Vague Patch Notes: BlizzCon’s cancellation might just be for the best


After a lot of time spent expecting this particular announcement, yesterday it was finally confirmed that there will be no BlizzCon 2020. This is a bummer to me, sort of. I mean, I really enjoy doing liveblogs of these things every year, I like to think our readers enjoy them too, and that’s always fun. It’s enough fun that it doesn’t exactly bother me how many parts of every convention land like a wet rag in the middle of an empty room.

That’s still disappointing, sure, but it’s a bit less so.

Of course, the reason cited for this cancellation was the fact that the ongoing pandemic makes conventions a dicey proposition, especially in California. But I think there are definitely… well, let’s say advantages to what wound up happening here and how this has influenced the convention schedule for the developers. Really, I don’t think this was ever going to be a good BlizzCon anyhow, and you can look at the history of the convention to see why.

So we all know that BlizzCon 2019 was an absolute mess and a half because… well, Hong Kong. It was always going to be a mess. But if you look at it from a content standpoint, it definitely did well. You had a new expansion for World of Warcraft, you had two new games (Diablo IV and Overwatch 2), you had whatever usually happens for Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, and everyone pretended StarCraft 2 never existed. Good times, great oldies.

It didn’t really make up for what the company had done like a month beforehand, but if you could overlook that part, it might have even been remembered warmly! Which was a sharp contrast to… the year before.

BlizzCon 2018 was the year of the still-infamous “you guys have phones, right?” in the wake of Diablo Immortal. That was the big centerpiece announcement of BlizzCon that year: a game no one present had wanted or was excited about. And it kind of serves as a reminder that having BlizzCon every year has long been sort of ridiculous.

The fact of the matter is that while Blizzard is not a small studio by any stretch of the imagination, it is also not a studio with something new to announce every single year. Sure, there are usually updates and new things coming out every year, but there’s a difference between a new game or expansion and a new update. If all you have is the latter, you’re going to be losing out to the former every time.

Collaborate and listen.

This doesn’t square well with having an annual convention that is very much set up as “where we announce new things.” It works well when the convention is about a specific game and a regular update cadence, it works well when the convention is held only on specific years, but when you have one every year whether or not you have new products? BlizzCon has been doing this for years, and it has frequently suffered for it.

So let’s think for a moment about this particular convention. HotS, Hearthstone, and SC2 are all pretty much going to have the same situation this year as they did last year because that’s how things always go. (I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to hear yet again about AI tech being used in some vague way in relation to SC2.) Shadowlands will have either just recently launched or still be a bit away from launching, and either way it’s probably going to be too early to hear even about the first major patch for the title.

What else is there? Well, the odds of getting a launch window for Overwatch 2 seem astronomically low; the thing isn’t even in early testing, and getting to testing after just one BlizzCon appearance alone would feel particularly fast. Diablo IV was supposedly further out than even that, and that surely isn’t getting more than maybe a playable demo. What else was going to be on the show floor, anyhow?

The answer, I suspect, is “not much.” (Aside from The Burning Crusade servers for Classic, that I’d believe.) We know how the cadence of these events goes, and there wasn’t much reason to expect any huge reveals here. But because this convention happens every year, the show must go on, and you almost wind up at a point where saying that you can’t do it on this particular year is something of a blessing in disguise.

Considering that the announcement also includes a note that maybe there will be a digital event in the beginning of 2021, that in and of itself implies to me that there’s not a whole lot urgent to be shared. That there are panels, of a sort, but a delay is actually a benefit rather than a drawback for the studio as a whole.

Again, this is not a shock. We know the cadence on these conventions, we can make a reasonable estimate about how much would be on display. And it kind of highlights the main problem that BlizzCon has in that it’s not really scheduled around anything beyond giving the converted a chance to be marketed to for another year.

This isn’t coinciding with the announcement of a new expansion, or a new game, or anything else. It’s not at a larger show that makes all these announcements stand out. Instead, it’s just a convention hyping up the fact that Blizzard has its own convention. This is one of the main reasons I asked if the con even has a future in its present form; it seems kind of debatable, now as much as then.

Another one of these, but the art is more boring.

Really, I’m far more heartbroken about the people who use these gatherings as, well, gatherings. Speaking for myself, the conventions I go to usually have their worth determined in no small part by the people I get to see there, people who I often only get to see in these contexts. For a lot of people, I imagine the primary benefit of BlizzCon is less about new things being sold and more about a place where you know all of your friends will be.

But that doesn’t mean the annual convention is a good idea from any sort of corporate standpoint; it just means that there is a notable drawback for people that has nothing to do with the content of the convention. It was likely to be thin at best, and filled with people annoyed at delays, lack of communication, poor balance issues, and basically anything related to Warcraft III: Reforged.

Looking at it from that perspective, I don’t know that this was so much a decision to cancel the convention as seeing a convenient reason not to have it in the first place.

Does this mean that there’s going to be a change in BlizzCon moving forward? I’d like to imagine so, but Blizzard does seem to have a long habit of avoiding learning lessons or changing its behavior, so that’s a dubious claim at best. For that matter, these are extraordinary circumstances, and there’s reasons to treat 2020’s schedule as something of a blip amidst everything else taking a mulligan for the year.

Yet I do think there’s a chance, at least, to re-examine whether or not the format of the convention is actually working all that well at this point. And while I’m not surprised to see the con skip a year… well, let’s hope that if it comes back next year, it does so with a fuller rack of reveals, so to speak.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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