect place to expose existing fans and newcomers alike what the league is all about and, hopefully, guide young women to take their own leap into the esports world.

“It’s not only esports or gaming, it’s more of a lifestyle festival,” she says. “But just having a women’s competition at an event like this, we’re hoping to inspire women and girls that are walking around [who see] women on the stage, on the big screens, hopefully thinking, ‘Wow, that could be me some day.’”

Freja Borne

Finally, the last stop for anyone making their way through the convention center is through a set of double doors that belies a massive stadium which roars throughout each day as masses drive in and out. Here, the world’s best Counter-Strike 2 players are squaring off in the Intel Extreme Masters tournament – the 100th IEM to be exact, and it’s electric. The spherical arena inside the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center is packed with over 6,000 fans standing at attention for an international showdown of Counter-Strike 2 teams. For many, this is the main event of the weekend, with a seemingly once in a lifetime experience of bringing their favorite virtual sport to reality.

It doesn’t disappoint.

The Communities

It’s at the intersection of communal IRL experiences and gaming where DreamHack thrives, and there’s no better embodiment of that than the BYOC (bring your own computer) scene. Although the festival offers dozens of arcade cabinets, high-tech multi-screen racing rigs, and every kind of home console or PC to pick up and play, it’s the BYOC lounge where the soul of DreamHacks of old meet the grandiose scale of today.

On day one, as lines of festival goers build queues surrounding the convention center, at a special VIP entrance, troves of gamers wheel in hand trucks and carts filled with their own personal gear. They set up shop in a bespoke space with high level access, where tech heads of all kinds erect their rigs for a colossal LAN party.

Walking through the BYOC lounge, it’s clear that the spirit of community is being fostered on a grassroots level. There are couples holding hands in front of their dual screen setups. Groups of friends are helping strangers troubleshoot their cable management before inviting them to a game of Rust. There are even children learning firsthand how their parents used to play back in their halcyon days before Discord overtook all-night IRL sessions.

Emma Andersson

Harrison is a BYOC competitor who brought his own home rig to play against his friends and lounge neighbors in Counter-Strike. For him, LAN parties are a tradition to uphold but what he sees here on the floor is something else entirely.

“Probably the coolest thing [is] seeing little kids here with their parents and seeing them with their PCs,” he says. “I didn’t know that this was a thing that people could do, so to see little kids getting that experience – maybe this is a yearly tradition for the family.”

That family experience is a core value that separates DreamHack from other experiential shows of its ilk. Whereas comic book conventions have plenty for kids to see, there’s not much for them to actually do. Music festivals are great for adults, but there’s often little in the way of cross-generational appeal in artist lineups that can unite people of all ages.

Gaming is different. Many of the attendees we spoke to were surprised by the number of kids at the event, but if you ask the parents, they know exactly how DreamHack will appeal to their children.

Kristen, a mother of two, came to support her husband in a walk-up tournament for Tekken 8, but seeing the family together on the showroom floor, it’s her little boy and girl who are running the show at a retro arcade cabinet.

“My son, he’s seven, he just recently got into video games and kind of understanding the how the mechanics work,” she says. “He’s excited to just see everything; He was in shock when we walked in.”


Between the arcade and tables of consoles running games like Mario Kart, there’s many spaces where parents can bond with their kids over a mutual love of gaming. But there’s also other ways to learn about different people and subcultures, and to learn about themselves.

One of the key aspects of DreamHack’s mission to bring communities together under one roof is to create an inclusive environment that celebrates gamers’ different identities. In the tabletop hall, players tell Rolling Stone that the event affords them the opportunity to move past the safe space they’ve created together on digital platforms like Discord and appreciate each other in person – many for the very first time. Many are using the meetup to help overcome social anxiety or connect with new people on a personal level after extended periods of isolation.

Even the most confident of people see the power of gaming to express themselves and use the shared platform of the DreamHack stage to elevate voices across the spectrum. Atlanta-based streamer and performer, Biqtch Puddin’, uses gaming to bring the art and elegance of drag to a whole new audience. A gamer at heart, with a special affinity for Street Fighter, Puddin’ hosts Friday’s Drag & Drop: A Cosplay & Gaming Drag Show. With a sharp tongue and theatrical flair, Puddin’ parades drag performers representing all of gaming’s biggest franchises across the main stage, enrapturing the crowd in between somersaults dressed head-to-toe in a glimmering suit based on the world’s most iconic blue speedster.

Emma Andersson

To Puddin’, there’s tons of crossover between the drag and gaming communities. The ability to take on a persona – choose who you want to be – and empower oneself is at their heart.

“It’s a dream come true, to be honest,” they say. “I think the throughline with DreamHack and all the different stuff coming together is what gaming’s all about. You can pick a character that looks like you or reminds you of a friend, or a character that you can see yourself being inspired by to become.”

The Stories

If you asked a hundred people who attended DreamHack Dallas 2024 to describe their experience, you’d get a hundred different stories. Stories of reconnecting or meeting new friends would be plentiful. Local communities without formal places to meet might say that the dedicated time they received to host their own meetings and happy hours allowed them to raise their profile and validate their causes in meaningful ways. A six-year-old would tell you they saw a T-Rex win a high-speed race car game.

But outside of the thousands of individual stories on the micro level, DreamHack is also a place for stories that play out on the global stage.

Take ESL Impact, for instance. With its Season 5 finals on Sunday, it told the story of some the world’s best Counter-Strike 2 players competing not just to win a cup, but also to show how far women’s esports have come in recent years. The final is played between teams Imperial Fe and Let Her Cook, a high stakes match that ends in victory for the former, led by seasoned CS veteran, Zainab “zAAz” Turkie.

Having competed in all versions of Counter-Strike over 22 years, zAAz came to the championship with something to prove. Returning to Counter-Strike after a pivot to Valorant, she was decidedly an underdog. During her pre-season time training for ESL Impact at DreamHack, it dawned on her just how far the skill ceiling had been raised by new players. As she claps the championship cup, she thanks her teammates, some of whom may not have even been born when Counter-Strike was first released, and the team’s manager for elevating them all to the pinnacle of league play.

Some would argue that the story of the weekend comes in the form of a single North American Counter-Strike 2 player: Stewie2K. From the moment DreamHack Dallas 2024 began, the name “Stewie” has been on the lips of esports fanatics and casuals alike. The athlete, real name Jacky Yip, was formerly a part of Team Liquid, and came into IEM Dallas 2024 playing for G2 Esports as a late edition sub for team captain Rasmus “HooXie” Nielsen.

Sitting in the thunder dome for any G2 match can be confusing at first. The crowd chants in a tone that sounds a lot like booing before the realization kicks in that they’re actually leaning on the “ew” in “Stew.” It’s a sound you’ll hear a lot over the course of the weekend, as G2 dominates their way to the IEM Grand Finals on Sunday, ultimately clutching the victory from Team Vitality.

Helena Hristiansson

“U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.,” the cacophonous onlookers howl, celebrating Stewie2K, who ends up being the sole North American player left in the tournament by the grand finals.

Speaking with Rolling Stone after his team’s victory, Stewie2K acknowledges the confidence that the IEM Dallas and DreamHack fans imbued him with. To him, it was more than just another win.

“I’m not someone who would look at myself and measure how much I can control and what type of power I have with the crowd or the fans, or how many fans I have, or the values and impact I can [have],” he says. “I have to thank the crowd. Being able to do that with the crowd and the fact that they’ve given me the opportunity to do that, that’s not an experience everyone gets in life.”

Stewie’s sentiment is one mirroring the experiences of many attendees over the full three-day excursion. Whether it’s the indie developers whose games are now getting exposure through their first-ever hands-on testing with regular players, or the first-time cosplayers unveiling the suits they’ve spent months assembling to positive feedback, every person who attends DreamHack can say that they’ve experienced something unlike anything they’ve seen before. Under one roof, a chimera-like mondo community built from an eclectic mix of smaller ones took the gamers of Dallas by storm for a multi-faceted celebration of everything they love.

Stephanie Lindgren

And where that sort of synergy can often feel forced, the teams at ESL FACEIT Group have stayed true to more humble origins of DreamHack from its early days in Sweden. Anjali Bhimani, voice actor for Overwatch agrees in her conversation with Rolling Stone.


“It’s galvanizing – it really is,” she says. “DreamHack [is] unique in that what they care about is including people from all walks of life and giving them an experience that they wanted, not trying to make them have an experience that the company wanted them to have.”

To have the experience you want to have, check out DreamHack and ESL FACEIT Group’s websites to learn more about upcoming events. The next North American DreamHack festival will be held in Atlanta from October 4 – 6. Badges are on sale now.

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