Our BlizzCon 2017 Highlights
Blizzard went all out this year. While on paper the content was more or less what we expected, the sheer grandeur of BlizzCon really blew me away. We got spoiled with some incredible cosplay: the best of which in the competition verged on actual witchcraft, with Hogger, Raynor, Velen and (my personal favourite) Zagara highest among the coven. The community night in general was pretty entertaining; combining raw talent, cringe factor, and a heartfelt fanaticism that is so identifiable. There were some shake-ups in the competitive scene as Europe cleaned house in the World of Warcraft Arena Championships, and European teams very nearly managed to knock esports deities South Korea from the top spot in Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm. Most importantly, though, were the announcements for each franchise in the coming year.
After the obligatory preamble, Blizzard President and CEO Mike Morhaime got immediately started with news that Starcraft 2 would go free to play. Oh, and people that already bought the core Wings of Liberty game get the Heart of the Swarm campaign for free. While on the one hand it means chumps like me who bought all three parts of SC2 not too long ago miss out on free stuff, but on the other it means there’ll be a whole influx of newer players – so, I won’t suck so hard online. Even the ever popular Co-op Commander mode is being updated. Previously every playable commander had to be purchased, now they are all free up to level 5. There are also new missions and a new 2-become-1 commander in Matt Horner and Mira Han. All this, plus the later announced second War Chest with all of its goodies and esports support, proves that Starcraft 2 keeps the crown as the go-to RTS.
Then the lights dimmed and the Mythic Stage main screen started to play one of Blizzard’s trademark cinematics. This time, it’s a duel between Alexstrasza the Life-Binder from Warcraft, and Hanzo the Noob-Slayer from Overwatch, revealing them as the next two Heroes of the Storm characters. Alexstrasza can turn into a MOTHERFUDGING DRAGON – doing so empowers her basic abilities, with which she can heal her team and burn her opponents. Hanzo looks just as ridiculous in HotS as he does in OW, too, as a highly mobile ranged assassin with his trademark Scatter Arrow looking to incite rage in Quick Match. Alongside this, we are told about a large gameplay update that’ll roll out next year, after a three week stint on the Public Test Realm. This will include some pretty radical updates to how matchmaking rankings are determined, and an exciting redesign of how stealth operates.
Next we are welcomed as weary travelers in a tavern. Or, more precisely, the Hearthstone Tournament Stage. Theming the presentation around a tabletop RPG session, Ben Brode endearingly gushes over what new stuff he and his team have in store for Hearthstone. The next expansion, which is the final set this year, is Kobolds & Catacombs. Ben dons the mantle of GM to lead the audience through a campaign that reveals some of the crazy cards in the Kobolds & Catacombs. The whole experience for this announcement is wonderfully bonkers, and a real stand-out moment here is when he gets the audience to chant “death” repeatedly with utter glee. But it’s the addition of the single-player roguelike Dungeon Run that really lures me towards this game, especially as it will be a free part of the core game.
Cut to the absolutely stunning Overwatch Arena and Jeff “Tigole Bitties” Kaplan. With a relaxed swagger, he tells us about Overwatch’s newest map, Blizzard World. This theme park features a sector dedicated to each Blizzard franchise, as well as some other Easter eggs, and a new hybrid assault-payload objective map. Along with Blizzard World, Overwatch characters will get Blizzard themed skins to celebrate the game’s successful integration to the great Blizzard pantheon. Following this, Jeff addresses Overwatch’s mighty need for more support heroes with the announcement of Moira, the game’s first Irish glam rock biotic witch. Looking like Tilda Swinton cosplaying as Bane, Moira seems like she can channel as much hurt as she can heals, as her great design and portrayal as a genetic scientist do well to subvert the “healers are always good guys” stereotype. Just as it seemed there was no more left to announce, Darin De Paul charges onto stage to introduce another short featuring his character, Reinhardt. Overall, Overwatch looks like it’s forever on the up and up.
The big news, of course, is all about what’s next from World of Warcraft, but the opening announcement is a shocker. After the drama surrounding the fan-curated legacy servers for WoW early last year, nobody expected for Blizzard to come out at BlizzCon to announce World of Warcraft: Classic, an official vanilla server. While Executive Producer J. Allen Brack does point out that it will take some time for it to go live, the gasps of delight from the crowd prove it to be a good decision in the long run.
The shock of this gets quickly surpassed when the opening cinematic to Battle for Azeroth plays. The clip from the next WoW expansion is nothing short of breathtaking, and chucks us right in the heat of a battle between the Horde and the Alliance. After building up for over a decade, the fourth major conflict between the factions is finally on its way, this time definitely “putting the ‘War’ back in ‘Warcraft’”. We get some gorgeous in-game panning shots of the two new continents of Kul-Tiras and Zandalar, each with six distinct zones and local flavours. Rumours of new playable races are sated with a glimpse at the 6 new additions, each with unique racial abilities and unlockable after recruiting allies of that race. On top of all that, the implementation of Warfronts looks to add a massive-scale RTS element to World of Warcraft. After several expansions of otherworldly universe ending threats, it’s good to see that Warcraft is going back to basics with the classic Alliance v. Horde.
In the lead-up to BlizzCon, there had been a slight fear over how delivering something new might not have worked out as planned, and Mike Morhaime even stated as such when opening the convention. But with big risks come big rewards, and the promise that the weekend’s content would be divied up between 9 stages, with stream coverage for each, paid off in a big way. It gave the opening ceremony a nice fluid pace, meaning that each successive announcement built up the hype from the last and just kept it going. Allowing each game to have its own ceremonious space also amplified the hype for what’s to come. All in all, the ceremony and the announced content far outclassed last year’s BlizzCon. I’d say I can’t wait to see what they do next year, but I think I’ll be a bit busy. Thanks for giving me so much to do in 2018, Blizz!