The past few years have not been kind to Blizzard, to say the least. It’s not like the gaming gods decided that this company would suddenly fall on hard times, mind you, and many of the major problems at the World of Warcraft and Overwatch developer were due to many complaints being ignored. Even though there has also been a huge shift internally, in terms of fan reaction to Blizzard’s titles in 2023, it is safe to say that there is a lot of room for improvement.
Overwatch 2 is the worst rated game on Steam. Diablo IV suffered much negativity during its first season, and although WoW fans enjoyed Dragonflight, they were certainly hoping for much more than just the latest patch of the expansion as we approach 20 years of World of Warcraft. The stakes then were high at this year’s BlizzCon, to say the least. After years away, it was a time to acknowledge the past so it could push toward a better future.
As we sat in the Anaheim Convention Center Arena, anticipation hung thick in the air. The sheer excitement of fans being back after many years away was palpable, and even though this was my first BlizzCon, it was hard not to get caught up in the enthusiasm that old fans had.
The countdown ends. The show goes live. Mike Ybarra steps onto the stage, and aside from a few cries from attendees looking for a mini-viral moment, everyone remains silent. Another Starcraft? More news about this elusive survival IP? Those wishes were too far-fetched to even whisper, and proved to be true when none of these things appeared. But when Mr. Ybarra got emotional and thanked his staff for the hard work and turbulent years they’ve endured, it was clear that even if our wildest dreams weren’t answered during this show, we got something that felt like early.
The opening ceremony of BlizzCon 2023 was a great show, at least from the live arena. With the atmosphere, great videos and swelling music, it was hard not to go right out and buy the three World of Warcraft expansions coming up, a copy of Diablo IV and some Hearthstone card packs. So essentially, the show had worked. Despite all the baggage, for an hour it felt like Blizzard was back to full strength. Warcraft Rumble was launched, Overwatch 2’s new hero was playable all weekend, and as mentioned, World of Warcraft showed off no less than three new expansions and went into detail about the one we’re getting next year.
Beyond the sheer hype of the opening ceremony, Blizzard put a lot of effort into bringing the halls of the convention center to life. Walking around giant rooms around Diablo, Overwatch and Warcraft was a lot of fun, at least the first few times. The massive and intricate visuals, set decoration and more all create a sense of magic in the hallways, but aside from looking at all the pretty things, there’s not much to get stuck into. This is especially true if you’re not a big fan of lines. Queues at one point stretched across several halls and had to be cut off before spreading outside the convention center. What were people willing to wait hours for, you might ask? Well, for the most part it was to pay for extra goodies.
There were some cool freebies especially for fans of Diablo IV, but they were not unlimited, and things like the free tattoos were gone by the morning of the first day. However, for Warcraft fans, if you paid the hundreds of dollars for entry, you still needed a few hundred dollars to grab all the hugs, badges and pins on offer. Like I said, fans were still more than happy to stand in line for this stuff, but that’s all there really was. Lines for stuff. Not too many activities outside of photo-ops, and while all the halls were incredibly pleasing to the eye, the event felt pretty superficial. Again, it’s hard to criticize this sort of thing because it’s so subjective and fans were happy to wait, but maybe in future BlizzCons we can see even more ways to spend our time that don’t just result in more money coming out of our wallets.
Nevertheless, the aura was there at BlizzCon. It’s hard to capture it in text, but there was a sense that the studio had dusted itself off after the past few years and was firmly back on its feet. There are still problems with revenue generation, but in every group interview we attended, the developers consistently talked about listening to fans, taking their feedback and moving forward with it. The Blizzard of yesteryear may never return, because it’s hard to say if it ever really existed, or if fans just have a perception of it. Looking to the future, however, it looks like the studio is putting its best foot forward, but I remain cautious, because at any time, even the best foot forward could make a very wrong move.