Massively Overthinking: The best and worst of BlizzCon 2019

    
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BlizzCon 2019 is behind us, finally, and we’re winding down our coverage and trying to put a capstone on the experience. In this week’s Massively Overthinking, we’re polling our writers and readers for their overall take on the event, on Blizzard, on its reveals, and on its handling of a crisis of its own design. What would you say was the very best and worst elements of this year’s BlizzCon?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I’m still catching up, but here are my initial reactions. The clean up crew did above average. We got the best apology I think we can hope to expect from a large corporation combined with retroactive actions that consistently align with what should have happened to anyone breaking the rules, even if I may not personally agree with them.

The emphasis on Diablo 4, Overwatch 2’s PvE plus a woman of color hero in that game made me feel like Blizz is listening to its fans, even when they’re unhappy. And they seemed happy. I went to the Overwatch brunch (more of a tea time imo) for the official cookbook, and people were generally pleased with the games news at least, and some with the Hong Kong news as they wore protest shirts.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Sure, the crowd wasn’t pumped at all, but I actually enjoyed the big reveals this year. I’m surprised to be interested in Overwatch 2, I’m super curious about whether Shadowlands might be my jam even after skipping the last two World of Warcraft expansions, and even though I’m rolling my eyes at Diablo 4’s sudden shift from macabre to sadistic, I’m still excited that they’re working on it because I am that weird person who both grew up in Diablo 2 but also loved D3. And as I said on the podcast, I’m also glad to see Blizzard take a visibly hands-off approach to dealing with pro-Hong Kong protesters at the event as well as the attempt to apologize for screwing up the Blitzchung incident.

Buuuuuuuut. The apology was vague and almost immediately undermined by a follow-up interview that I think demonstrates that Brack’s stewardship of Blizzard isn’t destined for glory. The WoW Q&A was also a total bomb – hardly any questions asked and way too much time wasted. I went back and looked at our coverage of the Q&As back to 2015, and 2019 was the wimpiest by far. What happened there, Blizz?

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX): They did the best they could handling the looming specter of recent incidents. I just focused on the announcements, and I’m happy Diablo 4 came out.

I’m the opposite from Tyler. I wasn’t really waiting for Diablo 4, but when I watched the trailer and watched some gameplay from some of my favorite Diablo content creators, I got really excited because it’s the direction I never thought they’d go. I was sassy about the reveal at first, saying, “It looks like Path of Exile.” But watching the gameplay revealed the distinct Blizzard polish, particularly in the animation department. As complex and well done Path of Exile is, the animations and character artwork were my dealbreakers. Going dark is exactly what they needed to differentiate from World of Warcraft, and now I’m really excited!

Here’s something I’m bummed about: They didn’t announce a Starcraft autobattler!

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I’m still very grumpy at Blizzard and Brack specifically, especially after his on-the-floor interview that proved the apology to be a mealy mouthed bit of lip service. Which is a shame, really, because PvE Overwatch is exactly the kind of thing I want out of Overwatch to begin with and I even liked a lot of what Shadowlands was offering to the point of considering making WoW a side piece to my main game of FFXIV. Unless there’s some drastic action on the part of Blizzard to stop pursuing Chinese interests and appeasement at the cost of human rights, though, my personal boycott remains.

I suppose if I had to force myself to find smiles in this year’s BlizzCon, it’d have to be an apparent focus on taking feedback to heart and making games around it, even if I think listening to the complaints about Diablo is going to ultimately serve Diablo 4 poorly. Also, a woman absolutely whupped ass in the Hearthstone Grandmasters for the first time in the game’s history, so that’s pretty awesome. Otherwise, I’m generally tepid on the whole matter.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): The worst part of BlizzCon this year was that there is still no MMO in which I can play a lady Protoss. This was the worst part of previous BlizzCons and likely of future ones as well. I’m going to go set a Blizzard t-shirt on fire while I’m wearing it, that’ll show them.

Oh, wait, you want actual answers. Well, I’ve already written about what a damp impact the convention itself was (I’ve written so many columns this week), so instead I’m just going to go piece-by-piece into the big titles and/or things that still have my eye:

Diablo IV: I didn’t care going in, I don’t care now, I am not the target market because I’ve never much cared for this franchise. I do think that the move to edgy gore and an army of bitey scratchus demons over any actual horror is kind of a downward shift, but I don’t really want to write up a whole dissertation here about what makes something actually scary instead of just gory, partly because I am tired and partly because that’d probably make a neat column anyhow. (Why do I make more work for myself? Why do I do this. Why am I this way. Why do I)

Warcraft III: Reforged: Could we get a sodding release date? Other than that, I’m on board. Some parts look a little more anemic; right now there’s some things talked up that don’t seem to be materializing in actual models or play, like having random reconfigurations of gender for the various hero units, but those are minor quibbles.

Overwatch 2: We Finished The Game, Please Buy It Again. Honestly, I can’t remember if I bought the first one or if it was a review copy or if it was reimbursed by working here, so the financial side of this doesn’t bother me as much as it otherwise would have, and the idea of an actual narrative plus what amounts to Mass Effect multiplayer with this game’s cast is… well, that’s more or less what I wanted to begin with! So I’m pretty happy with it.

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands: Well, it’s got stuff I’m hyped about, at least! Tomorrow I should talk about warning signs on the horizon. I have not yet prepurchased, I’m not really in a rush or anything. Mark me down as “cautiously optimistic, but the sour taste in my mouth doesn’t just go away.”

Fourth Thing: Bree got rid of most of my jokes about “fourth thing” when there was no fourth thing, but they live in my heart. Where my blood belongs.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): BlizzCon is always a spectacle of hype, information, and fandom, but to varying degrees from year to year. And despite having a few “big” things to reveal, this BlizzCon felt small to me, with a short keynote and somewhat underwhelming news. Blizzard didn’t do a good job properly explaining Overwatch 2 (probably because it’s still being made and is far out) and Diablo 4 wasn’t quite baked enough to be a headlining story (and is even further out, more like than not). While both of those have online multiplayer PvE elements, I’m not that interested in either.

Now as for WoW Shadowlands, it’s a puzzler. On one hand, it doesn’t seem as hype-worthy as past expansions, with tentpole features that either needed too much explanation or were too tepid. I definitely think that the story team needs to cut Sylvanas loose and stop using her as this bizarre central figure who keeps hogging all of the cinematics. On the other hand, if we’re going for more substance than hype here, Shadowlands looks to be surprisingly solid. It may not be the reinvention of sliced bread, but Blizz showed signs of actually understanding how Battle for Azeroth went off the rails and is trying to create a solid expansion that offers long-lasting fun and goals.

The one announcement that definitely got my attention was the news of the level squish and reshuffling of the leveling paths. I don’t see Blizzard as quite understanding why it got level bloat wrong over the years, but this may be an elegant solution that offers players choice and fuels their desire to raise up alts that each go on their own path — both prior to Shadowlands and in the new expansion with the four covenants.

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2 are a big deal for fans of those franchises, and I am happy for them. My nephew was especially excited about Overwatch.

I am glad they addressed recent controversies, although it sounded to me like something between an apology and a non-pology. It’s a lot better than letting it all hang out there without addressing it, though. It sounded like they’ve learned something and might even have someone on firefighting duty the next time a crisis pops up.

Tyler Edwards: Speaking as someone who was very angry with Blizzard but actively wanted to forgive it, I feel it’s done enough for me to rethink my boycott, though I’ll try to be more skeptical where Blizzard is concerned going forward. I still feel it’s not the same company they once were.

It’s not the apology that did it for me. That’s just words. What impressed me was how tolerant they were of people protesting at the convention. I fully expected anyone cosplaying as Winnie the Pooh or Hong Kong Mei to be “politely” asked to leave, but they were even letting people make pro-Hong Kong freedom messages during livestreamed Q&As. That demonstrates an actual commitment to free speech. It’s the bare minimum necessary to maintain some modicum of decency, but the bare minimum is by definition good enough.

As far as the announcements go, it was a mixed bag. As I said in my column this week, Diablo 4 was a complete dud for me. It went from my most anticipated Blizzard title to something I’m not sure I’ll play at all. Shadowlands looks cool, but I think it’s too little too late to get me back into WoW at this point. If they merged the factions and/or got rid of Pathfinder achievements, I’d probably come back, but as is it’s not enough.

Overwatch 2 impressed me. I think it’s fair to say this is what the game should have been all along, but better late than never. It’s something I’m excited to play. Also, eeee Canadian representation!

I’m also very happy they’ve backed off on retconning the story in Warcraft III: Reforged. That’s huge for me and puts the game back on my radar.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!

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rafael12104

Well, I think Blizzcon did its job. More this year than other years actually. It was certainly much better than last year’s.

The show eventually took the spotlight off the most current Blizz debacles and put it back on their games. And, while some won’t fall for the charade and hold firm in their criticisms and boycotts, most gamers will move on now with D4, Overwatch 2 in mind.

Surprising? No. Gamers have short memories. While I still hold fast to no Blizz on my HD, I know that if I get a D4 beta invite or an Overwatch 2 demo my heart will forgive my curiosity. And suddenly, the urgency of the debacles will fade away… and Blizz will be old Blizz again. Heh.

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David Blair

No love for the cinematics department and all the content they created?

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Ashfyn Ninegold

After the Blitzchung/HK debacle, BlizzCon was going to be FUBAR’d no matter what they did. So kudos to them for snatching a fig leaf out of the fire.

What I saw was a studio that got their collective butt handed to them at BlizzCon last year trying to make amends on all fronts. I’m not going to try to guess what made them so addle-brained to imagine Dimmortal was going to be a rousing success, but hopefully whatever twisted denizen of the corporate boardroom that came from got the poke in the eye it deserved. (And now with China putting even more restrictions on games, the whole sell-my-soul-for-China may be looking less and less like a winning strategy.) Whatever.

Something changed. Diablo 4’s devs promised a good solo experienced for D4, a complete reversal from D3’s “we’re a multiplayer game” mantra. WoW wants you to group not because they’re forcing you to, but because the content is enticing. If that’s not a complete backpedal from the game’s previous approach, I don’t know what is.

I saw a chastened studio, well aware that they stumbled badly on all fronts, wanting the crowds cheering, but recognizing they are not entitled to those cheers, and making some steps in the right direction.

My mother could illuminate every uncertainty, conflict or disappointment with an aphorism. For this, I’m sure she would have said: The proof is in the pudding.

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Rodrigo Dias Costa

Diablo 4’s devs promised a good solo experienced for D4, a complete reversal from D3’s “we’re a multiplayer game” mantra.

I agree with the overall sentiment on your comment, but on this specific part I beg to differ. They already said the always-online stays, and also now they’re making the campaign maps full of other online players after you complete them.

Yes, the instanced dungeons stays private as before, but it looks like the game is even more multiplayer-focused than before (even if they promise otherwise, we know how much promises are worth these days).

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Not disagreeing, but the key point is that solo play is not punished, as it is in D3, by fewer drops and substantially less XP. They’ve said several times that they will balance as much as possible solo and group play so that group play is not hyper-driven into the stratosphere as it is in D3. I actually stopped playing D3 because at a certain level you just have to be a complete masochist to play solo, your XP/gem/paragon gain is so slight you might not as well play. So I don’t.

If D4 fixes that, to me that’s a far more solo-friendly game.

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Utakata

…my hopes weren’t high to begin with. Then with the reveals and apologies, my expectations started to rise. But in the end, I was left with a bad taste in the mouth and pigtails, with lots of folks trying to excuse the indefensible. So /bleah.

HalLundy
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HalLundy

In the words of Jim Sterling, Blizzard had only one job this year: to give us an entertaining shitshow; and they robbed us of it.

I care nothing of any of their announcements. D4 raised my hype until i realised it will be more live service garbage that will probably have a cash shop, mandatory “player engagement” mechanics (i.e. you get shit in the game so you keep on grinding) and an always online, always public world.

They did a bunch of announcements of things that we will most likely not see for YEARS to come because bread and circus reasons.

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McGuffn

I too would like to play a lady Protoss, does she have a cute bow in her tentacles so you can tell the difference?

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MurderHobo

I think the best part was the behavior of most everyone who attended. They did us proud on multiple fronts. I saw nothing to draw me to any of their new titles, but Blizzard’s renewed interest in co-op PVE gameplay and scaling content gives me some hope for the genre.

I think it’s all too little, too late, which is the worst part. They needed to show some scratch now, and they’re still counting sunk costs and pushing a broad front strategy with many projects but no blockbusters to pay the bills. I saw fear and anxiety in those presenters that spoke more than their words. I have very little confidence they will actually deliver.