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  • Writer's pictureCalcas

Blizzcon 2023: A Retrospective

Blizzcon 2023 was by no means perfect, but the future for Blizzard under Microsoft seems bright. It will be all the brighter if we eventually get word on some IPs not addressed at all this weekend: StarCraft and Heroes of the Storm. I can’t imagine Microsoft wouldn’t want to monetize both in some way or other via its popular Game Pass.

First, the bad: logistics and Overwatch.

I’ll admit from the beginning that I am not a fan of Overwatch. I don’t play Overwatch. I don’t like First Person Shooters (FPS). Those days passed me by long ago somewhere after LAN parties for Halo were replaced with online play.

But Blizzard (and Microsoft) need to realize that they either need to reinvest in the PvE elements of Overwatch or that the franchise will never reach its true potential.

As a fan of almost every other Blizzard IP, I’m biased here, but I also don’t think two full halls dedicated to Overwatch was the right play.

Logistics this year were an absolute nightmare in comparison to 2019. Reports suggest the folks responsible for planning and running past Blizzcons were let go during the pandemic in (then) Activision Blizzard’s attempt to pivot to more virtual, online events. Obviously such a pivot was necessary during COVID, but, as per usual in the corporate world of the almighty stockholder earnings, it was rather short-sighted to lay off the folks who had planned, set up, and executed this massively important event in past years.

Before the opening ceremony on Friday, the security line wound its way out into one of the surrounding neighborhoods. We had a homeowner (with a bullhorn, no less) directing us to leave space in the line for the multiple driveways crossing the sidewalk that had become our queue.

Signage explaining who should be queueing where was missing, and there were too few employees to communicate effectively and consistently with the massive crowds.

Attendees speculated Activision Blizzard outsourced the running of this Blizzcon. Others speculated that Blizzard oversold. (No, I’m not linking you to the forums filled with the usual anonymous trolls even if their gripes are legitimate.)

With the utter bedlam inside of the center itself, would anyone be surprised?

Blizzard can do better for 2024. Hire a logistics team. Support them with the resources they need. Don’t rely on outsourcing and temps to create the best Blizzcon experience.

The “meh”: Diablo IV.

The Diablo hall’s aesthetic was amazing. That was a big win in my eyes even if I found it odd that most of the queues were for… waiting in line to take a picture with art or a prop. Uff.

We did not get a whole lot of information about the upcoming Diablo IV expansion. The trailer was a bit cryptic. We’re getting “a new class,” but it’s unnamed as of yet.

I have not had a lot of time to try Diablo IV, and so I don’t want to speak for the community there. I am looking forward to trying it out, though, particularly with some of the news we heard over the weekend.

Now, the good: World of Warcraft, Warcraft Rumble, and Hearthstone.

I don’t play Hearthstone, but I know the news this past weekend was overwhelmingly good for its players and for folks (maybe even me!) who would like to try their hand at this popular virtual card game.

If you really want me, Blizz, try to make a physical card version. I love the art. I love collecting cards. Make it happen.

Warcraft Rumble might have been the biggest success of this convention. I had low expectations for this mobile game tower defense/offense, but I found myself opening the app over and over and over again (did I mention there were long lines?) throughout the weekend.

It’s fun. The miniatures are aesthetically pleasing. The Warcraft flavor is there. The matches are quick-paced and punchy.

The Generic User Errors are… Oh, wait. That wasn’t so great. (Who doesn’t expect some bugs at launch?)

The naysayers will spew “MONETIZATION!” as their first and loudest critique. It’s a mobile game, yinz. They monetize those. Get over it.

Cataclysm Classic isn’t for me. That’s all.

Season of Discovery, however, could be neat to toy around with. I’m admittedly not a fan of Classic, but if it makes people happy, I’m glad.

For retail, the news was Chris Metzen. Watching that man work the stage and the crowd was awesome. Seeing the team’s vision for Worldsoul Saga gave me hope for the first time in a long time about the narrative and lore trajectory for my favorite video game (and current flagship for my favorite video game IP).

The cinematic was gorgeous. Anduin looks like a lost Hemsworth brother who has been through Hell and back. Thrall has aged, and with his ever-present wisdom offers Anduin the guidance he will need to recover from his trauma at the hands of The Jailer. Watch it if you haven’t yet seen it. I teared up.

Oh yeah, and the sword is back, front and center. Ion’s “What Sword?” t-shirt on Day 2 and the #whatsword with the display available for pictures provided a nice bit of humor, honoring the long back-and-forth banter between the community and game developers.

The three planned expansions have piqued my curiosity: The War Within, Midnight, and The Last Titan.

I love seeing the story arc planned. We haven’t ever seen that in World of Warcraft before, and frankly (even as an apologist for all-things WoW) it shows with some of the franchise’s weaker entries. You don’t end up with a Warlords of Draenor or Shadowlands if you have a bigger picture plan.

The What’s Next and Deep Dive panels were great. I’m excited to delve into Delves. (I’m sorry that you’ve likely heard this pun at least 100 times already.) Warbands are a needed update. World content players getting a Great Vault row is good. The zones each have intriguing stories and unique flavors.

Associate Design Director Maria Hamilton discussing the Nerubians while subtly paying homage to her disdain for all-things spidery was a nice callback to her Eternity’s End Developer Preview: “A bit horrifying for me, but exciting for some is the fact that, you know, some of the spider mounts can now fly. Who needs flying spiders? But that’s also gonna be a cool thing for people.” I love her.

Game Director Ion Hazzikostas continued the WoW weekend’s theme of contrition, apologizing for not listening to the players sooner. The phrase “respect the player’s time” was repeated often. On one hand, I’m a big fan of my time being respected, but on the other, I do think a game like WoW needs some sort of grind to keep the player base engaged. I think we have seen the effects of this missing during Dragonflight.

The only negatives: There wasn’t a word about the crafting system. I am likely in the minority here, but I really hate this crafting system. We also did not hear a lot about M+.

Really, these are the only complaints I could possibly muster. I’d say that further shows just how big of a win this Blizzcon was for World of Warcraft.

The Best: our community of Blizzard gamers.

Despite the legions of trolls on the internet who try to tear down Blizzard IPs, the community of gamers at Blizzcon reminded me why I love these games and why I love to be around my fellow players.

Of course there are plenty of legitimate reasons to critique Activision Blizzard. Bobby Kotick is a corporate goon. The former leadership in the company did not address sexual harassment and assault issues. Union busting and horrid labor practices have plagued the company.

But there are so, so many good people at Blizzard. You can see the passion and the love they have for these games when they talk about them. You can see they love interacting with the community. Mike Ybarra had to stop speaking at the opening ceremony to compose himself, holding back tears as he thanked the Blizzard team. (Don’t buy into the misleading headlines that have popped up in the last 24 hours or so about him “slamming” gamers. We are impatient. That’s objectively true - not a slam.) Chris Metzen’s passion permeates the whole convention center when he speaks. Holly Longdale was decked out in a fabulous jacket as an homage to Alexstrazza.

Irrespective of your thoughts on the current state of leadership at Blizzard, look at the gamers who showed up. They were a far cry from the trolls of reddit and WoW’s forums. The diversity I saw at this Blizzcon was inspiring: folks of all ages, races, nationalities, gender orientations, and sexual identities were together as one community in celebration.

And I got to see some of my guildies - my friends in life and in WoW. Two of them have been on this journey with me since the beginning. That’s truly special and unmatched in the gaming world. 

How can I not be happy after a weekend spent with friends and among my tribe?

We, as a community, make these games what they are. Even a pared-down, underwhelming schedule and debacle of logistics couldn’t ruin that energy. I hope Blizzard takes the time and spends the resources to rectify these issues for the next Blizzcon that will hopefully take place next year to celebrate Warcraft’s 30th and WoW’s 20th anniversaries, respectively.

Thank you for reading. For Azeroth!

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