Monday, November 10, 2014

Feckless Leader's Blizzcon 2014 Takeaway

Definitely room for another banner next Blizzcon.
Five days and approximately 25 total hours of sleep later, I'm back at my desk in Wisconsin after having a wonderful time in sunny, warm California. A friend of mine asked me to dish him the highlights of the convention and I was at a partial loss---I'm still processing everything. Overall, it seemed bigger, even though according to attendance numbers it was in line with Blizzcons '13 and '11. When pressed, there are a handful of things that stood out to me. Find those below.

Blizzcon Focus

Something felt different this year, and it didn't hit me until I woke up this morning: this was a very Warcraft-less Blizzcon. Blizzcons '08 and '10 also had no new WoW news, but I wasn't there---so it's hard to say if the impression I've been left with is accurate. And that impression is that Blizzard is moving away from Blizzcon essentially being a World of Warcraft Con to a true celebration of the Blizzard Universe. To me, aside from announcing a new IP, the tournaments (Hearthstone, Starcraft and WoW Arenas) were the big events at the convention. I can only imagine future Blizzcons will feature Heroes of the Storm tournaments, if not Overwatch as well when it's ready.

If this is the way Blizzard is evolving, I think it's a really smart move. While they will indeed support World of Warcraft for years to come, they'll need to diversify to maintain their presence as a titan in the gaming industry---and to keep players coming. And I think we've been witness to this in the past year or so especially with Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm. And of course now, Overwatch. Speaking of...

I did snap some shots of gameplay when I was spectating, but word on the street is I wasn't supposed to do that so...instead here's some art from the official site!


I plan to expand on my impressions of the half dozen matches of Overwatch I played in a separate post, but this was obviously a huge takeaway from this year's convention. Full disclosure: I avoid shooters (FPS) like the plague. My first experience was GoldenEye, and that game left me with such severe motion sickness that I literally couldn't play it for more than a few matches. In 2002, but a few years shy of discovering World of Warcraft, a friend introduced me to Timesplitters 2, which is a FPS with PvP and a campaign where the player travels through time in order stop a menacing alien race from effing things up. I played the shit out of that game: the complete campaign on each of the difficulty levels plus the vast majority of side missions and achievements.

Overwatch is going to be a very different game from what I've described above, but the point is that I felt a deeper connection to this game akin to what I felt with Timesplitters. Granted, part of the reason is that it's a Blizzard game---I trust them implicitly---but at the same time, I had a blast in the short time I spent with Overwatch. The characters are unique and engaging, the approach classic Blizzard: easy to play, but difficulty to master.

Anduin Lothar's armor from the movie.

The Warcraft Movie

I feel somewhat guilty talking about the movie given the fact if you weren't at the con, you won't be able to see what was revealed. They screened a short teaser trailer and also included a second clip to demonstrate the level of detail they'll be going into when it comes to characters/actors in the movie, this specific shot featuring orcs. It was screened in a special Dolby Atmos theater and security was tight. People may wonder how nothing was leaked, but given the threat of a $250,000 fine for piracy, and the men in black who strolled the theater as the clip played, it's not a surprise to me that the public won't see this til Legendary/Blizzard deem it ready. Though I'll say one thing: it looks good. Real good. If you want to know specifics, email me.

The fact that we're over a year away before we see this film hit theaters when held next to how amazing it looks right now gives me great, great hope. This film will be striking in its visual beauty, ala the same way Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings held us in awe. The lynch pin in whether or not this will be the beginning of a powerful movie franchise or the end of Duncan Jones' career will be how the story plays out. And based on comments during the movie panel, this is likely just the beginning of it all.

I have high hopes.

Pano of the Hearthstone Stage.

Hearthstone as a Growing Esport

I gained a sense of this when watching qualifying matches on Twitch during the lead up to Blizzcon, but it was something else altogether watching it go down in person. We spent more time than we probably should have watching the matches, if seeing as much of the con as possible was our goal. I really enjoy watching matches play out, seeing the professionals make decisions that leave me, as a novice, scratching my head. But then! Then you see how those choices play out and you realize you're watching players who are on a completely different level. I felt like I should've brought a notepad.

The set was beautiful, the fans were into it, and the casters were entertaining and spot on. Hearthstone as an esport is only set to get bigger in the years to come and I'll be interested to see how the upcoming expansion, Goblins vs. Gnomes, will affect the metagame.

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