Written by Shawn Hall
My first day at BlizzCon was incredible. It started with lining up at the North Hall and then flooding in to the convention center once the doors opened. Opening ceremony wasn’t going to start for another two hours after doors opened, so I thought I would see what was going on at the Darkmoon Faire on the upper floor beforehand. I made my way over to the Toy Capsule Depot in the Darkmoon Faire where attendees can purchase single coins or sacks of coins to be redeemed at the capsule machines in the area. The coins were the coin from Hearthstone and the sacks were purple with a golden Darkmoon insignia embossed on them. Several turns of the crank on the capsule machine later and I had a sack of Blizzard capsule toys to take home. I also took a quick look at the amazing Azeroth Choppers that were on display at this hall. I still had about an hour before opening ceremony, so I went to an information booth to find out where the Mythic Stage was located only to find out that it was already full. However, the opening ceremony was being held in several different locations at the event center this year and the guys at the information booth explained that one of those was the Hearthstone tournament stage in the lower level of the North Hall that I was already in.
I made my way down to the Hearthstone tournament stage and found a spot at the front of the seating for the stage to relax a bit before the opening ceremony started. Ben Brode (Game Director for Hearthstone) as well as Trump (a Pro Hearthstone Player) were mingling with Hearthstone players who were playing the game at large wooden tables in front of the tournament seating. These tables had been set up so players could enjoy playing the game they love while also watching the game they love. While waiting for the opening ceremony to start and taking in the wonderful Hearthstone atmosphere, I met another attendee (he introduced himself as Paul) who was incredibly friendly and we talked about what games we played and he went on to explain to me that he had worked on my favorite game, World of Warcraft. I was blown away to meet someone that had worked on the game and have a friendly conversation with them like any other attendee. I was so excited to talk to him about all of this that I forgot to catch his last name and I hope he forgives me for not recognizing him even after he explained his involvement with the game to me. It wasn’t even opening ceremony time and I had already met someone that worked on a game that I love, but that’s the kind of experience that can be had at BlizzCon. It is amazing.
The opening ceremony began as usual with Mike Morhaime (President of Blizzard Entertainment) at the Mythic stage recapping what has happened with Blizzard in the past year. He then passed the mike off to Kaeo Milker (Senior Producer of Heroes of the Storm) who recapped the past year for attendees and revealed a new cinematic that introduced the new playable characters Alexstrasza and Hanzo as well as some changes to gameplay. The opening ceremony then cut to Ben Brode at the Hearthstone tournament stage where he recapped the past year for Hearthstone and revealed the next card set for Hearthstone, Kobolds & Catacombs. Attendees got a sneak peek at cards from the set through an interactive role playing experience presented by Ben Brode. We were presented with scenarios and decisions that would result in different cards being revealed. The direction was chosen through the cheering of the crowd. I couldn’t stop laughing when Brode presented us with a choice between a door with a sign reading, “Kobold treasure hoard, adventurers keep out!” and another door that read, “Certain death” and the crowd, myself included, began chanting, “Death, death, death!”. Half of the room was crushed to death as a result of our decision in this role playing scenario. I was in the half that died which only made me laugh harder. There was so much energy in this part of the opening ceremony that I couldn’t stop smiling and being excited for the experience. Brode then passed it off to Jeff Kaplan (Game Director of Overwatch) at the Overwatch Arena where attendees were introduced to the new map, Blizzard World, and the new character, Moira, that will be coming out early next year. He also introduced the animated short, Honor and Glory, with the help of voice actor Darin De Paul. It was then passed off to J. Allen Brack (Executive Producer of World of Warcraft) at the Mythic stage where he announced the development of World of Warcraft Classic servers, revealed a Shadow plush (sales of the plush will go to global disaster relief like the in-game pet sales did), as well as introduced the next expansion, Battle for Azeroth, along with its opening cinematic. The expansion has so many new features for the game that it’s easiest just to let you see the trailer for yourself (below). Brack wrapped up the ceremony and welcomed us all to BlizzCon after the Battle for Azeroth opening cinematic.
After the opening ceremony it was lunch time, so I visited the fleet of food trucks in front of the convention center. There was a food truck for pretty much any kind of fast food imaginable. Food trucks with burgers, pizza, brats, corn dogs, rice bowls, and even a bakery food truck with cupcakes was there and they were all packed in to their little area out in front of the convention center with lines of hungry customers. I went with the Burger Monster food truck and got a White Zombie barbeque chicken burger that was delicious and filling.
Then I thought it would be a good time to go to the Blink store to pick up some loot I had ordered through the BlizzCon app the night before as well as some loot I ordered for my friend while eating lunch. I made my way to Hall E where I waited in line for about an hour before reaching checkout. The BlizzCon app estimated about a fifteen minute wait for the Blink store line, which must have been timed from the point of checkout until the point that attendees picked up their merchandise from the counters because the line was much longer. Once at checkout I scanned my barcodes for my orders and I didn’t think about how complicated it would be to pick up two orders from different counters. One order was set to be picked up at window B and the other was at window G, so I had to stand between the two and listen in both directions for my order numbers to be called out. I was a bit stressed having to divide my attention like this, but it worked out as I heard my number at the B window and then showed up at the G window just as the employee finished checking my order. With loot in hand and food in my belly I decided it was time to check out some panels.
I went up the escalator from the Blink store which took me right to the Mythic stage where I arrived just in time to catch the Overwatch-What’s Next panel where Michael Chu (Lead Writer), Arnold Tsang (Assistant Art Director), Geoff Goodman (Lead Hero Designer), and Aaron Keller (Assistant Game Director) discussed what is in store for Overwatch fans in the near future. They started with an animated origins story for the new support healer character Moira. They also went into how they created and fine tuned this new character, showed off come concept art for character skins for her, and described her in-game abilities. Then they went on to talk about the new hybrid map Blizzard World. They showed a park map version of the map, showed the demo video, went into detail about the different theme park attractions in the map and how they function in gameplay, and some of the subtle nuances of the aesthetics of the map itself. They also teased some amazing Blizzard themed character skins for various characters as well as skins from the most recent animated shorts including: Immortal Orisa, Magni Bronzebeard Torbjorn, Nova Widowmaker, Blackhand Doomfist, Barbarian Zarya, Butcher Roadhog, Crusader Reinhardt, and Ecopoint Mei that will be available in the base loot box early next year. They finished the panel off with some Q & A. A few minutes later and it was time for the World of Warcraft-Gameplay and Systems Deep Dive panel.
The World of Warcraft-Gameplay and Systems Deep Dive panel was hosted by Matt Goss (Lead Game Designer), Jeremy Feasel (Senior Game Designer II), and Russell Petersen (Lead Designer). Jeremy Feasel began the panel by describing the new resource in Battle for Azeroth called Azerite. Azerite is described as the life blood of the planet Azeroth and incredibly powerful. Acquiring Azerite is a pivotal part of a new role agnostic three player scenario called Island Expeditions. This new scenario is deemed to have dynamic replayability, which is a concept that allows for multiple different possible layouts for the scenario that is done essentially through procedural generation to create a different adventure each time the scenario is played. It is also introducing non player characters that have what is called tactical ability usage, which allows them to better adapt to player strategies and react in a way that hasn’t been seen before in the game. It also has four difficulties: normal, heroic, mythic, and PvP (player vs. player) - which allows for a game type that any kind of player can enjoy. He then passed the mic off to Russel Petersen who went into detail about a new neck item in the next expansion called the Heart of Azeroth. As this item levels up it allows players to awaken abilities in other pieces of armor that they acquire through a ringed tier system for each piece of armor. Matt Goss took it from here to discuss the new twenty vs. twenty player instances called Warfronts. The first warfront map he presented was Stromgarde in which the Alliance is trying to reclaim the area in order to defend against the Horde in the Eastern Kingdoms. The objectives in a warfront are to gather resources and take territory in order to construct buildings that will aid in constructing buildings for your faction - which will allow for building an army to siege the enemy faction’s constructs and kill their commander. Goss also talked about some new social features for the next expansion like integrating Battle.net voice into the game and WoW communities that are character specific and cross-server groups that also have text chat history. About fifteen minutes of waiting in my seat and it was time for the Heroes of the Storm-What’s Next panel at the same stage.
The Heroes of the Storm-What’s Next panel was hosted by Alan Dabiri (Game Director), Travis McGeathy (Lead Game Designer), and Matthew Cooper (Lead Live Designer). It began with Dabiri recapping what has happened with the game in the past year. Dabiri also discussed how they will be reworking how content is released so that it is more streamlined, in order to give a better spotlight to new content as well as alleviate some issues with having to rework and balance problems created through the release of new content. He then passed it off to Travis McGeathy who shared some stats on the most crafted items in game since the last major update. McGeathy also discussed a new target info panel for more statistics on all potential targets in the game. He also revealed heroes in hiding which displays which characters are inside of objects. McGeathy also told us how Battle.net voice is going to be incorporated into the game client as well as individual performance based matchmaking that will be coming out later this year. Then he passed the mic off to Matthew Cooper who discussed some 2018 gameplay updates. The first of these was evaluating camera height to help balance performance and visibility in the game. Then he discussed reworking stealth heroes to make the stealth visual more apparent to enemy players but also make them completely invisible if the stealth character stops moving. He also presented lane updates like giving infinite ammunition to towers, removing some of the stand alone towers on lanes, adding truesight to forts and keeps, making regeneration globes go neutral after four seconds and stick around for another four second after that, pushing back battleground objectives to allow more time on lanes, and to improve mercenaries in response to the changes in tower ammunition. Cooper also presented a timeline that detailed a three week PTR (public test realm) and to start these changes at the beginning of the new season in December. They concluded the panel with a brief series of Q & A. After this I tried to find a better seat and view for the Community Contest night that started about fifteen minutes later as well as grabbed a grilled cheese sandwich from a food vendor at the back of the hall who I regret not remembering the name of.
Community Night was a fun and entertaining presentation of the participants of the art, costume, movie, and talent contest hosted by Chris Hardwick (producer, actor, comedian, and CEO of Nerdist) and the talent portions were judged by Jonny Cruz (actor, director, and writer), Panser (YouTube personality from TradeChat), and Darin De Paul (actor). Community Night split entrants of the contests up into different groups in order to more efficiently run through the performances without any pauses. It started with the fourth place music talent group Bah Ram You performing their song, “Blizzard Through the Years”. This was followed by a presentation of the third place art contest winner, “Valkyrie” by Joao Freire. This was then followed by the first of four groups of twenty five costume contestants. After that was the third place winner of the movie contest, “Real Play” by Roman Alymov. Following that was the hilarious third place music talent group Squirloc performing their song, “Love Song to Blizzard”. After that performance was the presentation of the second place art contest winner, “Illidan Stormrage” by Wang Qichao aka Gothic Q. That was followed by the second group of twenty five costume contestants. Following these costume contestants was the second place winner of the movie contest, “Daydreamer” by Andrew McCord. After that was the music contest first place winner Jay the Tavern Bard performing his song, “Tales of Azeroth”. Following that emotion-packed performance was the presentation of the first place art contest winner, “The Light of Elune” by Shen Yi Sung aka Gasone. That was followed by the third group of costume contestants. After that presentation was the viewing of the comically sweet first place winner of the movie contest, “Winston” by Lisa Aschieris and Chris Kellett. Following this viewing was the second place music talent group that bursts with energy Have No Fear with their hip hop performance, “Payload”. Then the fourth and final group of costume contestants was presented to the audience. That was followed by the presentation of the talent contestant placing judged by Jonny Cruz, Panser, and Darin De Paul and announced by Chris Hardwick. Jay the Tavern Bard was understandably emotional after being awarded first place in the music talent contest. The event was capped off with honorable mentions to some incredible costume contestants as well as the presentation of the top four prize winners: Sparkz as “Mythic Kingdom’s Arthas” in fourth place; Mike Casteel as “The Prophet Velen” in third place; Hyperion Armory as “Jim Raynor” in second place; and Laura Mercer as “Hogger” in first place. All of the costume contestants were amazing but Laura Mercer as “Hogger” was so incredibly life-like and animated that there was no doubt in my mind that it deserved first place. Mercer’s interaction with Chris Hardwick after winning first place was too funny. I have never seen a gnoll nuzzle someone before and it was so funny that it was impossible not to laugh.
After experiencing all of these amazing events on my first day at BlizzCon, it was time to walk back to the motel and get rested up for the second and final day of the convention. Walking back to my motel room along Katella Avenue I saw BlizzCon attendees all over the sidewalks with their convention backpacks on, heading back to their rooms for the night and finding places to feast after their day long adventure at the Anaheim Convention Center. Finally getting to my motel room I felt just how exhausted I was from my first day, but I was also eager to experience day two.