Microsoft has loaded the bases. Can Team Xbox knock it out of the park next year?

Ever since the Xbox One’s nightmarish launch in 2013, Microsoft and the Phil Spencer-led Xbox leadership team have done a remarkable job of rebuilding the entire Xbox brand on the fly. There could never be an overnight fix; restoring Team Xbox to its Xbox 360 glory days would require a complete systemic overhaul in order to win spurned fans back over.

And so they began. The Xbox One S, the Xbox One X, Xbox 360 backwards compatibility, original Xbox backwards compatibility, Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Game Pass for PC, Xbox All Access, eight new first-party studios, Project xCloud, and on and on and on. Every E3 program has come with a clear focus and a gamer-first message. Kinect is dead, the “all-in-one entertainment device” is dead. Xbox is a gamer-focused brand, and this year, it was playing for tomorrow.

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Many thought “tomorrow” would be E3 2019. After all, Xbox had teased a next-gen presence of some sort, confirmed Halo Infinite would be there, and Sony was sitting this one out. And indeed Microsoft delivered an excellent Xbox press conference this week. First-party games like Gears 5, Bleeding Edge, Battletoads, and Minecraft Dungeons showed well, while Miyazaki and George RR Martin’s Elden Ring, Sega’s Phantasy Star Online 2, and Bloober Team’s Blair Witch were all impressive surprise reveals. Meanwhile, Project Scarlett was officially confirmed, with Microsoft emphasizing a lot of the same focuses (SSD drives, eliminating loading times, and of course raw horsepower) as Sony did ahead of the show. And an almost six-minute in-engine Halo Infinite trailer gave us our first proper look at what next-gen Halo looks like.

Still, while each successive Xbox E3 press conference since 2013 has been better than the last, even 2019’s action-packed event couldn’t quite throw the megaton, knockout punch that Xbox fans have been waiting for since the Xbox 360 glory days. The good news is that next year should be the year Microsoft finally has all of the pieces in place to do so. A number of its new developers will almost certainly be ready to show off what they’ve been working on since they joined Xbox Game Studios, likely including Playground (and the rumored Fable reboot), Obsidian, Compulsion, Ninja Theory, and perhaps others.

Meanwhile, Forza Motorsport 8 is nearly guaranteed to be readying to launch alongside Scarlett, while we should also get the new console’s (or, as rumor has it, consoles’ plural) name(s), final specs, release date, and price(s). And the whole thing will be headlined by Halo Infinite, a spiritual reboot in development for five years and powered by a brand-new game engine, which will become just the second Halo to ever launch with an Xbox console. And it couldn’t come at a better time for Microsoft.

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Third-party support is on track to be strong in 2020 as well, with EA’s Star Wars Battlefront 3 a solid bet to be on the Xbox stage, Rocksteady Studios hopefully ready to finally show off what they’ve been working on since Batman: Arkham Knight shipped in 2015, 2K seemingly prepping its rumored BioShock revival, and plenty more we don’t even know about yet. Scarlett appears poised to have a very impressive launch lineup.

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While Microsoft has been doing all the right things as it reinvents itself for the next generation, E3 2020 is likely to be a historically critical one for Xbox. If its showing disappoints, all of the momentum it’s been carefully building over the past several years could be wiped away for good, regardless of how well or poorly Sony comes out of the gate with PlayStation 5. In short, E3 2020 will be a make or break moment for Microsoft and the future of the Xbox brand. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, but for Microsoft, the pressure is on.

Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s Executive Editor of Previews. Follow him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan, catch him on Unlocked, and drop-ship him Taylor Ham sandwiches from New Jersey whenever possible.

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