BlizzCon 2017: Calm Before the Storm

BlizzGeek Christmas is here! While this year might not be as momentous as last year’s Blizzcon, which marked the 10th anniversary of the convention and the 25th anniversary of Blizzard as a company, it’s certainly looking like Blizzard are planning to deliver more than they’ve ever done before. With five esport finals, a hotly anticipated expansion announcement for World of Warcraft, contest announcements for other franchises, and panels for days, the amount of content BlizzCon has to get through this weekend is staggering. So, instead of cramming it all in to two days of streams (or in a convention centre, if you’re lucky,) we have been treated to a whole host of tidbits over the past month to prepare us for the main event.

Year in Review

Similar to previous years, each franchise gets its own “Year in Review” video. Each video presents the respective game’s milestones and some words from the developers about the progression since last year’s BlizzCon. It’s a great display of how Blizzard commit to their IPs and this time it’s no different; showcasing each team’s dedication to their franchise.

While every game has seen some drastic change in the past year, Heroes of the Storm stands head and shoulders above the rest. Aside from hero changes, map releases, and meta-changing patches, HotS also received a complete revamp in the Heroes 2.0 update. Released in late April, the update brought with it a new UI, an entirely new approach to personalise loadouts, and lootboxes full of gear that could all be unlocked by simply playing the game(!). New-kid-on-the-block Overwatch even got some representation in Heroes of the Storm, with 6 of its characters and 2 maps making their way to the cross-universe MOBA. All this proves that, in spite of its relative youth, Overwatch can rub shoulders with the established elite of the Blizzard universe.

As for Overwatch itself, the past year has seen payloads of support. With the addition of 3 new characters that were exceptionally well received, there has also been unique seasonal events, new maps, and some tweaks to support the ever expanding playerbase.

Then there is Diablo 3. Despite fan dissatisfaction towards the support for its 20th anniversary, it was clear that care for the old devil was still there with the release of the Necromancer Pack and a plethora of patches streamlining the UI, as well as introducing Challenge Rifts.

Hearthstone, as always, had a ton to talk about: the release of 3 expansions and their mechanics, discussion of the Fireside Gatherings Blizzard have supported, and even going as far to specifically mention the enormous Fireside Brawl against the Lich King at Gamescom. Even if you’re not a Hearthstone fan, it all sounds bloody awesome!

And last, but by no means least, there is World of Warcraft. WoW is all about Legion just now. This particular “Year in Review” focused largely on the regular patches and aims to conclude old story threads. They also paid lip service to the new PvP brawls and the general updating of PvP in general.

Staff Insights

Blizzard’s popularity most definitely stems from its ability to connect with their communities through each IP, ensuring that their developers and community leads are more than just a name. Employees regularly have their own personalities that shine through on forums and in the Q&A panels.

This is even more apparent through the short videos with key developers gushing over their favourite BlizzCon moments and their preferred way to experience the event. We are regaled with some touching origin stories that flesh out who they are, allowing us to build a connection with the men and women behind the games. We even get to see behind the scenes with event setup videos, and backstage footage from ESL Burbank studios. Blizzard also managed to sneak a cheeky wee recruitment video in there, as if you weren’t already salivating at the thought of working there.

Community and Esports

To show their appreciation of the fans, and encourage the enormous amount of effort those fans put in, Blizzard holds an annual cosplay competition. Time and time again, BlizzCon’s competition is a showcase of truly ingenious design and craftsmanship. For those that want to get into it themselves, the website hosts a few tutorials and vlogs ranging from casual new-starts to award-winning pros.

Alongside the cosplay community, there is also Blizzard’s expansive competitive scene. The biggest draw this year is definitely the various esports finals taking place. Each of the 5 games – WoW, Hearthstone, Starcraft II, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch – boasts its own stage to showcase the absolute highest levels of play in the world. Each of these competitions is a culmination of a year’s work and countless tournaments. Some of this can already be seen in the opening week matches hosted on the site. But not all of the competition is quite as heated, there are also exhibition matches lined up for Heroes of the Storm and the recently released Starcraft Remastered to look forward to.

The Main Event

All this content scheduled for just two days is a little overwhelming. Thankfully, though, it’s all being archived. So, there is no threat of missing out on 9 stages of entertainment and a live performance from Muse!

But what are we hoping for on stage? Well, Hearthstone continues to bulk up and grow with every year. So, it’s more than likely we will see Blizzard’s plans for the next few months, the final expansion for the current year, as well as some cards that might move over to this year’s Hall of Fame. Following hot on Hearthstone’s heels is Overwatch, from which we expect to see a new character and discussion on how Blizzard intends to continue supporting and growing the game as an esport. On top of that we are bound to see some updates for Starcraft II, and an announcement for the second War Chest. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be anything lining up for Diablo 3, but we’d happily be proven wrong with a little morsel of info at one of the panels to round off the 20th anniversary. Like, what about that “Unannounced Diablo Project”, eh?

That said, any other news could be left behind by the runaway announcement of the show: the next World of Warcraft expansion. Given her presence on the BlizzCon key-art this year, it’s speculated that Jaina Proudmoore will be heavily featured in the highly-awaited expansion and that the story would likely have something to do with water and the Old Gods. There are also rumblings about sub-races and accompanying story missions. There’s just so much to look forward to.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out. In the meantime, I have about 10,000 years of BlizzCon 2017 content to watch on the site. See you on the other side…

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