Blizzcon 2013 Highs and Lows

Sadly, I was not able to attend Blizzcon – so this post is based off of the streams that were available through the Virtual Ticket. This year Blizzard primarily showcased Heroes of the Storm(formerly Blizzard All-Stars), Hearthstone, and the new expansions for World of Warcraft  and Diablo 3. These announcements were essentially what I’d expected to hear about… but aside from Hearthstone none of these announcements were exactly what I’d expected.

Blizzcon_Entrance

The Stream

First I’d like to take a second to discuss the stream. This year is was exceedingly buggy with numerous lag issues, skipping, and other problems. Given the amount of revenue generated by this, I’d expect a bit more attention to be put on making sure it works. It’s not the first year they’ve done it, but it’s certainly the worst year for stream issues. Fortunately, some of them could be resolved by just closing and reopening the stream, temporarily at least. But for the most part they were just persistent annoyances that made the stream harder to appreciate, and the e-sports events almost impossible for much of the time.

I can’t be sure if it really was as quiet as it seemed… but this year the crowd seemed abnormally quiet, even during the Cosplay Contest which was fantastic. I find it a little hard to believe that people weren’t cheering during that, but it sure sounded like that was the case. It might just be that they were ‘muting’ the background noise by using noise cancellation techniques and if so, it was a horrible idea. The lack of that feeling of crowd excitement made the stream less enjoyable on the whole.

The Games

Hearthstone

There was a lot of talk about Hearthstone, but not a lot of new information. Some discussion of upcoming cards and design philosophies, and some new ranked play information. But nothing terribly important. For me, this was the biggest disappointment. After all the discussion during the opening ceremonies about how much they love their community, I had hoped some announcement of implementation of social features like chat would follow. But mixed messaging really marred any discussion of Hearthstone for me.

HS_Emblem

They did announce that development on the mobile version of the game is progressing well, and confirmed officially that Android support will be present at least for tablets which was met with some excitement. They also confirmed that there will be expansions released at some point after launch featuring new card sets, and that they’re planning to expand the single player features – which is largely pointless since every game feels like you’re playing against AI.

World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

As expected, they revealed a new World of Warcraft expansion. I don’t think many were anticipating it to be some crazy time travel story though. Yep, that’s right, Warlords of Draenor is essentially a story in which someone travels 25 years into the past and links that time to the present… somehow without destroying reality in the process. An impressive feat, I daresay.

WoD_Leaders

There are a lot of really cool features, and the announce video really showcased how much the graphics of WoW have improved over the years. Improved character models, one of the most frequently requested features over the years, are finally to be implemented. They’re also bringing in another of the most common requests: Player Housing. They’re not just giving you a house and calling it a day though… they’re giving you what effectively mounts to a town. They’re calling them garrisons, and they accumulate followers and various buildings with different features. It’s an interesting concept that I’m looking forward to.

WoD_OrcModel

Overall, aside from the issues I see with the story – and as a bit of a lore nerd ‘story’ matters a lot – I am very impressed by the things they’re doing. Unfortunately, all of these things do mean no new race or class, and no changes to any of the starting experiences. Which I guess makes it make sense that they’re giving a ‘free level 90 character’ with every purchase of Warlords of Draenor.

Diablo 3: Reapers of Souls

There were a number of demoes, panels, and q&as related to Diablo 3’s first expansion. Unfortunately, very little new info came out of these. Some clarifications about the new loot and paragon systems, adventure mode, and the way the difficulty system was changing for Diablo 3.

RoS_Crusader

But without much news, this made Diablo fans feel a little bit neglected and disappointed. Personally, I didn’t expect much else, but the feeling of disappointment was clearly present on the forums and even among the crowd at the convention, if the questions asked during the panels were any indication.

It’s unfortunate but I believe they played their cards too early, and that a Blizzcon announcement probably would’ve worked better for them overall than spreading their announcements so thin.

Heroes of the Storm

On to the big reveal… Blizzard’s big not-so-‘surprise’ was an official reveal of what was once Blizzard DotA, and is now Heroes of the Storm. Heroes of the Storm has been in development for years, and was showcased at previous Blizzcons…but much has changed since I played it years ago.

Gone is the traditional 3-lane approach, gone is the focus on last hits, and gone is the laning phase. The game, as showcased this year, takes the basic premise of a MOBA and adds a ton of really wacky objectives and specialized game modes. Honestly, it looks like an absolute blast to play…

HotS_Concept_Art

I have my reservations about the game’s balancability and competitive viability, but those aren’t necessarily all that important. Not every MOBA needs to be an e-sport, after all.

The game’s roster hasn’t been officially released, but has been stated to include 20 different heroes hailing from all of Blizzard’s franchises. A Demon Hunter named Valla, Tyrael, and Diablo himself represent Diablo, Kerrigan, Nova, and Raynor represent StarCraft, and Warcraft is represented by Arthas, Uther, and Jaina – to name a few. Some of the exciting matchups from this have some real potential.

This is Blizzard’s attempt to capitalize both on the success of the MOBA genre as well as the success of smash-up titles like Smash Bros. It’s interesting to see the direction they’re taking, and I am curious to see what the final product will prove to be.

Other Noteworthy Events

The Tournaments

Blizzcon once again featured the finals to their various e-sports tournaments for World of Warcraft and StarCraft 2. The tournaments were interesting, but rendered very difficult to watch at parts due to my issues with the stream. I did get to watch a few of the SC2 matches, and it was a showcase of some world class talent as expected, but with the event being as busy as it always is, it was hard to find the time to watch. I will probably spend some time going back through the archives though to rewatch the StarCraft 2 tournaments at least.

They also featured the Hearthstone ‘Innkeeper’s Invitational’ which wasn’t really a showcase of the finest talent but more of an exhibition match showing Blizzard community ‘celebrities’ playing Hearthstone. It was interesting, and it truly established my opinion that Hearthstone really is more entertaining to watch than to play.

Contests

Blizzard typically hosts a variety of different contests at Blizzcon and they’re usually some of the best moments of the event. This year they restructured it, removing the Dance and Sound-a-like contests, but in their place having a ‘Talent Contest’. They did make good use of the time this saved, showing the full releases of all of the Movie contest winners… but the dance contest in particular will be sorely missed.

Cosplay_Contest

The Talent Contest primarily consisted of bands this year. Not sure if that was intentional, but hopefully as the contest matures we can get some more variety in there as I’m not sure how many punk bands and rap crews I can take – this year I had to mute one of them. They did retain the ‘Blizzard Song’ contest, which was really good – amazing hearing one group sing Lament of the Highborne. The highlight, as always, was the Cosplay Contest which was as good as ever, regardless of whether the crowd reacted to it. They always attract the best costumes the world has to offer, and it’s always an incredible show.

Cosplay Panel

This year they broke the mold by having a panel about Cosplay hosted by two Blizzard employees who are also cosplayers and featuring a panel of four world-famous cosplayers who have participated in the costume contest. This panel was probably my highlight of the entire year, as it was incredibly informative, entertaining and interesting. Getting to see the tools and hear these amazing artists design how they do their work was incredible and I cannot praise this panel enough.

I was expecting it to be a bit awkward, given that they were first time panelists and such… but it wasn’t. They actually ran out of time, which is unfortunate as they were informative right up to the end. But this panel needs to return next year. Much thanks go to Christina Sims, Jessica Johnston and all four panelists for putting on such a great addition to Blizzcon.

Warcraft Movie

Blizzard finally discussed some more details about the Warcraft movie. I can’t in my right mind call it the ‘World of Warcraft’ movie because of the specific plot they’ve chosen, although it is a very interesting story. The Warcraft movie will take place during the story of Warcraft 1 – when the Orcs first invaded Azeroth and it stars a meeting between Lothar and Durotan.

WCM_SWCArt

If you’re interested, they also revealed that the movie is starting shooting in January and is set for late 2015 for its premier.

Final Thoughts

This Blizzcon was a strange event. I enjoyed it a great deal, but it felt like the enthusiasm just wasn’t there and mixed messages took away some of the joy that could have otherwise been there.

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