Three weeks have passed since BlizzCon 2017 and I’m still not fully done with it. I often find myself going back to VoDs and I feel like I’m there again. Could be because I am a huge Blizzard fan, could be because sometimes dreams come true. My dream was to go to BlizzCon one day, to experience it first hand and I worked my ass off to get there. Karma was merciful this year and all the hard work over the years paid off.
This year everything was bigger and better. Literally. Last year’s 10th BlizzCon lined up with 25th anniversary of Blizzard so it was special and big deal, yet this year we managed to see it being outdone. Anaheim Convention Center got a new building so we took over that one as well – who would say no to arena and more panels? And this year finally we got all panels on Virtual Ticket. Previously only main stages were available on the web, which was always a bit sad since you missed a lot of technical panels unless you were there. I get it, there are more and less interesting panels, but for me those “technical” ones were the ones I really wanted to see. 2017 was the first year where Blizzard made the whole event on their own, with their own crew, and this made it finally possible to see all panels on the VT. Months of preparations and hard work, but it was definitely worth it – it was just epic experience.
But first things first. News of finally having an option of going to Anaheim came to me month and a half before the event. I was invited by Blizzard and I was not going to turn this opportunity down. Emails flew back and forth, stress levels peaked (I’ll spare you the details, let’s just say that I refreshed my German and French and got my plane ticket like 16 hours before leaving) and boom, here’s my ticket, here’s my ebadge, I’m going to BlizzCon! Poker face outside, full “I got this” attitude, inside I was this tiny kid going “wheeeee!” Think that kid from Overwatch announcement trailer, that was me.
I arrived in Anaheim day before the official start of the show. I say ‘official’ because the Con was on – street in front of the venue was full of fans and cosplayers, for a second there I thought I was late and BlizzCon started already. Party here, party there… Blizzard took over Anaheim! I have to say that standing there, in front of the Anaheim Convention Center, with all Blizzard banners on it…it brings a tear to your eye. It really hits you that you are there, you are part of this, this time not just via Virtual Ticket. Quick tour around the venue led me to Blizz store. The lines inside were insane. I don’t want to speculate on how much people spent there, but on the second day of BlizzCon majority of the stuff was sold out. The empty shelves in the background are a sweet proof that some people saved for this occasion. I had a quick chat with one of the Blizz employees at the store and he said that he managed to spot one guy coming to the store 5 times. No wonder I didn’t get my ‘Battle for Azeroth‘ tshirt I wanted so much! In fact, shopping during the last day was a stupid idea, I didn’t get majority of the things I wanted to get. Doesn’t mean I didn’t get other things, let’s be real, haha! Blizzard spends a lot on the Con but I’m pretty sure the sales make up for a bit of the money spent. And truth to be told, I am not surprised. The gear that Blizz offers is of good quality and it is not surprising that people want to collect it. I own a pretty nice collection of their products, like most plushies and books, and I really don’t want to know how much I’ve spent on it over the years. I still don’t own Chronicles and I didn’t get them this year at BlizzCon either. Meh! It’s both good and bad thing that the figurines they have are pretty expensive – as an avid figurine collector I’d buy them all if they were cheaper and my wallet would not like it (I am a fanatic collector for franchises I follow, I’ll admit it. I will make a post one day about my epic collection, I promise). Anyway! New thing this year was a backpack with a spot for badges. Every ticket holder received one that contained 6 basic game icon badges. You could always buy a booster pack and trade them for the ones you wanted. There were also limited badges, available on the floor if you interacted with the right person at the right moment. Hints on how to receive those were released at the social media. I have to say that this was a really nice way of interacting with the company, a bit of a city game, Blizz style. This was especially cool with WiFi available at the floor so nobody was left behind, even if they traveled from another country. Last year’s BlizzCon started the craze for pins. And I mean it when I say it’s a craze. People are collecting those like mad and you can always count on someone sitting outside of the venue, ready to trade with you. But only trade, as money transactions were banned by Blizzard and anyone caught on selling those was removed from the spot. They meant it when they said it is about the community. Loved it!
Evening “before the storm” was full of meeting new people. I was invited to a welcome party organized by Blizzard and it’s a thing you really cherish. Everyone is really down to earth, it’s just a really nice party and at times it is hard not to get star struck. It was also a great opportunity to get to know the people from “my” group of European content creators. I was really lucky, they turned out to be a fantastic group of people. But jetlag and two nights of no sleep did have its toll on me, I could hear my hotel bed calling me from the distance after a while. To make sure I don’t fall asleep during the actual event, I said my goodbyes around midnight. But not without getting my first autograph of the event. Sorry, Dave Kosak, I am a collector and I just couldn’t resist such opportunity!
Official start of BlizzCon was crazy. I mean it. We got to the venue earlier and thanks to media badges, we were able to get in few minutes before the regular ticket holders. And when they opened the doors, it was this insane wave of people running to take a seat at the stages. Nothing prepared me for this. I mean, I’ve seen it on Virtual Ticket during previous years but suddenly you find yourself right in the middle of that crowd, desperately trying to anchor yourself to something so that they don’t take you with them. And the hype is real – cosplayers, constant chants, For the Horde screams here, For the Alliance yells over there…it just gives you shivers, in a good way. And when the countdown starts, you’re gone – you count with the crowd, you cheer, you scream too. The whole vibe of the opening ceremony is incredible, the geekness oozes from every place and you are just mesmerized by it.
This year the ceremony wasn’t limited just to one stage though. I was wondering how this will work out as I was not a big fan of the idea but I have to say, Blizzard delivered. 30 000 people at the venue, millions in front of their PCs. Everyone had good time. But there’s no more time for contemplating, the countdown begins, less than 30 seconds remaining, crowd goes wild. This is it. This is the Opening Ceremony of BlizzCon 2017. The biggest moment of them all. We start at main stage. Short movie about people’s feelings towards the games and how they started (I don’t think there was a single dry eye in the crowd at this point, it was very emotional and it felt even more magical when you were there and you looked around at all those people sharing the experience with you) and there he is, Mike Morhaime. The co-founder, President and CEO of Blizzard Entertainment. It’s not a BlizzCon if Mike is not on that stage, welcoming us all to the event. I mean it. He is like your favorite, long-time-no-see uncle that visits. And he makes you feel welcomed. “There are no strangers at BlizzCon, only friends who haven’t met yet. ” You bet, Mike, you bet! It’s also amazing how humble he is, instantly making that connection with the crowd. Sure, you can say it’s a pose, after all he earns on this crowd, but it is not the case. We will get back to this a bit later.
So, quick recap of the year in Blizz esports and first shock of the day: 40 million players logging in each month across all games. We’re an army! We’re a legion! StarCraft II got the first major announcement of the opening ceremony: it’s becoming free-to-play. Wow. This one came too late for me as I have all parts already but I can finally get my friends to play it with me. All players will get free access to all campaigns, ranked ladder play and all Co-Op Commanders up to level five. Wish they gave those who had it all already something like a badge or portrait but I will not complain. After all, we also got the newest Co-op Commander – Mira Han and Matt Horner. Matt has always been my favorite character so I am really happy he finally gets some proper game time. And there’s also seasonal content coming up in War Chest, so fun, fun, fun! Brb, constructing additional pylons!
Kaeo Milker, Production Director of Heroes of the Storm, took over from Mike on the main stage and soon all the rumors were confirmed – Hanzo and Alexstrasza will join the Nexus. Expected, no surprises there, it only confirms that “The List” of soon-to-come characters is real. I have to say that the animations and the trailer were really well done, but that’s really no surprise – Blizzard’s cinematics are famous for being awesome. I can’t wait to play Alex myself, but I’m pretty sure all those Hanzo mains are also happy now. Kaeo also announced a Gameplay Update, coming in early 2018 – wider field-of-view camera, new Mercenary mechanics and other core gameplay updates. Voice Chat was something that players wanted for long time and Blizzard delivered – being in a party will automatically put players in a chat (with option to opt out). One of the most interesting changes we will see is performance – based matchmaking, which should be much more accurate but we will see how it goes. I might even go back to Heroes to check it out.
Off we go to the Hearthstone stage with Ben Brode. First virtual jump between the stages and it was really smooth, I’ll give them that. Way better than I expected. Anyway, Ben didn’t waste time and announced new expansion for Hearthstone. Kobolds & Catacombs? Hell yes! Awesome trailer and even more interesting follow up, as the ceremony didn’t end there for Hearthstone fans – we got to go for a quick quest with Ben to find a legendary treasure. And this time we chose how it plays out. Ooze covered tunnel over massive doors with broken lock; doors with ‘certain death’ tag on them over Kobold treasure hoard; hallway on fire over hallway with claw marks – this interactive way of going through the ceremony is really funny and I have a feeling that fans surprised the developers with their decisions, a bit at least. I hope they keep the model alive for next year, it’s really funny and it makes you feel like you are an active part of the ceremony. Well, you are but you get what I mean – you are not just spectating, you’re shaping the experience. Anyway, new expansion will arrive in December and we will venture into the dungeons beneath Azeroth. Personally – I can’t wait, new expansion sounds like a lot of fun. 135 new cards incoming too. But not just that – new expansion will bring us Dungeon Runs – new, highly replayable single-player game mode. But stakes will be high – if you die, you will lose your progress! 3 first bosses were playable at BlizzCon and they were pure entertainment. This is my new mode! We will also receive legendary weapons – every class will get one! If you own the game, you can already log in to receive your free legendary card, Marin the Fox, and once the expansion is out, you will get another free legendary – a random weapon, available upon your first login. I’m not sure if it was the announcement that got me interested in the game again or maybe the “Hearthstone – what’s next” panel, or my interview with Jomaro Kindred and Mike Donais, but I will definitely check the expansion out. All those elements combined got me really excited for what’s to come.
Another virtual jump and off we go to Overwatch Arena. Jeff Kaplan takes over. “Have you ever imagined what a Blizzard themed park would look like?” How can you even ask, Jeff? Well, say hello to Blizzard World, newest hybrid map for Overwatch, in a form of an amusement park. Speaking of Jeff. I don’t know what it is about this guy that makes me so excited each time I see him, but I’m pretty sure he would turn anything into a fascinating experience. And his sense of humor is spot on for me. “We had a ton of fun making it, it is a hybrid map. So that means it is part assault and part payload. Now I know most of you don’t know what payload is, so everybody turn to the Zenyatta mains to your left, and you he will figure it out. You don’t have to worry about it.” This had me in stitches. Jeff is amazing. Personally this was the most exciting announcement of the whole opening ceremony for me and I wish it was a real theme park. I’d totally visit it whenever I can. But Jeff wasn’t done yet – new hero, Moira, aka OPAF (another LOL moment from Jeff) was announced as well and just as we thought this can’t get any better, Darin De Paul, voice actor for Reinhard, joined Jeff on stage – he brought us the origin trailer for Reinhard, Honor and Glory, giving us a chance to see his past as he wonders if he should answer Winston’s call. It was very emotional and very mature at the same time. During the weekend we also learned about Overwatch League which starts January 10, 2018. First season will see 12 city – based teams facing off in the league’s Atlantic and Pacific divisions. League matches will be played over four days each week of the regular season. I can’t wait to see how this works out. As a huge Overwatch fan I do hope to see it grow even more on esports scene. And Snaxxrammas? Give me the new map, Blizz, I love it already! 😀
And we go back to the main stage. Last game left, World of Warcraft. This one was supposed to be big. This was it, my beloved and all time favorite – WoW. Everyone waited for new expansion but J. Allen Brack, who took over the main stage, was talking about …ice cream? Please tell me this is not what I think it is… “Is your favorite flavor vanilla?” Let’s hope so because the first big announcement of this part was going back to Vanilla servers. Yup, I was spot on on this one, people asked and Blizz delivered, we are going to have access to World of Warcraft Classic. When? Soon(™), Blizzard only just started hiring for the project. I’m not a huge fan of this idea but let’s see how it plays out. Personally I don’t see the need to go back – the development of the story, world, characters took us to a place I enjoy and I think looking back has less sense than looking forward. I also think people look at Vanilla through rose tinted glasses. But that will stop the whining and solve the issue of pirate servers. And finally, the announcement everyone waited for – new WoW expansion, Battle for Azeroth. The leaks were real, not many surprises here. But it is a bit funny – the cinematic was ready months ago and even though rumors were spreading around, the first real leak about the details happened only two days before the event. Supposedly Blizzard guards the details so well that the cost of leaking anything, even an innocent picture, is being fired. Good if you ask me, I like to have the huge announcement at BlizzCon and I don’t like to have it spoiled by leaks. The new expansion seems to be very PvP oriented which is not really my thing (I’m addicted to PvE) but let’s see how it goes. And first part of the trailer seemed to be very Horde centered, so I was a bit meh, until my boy Anduin became the leader we hoped he would become. That’s the leader I can follow, it seems like he finally found his own path. That cinematic was really good. It’s going to reignite the conflict again, world will be blue and red and it is not the direction I hoped it will take, but I’ll gladly kick some Horde butts. After low Warlords of Draenor, Legion restored my faith in World of Warcraft. I really enjoy the spot the game is at right now and I thought we will follow that “united we stand” path. We won’t but I’m still very excited about where the game is going.
“Have a great BlizzCon, be good to one another, have fun, welcome home“, said J. Allan Brack ending the Opening Ceremony and BlizzCon officially fully started. And you know what? It did feel like being home.
Quick run to press room to grab a sip of coffee (Hi, my name is Tootthie and I’m addicted to coffee) and off we go to see what’s going on. I quickly realized that when you actually attend BlizzCon, you skip the main panels to attend those that usually weren’t on the VT – all the major announcements will be tweeted and summarized in countless articles and you can catch up on then on VT, while some panels are not going to get that much attention and you can miss something really cool. This is one of the very few bad things about BlizzCon – you can’t be in two (or three…or four…) places at the same time. And there’s just so much going on! My first “what to attend” schedule consisted of so many panels it was really impossible to make it to all of them. BlizzCon is all about decisions, it seems.
I deliberately, but with heavy heart, skipped World of Warcraft – What’s next panel to check out Darkmoon Faire area and Hearthstone Inn, both located at the other end of Anaheim Convention Center, in North Hall. I have to say that both placed looked really amazing and gave away the actual vibe of the games. Quick peek at HSI stage lured by familiar voice of Frodan, who together with Brian Kibler was casting the games. I have no idea where Frodan got the inspiration for his clothing but it was very, ehm, shiny and Michael Jackson-esque, you just could not miss him. GG! Before I knew, I had to run back to the main stage, sadly skipping Blizzard Social – what’s next panel to get a spot for Hearthstone – What’s next. First surprise, we get 3d glasses! Dave Kosak, Ben Thompson and Peter Whalen take over the stage, we get our own candles above our heads (fake ones, no worries, no kobolds were harmed!) and we watch the cinematic for newest Hearthstone expansion in 3D! Really cool experience, kobold VR. Bravo! We take a deeper dive into the game design and mechanics, which is always interesting. But what really stood out for me? The poems written by Dave Kosak, presented on the stage. I swear, Dave is like Jeff Kaplan, he could read a phone book to me and he would still manage to make it something I find to be hilarious. Anyway, not to bore you. My interest in HS was reignited and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one excited.
Hearthstone panel ended, we chatted for few minutes …aaaand I didn’t make it to North Hall for Voices of Blizzard. Bugger because by the time I got there – late – it was too late to get back for Overwatch – what’s next panel back on the main stage as well. It takes around 15 minutes to get from Main to Legendary stage through the crowds, pretty please take it into consideration next year, Blizz, when planning the time of individual segments! But there is no such thing as wasted time at BlizzCon – there is a lot to see, anywhere you go. I used this time to finally make a stop at WoW Arena stage – until then I was only just passing it while rushing somewhere. I have to say that I really like that vibe that comes from people, that pure energy. It is the best and most positive recharger you can think of. Fans are crazy and really dedicated, but also not toxic towards the people they don’t necessarily are fans of. I think it is very important nowadays, when each game is tainted by the toxicity, which turns the otherwise awesome gaming experience into misery.
Anyway, awesome caster desk as always (can we have Devolore and Venruki as default casters for BlizzCon, please? They are fantastic! And Healingstat was a nice surprise too, he is really good), Method Synergy vs Blank Esports. Go Method! But I did not stay too long – my phone was buzzing letting me know, that on StarCraft stage herO faces Rogue. Decisions, decisions and I’m sorry, WoW, I love your PvE but your esports will always lose a spot to StarCraft – off we go to catch a glimpse of purest skills out there. Each year I go to Katowice for Intel Extreme Masters and I anchor at SC2 stage, I really love this game, I think it is THE best esport game out there, at least was until Overwatch appeared. I have a dream team for SC2 – ToD, Kaelaris, ReDeYe at analysis desk, Apollo and Artosis as casters. That’s my all time favorite squad and I hope to see them at BlizzCon once, this would be a dream come true.
Since I missed most of the esports – the panels were just too interesting to skip, and I watched most via Virtual Ticket, here’s a summary from the official press release:
StarCraft II World Championship Series Global Finals
With two championship titles already under his belt in 2017, Rogue arrived on the global stage at BlizzCon as a favorite to win the whole tournament. Once he got warmed up in the grand final against SoO, he showed the world he definitely deserves the title of WCS Global Champion with a 4–2 series win.
Heroes of the Storm Global Championship Finals
Winning team: MVP Black
MVP Black and Fnatic met in the final match of the HGC Finals after both teams moved past the semis with 3–0 wins. When the dust settled, it was MVP Black standing tall over the Swedish powerhouse with a 3–1 victory after a barnburner of a finale. MVP Black’s unwavering determination and dedication to their craft was enough to secure them their first trophy at BlizzCon.
World of Warcraft Arena World Championship
Winning team: ABC
The European streak continues as ABC sweeps Panda Global in the most decisive championship match in the history of the tournament. Working against a hostile crowd, ABC triumphed behind the Arcane Mage play of Alex ‘Alec’ Sheldrick to bring the WoW Arena trophy to Europe for the fourth straight year.
Overwatch World Cup
Winning nation: South Korea
South Korea was always expected to be the “final boss” at BlizzCon—and runner-up Canada fought valiantly in taking a single map—but in the end the story finished as expected. Ryujehong and company’s sudden vulnerability didn’t make a difference as South Korea goes two-for-two in Overwatch World Cup Championships.
Winning team: Grimestreet Grifters
After two days of frenetic and varied play among the 12 community personalities, the Grimestreet Grifters—comprised of Andrey ‘Reynad’ Yanyuk, Hakjun ‘Kranich’ Baek, and Pathra Cadness—emerged victorious. The best-of-11 finals saw the format of each game drawn from a sealed envelope, and players were individually eliminated from the stage until the Grifters claimed the trophy 6–5 over the Chillblade Crusaders.
StarCraft: Remastered Ultimate Title Fight
Although Lee “Jaedong” Jae Dong and Kim “Bisu” Taek Yong’s lengthy careers largely overlapped, they hardly ever played each other outside of team leagues. That changed when the two StarCraft legends met in the Ultimate Title Fight, a best-of-five showmatch with $25,000 on the line. In the fifth and final game, Bisu seemed to get a read on Jaedong’s aggressive strategy, and managed to hold him off to take the series 3–2.
Anyway, amazing game, but I can’t stay for the interview Smix did with the winner, as I am rushing to the next panel.
CodeCraft – Under the Hood with Blizzard Engineering. Was that my first choice of panels I wanted to see? Nope. Did I think it might be interesting? I’m an engineer, of course I did. Was I opting for going for this panel? No, I was choosing between Heroes of the Storm – What’s next and Overwatch – what’s in the lootbox?. But halfway through the SC2 match I got the tip from a friend that one of Team 5 members is going to be at CodeCraft panel which got my attention. For those of you that don’t know – Team 5 is the name of Hearthstone team and Hearthstone was shining bright this year. What to choose? There’s no thinkee without coffee so quick stop at press room for another cup (you need to power up to keep up with what is happening at BlizzCon, trust me on that) and final decision. Here’s a life lesson for you – always trust the coffee. CodeCraft panel was right next to press room. And damn, coffee did not let me down this time either. This was the brightest discovery of the whole BlizzCon. It was monumental, it was epic, it was amazing. I sure hope that those “technical” panels will be on VT next year as well because we’re missing so much if we only rely on the virtual access to BlizzCon and the choice is limited. It was really interesting and I enjoyed every minute of it. Definitely the panel I enjoyed the most. Not sure if they will make the transcript for this particular panel, but you should defo check out BlizzPlanet’s transcript page for CodeCraft p2 from Saturday. I know VoDs from BlizzCon site are going to be taken down soon (why?? why can’t we have them longer?! Why not a DvD with all the panels?!? It would be so awesome!) so check out the panels while you can. I watched them few times already, can’t get enough. Both CodeCraft panels were amazing, words can’t really express how much I enjoyed them. For a geek animal like me it’s a must see. So much info, great people too.
CodeCraft ended and I was rushing to the Sylvanas statue to meet a friend (“there are no strangers at BlizzCon, only friends who haven’t met yet!”) before going to Community Night. Sylvanas became the meeting point for everyone and if I got a dollar for each time I heard someone saying “I’ll meet you at the Sylv statue”, I’d buy myself all the figurines they had in the Blizz store to add them to my beloved collection. And that Junkrat <3
Mandatory stop at Battle for Lordaeron diorama and off we go to Community Contest Night with Chris Hardwick. I’m not a huge fan of such things, mainly because of the hosts but Chris was really good. Nerdist power! “My wife is a cat person. I am a dog person. So we have a cat.” That’s the type of jokes I like – sarcastic, not that dirty, subtle roasts. Good job on choosing him, Blizz.
Community night is divided into few parts – talent show, cosplay contest, movie contest and art contest. Talent show is just not my cup of tea. Don’t get me wrong, hats off to all the artists, it is just not my thing. But it was amazing to see how much work they put into making it. And then I saw Jay the Tavern Bard. What a nice surprise it was. He crushed it, there was no competition for me. I really hope he gets into World of Warcraft as NPC as Chris suggested. He is such a nice guy, his tears were not fake. I spoke with him after his performance and few days after BlizzCon, so humble and so nice! And his joy was so pure! Totally rooting for him. 4th place in the talent show went to Bah Ram Yew, 3rd to Squirlock, 2nd to Have no Fear and Jay the Tavern Bard was the grand winner. Well deserved victory if you ask me!
In the Art Contest 3rd place went to “Valkyrie” by Joao Maria Fraga de Almeida Freire, 2nd to Gothic Q for his “Illidan Stormrage”, 1st to Gasone for “Light of Elune”.
In the movie contest – 3rd place went to Roman Alymov for a movie called “Real Play“, 2nd to “Daydreamer” by Andrew McCord, 1st to “Winston” by Lisa Aschieris and Chris Kellet. Check out their movies!
But I’m here for cosplay! That’s my main interest here. Seeing over 90 of the cosplayers, gathered backstage for this event, lined up to go on stage, was amazing. All suits required a lot of work and I /salute everyone but I instantly had few favorites. Malis as Princess Merida, Hunter of the Wildhammer Clan, what a lovely idea and no, I don’t root for hunters on default because I main one, let me be clear about it! She was really amazing. And a great person too! Lanisaz as Zagara, what a great cosplay it was, Pimpston… And that Nat Pagle?? I want that fishing rod! I can go on and on. Hogger was my long time favorite, since weeks before BlizzCon, but then I saw Hyperion Armory as Jim Raynor. Wow, just wow. I had a chance to talk to the guy cosplaying Jim, or should I say to the whole team – he came to BlizzCon with his father and brother and yes, it took 2 people to get him into the suit. It was great to see the cross generation cooperation in geeking, his father was so proud of him! And the attention to details… It was not visible during the show, but the helm was voice activated with side lights and stuff. Amazing job! I bet it was not easy to choose the winners from such an amazing group of talented people, but in the end 4th place went to Sparkz as Mystic Kingdoms Arthas, 3rd to Mike Casteel as Prophet Velen. 3 years of preparing the suit paid off – Hyperion Armory was awarded with 2nd place and 1st went to Laura Mercer as Hogger. Hogger’s head was a hit in the hotel lobby after BlizzCon ended and there was a huge line of people waiting to take a pic with it! You can check out full gallery on Blizzard’s fansite here, below just a few pics. Those people were so inspiring. They must have worked so hard to make those cosplays. Hats off to everyone.
Speaking of cosplay, what we saw in the Contest was not everything that you could see at BlizzCon in that aspect. I spent first hours of Saturday lurking around the outside of the venue, trying to get some cosplays there and I wish some of them would actually join the contest because they would be a real competition for others. My favorite was gender bender Junkerstein, event skin of my favorite Junkrat, but so many great ideas could be spotted throughout the day! That human size Pepe! I’m all things Pepe so this one was just great for me. Speaking of gender bender – there was female Junkrat, male D.Va and Sombra… I really admire those people – not only they take up on the difficult of cosplaying their own favorite character, they also make it their own. It’s amazing and really inspiring. And that attention to details!
And off we go again! Panels, panels, panels. 4 panels start at 10am. How many did I select as potential option to see for 10am slot? 4. Decisions again! This should be a slogan for BlizzCon really, haha. Anyway, quick brainstorm and I go for Sounds of Blizzard Cinematics, choosing to see other panels on Virtual Ticket. Once again – the technical panels absolutely nail it. We are so used to the games we get, to that high quality content but only thanks to the panels like that you can realize how much work goes into creating those things we take for granted. And we’re used to great games but it is only via watching that whole creation process when you realize how complex the games are. Before I knew, it was the time to get ready for the interview with Jomaro Kindred and Mike Donais, two Hearthstone developers. You can check the interview here. Coffeecoffeecoffee and we’re at Hearthstone Q&A. What I liked about this panel was the fact that we also got to choose the cards that will go into the Arena. Form of it was great too – we would get 3 cards displayed on the screen and Mike Donais, Peter Whalen and Yong Woo would recommend their choices, with Ben Brode as “caster”. But it was us making that decision in the end. Yet another panel, where you are not just a spectator. I love it. Let’s hope they stick to this format. Judging by the amount of frenzied tweets sent from the seats in front of me (hello, Trump and&co!), people got really excited by some of the cards. I don’t play arenas but after that panel I think I might start.
Next panel – there’s only one option for a winner here – World of Warcraft Q&A. One – because it is my beloved WoW, two – because Q&A is always great, three – because where else can I get Alex Afrasiabi, J. Allen Brack, Chris Robinson, Ion Hazzikostas and Matt Goss on one stage and 4 – because it’s Warcraftjen’s debut as host! You could see she was stressed about it – who wouldn’t be? – but she did really well. I think she is one of the brightest points of WoW community, always so positive and amazing, so it was great to see her being recognized and awarded by becoming a host. I think her and Bahjeera are really nice role models for the community, promoting the behavior we want to see so it is really nice to see them being appreciated and acknowledged. I’m a fan of them as well so hit it, Jen! First surprise of the evening – no Red Shirt Guy. Quick peek at Twitter: “Everyone who has been asking where am I, Blizzard has not selected my question so I will no be at the Q and A (Well I’ll be in the audience).” What were the questions he wanted to ask? “What is Argus’ relation to demon resurrection, Turalyon says killing him will stop them regenerating forever, making chronicle noncanon” and “how will the destruction of under city and Teldrassil be represented in game.” It’s not making it noncanon, it adds an element of where demons can actually be killed but it doesn’t actually deny what was stated in Chronicles. And they can’t tell you how it will look like when they are building the whole story arch, with the book and cinematics, around it, come on! It’s like asking about your next year’s Xmas gift. Patience! Q&As are always very interesting, you can get more info about certain features. Another block of panels and before we know it, BlizzCon is over. Closing Ceremony and Muse mark the final moments of the event. Just like that, it is time to go home.
Post BlizzCon frenzy
OK, before you go home, there’s a party over here, there’s a party over there… Marriot had a party in the lobby for those who were waiting for a party in the back of the hotel. Patio had a party for those who weren’t partying in the lobby. On the opposite side of the street, Hilton turned into a one big party while there was also the party on the street between the hotels. Partyception, your parties have parties. Anaheim turned into an amazing melting pot. People were still trading badges and sitting at the Convention Center. It’s not over until we say so! You could tell that we’re stalling, refusing to acknowledge the fact it is over, trying to make it last longer and that nobody wants to leave. This is what BlizzCon does to you – you just don’t want to go home. Why would you on the other hand, you are home in a way.
Sunday saw the BlizzCon crowd divided into two groups – you had people who were getting ready to travel back to their original destinations and you had people who were staying until Monday and used the time mainly to occupy Disneyland. Tweets from that last group were hilarious. Someone got on the Disneyland train right in front of Mike Morhaime and while they kept a poker face IRL, they were not so calm on Twitter and I can totally relate to it. We were part of the crowd that was leaving on Sunday and of course we started the day with a walk to the Convention Center. Seeing everything being packed, no banners on the building – only then it finally hits you that it’s really over. Lobby of your hotel fills in with people, just like the night before, but this time we’re saying goodbyes, not partying. And then a line of shuttles comes and people start their journeys to airports… You’re out there, waving goodbye at yet another full shuttle that leaves… But you have so many more friends now than before you came here. People are exchanging numbers, sorting meetings and plans for the parties later next year… You’re not alone. The vibe is amazing and the whole experience is truly mesmerizing.
BlizzCon is an experience that scars you – in a good way – for life. There is a hectic schedule of panels, yes and you often eat lunch while watching the last panel at 6pm (that was me on Saturday, for example, there just wasn’t time to eat, too much of good stuff going on!) and sometimes you wish it was 3 days because this way you could see everything finally, but there is not much to complain about, you just enjoy everything. Wait, stop. Not everything. The only thing I am going to whine about is security. Tighter security check – no complaints here, they do it for our safety. But Anaheim Convention Center is a huge building, it was easier to get from one end to another by going around it than through bottlenecks inside. Those bottlenecks cost me few panels, so I soon opted for going out and going through pathway outside. Here’s where things get complicated tho. You can easily get out, but what they security guards don’t tell you upon letting you out is that you can’t go back the same way. So you get out to grab a burrito, a drink or simply a breath of fresh air, but when you want to go back – nope, you have to go aaaaall the way back to security check. I don’t know if that is a common thing in US, here we have a tight security check upon entering, you get a badge and wristband you can’t take off and then you can go in and out whenever you want. You may occasionally get an extra check if you re-enter with a backpack but if you pass them few times, they already know who you are and let you in without an issue. Especially with media badges it is really handy because often we have to go in – take pics, go out – take pics, go in – take pics, go out to answer a call because it is too loud inside. That means you spend your day running around the venue. It’s your job to access as many places as possible.
Now the concept behind this escaped me because when I left the building around Legendary stage, I was told I have to go through the main gate to go through security check, which was this crazy long line of people and choosing that would mean that I am late to my interview. I don’t like being late, I always get to the set appointment earlier. So instead I went to the entrance to BlizzStore, hoping for shorter line, and then took a turn before the actual store. This way I got through to main stage area in 1/10th of the time I would need to access it through the main gate. Now here’s the fun part – main access gate and BlizzStore area both have security checks but the corridor between them does not and can be accessed without any special badges. So if you are all about security, you might want to improve the ways around it because I found a loophole by accident, I wasn’t even looking for one, I realized what I did like hour later. Unless there is some kind of miscommunication between the guards, your system is not working and I failed to grasp the concept behind it. One thing’s for sure – I did a lot of extra miles thanks to the guards and I never knew if I will be able to access the same path I chose hour ago which is really confusing when you’re on a tight schedule. And if an hour ago I was able to choose this path with my media badge, please tell me what changed over the course of one hour that I can’t use it now. Minor inconvenience but yeah.
But on the last day I witnessed something that really bothered me. Media had their own sectors on the main stage and to access it you had to have your badge out at all times. If it wasn’t visible, you would get a guard asking for one every 5 minutes. That’s cool but… Not once and not twice I’ve seen pros and Blizz employees being kicked out of there. Let’s be clear, there is a clear hierarchy here and you have to know the pecking order – top of the top is the Blizz devs who actually pay you for your work, dear security guard. On the same level you have Blizz employees who actually make the event run and are responsible for it. Then you have Blizz employees who don’t have an active role in the process of maintaining the event on technical side but they sort the community aspect and – imo – still should be allowed to go wherever they want. Same with pro players. They are working there, even tho it is a dream job. They are focused on people but they keep the party going. Under that in the order is media and under that is regular ticket holders. We’re the media, we write about those pro players and we can do it thanks to Blizzard organizing and maintaining the event. What do you mean we can sit here but they are not worthy? Are you serious? Now, if I see you blocking the access to the part for a guy with a headphone who is sorting the tech side of the event that is about to start, I’m going to be confused. And if you are going to kick out a CM that sits next to me in the media sector, I’m going to be even more confused. Another category of guests – families of the employees. In my personal hierarchy, they are on the same level as Blizz employees and this is a family event. Seeing a 6, maybe 7yo kid being kicked out of area because they have to use different path is heartbreaking. Who is going to get their kid through the mad crowd if they have a badge that allows them to access every bit of the space in that convention center? Every but the one you are guarding. Please get your stuff together, it was not a cool experience in that aspect. I get it that you are going to protect the access to data center (yes! They’ve built the data center on the spot and it was soooo cool to realize that! My inner nerd was hyperventilating when I found out, especially since it was nicely hidden and it took me a while to realize what I am looking at. Sadly, no peaking in allowed) but main stage is not a data center. You’re controlling which path people will take to access the seats and you are a pain in the butt about it for no reason whatsoever. But I have to give a shout out to the guards at the entrance to restricted part of the event – the press and dev zone. I’m used to showing my badges whenever I pass the guards, with the amount of people that pass them you can’t expect the guards to remember you. But they did. It took them half a day only to remember all the journalists and they would not only not ask for badge if they recognized you, they would always add a nice comment and a smile upon seeing you. I’m not going to lie, our little crazy team got cakes out of the press room on the last day to give them to the guards, that’s how nice they were. It really makes your day when you see those wide smiles just because you are there. I mean, they didn’t owe us anything, they could have been those strict professionals, it just makes your day brighter when you are met with a smile and a nod. But maybe it’s just me.
One of the things that drew my attention over the event, was the type of badges you could spot on the clothing of the panelists and some employees. I didn’t know what it was but I could guess – a rainbow Blizzard pin. There wasn’t much said about those during the event and you only get the info from “someone who heard it from a Blizz employee” but “it’s a special pin employees wear that symbolizes Blizzard’s welcoming acceptance of people of all backgrounds/faiths in their community.” See, this is why this company is so much more for me than just a gaming company. Blizzard is a state of mind, a state I totally admire. I do hope they will make those pins available in the store because as an Ally, I’m going to get like 10. Amazing thing, Blizz, I salute you for this silent yet so loud statement. Just when I thought I can’t admire you any more…
I mentioned the down-to-earth attitude of Blizzard employees earlier and this is a good place to elaborate on the subject. You can always argue that it is a pose but I don’t agree. I collect autographs and I met Mike Morhaime twice, not even at BlizzCon. When I met him, he had no obligation to play a “good uncle”, he was there privately. I would understand if he said “no, sorry, I’m here to enjoy the event.” Yet he found time to sign my book and to take a pic with me. All that time – with a huge smile on his face. I met Gary Platner, Lead Environment Artist and Principal Exterior Level Designer for World of Warcraft and he is absolutely the nicest guy I have ever met. The way he interacted with all the cosplayers – that’s not a pose, that’s a true interest and admiration. I had a chance to chat with him and it was clear to me that the admiration we, the fans, have for Blizzard is not taken for granted and there is this mutual respect and curiosity. It was like “dude, you created something that gave me my SO and literally saved my life, you’re really interested in what I – and all those other people around – have to say?? This is making me emotional, in a good way. This is so cool!” A cliche, maybe, but it’s true. And Gary wasn’t the only one, they all are like that! I hunted down Alex Afrasiabi, Creative Director for World of Warcraft, and got his signature as well (finally!). After that, he thanked me for asking him for an autograph and coming to BlizzCon. That was a huge “whut?” moment for me. Alex, this is not how it works, *I* am here because of *your* work. And I’m fangirling over this meeting, setting aside my “I’m pro, I’ve seen things, I’m experienced” attitude, but let’s not talk about it. I have a thing for devs. I could sit next to Brad Pitt and be bored out of my mind but give me a developer and I’ll turn into a puddle of pure admiration with huge “notice me, senpai” sign above my head. I absolutely love people who create, who can make something out of nothing. People who create worlds I love and they have fun while doing it.
There was Celestalon, all over the floors giving away hugs and Pepe badges; there were European CMs running around asking if you have everything you need; “call me if you need anything!” was the line you heard so many times and it really made you feel appreciated. There was one of the IT guys I met while ago walking me around the BlizzCon talking about the technical preparations for the event – this was like an early Xmas gift for my inner nerd; there was Mike Donais and Jamaro Kindred, lead devs of Hearthstone being so down to earth and funny; there were countless people in blue shirts walking around being simply amazing; you didn’t feel that “we’re so cool, you’re just a fan” attitude. We were not just the fans, we were the fans and everyone made sure we feel this way. It’s so different than the general attitude in Europe at events like IEM or ComicCons, where of course everyone is nice but there’s also a distance. It takes a moment to get used to it. I met some of the families of the employees and it made me tear up a bit, really great people with so much warmth and goodness in their hearts. Everything, everyone, every tiny bit of that event was telling you “hey, we appreciate you being here, we appreciate your support and those aren’t just words. We’re a family here, even if this is the first time we meet IRL.”
One thing that didn’t feel fully right – I wish we got more info about how it’s done from technical side because only after you take a peak behind the scenes you realize how many people are involved in creating this event and how much work it takes to actually have it look so pro. We take a lot of things for granted but having seen the world behind the scenes makes you appreciate what you get even more. It’s not a random squad of people who thought “oh hey, let’s make an event!“, it’s this huge, well oiled machine that steamrolls through the day. Having organized few events myself (nothing on that scale tho, let’s be real!) I know how hectic it can be and there is always something that surprises you, something that you did not expect. Improvisation is the key word here and having improvised through an event for 4000 people I can only guess how many surprises were there when you had 30 000 people at the spot and millions in front of the PCs. I can only guess because nothing there felt improvised. It went so smooth! This is a pro level for me. If you are an event organizer – this is the bar set out for you. If your events are even halfway as good as BlizzCon – you’re good. If you can get to the BlizzCon level, I’ll salute you for the rest of your life. Pro is pro.
And I was a huge fan of Blizzard before even being in Anaheim, now I’m a fanatic. Absolutely fantastic people. For so many of us those games are so much more than just games – we treat it as therapy, we met our friends and partners there…It’s great to see that this idealized picture of people who made it possible I had in my mind turned out to be true. Even now, over 3 weeks after the event, I’m still emotional about BlizzCon, I’m still going through the panels on VT and I don’t think that feeling is ever going to go away. It makes you re-evaluate your life a bit, at least did in my case. It made some decisions easier to take. Decisions I should have taken ages ago. It also sets the bar for such events really high. Thank you, Blizzard, just…thank you.
Before I knew, I was back in Europe, dealing with post BlizzCon blues. It still feels like a dream coming true and even though chances are slim, I do hope to visit BlizzCon again. It’s just something that stays in you. For me it wasn’t just an event, it was so much more. “Have a great BlizzCon, be good to one another, have fun, welcome home.” And we did. Now I’m left feeling homesick for a year. Booo!