[This is a late article because my editor was jotting down notes at Blizzcon, but he also had to work there, so it took a while to compose all his thoughts]
Blizzard, despite all the controversy and constant fuckups over the past month, somehow did not cancel Blizzcon 2019 out of stress. They had already canceled the Overwatch Switch release party on October 14th, postponed a WoW 15th Anniversary in Taiwan, then went completely dark on the matter, doubling down on censoring any mentions of it. It had been a tense few weeks leading up to this moment, to put it lightly. Regardless, it happened, and wasn’t quite as much of a shitshow as I was hoping it’d be in both good and somewhat disappointing ways. We’ll be going over my beginning moments of the con, each of the Blizzcon announcements, my thoughts on them, any backstage info I could get my hands on and overall thoughts. Skip the next two long-ass paragraphs to get to the meaty part.
First off I immediately rushed over to the Hearthstone Tavern and took as many pictures as possible. Mind you, I was arriving via a work bus for those who had the 8:00 AM shift, so I’m arriving an hour before the con is even open to the public (my shift isn’t even till 2:00 PM). I start hanging out with an Artist Nook for Hearthstone artists, getting each one to sign my Tavern Master’s DoomHammer [essentially a Doomhammer prop that looks like it’s made of wood with golden outlines and a Hearthstone logo in the middle], and some were even impressed with it to be honest, I really don’t know how but I’ll take the compliments. The process of doing sketch commissions and how the art is made is always fascinating. Hearthstone, in my opinion, has the best art out of the entire Blizzard collection simply because of how many different styles are used to depict Warcraft characters (albeit that has since then been restrained to much more cartoony). After purchasing a few art proofs that are Hearthstone physical cards [I only spent money on the artists who need it, not on Blizzard products, Blizzard as a company is the last one I want to be supporting right now], I noticed a massive hoard of fans come running in with several security guards screeching “No running!” at them.
That was the time when I needed to sprint towards the front of the Hearthstone stage and sit at the front of the entire stage. And when I say front, I mean very front. To the point where I was about 2 arms length from where the HGS Trophy was, basically those lunch tables that are right in front of the stage. If you look at the Blizzcon Livestreams and Highlights, just look for the Doomhammer-lookin prop and the loser in the snapback and varsity jacket and you’ll find me. So I wait about an hour in awkward silence before some people start getting on the tables and, all of the sudden, Creative Director of Hearthstone, Ben Thompson, came up and started saying hi to the people at the table (apparently I had been sitting 2 seats away from the Executive Producer of Hearthstone this whole time). He then shakes my hand after noticed that I was the only person who he doesn’t recognize. Very friendly guy, drenched in old spice cologne (if I was gay I would’ve lost my mind), and he also got to sign my hammer. So anyways that’s now worth about $500 there. If anyone wants to buy it, go ahead and DM me ;). However, the part that is worthy of noting is, when asked what his favorite year was, Ben came out that “While it’s basic to say, I think this year is our best. Just- everything we’ve done and it’s gonna pay off in this next expansion.” which I thought was worthy of noting, because Hearthstone, according to those who leaked Overwatch 2, has been dropping players absurdly hard. Do I believe it? Welll… it did say that Diablo 4 was also a First Person Looter Shooter, not to mention that Hearthstone is still front and center stage along with Overwatch, WoW and Diablo without getting swept under the rug like StarCraft and HotS, so I can’t exactly believe that HS has had its worst year, even if there’s been an inevitable player dropoff.
So the Opening Ceremony immediately started, no countdown (at least not yet at this point). There, J. Allen Brack, President of Blizzard comes walking out with a depressed look. He starts mentioning the “difficult Hearthstone situation” which, to be honest, cast me under a spell. You see, he was being as vague as humanly possible so that anyone can use their imaginations to fill in the blank. For example, I personally thought he mentioned BlitzChung and Hong Kong (also helps with the fact I’m not great at paying attention whatsoever). However, Brack didn’t mention either of those, and I only noticed it until I saw the highlights. Regardless, I didn’t really clap because I saw the fake tears and LGBT Blizzard pin attached, it was clearly put on for the show and the spell immediately shattered for me. The audience started cheering and, well, I could only golf clap. If you watch the Blizzcon 2019 highlights, the apology isn’t even shown on there, they give that little of a fuck. However, with their actions throughout the con, they’ve definitely proven that they don’t want to censor on our soil. That’s a step forward, but needs testing at parts other than Blizzcon. We’ll get to that segment later, but I will say that Blizzard definitely wants to go back to their roots, but Activision’s cowardly and desperate need to appeal to the Chinese market is preventing them to.
That being said, immediately after the apology, Brack went for the countdown, and literally that 30 seconds after (well it skipped from 26 to 10 in a heartbeat so idk, you do the math), Diablo IV’s cinematic came steamrolling into the spotlight. Diablo IV is…. ok. It’s very pretty graphics-wise but the fact that it’ll be all online, no Switch release, three base classes and is set to have paid transmog makes this very worrying for me. Not to mention that the game was made specifically because Diablo III didn’t have enough microtransactions in it. However, this game isn’t even close to being done, so hopefully there will be some better and more clear news in the future. Next, Brack practically spedrun through HotS, Starcraft and Warcraft III announcements. It’s clear that ActiBlizz wants to throw these off the table and just have their large profitable franchises.
After that, Ian Hazzikostas announced the new expansion for World of Warcraft after droning on about it’s 15th anniversary for 5 minutes. I have to say, it’s a pretty huge twist of events. It was obvious it was going to be about Bolvar as the Lich King, fully corrupted, but instead Sylvanas takes the crown off of him, then breaks it apart and the fuckin’ sky starts exploding and an upside down tower right above Icecrown Citadel and then the WoW Shadowlands logo appears, it was absolutely bonkers and I loved every bit of it. Lorewise, it’s all ridiculous and poorly written, but it actually looks exciting and unpredictable, especially the new level squish, way of levelling alts and the new startup game is going to work, it’s all actually pretty exciting for WoW. However it seems pretty early on in development, so they’re just going through design philosophies instead of merit, so this something that we’ll just have to see.
The last, and most hilarious of the announcements, was Overwatch 2. Boy was it fucking dead on arrival. There were definite cheers and claps for the cinematic, but Jeff Kaplan yapping on about it made it clear that this was an expansion, not a sequel, and that it didn’t make sense to buy. When Jeff Kaplan said “All heroes, maps, and modes will be playable on both games, nothing gets left behind!” was met with literally no applause from the Hearthstone side, and very little from the Overwatch stage. At that point, Jeff Kaplan’s voice started cracking as he continued on. You know your product is fucking botched when Jeff fucking Kaplan of all people can’t properly advertise it for you. It’s a project that’s dead on arrival, but I will admit that I’m excited for the engine upgrades to Overwatch 1. Just don’t expect me to pay $60 for some Left 4 Dead clone with dogshit writing.
I playtested all of these except for Hearthstone Battlegrounds. Overwatch 2’s graphics, admittedly, look great. The gameplay feels smoother (but it’s probably due to the high grade PCs they have there), the new UI and the level’s writing are absolute garbage, though. Not a big fan of the new designs except for Reinhardt with his Helmet on. The designs don’t serve as good silhouettes at all and hardly fit the artstyle. According to Weezer’s leaks, it should be out by Early 2020, so we can finally get some good content here. Diablo IV’s test demo was pretty fun, albeit slower than Diablo III. But it’s graphics were once again beautiful to stare at, even if it was so violent and shamelessly gory (not that it’s a bad thing here at all). I don’t think the graphics or dark aesthetic makes up for the lack of content, but seeing how this is still in very early development, the future will probably not be nearly as bad as it may seem.
Day 2 was just me working so there wasn’t much worth notice at all except that the Glitch Mob did indeed play (not anywhere near where I was working) and two “Who?” bands were also playing at the closing ceremony. Overall, not a horrible con, though I would like to mention the Hong Kong part of it all:
Several Winnie the Poohs managed to get through security, though I never saw any Hong Kong Mei’s besides printed on Tshirts. The protests outside were a little noticeable but I was too busy trying to get in, so I didn’t pay too much attention, sadly. I did notice during a WoW panel that the same kid with the “Free HK” Tshirt that made the NBA cameraman freak out was also there yelling out Free Hong Kong. I did feel it was rude to interrupt the guy’s question and the overall atmosphere was pretty awkward, but it was cool that the MC had a Free Hong Kong Mei pin with him.
I also got to talk to a Hearthstone Caster. I won’t go around namedropping him because he is a personal friend and also a professional caster. He was with a guy that understood Mandarin so I learned a lot about the inner works of the Esports situations at hand: -Blizzard was fine with streamers mentioning Hong Kong on their own streams and such, but they really disliked people using their platform and streams to do so -The casters that interviewed Blitzchung were also in on it, even the cameramen (you could tell because they pushed loaded questions to bait the answers, and giggling when hiding behind the monitors). This doesn’t change a lot in terms of perspective because the rules weren’t well defined at all, even the clause they used didn’t make much sense to ban Blitzchung under, but there was a tad bit more clarity to why they suspended the casters and why they allowed many Pros to talk about it on their own streams. It, however, does not clarify why they doubled down on censorship for Blizzard accounts who named themselves anything to do with Hong Kong, nor the weak apologies.