Exhausted from a long day of pushing through crowds, rushing to panels and appointments, and standing in lines, I wearily dragged myself to the Knotty Barrel, a gastropub in San Diego known for its whiskey selection as much as for its impressive section of beers. That particular night, I wasn’t simply making the usual, exhausted post-con crawl to the nearest place to secure food, I was about to experience my first Fireside Gathering. Upon entering the pub, I was asked to declare my allegiance, would I represent the Alliance, or were my efforts for the Horde? Outfitted with an appropriately colored wrist band, (mine was For the Alliance blue) I found myself magically transported out of San Diego, and into a “Frostside Gathering” in a much more magical place on the outskirts of Booty Bay, as I like to imagine.
Despite the presence of the Lich King himself, the tavern was warm and welcoming, filled with smiling faces, plenty of drinks, as this particular gathering was a 21 and over affair, and filled with music from the World of Warcraft itself. Party goers were encouraged to take part in a variety of games and challenges which would score points for our chosen faction. This may have been a friendly gathering, where I talked WoW, Game of Thrones, and comic books with members of the Horde, but that didn’t mean we were going to pause our deep-rooted rivalry for even a moment. Almost everything you did at the Frostside Gathering scored points for your faction: Hearthstone and Tavern Brawl, playing cornhole, and even posting selfies with an Innkeeper or the Lich King to social media helped prove your allegiance earning points for your team.
One of the biggest challenges of the night was approaching the Lich King himself, a test which did not earn points for your team, but instead awarded another very coveted prize: free drinks! The Lich King’s head sat upon the Icecrown Glacier, a volcano-like, frigid mountain which was inlaid with colorful, lighted gems, each emblazoned with a symbol. Those who dared take on the the Frozen Throne had to find an Innkeeper and receive clues as to how to approach the Lich King. Knowledge seekers were given eight sets of words, containing phrases like “babbling brook,” which they had to memorize (or quickly write down) and translate into the runes on the glacier. Pressing the runes in the correct order would open the path to the Lich King, causing the glacier to spew steam and light eerily up, evoking cheers and cries of victory from onlookers.
While not everyone who attended the Frostside Gathering was well versed in Hearthstone or the World of Warcraft, Innkeepers rewarded those who were. Fans were called close at random points throughout the night, and those who were able to correctly answer trivia questions walked away with Hearthstone team shirts, World of Warcraft themed bottle openers, and even the coveted Fireside Gathering Cupcake pin, a special piece of memorabilia which is not sold anywhere, and is only given away at Fireside Gatherings. Deals were made under the table to swap loot, trading gear for drink tickets, and I overheard at least one individual (I assume they had to be part of the Horde) trying to bribe a Cupcake pin away from one lucky winner. Despite the ever-present sense of competition, everyone remained happy, friendly, and a good time was had by all… except for maybe the Lich King, who suffered many a defeat that evening.
Fireside Gatherings are becoming a major focus for the Hearthstone team, as Jason Chayes, production director for Hearthstone, explained in an interview the day before. That’s great news if you’re hoping to experience a Fireside Gathering yourself, because there’s likely one near you. You can learn more about Fireside Gathers on Battle.net, where you can also find a list of Fireside Gathering locations. If you want to start a Fireside Gathering of your own, fear not! Blizzard has a page full of resources and information to help you start your very own Tavern.
After several cups of ale, plenty of discussion around deck-building strategy, and several hours of merriment, I bid farewell to the Frostside Gathering with a foam recreation of Frostmourne, the Lich King’s runeblade tucked under my arm. While I’ve played Hearthstone with others, and talked strategy with friends, there was an entirely different feeling to this gathering. Getting to know strangers who shared a passion for the game, or at least the lore of the World of Warcraft, having someone explain a strategy in real time as they paged through the deck in front of me, and sharing old memories about our first attempts to raid the Icecrown Citadel brought a different feel to Hearthstone. I’ll be holding on to this very fond memory, and my new Fireside Friends card back will make sure I don’t forget it anytime soon.