On May 4th, 2019, tickets for BlizzCon 2019 went on sale. This was not in and of itself a surprise, with the event happening on November 1st of that same year. It was four days later that the official Twitter account for the company announced that tickets had sold out, which also was not a surprise by any stretch of the imagination. These tickets always sold fairly quickly back then, after all. It was later in the same year when Blizzard stepped in it with the whole Blitzchung thing, but that was well after the tickets had sold out.
This year’s BlizzCon is the first fully in-person event since then because the company got hit by the one-two punch of the global viral pandemic and the revelation that no, the Blizzard you loved isn’t dead, it just never existed and the company was always a secret pile of awfulness. Indeed, even the online version of BlizzCon was canceled in 2022.
And at first, when tickets went up for sale in the early summer of 2023, it seemed like this was going to finally be back to business as usual for the event. This was perhaps a bit frustrating for industry watchers tasked with pointing out the company’s serious problems, but I have lived long enough to get used to the idea that being right doesn’t mean you necessarily win.
But then… the story got weird. Because the tickets aren’t sold out.
The first point of weirdness is that unexpectedly in September, we were told that there was going to be another round of BlizzCon ticket sales. Maybe nothing to panic over, as the company has done small-batch sales in past years. But then you take a look at what was actually happening with the initial set of ticket sales. Rather than being a case where there was a fixed batch of tickets being sold starting at specific times and then selling out, this looks like it was… sales being open for one day, then being closed.
It’s the sort of thing you do when you want to create the feeling of limited stock and something in high demand when it might not actually be in high demand. You manufacture scarcity. And it does not appear to have worked because tickets are still on sale.
When I first heard rumors about this, I kind of ignored them because I figured it wouldn’t be a long-term thing. But the current wave of tickets went up for sale on September 29th. It is (at the time of this writing) October 12th. They’re still up for sale.
But things get even worse because AXS – the center selling the tickets – also has a resale marketplace. And here’s where things get dire.
My apologies that the text there is a little small (and the image a little ugly), but this was a quick and dirty search for resale from the lowest possible amount ($150 per ticket) and you can see what the first results turned up. If I lower the prices to max out at $298 (one dollar below list price) there are 119 results rather than 322, but you don’t really need me to explain what’s going on here. A general admission price being resold is going for just a tiny bit more than 50% of the asking price.
That’s good news if you want to go, as you can get in for half of the expected value. It’s bad news if you bought some earlier tickets with the intent of reselling. And this is just the official resale site; I’m willing to bet that in shadier spots you can possibly find this discount potentially compounding because if the official resale portal is offering tons of tickets below face value, you are not going to be reselling at a profit. More likely, you’re reselling in the hopes of minimizing your losses.
I don’t need to explain to anyone that you don’t buy tickets to resell later in the hopes of minimizing losses, right? No? Good.
The point is that none of this bodes even remotely well for the convention. It’s hard to find exact attendance figures on any given BlizzCon; we have numbers, but it’s not totally clear if things like the stated 40,000 attendees for BlizzCon 2019 also counts online attendees. Considering that seating for most areas in the Anaheim Convention Center caps out around 7,500, we’d say that seems likely, but there’s no breakdown that I could find after a bit of research, and frankly it’s not worth litigating anyway because this is hardly the only game-specific convention this year, and most of them have not struggled.
Heck, most conventions in general have not been struggling. There are outliers that aren’t selling out, to be sure, but it’s hardly universal. While there are definitely people who are just no longer going to attend conventions because of a decided lack of safety precautions, a lot of those people are also people who weren’t going to go anyway. Like, I can certainly say that I don’t feel great about how BlizzCon is handling health and safety, but I also joke with Bree about how she could pay for my ticket, flight, hotel, meals, pre-orders for every game they show off, and rent for the month of November, and I still would not want to attend.
But at the same time, is it anywhere near a surprise?
BlizzCon 2019 happened in the wake of what appeared, at the time, to be a singularly bad decision on Blizzard’s part and in the midst of a bad expansion for World of Warcraft. In the time since then, we’ve had another bad expansion and one expansion that could basically be summed up by a blue hedgehog shrugging and saying that it’s better than nothing. Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV both launched, with the former being poorly received even before it became official that the stated reason for its existence had been surreptitiously excised quite some time ago, making it a bad change to a base game that diminished an audience rather than expanding it.
Meanwhile, the latter got some initial good buzz, but it quickly faded as Blizzard proved that its current leadership is just not very good at managing live games, and as all the faults in the game’s design proved obvious after a bit of play. It doesn’t have a long tail, and while initial sales were strong, it’s very clear that this was supposed to be a new title with a long tail and continued monetization. And that is… struggling.
Also, as alluded to above, Blizzard is a terrible studio. Regardless of game quality and regardless of the caliber of the individual workers, the shadow of sexual harassment, discrimination, abuse, and unionbusting hangs heavy over Activision-Blizzard The Company regardless of which megacorp owns it. A lot of people who genuinely care about this are faced with games that are increasingly not fun or designed against them and a studio they don’t want to support. There are a bunch of great games out right now, and it’s a hard sale to say “let me just fly out to Anaheim in the hopes that this flailing trash fire of a company can prop up enough personable developers and release promises to win me back.”
What really seems weird to me is looking back just a couple months ago, when Mike Ybarra was talking about how great BlizzCon will be this year. I speculated a bit on what might have prompted that… but looking at where we are now? Maybe he was just hoping that it would drive some ticket sales a month later. If so, it does not appear to have worked.