It’s hard to believe that we’ve been coming to BlizzCon since 2005, but it’s true. The only event of its type, the team at Blizzard have kicked off BlizzCon 2013 with a lot of questions looming. Would they reveal the yet-unnamed Project Titan MMO? Would we see another expansion to the venerable World of Warcraft franchise that has dominated the MMO market, crushing any other products that launch in the same space? Would we see the next StarCraft expansion revealed? Would we get to play the just-announced expansion for Diablo III – Reaper of Souls? It’s time to start the show and find out.
The opening ceremony begins with a video from the Blizzard development team sharing how they feel about the BlizzCon. Each shares a deep connection with the community – the people that “live and breathe the worlds they build.” As over 22,000 players from over 60 countries converge on the Anaheim Convention Center, Mike Morhaime ,President and CEO of Blizzard Entertainment, takes the stage to open the show.
With 22 years of Blizzard to celebrate, the team has expanded to take over the entire convention center – more than double the size of their previous shows. This year we will see the results of the incredible battles between the American League, the Europe League, and the Korean League as the final 16 players converge to determine a winner in the StarCraft II World Championship Series. Fan favorites like “Soul” and “Hero” will fight it out in what is likely the largest eSport in the world.
It’s not all StarCraft this weekend – Diablo players are getting their first opportunity to play Diablo III: Reaper of Souls, the freshly-announced expansion that will be releasing on PlayStation 4 and PC. I’ve already seen many dismissive PC players suddenly converted to the small but fantastic UI and control adjustments that will allow four players to play couch cooperative Diablo. Blizzard is introducing the Crusader class to explore new and familiar areas like Westmarch, updating the loot system, and adding new in-game options aimed at raising replayability. We’ll have to go hands-on with the game later today and tomorrow to find out what those are.
The first of the new products being shown at BlizzCon this weekend is Heroes of the Storm. After an awesome and funny trailer (see below),Game Director of StarCraft II and Heroes of the Storm Dustin Browder takes the stage. Heroes will serve as an homage to all of the great characters, both hero and villain, that have starred in all of Blizzard’s fantastic products.
Starting off as just one map to show what the StarCraft II editor was capable of creating, the game has seen several iterations (and names) since its inception in 2010. All of the great fan and tester feedback has come together to create the product that will now be called Heroes of the Storm. Look for our hands-on with the alpha version of the game, but from the brief demonstration we saw, this is how tower defense style games should be done. It’s hard to believe that all of this was done with the editor that shipped with StarCraft II, but don’t take my word for it – Beta signups start today!
The next surprise Blizzard had in store wasn’t as much of a surprise as many of you have been eagerly playing the alpha. Rob Pardo, Chief Creative Officer of Blizzard, took the stage to talk about HearthStone: Heroes of Warcraft.
The collectable card battle game started as a bit of a secret experiment – could Blizzard still create incredible products with only a small team of developers? They got their answer when they released their first internal beta. They found employees and testers staying late and coming in early, logging in a combined 5000 hours of play over the course of three weeks! HearthStone represents several firsts for Blizzard – their first free to play title, their first tablet game, and the first game announced and released within the same year. The room practically shook when Pardo announced not only an iPhone but an Android version of the game would also be released at some point in the middle of next year. The game looks fantastic, and it looks as addictive as anything with the name “Blizzard” in the corner of the box, but don’t take my word for it – the open beta is slated to start next month – something even Pardo joked could mean January.
The World of Warcraft players get their slice of dessert last – a combination of additional details for the Warcraft movie as well as confirmation of the newest expansion to the World of Warcraft franchise. Duncan Jones, the Director for the movie, as well as Bill Westenhofer, Special Effects Supervisor, will be on-site tomorrow. Chris Metzen puts us all a little at ease with confirmation that Westenhofer did the effects for Life of Pi and The Golden Compass, but seals the deal stating that he has played the game since launch and has a Level 90 character himself.
The announcement of World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor takes us back to the beginning. Not to the beginning of the World of Warcraft franchise, but well beyond that. Reaching back to Orcs and Humans, Warlords of Draenor looks to tell the origin story of the conflict that has pitted Horde and Alliance against one another for so long.
It’s not just the storyline that is new – we’ll also get a graphical facelift with new character models, new PvP options, a new character level cap of 100, and a system to boost your character to 90 so you can play with your friends immediately.
As the crowd shouts “I love you!”, “Zerg rules”, and other factional chants, it’s clear that this may just be the biggest and best BlizzCon yet. I’ll be on-site with the team from Blizzard to go hands-on with all of these great games. Work, work, work….yes m’lord!