A Vaguely Dissatisfying BlizzCon… For Me

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:

  • MMORPG
  • Action RPG
  • RTS
  • Online CCG
  • MOBA
  • FPS

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.

A decade of this

10 Years of Azeroth as MMO

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.

Diablo III

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.

StarCraft

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.

Hearthstone

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.

Overwatch

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

Look, a new thing!

Look, a new thing!

…and then collectively said, “Team Fortress 2.”

Well, everybody but me.  I was stuck thinking, “Wait, wasn’t “Overwatch” from Half-Life 2?

They run Earth, right?

They run Earth, right?

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.

18 thoughts on “A Vaguely Dissatisfying BlizzCon… For Me

  1. Jidhari

    I think people are being a bit harsh on Blizzard with TF3, I mean Overwatch. I think it definitely draws a lot of its inspiration fromTF2. Even some of the game modes like payload are lifted right from it. That being said, they are putting a twist with the hero switching thing. And the pace looks different.

    Still, I am not entirely confident on where they are going with this. Like HOTS, they seem to be entering genres to streamline what has already been streamlined. TF2 is FPS without the things we can’t stand and LOL is DOTA but more accessible. If it wasn’t because of their brand, the TF2 inspired FPS Moba wouldn’t exactly make news at eleven.

    Then again, maybe they are just trying to put the screws to Valve and Riot considering their past. Destroy you in your own backyard kind of thing. It can’t be a coincidence that it is called Overwatch (as you pointed out) and rips TF2. Their other big game is targeting DOTA and LoL. Hmm, maybe I am just being one of those “conspiracy nuts”.

    For me, even if it turns out to be just a TF2 clone with no innovation, the real TF2 is quite long in the tooth (seven years now I think). It’s time for someone to take a stab at TF3 since Valve seems to have problems with counting to that number. We could do a lot worse than Blizzard.

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  2. Coppertopper

    Great perspective! I was disappointed in no D3 news. And Overwatch, although way more interesting to me then any new COD or Titanfall, seems obviously groomed for LoL’s brand of marketing (buy the newest hero class and be OP for a couple weeks). I had to laugh when one blogger was falling over himself (Talarian) congratulating blizzard on diversity, when they are just using the first release of Heroes as a tool because the next 30 they release are all about the buck.

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  3. Talarian

    @Coppertopper

    To be fair, you are correct in that we’ll see if the trend continues. However, when you take someone to task over their prior behavior, it’s important to celebrate the victories. It’s called “positive reinforcement”. Being negative all the time just makes you look whiny rather than actually critically thinking about what you’re saying/requesting.

    But going after “the buck” still doesn’t preclude upholding diverse characters as more characters are released. Depending on what economic model they decide to follow, it could be an interesting experiment to see if diversity sells characters.

    @ The Article

    You’re correct about the D3 news. Sadly very little of it. They built up a lot of momentum with the expac and then the patch after, and now…silence. On the other hand, it’s hard to keep a pace like they had there for a bit, but I wonder if they have much left at all in that space beyond just maintenance.

    I was also disappointed by the lack of WarCraft related news, but oh well, probably not a good idea to undercut the hype for Warlords or Overwatch.

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  4. Coppertopper

    @Talarian
    Look I applaud you having a blog of your own. Putting your opinions out there for others to discuss takes balls. I’m a day out from doing the same and will extend invites to all those I’ve harshed on in the past to come on over. But yes – I did a serious eye roll at your blog post. LoL should get a reward for ‘diversity’ if that becomes a review criteria (which I hope the fuck it doesn’t), given skin color has been an option in MMOs for what – a decade+?

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  5. Matt

    I really think this Blizzcon wouldn’t have happened if not for announcing Overwatch. I’m not much of a pvp shooter guy, but Blizzard does have a way with things. If they can keep the matches short I’ll at least give it a try.

    I figured they would at least announce the theme of the next D3 expansion but no dice. One thing they did address by not addressing was whether they would use microtransactions for more stash space and character slots. This microtransaction stuff gives me the willies, and it seems Blizzard is buying in wholesale.

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  6. carson63000

    Jidhari, that’s a very interesting observation re “streamlining what has already been streamlined”.

    Hearthstone clearly landed with a bang in the middle of a genre that was pretty much the territory of crappy browser games, and fiendishly complicated and fiddly titles like Magic Online and the upcoming Hex. Should be a surprise to nobody how successful it has been.

    (just as WoW landed into a field of MMORPGs that largely focused on punishing players until they became better people, rather than entertaining them)

    But Heroes of the Storm, and then Overwatch.. yeah, they’re really not landing in such easily conquered ground. They’re going to have to work much harder for their success.

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  7. tsuhelm

    I dream of an RTS where the units have good AI’s and maybe co-op play is a step in that direction, the new tactics available would be awesome, even better if whole teams could co-op a side…I love your Ikea metaphor…we have all been there…when the helping hand helps it does make things easier but mostly you just want to stab that hand with a screwdriver …!

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  8. Hull

    Nice writeup. I do have a question… what did you and your wife think of Interstellar? (that second part important… last movie I took my wife to, Guardians of the Galaxy, she fell asleep in and forever reminds me of how boring it was).

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  9. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @tsuhelm – My wife and I can both be… strong willed… when it comes to projects like that. Engineer versus sales rep. There can be long periods of quiet cooling off after such things.

    @Hull – I liked it, though I ended up having to watch it while I had a huge headache… a minor migraine… because of previous circumstances in the day. I am not sure I could have handled it in 3D. There are some bits where they play to the whole 3D aspect.

    But, unless your wife is hot for Matthew McConaughey, I probably couldn’t recommended it. It is not action packed at all, and if she thought Guardians of the Galaxy was boring (my daughter and I liked it quite a lot, and though my wife did not see it with us, she loves the sound track and probably would have liked the movie) then Interstellar will put her to sleep. It is one of those movies more in line with 2001: A Space Odyssey or Contact. My wife was okay with it, but it could have waited for video for her.

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  10. SynCaine

    “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”

    Popular enough to be an eSport, since the core of eSports income right now isn’t tournaments and such, but pro’s making money from being famous and streaming. Tough to get 100k+ viewers for a title not played by a large audience consistently, while making $100k+ streaming 40 hours a week sure beats making $30k being on a team practicing 14hrs or more each day. (That whole aspect of eSports is actually really fascinating).

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  11. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – But is there a transition point where, after something is popular enough to be an esport, that merely being an esport starts to drive numbers as more eyes focus on the game? A company like Blizzard doesn’t get into esports for nickel and dime handouts from Intel and nVidia. So I suspect it is to drive overall sales and licensing and whatnot.

    Basically, I know esports is a driver, but I wonder if there is a study out there that breaks out the various aspects and potential revenue streams.

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  12. SynCaine

    I have a hard time seeing that. Say you have never played LoL; what are the odds of you watching an esport event of it, and then saying “that looks awesome, going to give that a shot”?

    First, watching a game you don’t play is, I imagine, very rare for eSports. I have a buddy who streams on Twitch where he plays random games the viewers haven’t played, but I think in the eSport world the people watching are already the people playing.

    I could see the overall buzz generated as drawing new people in, sorta like WoW drew in millions because millions of others were already playing, but how much of that is due to eSports vs LoL being played by 30m a month?

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  13. Lonegun

    Thank you for the honest write up. I am getting really annoyed at the sappy overly positive reviews about Blizzcon. Aren’t we supposed to be celebrating 10 years of a great game? Yet Blizzcon was all about other stuff while we are on the brink of the launch of the next expansion. Even the Azeroth choppers junk they pulled over the summer could have been spun as an anniversary event.

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  14. Talarian

    @SynCaine

    “First, watching a game you don’t play is, I imagine, very rare for eSports.”
    Why should that be the case? Millions of people watch football, and I bet the majority don’t play it, or perhaps even ever played it. Perhaps right now this IS the case, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the case.

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  15. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – “…but how much of that is due to eSports vs LoL being played by 30m a month?”

    That sort of begs the question, is it played by 30m a month because it is an esport, or is it an esport because it gets played by 30m a month? I don’t know the answer, I was just wondering if anybody had looked into it.

    @Talarian – I don’t know, the football example might not be the best choice. A majority of people who watch football never played it competitively, but as a society we in the US do tend to force the game on people. My daughter was complaining about having to play flag football in middle school PE and football is often a central focus in high school. I would say rather that people are unlikely to watch a game into which they have not been indoctrinated in some way.

    Of course, this falls down even more as, in the US, we’re probably more likely to watch League of Legends than professional soccer (aside from World Cup) despite the ubiquity of soccer as a kids sport here. They are called “soccer moms” for a reason.

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