Reigning WWE champion and CES 2021 panelist Drew McIntyre joins Ariana Escalante and Andre Stone for our continuing coverage of CES 2021. The wrestling entertainment industry has had to completely rethink the way it engages with fans this past year in response to the pandemic, and McIntyre gives insight into how they accomplished that.
Obviously, large crowds and gatherings aren’t allowed during the lockdown, which led to the creation of the Thunderdome. “The Thunderdome is pretty incredible, to be honest,” McIntyre says. “Because we were the only game in town [during the pandemic], we brought it to the world through our Performance Center, which is much like a warehouse with zero fans. We continued inside the Performance Center for the next five months.” After a few months in, they realized things would not be returning to normal, “and we wanted something that felt more like WWE. And that’s when the Thunderdome plays in. So we built our own little set which has everything you’d expect from WWE — and more. The lights, the lasers, the pyro…there’s drones flying around!” Without an audience there in person, they can even do pyro effects that they’ve never been able to do before.”
But the reason for all this, of course, are the fans, who they were able to bring back virtually. “[There are] over 1,000 screens with fans in real-time, reacting in real-time to what we’re doing in the ring. We couldn’t have them there physically, so it was great to have them here in the Thunderdome.”
As ever, the WWE is looking ahead. This time, to the upcoming Royal Rumble, in which McIntyre will perform. “I don’t know my match quite yet, but I have been challenged by Bill Goldberg, a very famous wrestler from when I was a kid. He’s held the title multiple times. I haven’t accepted the challenge, but I’m going to see how things play out,” he says. Regardless of who he’s up against, there will be 30 other wrestlers who are also competing to get a title shot at Wrestlemania.
While the performers haven’t been traveling like they usually do, they’re still using technology to engage with fans. “We’re always interacting on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and that’s something we’re very fortunate to have already laid that foundation before the pandemic hit. It’s basically the only way we get feedback from the fans what’s working and what’s not working,” McIntyre says. “And Mr. and Mrs. Zoom must have made a fortune this year,” he laughs.
WWE also just launched the “Superstar Gaming Series,” which features WWE stars playing video games against each other. While he’s not a huge gamer, McIntyre has been practicing up. “I’m ready to get back into the gaming world, and I’m excited about it,” he says.