The games industry is unique in a number of ways. It’s certainly the youngest of the major entertainment forms and, arguably, it’s also the spriteliest. Native to computers and later to the Internet, games have thrived where the rotund film, music and television industries have recently been emaciated.
But games also have a unique relationship with their audience. The cost and complexity of games creates a barrier to entry that often makes them seem arcane to those who are merely passing curious. On the other hand, those with the requisite skill-set and interest to graduate to gamerdom are soon endowed with an emotional and financial attachment to their favourite titles and to the industry, which sees them more engaged and invested than they might be with other forms of entertainment.
The same can rarely be said of the one-night stands so many of us regularly carry out with film and TV: So it’s so super-awesome that you’re still here, Dame Judi Dench, but I have this thing on soon. There’s a bus timetable on the fridge and half a fare’s worth of change on the counter – by Thundera, if you’ve stretched out my original Atari tee...
Gamers want to know more about the games they play, and the games they might play in the future. The industry can reciprocate. If there’s a "Paramount-palooza" or "Random HouseCon", we sure as hell haven’t heard about it. There are, however, more games conventions showing off next year’s releases than you can shake a Wiimote at.
But none see the same level of fan frenzy and fanfare that comes with Blizzard Entertainment’s BlizzCon. Tickets sell out not within days or hours, but within minutes. In an industry where you’re only as good as your latest release, the creators and curators of the hallowed Warcraft, Diablo and StarCraft franchises have a track record that is possibly unmatched. And if fans frequently threaten the penning of irate ramblings to Mike Morhaime regarding the nerfing of Holy Paladins, or the colour palette in Tristram, or the Zerg Infestor buff, it’s only because they care that much about such minutiae.
Held each year in Anaheim, BlizzCon is every fan's chance to don their very best red shirt or homemade triple-XL Tier 1 Warlock costume, to queue for hours and have their questions – painstakingly considered, researched and rephrased – answered directly by the developers.
BlizzCon may be Question and Answer, but it’s also Show and Tell. Most everything the studio is working on is laid bare for the scrutiny, scolding and adulation of its passionate fans. Then there are the global eSport Grand Finals and Arena Invitationals wherein the best in the world come together to compete in person – New Zealand will be represented. It’s also a chance for the community to celebrate itself with cosplay and dancing contests, and this year, a concert by grunge alumni the Foo Fighters.
Gameplanet will be there, bringing you direct coverage of the news, videos and assets as they come, the on-stage marriage proposals and the broken limbs, the atmosphere as it unfolds, the interviews with developers, attendees and competitors, and previews of Blizzard’s future games.
What you can expect to see at BlizzCon 2011
We last checked in on StarCraft II’s first expansion, Heart of the Swarm, in June. Then we discovered an expansion that seeks to build a campaign from the lessons learned in Wings of Liberty. The mission hub is to be a Zerg Leviathan that lands on planets and has an interactive background, and Sarah Kerrigan is to be fleshed out as a true hero unit, with unique ability load-outs. Or at least, that’s what the ever-fickle Blizzard was considering at the time. At BlizzCon, expect to learn much more about the campaign, in addition to new multiplayer units being introduced for each race, and how they’ll impact on the game’s competitive component.
BlizzCon will also showcase Blizzard DOTA, a StarCraft II mod based on Defence of the Ancients – itself a highly successful fan mod of Blizzard’s Warcraft III.
StarCraft II’s biggest contribution to BlizzCon will surely be the competitive eSports, something Blizzard is going to great lengths to highlight this year. At BlizzCon, the GSL October Grand Finals and the Blizzard Worldwide Invitationals will be held.
The world’s best players will compete for a total prize pool of US$300,000. Keep an eye out for nGenJazBas, an Aucklander who has been invited to BlizzCon by Blizzard following his victories in the South-East Asia Battle.net Invitational.
With the Diablo III beta in full swing and lucky gamers from around the world already playing a small portion of the game, what Blizzard intends to reveal is somewhat uncertain. Will we learn more about the game’s proposed expansions? We wouldn’t rule it out. While we know all the classes that will come with the launch edition of the game, we know very little about the different corners of Sanctuary that players will visit. We had a first glimpse of the game’s PvP at BlizzCon last year, but things have since been quiet. It’s also possible Blizzard will take the opportunity to try and clear up any lingering doubts or concerns about the new online Auction House system.
World of Warcraft
Mark our words: there’s likely to be something very big around World of Warcraft at BlizzCon this year. We recently spoke with Scott Mercer, the game’s lead encounter designer, who suggested that the Deathwing raid will be the last significant content patch for the current expansion, Cataclysm. The shroud of silence hanging over the future of one of the world’s most popular games is sure to be lifted this weekend. Blizzard recently trademarked “Mists of Pandaria” – could this point to a new expansion featuring the ale-loving, zen Panda-alikes? Maybe. Or it could be something else. But if we were betting men – and this pocket full of stubs suggests we are – we’d say whatever Blizzard has to reveal for World of Warcraft will steal the show.
It all starts Saturday morning
Let’s not forget that Blizzard is also working on a mysterious new MMO, codenamed Project Titan. Will we hear anything about it? Perhaps a sneak peek at the closing ceremony to make up for last year’s woefully bad joke about “World of Jersey Shorecraft”? Probably not. Between the public’s first look at Heart of the Swarm, the largest eSports contingent the show has seen, the release of Diablo III early next year, and the strong possibility of something boxed for World of Warcraft, this year’s BlizzCon is already bursting at the seams.
Our coverage begins with the Opening Ceremony at 7:00AM Saturday morning, New Zealand time. We'll be live blogging the Opening Ceremony plus some of the major discussion panels throughout Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Check the schedule on our BlizzCon hub page, where you will also find all our other coverage from the event.
See you there!