The ultimate weekend for geeking out over games has come and gone. For the 12th year of Blizzard Entertainment’s epic BlizzCon, tens of thousands of people packed the Anaheim Convention Center to join the festivities centered around the 27-year-old Irvine company’s PC-based gaming products. On November 2nd and 3rd, fans basked in previews of upcoming gaming content, Q&A panels featuring game developers and voice actors, exclusive demos of new gaming content, cosplay displays and international gaming competitions. As we discovered first hand, there were far more people interested in attending BlizzCon 2018 than there were tickets available; however, for those who still wanted to get in on the action – or for those who wanted to experience the glory for less than the $199 ticket cost – the convention offered virtual tickets. As it turns out, the virtual ticket was probably the most convenient way to experience everything that BlizzCon had to offer.
Short of the obvious conveniences that the virtual ticket provided – such as not having to deal with parking, long lines or fighting for good seats to every activation of the convention – virtual ticket holders experienced a first-class presentation. The virtual convention experience began prior to any of BlizzCon’s scheduled events, with a newsroom-like line-up of commentators welcoming viewers to the virtual experience, cutaways to “field reporters” interacting with fans and warming up both the in-person and home-based viewers, and a clear indication that no expense had been spared to produce the first-class, multi-camera experience of the convention.
Each aspect of BlizzCon took place in a different exhibition hall within the convention center. Every one of the eight stages/arenas featured sleekly designed sets, which generally ranged in style from a standard game show set design to one that looked like the medieval Prancing Pony pub, from “The Fellowship of the Ring.” All of the events throughout the convention were represented on an interactive timeline schedule, which allowed viewers to navigate per their interest throughout the programming. The only exception to this was the opening ceremony.
The opening ceremony took place across several stages, which happened in turns. For those in actual attendance, the opening remarks taking place in other areas were broadcast on the projection screens of their respective stages. For virtual attendees, all opening presentations were edited together, and except for a sound issue, all presentations took place without a problem.
Many of the remarks of the opening ceremony, as well as much of the panel content throughout the convention, were geared toward dedicated gamers. For example, John Hight (executive producer, World of Warcraft) began his opening remarks with an esoteric battle cry, which was followed by an enthusiastic recollection of highlights of various Warcraft campaign moments. Jeffrey Kaplan (game director, Overwatch) revealed fan comments that he’d fielded, such as: “I really hope you’re planning to remove Moira from the game” [a comment that drew generous laughter from the crowd] before suggesting home viewers were in an enviable position since they had the immediate ability to log into their Blizzard accounts and download BlizzCon’s various demo content. Pete Stillwell (senior producer, World of Warcraft) began his presentation by testifying that Warcraft III had changed his life; he then went on to talk about how the game has made people think differently, forge new friendships, empowered creators to bring new visions to life, and has ultimately given rise to new gaming genres.
The anticipated announcements of the opening ceremony – which also included numerous beautifully animated trailers and promotional narratives – featured: Diablo: Immortala, a game app for use on mobile devices, a remastered version of Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, called Warcraft III: Reforged, a new Clint Eastwood-type Western hero, named Ashe, for Overwatch, an original Heroes of the Storm character, named Orphea, daughter of the Raven Lord (free for in-person and virtual attendees), an expansion pack for Hearthstone called Rastakhan’s Rumble, and other similarly Blizzard-branded drops.
Once the opening ceremony had concluded, virtual ticket holders could navigate through the various streams to experience everything the convention had to offer. In the event that viewers were late to one session – after viewing an overlapping scheduled program – they could scroll back to rewind the missed footage. Throughout the convention the panels featured different aspects of promotion for Blizzard’s varied product line. There was one panel that focused on Blizzard gear (past, present and future), one that centered on crafting the cinematic aspects of games, with emphasis on the voice actors, performances of animated characters, and technical aspects of generating CGI characters, and another very technical panel called “CodeCraft: Exploring Engineering” featured talks regarding the development and programming of game generator systems.
Naturally, there was also a non-competitive cosplay showcase. The event consisted of cosplayer/presenter Jackie Craft reading the names and characters of the participants, who would then walk across the stage – while Miss America-esque music played – and pause to offer an in-character pose before exiting the stage. The event was a bit awkward at times, as Craft seemed understandably miffed that the names she read off didn’t always correlate with the cosplayers. Additionally, the large stage necessitated that each cosplayer hustle across to keep the pace of the event, and with many of the cosplayers in bulky or dainty outfits, speed was an issue. Many of the cosplayers seemed stage shy – at least one didn’t even make it all the way across the stage. Apart from these issues, the costumes (and respective props) on display demonstrated brilliant craftsmanship and were marvels to behold.
The most palpable excitement of the convention had to be in the gaming competitions. The lead-up to these events included grandiose professional sports-like pomp and circumstance. Apart from the ubiquitous talking-heads style anchor commentary, the international teams and players were introduced in a manner commensurate with Super Bowl athletes. I even caught a sort of inspirational documentary about 20-year-old Finlandian Joona “Serral” Sotala, a Starcraft player (of the Zerg race), who revealed that gaming wasn’t everything in life and that he looks forward to going to college. As soon as the games had begun, the individuals and teams competed within their respective ornate stage environments, while announcers provided commentary. Depending upon the game, the commentary ranged from the mellow cadences of those announcing the virtual card games to the adrenaline-fueled enthusiasm of those announcing the combat games.
The numerous aspects of Blizzard Entertainment promotions and exhibitions were topped off with a dose of community-centered content and several musical acts. The acts included: Train, Lindsey Stirling and Kristian Nairn. For anyone well-versed in all or any of Blizzard’s various brands, BlizzCon must seem like paradise. It was not without some glitches, but overall, the sheer production of the event was mesmerizing even for a total outsider (such as myself). That said, the versatility and convenience enabled by the purchase of the $50 virtual ticket was a perfect introduction to this world, and unless future wannabe attendees want the freedom to wander and gaze as they see fit, the lower cost and freedom from logistical real-world traffic issues make the virtual experience seem particularly appealing.