If I were to take at random a set of video game genres and stack rank them from those that interest me most to those that interest me least, it might look a little something like this:
- Action RPG
- Online CCG
That sort of defines what I am looking for from one particular company. I realize that is just me, but that is the perspective I have.
So when one particular company runs their big convention and their priority list is pretty much that list turned upside down, well… what are you going to do?
And such was BlizzCon.
Before it hit, I wrote up my dreams and desires about what might be said. This was the way it played out viewed through the lens of my own expectations and perceptions.
World of Warcraft
They keynote opened up talking about WoW. Here we were, 10 years down the road from the launch of Blizzard’s biggest game, and 20 years gone from the launch of the Warcraft franchise with the first of the RTS titles, Warcraft: Orcs vs Humans.
There was lots of cheering and some nostalgia and then they packed that all away in a box and ignored Azeroth for the rest of BlizzCon.
Yes, there were two WoW panels. One was pretty much an “in case you missed it” refresher course in things already widely discussed about the upcoming expansion and 6.0 patch. I mean, we’d been playing with 6.0 for a couple weeks at this point, so this was more by way of “yes, you discovered what we changed, and this is why we did it” sort of thing. And then there was the Q&A panel, which I haven’t watched yet, and I am not sure that I will. I tend to find audience Q&A painful to watch, though I have to admit that WoW nerds have been some of the more polite, literate, and to the point in their questioners in past years, so I should probably give it a shot, or at least read the transcription.
There was also a panel about the Warcraft movie, which I enjoyed. There was a lot of enthusiasm for how the story was being presented, 50% human and 50% orc perspective. In fact, there was a lot of enthusiasm about most things, including the fact that key members of the production team are World of Warcraft fans. But, being something of a plug for the movie, nobody had any business being anything but enthusiastic on that stage. And, like so many things Blizzard does, they were talking at BlizzCon about something more than a year out. Coming to theaters in March of 2016.
There was also the premiere of the Looking for Group documentary about WoW, which I haven’t gotten to yet, but it is up on YouTube when I have the time.
So I guess I got the answer to the big question, which was, “What will Blizzard talk about when it comes to WoW, what with the next expansion less than a week off?” The answer was that Blizzard decided to talk about WoW as little as possible. Which, I have to say, if you’re all about WoW relative to their other titles, was a bit of a pill. There was nothing forward looking about WoW. There was no vague plan to reassure player that they wouldn’t be treated to another 13 month content drought, nothing to indicate that expansions wouldn’t continue to drop at the current rate of one every couple of years, and certainly no mention whatsoever of what the next expansion might be. Nothing was said that might distract from this week’s Warlords of Draenor launch, which mostly meant saying nothing at all. I think I WoW got more screen time outside of BlizzCon than in it, as commercials were running on TV and at the movies. My wife and I saw Interstellar on Saturday and there was a Warlords of Draenor ad in with the trailers.
But fuck it, we get the expansion in a couple days, that ought to be enough, right? I’ll be happy. Hell, I was happy still pottering around and cleaning stuff up in preparation for the expansion.
I did get one reminder of the state of things during the keynote. During the talk about the origins of Warcraft and how it got to where it is today, there was a clear statement about how World of Warcraft was the evolution of the franchise. Bascially, WoW is Warcraft IV, and we are unlikely to ever see Azeroth done as an RTS again.
On the Diablo franchise front, things were about the same as World of Warcraft, only without a movie or a significant anniversary to talk about, and there had already been an expansion this year. So basically some “Hey, isn’t Diablo III doing well!” and then off to other topics. There was nothing new. So I guess it is a good thing I am more of a WoW fan or I might be feeling really left out.
The one and only remaining RTS franchise at Blizzard finally got some news about the Legacy of the Void expansion. The whole thing has been held up in an effort to really try to capture the Protoss point of view or some such. And, honestly, they didn’t give a release date or anything, so we are probably looking at November/December of 2015 at the earliest.
But they said “My life for Aiur!” a lot on stage.
And they mentioned that StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void would be a stand-alone expansion, so you wouldn’t have to purchase StarCraft II and the Heart of the Swarm expansion in order to play it. They also announced a new cooperative play mode, where two players control the same base. A friend of mine was excited about this feature, as he and his wife like to play StarCraft II. However, I do wonder if attempting to control the same set of units and resources will bring them closer or become one of those things, like trying to assemble Ikea furniture together, than can really test a relationship. We shall see, whenever it ships.
Blizzard’s collectible card game got plenty of attention. It will be coming to the Android platform in early 2015 and its first expansion, Gnomes vs. Goblins is also headed our way in December, dropping 120 new cards into the mix and no doubt really kicking off a Magic: The Gathering-like arms race when it comes to cards. Only buying in will keep you competitive. Since I have played exactly enough Hearthstone to get the Hearthsteed in WoW, this all sort of washed over me.
Heroes of the Storm
I have to admit that Heroes of the Storm looked good. My first thought, as they were showing demos, was that you could make a really good Warcraft IV on that engine, forgetting already what I mentioned above on that topic. Since we’re getting down to the lowest rungs of my hierarchy, it is pretty safe to say that MOBAs are not my thing, for the same reason that battlegrounds aren’t my thing in WoW. I do not particularly enjoy fighting the same battle over and over again. I had a League of Legends account, but I found the game tedious after a couple of matches and my user name has long since been recycled and returned to the pool, though I am sure they are still counting me on the roll of total registered users.
Heroes of the Storm, in addition to looking good, has the advantage of pulling heroes I know from Blizzard lore. But is that enough to make me play it? Anyway, there is a semi-solid date for closed beta (December) and some hand waving about dates beyond that. Stay tuned I guess.
This was the new hotness for Blizzard, their first new IP since… StarCraft? It is a first person shooter. Everybody stared in amazement for a moment at Overwatch…
…and then collectively said, “Team Fortress 2.”
Well, everybody but me. I was stuck thinking, “Wait, wasn’t “Overwatch” from Half-Life 2?“
Still, reductio ad valvium or some such.
And, yes, I think the art style and the fact that Blizzard was piling into the FPS arena in a big way made most people jump straight to the idea that Blizzard is ripping off Valve to flesh out its game lineup. It was certainly an easy jump to make on the surface.
However, I think Blizzard is going for something a bit different here, at least as far as I could read. Granted, I am long beyond my FPS days and if you check my Steam profile you will see that I have downloaded Team Fortress 2 but have played less than an hour of it. Shooters and the quick reactions required to be anything more than a target are in my past. But TF2 feels like a classic FPS game with its modes and classes. The whole thing is streamlined, but we’ve seen the types before.
With Overwatch, Blizzard seems to be going less for the classic FPS and more for something like a First Person Shooter MOBA. FPSMOBA? With what I heard… six players per team, specific scenarios, more potential heroes to play than slots on a team… it sounds more like a mix-and-match special teams game. And, as such, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up financing itself in the MOBA style by being free to play but then selling the latest overpowered heroes, so that anybody wishing to stay competitive feels they have to buy in.
Or maybe I mis-read the whole thing. I have to admit that between the big new game being a shooter and everybody and their brother saying, “TF2 clone!” my eyes began to glaze over and I went back to actually playing video games rather than watching people talk about them.
Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday
That is a saying from the old days of NASCAR, back when they drove cars that at least started their lives on the same factory floor as the ones sold at the dealer showroom. Back then, a marquee that won races could look forward to a boost in sales and the various car companies would produce special models just to help them dominate on the track. (See: Galaxie 500, Torino Talladega, or Superbird)
I bring this up because I was a bit taken aback at how much of the BlizzCon coverage was devoted esports. Three of the BlizzCon video streams were pretty much devoted to nothing else, and the other two spent some time there as well, to the point that panels felt few and far between relative to watching other people play video games. That is not my thing at all. Like real world sports, I can watch for a while, but I tend to want to go and do something else… like actually play video games. But there are plenty of people who seem to enjoy it and who are selling… or in many cases overselling… how popular it is.
So I started to ask myself if games like League of Legends are popular and thus become esports, or if games become popular because they get pushed as esports.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I think at this point we can divine what Blizzard thinks. Just about every game they have now has some esports aspect, from the WoW arena to Heroes of the Storm, with Overwatch looking to be focused on the esports thing as well. Diablo III, with only a seasonal ladder, seems to be the odd man out, so I suppose an early prediction for next BlizzCon is a change to that. Blizzard seems to be convinced that being an esport, or at least a popular esport, drives sales. Sell on Monday.
Which I suppose is fine, so long as they don’t leave their WoW players high and dry for another long stretch. We shall see.
Anyway, BlizzCon has passed, leaving not much of a ripple for me. I will have to console myself with a brand new expansion come Thursday, and all the last minute tasks I am suddenly feeling compelled to finish before then. I played little else aside from WoW all weekend, a situation unlikely to change during the near future.