I Attended My First BlizzCon

Here’s hoping Blizzard has learned from the mistakes of the past.

In past years the Blizzcon tickets would sell out too quickly, and even if I could get them, they were often prohibitively expensive for me. I would usually have to wait for a recap from Kotaku or Polygon to show up or resign myself to continually refreshing the Blizzard news site and Reddit for updates. Blizzard held an online version of its yearly celebration this past weekend due to BlizzCon being postponed last year. I watched a good chunk of it this weekend, and while it’s clear the usual ambition of the event was toned down, I enjoyed the different panels and talks.

The event came with several exciting announcements, most notably a new class announcement for Diablo IV, new Hearthstone content, and a surprise reveal of a Diablo II remaster. Started way back in 1991, a year before I was born, Blizzard is celebrating 30 years in business. It’s hard to think about Blizzard now without considering its different IPs and how they have progressed over three decades. Some are sequels, some are remasters, and others exist in different mediums but the same universe. Watching Blizzcon this past weekend made me think of how the players in the communities surrounding Blizzard’s games are different and similar. It also made me think about the company itself, how it’s changed over time, and why I am optimistic about its future.

Catering to both casuals and hardcore gamers.

How a company does this can play a significant factor in its success. It’s a dynamic that’s not unique to Blizzard, but is also something that Blizzard has had to contend with more in recent years. The veterans who have been with the company from the beginning love Blizzard for all the reasons that they hate mobile games. Blizzard intentionally only releases games when they are “ready.” Blizzard could easily go a few years without releasing anything new. Sequels to existing IP could have three or four years between releases easily, whereas dozens of new low-budget mobile games flood the landscape every month.

Another reason veterans love Blizzard are because of the enigmatic stories they tell and the raw emotions they evoke. We love Diablo II because of the utter hopelessness you feel at chasing down and destroying the biggest baddies in hell. At what cost? We love Warcraft because the stories are epic and emotional and cool, all wrapped into one. We love Starcraft because of the connection we feel not just to Raynor but to the Queen of Blades as well. Compare this to games like Activision’s Call of Duty or Candy Crush, where the perception is these games lack substance.

Overall, all of us remember Blizzard as a serious company that made serious, compelling games, a passionate group of gamers that weren’t afraid to go big and push boundaries, and an entity that had a set of values and stuck by them no matter what. Sadly, many of us believe that Blizzard is long gone, and in its place, a new Blizzard has taken its place. There are lots of points you can refer to in the company’s past as evidence of this “new” Blizzard: being bought by Activision, the release and runaway success of Hearthstone, the announcement of Diablo Immortal, the addition of Call of Duty to the Blizzard app and others. Overall, this new Blizzard represents a pivot that has many people up in arms. This new Blizzard embodies a collection of strategies and moves and decisions that some might argue the old Blizzard would’ve rejected soundly or even actively fought against.

I believe the old Blizzard still exists, and is even beginning to make a reemergence. You can see it in how they’re handling Diablo IV and the Diablo II remaster. The challenge is implementing that old ethos within a company that’s more modern, that’s bigger, that’s trying new things, and wants to bring its games to wider audiences. How Blizzard has attempted to marry these two parts of itself together in the past has not been without its challenges. If anything is true, the next thirty years will be defined on whether they can finally nail that balance.

A company that’s finding itself.

When Diablo IV was announced in 2019, one of the hallmarks that Blizzard touted for this game was portraying it as a return to darkness. With this new installment, they intentionally chose to invoke the original Diablo and Diablo II for inspiration instead of Diablo III, which was seen as too colorful and cartoony. Essentially, Diablo IV was billed as a return to the franchise’s roots.

In many ways, I think the company at large has been on that journey for several years now. In the wake of the Diablo IV announcement, I wrote a piece on how Blizzard hasn’t told a good story in awhile.

I still largely stand by that, though some may quibble with me based on the release of Shadowlands and certain lore-building aspects of Overwatch. That’s not to say they haven’t made great games and released powerful cinematics in the intervening years. I realize companies must evolve and adapt and change, but their storytelling muscle has waned. And if Diablo IV and the next 30 years of Blizzard are to be successful, figuring out how to get back to roots while being ambitious and innovative with how they monetize and deliver content is key. For me, all of this starts with a compelling story.

There are bright horizons ahead.

I’ve watched By Three They Come a dozen times or so. Not only is it an excellent cinematic in its own right, it represents everything people love about the franchise. It’s not just gruesome, but dark, eery, visually arresting. That final shot of Lilith still sticks with me almost two years later. I’m cautiously optimistic that Diablo IV will be a true return to form.

Additionally, Diablo Immortal will be an interesting test case for the melding of these two Blizzards. It was announced two years ago, and it still looks rather unlikely that it’ll be released this year. Three years for development and release of a mobile game by a major studio is certainly odd. Whole Assassin’s Creed games were made in a shorter timeframe than that. This could be a good sign, and potentially game-changing if Blizzard does this right. A mobile MMO that tells interesting stories, has fluid controls, and is fun to play a lot would be a remarkable achievement.

Also, the Diablo II remaster looks fantastic and all of the Hearthstone content looks cool too. I have a soft spot for TCGs, having played Magic: The Gathering extensively with my family growing up. Hearthstone is a game I always return too. Finally, Blizzard president, J. Allen Brack at the end of the welcome ceremony hinted at potential new IPs that are in the works at Blizzard, which I am stoked to learn more about. I think a new IP from Blizzard is way overdue and would be a great way to revitalize the company.

Blizzard, if you’re reading, you’re on the right track. Thanks for making my first BlizzCon enjoyable to watch, and that Diablo II remaster can’t come soon enough.

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