Blizzcon is one of the biggest self-proclaimed nerd conventions in the world—a place where names like Yrel, Maraad, and Vol’jin mean something more than Tolkien-esque sneeze word nonsense, where orcs and humans live together in terse, uncomfortable harmony and shouts of “For the Alliance!” and “For the Horde!” are muffled only by screams of “For Azeroth!” It is a refuge for Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo players that allows best friends to meet face-to-face for the first time. And though I may not fully understand it, I can appreciate it. Blizzcon is one of the most touching experiences I have ever seen. Watching people from around the globe embrace each other with no regard for race, gender, nationality, disability, or financial background is truly moving.
That said, the convention can be cringy at times. Blizzcon is notorious for giving the internet plenty of moments to poke fun at. Websites like Reddit have been taking aim at the convention for years. From the South Park World of Warcraft cosplayer last year (who actually shaved his head) to the infamous Jay Mohr-led WoW dance-off video from 2011, there haven’t been a lot of bright public moments in Blizzcon’s history.
The dance video can be seen here:
This year was different. Blizzard pulled no punches for Warcraft’s 20th anniversary and World of Warcraft’s 10th anniversary. The result: a convention that was equal parts fun, professional, and touching. Here are four things Blizzard did right at Blizzcon 2014.
1. Mike Morhaime called out Gamergate.
Mike Morhaime gave a brilliant speech at the Blizzcon opening ceremony. It touched on everything from Warcraft anniversary celebrations to Ebola relief efforts. His statement on Gamergate, though, was one of the most memorable moments of the ceremony. It set the tone for the convention. Shortly after welcoming the audience, Morhaime said:
“Before I go on, I’d like to talk about something serious. There has been a small group of people doing awful things. They have been tarnishing our reputation as gamers. Blizzcon is an example about how positive and uplifting gaming can be. Let’s take a chance to make a stand against hate and harassment. Let’s redouble our efforts to be kind and respectable to one another.”
For those that don’t know, Gamergate is a gamer-led conspiracy group known for targeting and harassing female gamers, game developers, and journalists. The movement began in August after allegations that Zoey Quinn, an independent game developer, slept with a Kotaku journalist for positive game reviews. The internet (namely small group from 4chan and Reddit) quickly took action against Quinn, hacking her private pictures and personal information and posting it on the web. The hate quickly spread across the internet, and soon other personalities like feminist Youtuber Anita Sarkeesian and indie game developer Brianna Wu fell victim to attacks, forcing them to flee their homes. Since, the group has evolved into a misogynistic hate machine. Gamers and journalists across the web (including members of the MMOGames staff) have fallen victim to the group.
There is no room for hate or misogyny at Blizzcon–or any other convention, for that matter. Morhaime’s statement, though it does not specifically cite Gamergate, is both timely and appropriate. Blizzcon is founded on ideas of acceptance and community. It is a refuge where gamers can, for once, be themselves. Mohaime’s speech disenfranchised Gamergate. By not naming them, he took power from them. By focusing on the best parts of gaming, he negated the bad parts. It was a classy beginning to a professional, well-constructed weekend.
2. The Overwatch trailer looked beautiful.
When Chris Metzen, Senior Vice President of Story and Franchise Development, took the stage during the opening ceremony, the crowd exploded. “It has been, if my math serves me right, seventeen years since Blizzard opened up the door to a new adventure,” he said. He smiled and began to shake. He hesitated. “Holy crap,” he said. “This is happening.” The auditorium erupted. Chris paused, took a breath, and fixed his shirt. He smiled again. “The wait ends now,” he said. The lights dimmed and the crowd muted. On a big screen at the head of the auditorium, Blizzard introduced Overwatch, its first new intellectual property since Starcraft.
In case you haven’t seen it, check it out here:
Overwatch is a multiplayer team-based first-person shooter. In it, groups of heroes work together to defeat enemies and achieve goals. The game takes place in a stylized version of the future and features unique renditions of familiar locations, including England, Japan, and Egypt. (The maps of said locations are “King’s Row,” “Hanamura,” and the “Temple of Anubis,” respectively.) Each hero has a unique set of abilities, from flying to teleporting to turret building, and each character is divided into one of four classes (offense, defense, tank, and support). The game, although it resembles contemporary shooters like Team Fortress 2 and Borderlands, offers a fresh take on the FPS genre. And the announcement trailer looks incredible.
Arnold Tsang, the lead concept artist on Overwatch, has blended his unique graphic style with Blizzard’s bright, vibrant trademark. The result: a game that looks both fresh and familiar. The story (a vignette about two boys, brothers, fighting super powered mercenaries beside their heroes) is energizing, touching, and reminiscent of Pixar’s golden age. And the heroes are remarkable. From Moriarty, the super genius gorilla, to Tracer, the Australian time traveler, all of the characters are unique and memorable. The trailer is, in my opinion, one of the best short films of 2014. It was, by far, the most fulfilling moment of the convention.
3. The Looking for Group documentary was a heart-felt love letter to WoW fans.
On day two, Blizzard premiered its World of Warcraft documentary, Looking for Group. The documentary gives fans a unique look into the development of World of Warcraft and its expansions. The film’s greatest moment, though, had nothing to do with game development.
Near the twenty-minute mark, the movie pauses to reflect on the game’s fans. For a couple moments, we see a small sample of the millions changed by World of Warcraft. From a hospitalized woman that finds a new lease on life and a man that uses the game to cope with dyslexia to a man that found his wife online, Blizzard and its flagship game have touched an incomprehensible number of lives. It was a love letter to the community. It was truly touching.
4. Metallica rocked.
Metallica played one of their longest shows in years at the closing ceremony. The set lasted nearly one hundred minutes and featured a fifteen song set list that included staples like “Seek and Destroy,” “Master of Puppets,” “Fade to Black,” “Fuel,” and “Enter Sandman.” The performance was the biggest headliner ever at Blizzcon, and the fans loved it. It was a perfect final note for the convention.
Although Blizzcon may not have the best track record, this year set a new standard for the event. From its explosive opening to electrifying ending, it was, by far, the biggest event Blizzard has ever hosted. Next year will be hard to top.