Massively Overthinking: Did BlizzCon do what it needed to do?

    
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Given the last couple of years, which have been inarguably rocky for both the company and its games, Blizzard needed a big win at last weekend’s BlizzCon, its first live show since Blitzchung, if you can believe that. Did it score one? That’s what we’re gathered here in Massively Overthinking this week to mull over. I’ve asked our team – and now our readers – to chime in on the overall effect of BlizzCon 2023, breaking it down by game. From your perspective watching at home or reading the results, what did you think of the event – is Blizzard back? Did it deliver what you – and the multiplayer gaming genre – needed to get you back into (or keep you playing) World of Warcraft, WoW Classic, Diablo IV, Overwatch 2, or Hearthstone? And what, specifically, do you think about the presentation of WoW’s “saga” and WoW Classic’s careful tiptoeing around “classic plus”? Gimmie your cold opinions and hot takes on everything BlizzCon!

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): BlizzCon turned my head but couldn’t hold my attention. World of Warcraft might as well be dead to me at this point, as none of my friends have the slightest interest in it, including my brother who had returned for Classic until even he and his friends left for the reason I’ve seen so many others leave: guild raid drama. I know having Metzen back makes some people hopeful, but WoW lore always felt like fanfiction to me, primarily because it never addressed why players came back from the dead while lore characters didn’t. Not to mention, I’d rather be an Uncle Owen than the shoe-horned-in hero the every game, including non-MMOs, seem to think I want to play. The concept of the next three expansions is theoretically interesting, but I’ll stay on the sidelines.

Speaking of heroes, Overwatch 2 did nothing to even tempt me to log in. The poor launch and failure to carry out the very reason the sequel left a bad taste in my mouth, especially after the recent Halloween skin controversy occurring at the same time Splatoon 3 – which did what it advertised it’d do without becoming unplayable – gave out some really cool masks. When a minor free bonus is holding my attention more than full skins, you know your game’s reputation with me is in tatters. Hearthstone is sadly largely in the same boat, not necessarily because it’s bad, but the mixture of Blizzard’s bad calls as a company and the base mechanic of gacha is getting to me.

Andy McAdams: The event itself went largely as I expected it to go, at the meta level. I really only paid attention to the WoW stuff, as OW2 had long ago lost my attention and Diablo IV is… well, a sulphuric, demonic dumpster fire as near as I can tell. None of the news that came out of BlizzCon really did anything to change my opinion there.

The WoW panels hit a lot of good notes for me, but I’m still cautious. What I enjoyed most was the self-awareness about how they’d been operating for however long. I got the impression that someone had let Ion “off his leash” in a good way. He was a lot more authentic than I ever seen him before. There was a lot of self-deprecation, acknowledgement that systems were full of jank. I appreciate the candor. Also, the acknowledgement that there are plenty of people who want more to do in WoW beyond raid and Mythic+. I don’t think it really solves the problems with itemization in WoW, but it makes it better. The account-wide/warband, lack of reliance of servers, and other quality of life things that acknowledge that I don’t want to grind rep out on every single one of my characters because reasons, while simultaneously acknowledging that locking leveling gear behind rep grinds was always out of sync for when you actually needed the gear. I’m pretty meh about dwarves as a race, so getting not-dwarf-dwarves is equally meh with me. I’m not mad about it; it’s just not a choice I would have made personally.

I was disappointed to not hear more about breaking down cross-faction pieces. Going back to the “dwarves aren’t really a race for me,” I really want to play a Shaman, and specifically a Vulpera Shaman as Alliance. Which I can! But not if I want to actually do anything with the rest of my guild which is less good. I’m also interested to hear about the next iteration of crafting, which wasn’t touched on at all.

Now, the Saga. I wasn’t expecting the announcement of three different expansions at once, but it is something new that no one has really done before, so it’s interesting from that perspective. I think there are a few assumptions I would make off of this: They’ve probably only sketched out the names and the rough story for two out of the three expansions, and not much else. If they were planning to deliver this one the same cadence, that’s six years of roadmap, which no one does, so I’m going to guess than the three expansions cover the next three to four years of WoW. And I’m expecting expansion content to be somewhat smaller, and deliver every 12-18 months. That schedule also means they have to developing content, systems, and overhauling architecture concurrently, not serially — i.e. they are going to be working on at least two out of the three expansions at once, if not all three. They won’t be focused entirely on one expansion at a time. All of that seems to jibe with the comments about parallel development and not wanting us still in the thick of this trilogy in 2030.

I expected the Blizzard devs to shake things up more with WoW now, and it seems like they did. I like pretty much everything I heard, and I’m hopeful that the WoW team can stick the landing.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I thought it was a decent BlizzCon. Not great, but not terrible. Not much drama, a forgivable level of cringe, and overall way better than that BlizzConline (ug), plus it was small and short, and I appreciate that it was frontloaded and didn’t waste our time with tons of panels all dragged out. I was even super annoyed by the lack of Q&A panels at first because I know it lets Blizzard dodge hard questions, but then I didn’t particularly want to sit through a couple of hours of pedantic questions and cagey answers, so I’m not even all that mad about that either. So there you go, a decent BlizzCon really.

Did Blizzard do what it needed to do? Eh, for some people, sure. For me, not fully. Blizzard didn’t address its behavior for the last several years. I wanted to see the company address it maturely in its first live show in four years. Was it ever going to do that? Probably not, but it’s one of two things I personally needed to see. Instead, we’re getting a bunch of weasel-words about how the games are all about the players and the players are bringing the games to life and all that. Do people believe this stuff, honestly, in 2023?

The other thing I wanted to see was a real commitment to fixing WoW’s underlying raid-or-die mentality, which is wildly out of sync with the rest of the MMORPG genre in 2023. I wanted to see a major philosophy shift, and we got a minor one, which is certainly better than nothing, but it’s not for the first time, so I’ll believe it when I see it and no sooner. Apart from that, I’m a little nervous about WoW going forward (there’s a lot of confusion over how many actual expansions we’re getting in the next six years, for example, and how big they’re going to be, and what happens after), and I rolled my eyes a little bit for Cata and Blizzard’s sly dance around Classic+, but whatever, that’s Blizzard. But overall, OK, let’s see it. And bonus points for promising three expansions ahead of time; that was brutally smart to convince people to have faith going forward. Even I now have confidence that the game will at least exist and be supported, whether how it’s done is to my taste or not.

And I will say that Metzen’s insane energy would’ve been worth the price of admission all by itself. My god that man carried the whole show on his back, and he carried it superbly. I could watch him pace a stage all day long. And yet when it was over, I just felt kinda sad. I would genuinely like to play Metzen’s wackadoo vision of WoW with my kids. But I wanted BlizzCon to be a clear beginning for Blizzard’s studio and design redemption arc, an inflection point to convince me crap like this and this (which was this year, not some distant past!) is really over under Microsoft. It’s just not there yet. But I’ve been playing MMOs for 26 years. I’ve been at this job for more than half that. I’m good at waiting to see. Patience is the only way forward.

Parting shot: Overwatch 2 concerned me so much at BlizzCon that I told my husband – who hasn’t touched it in two years because of *gestures at you know* – he should go play it while it still exists. And that was before OWL imploded yesterday. So, you know, compared to that, WoW’s fine. Great, even.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): Well, this BlizzCon certainly went better than anything else before it! Of course, considering how big of a mess some of the past BlizzCons were, the bar was pretty low. For me, that bar was just for Blizzard to get through in one piece, and it did! I don’t think many people felt that this BlizzCon blew anything out of the water, including yours truly, but I wasn’t really looking for that. I just wanted to see what’s coming up in the next year, and I’m happy with what’s coming up. I’m excited to hear more on Diablo IV’s Vessel of Hatred expansion, and I enjoyed having Warcraft Rumble coming out on the day of the announcement too.

Overall, I was happy with what I saw. The vibe this year was a good one too. I know folks on the internet, especially the big Diablo streamers, weren’t too impressed, but I honestly didn’t expect much news yet for D4 this year around. I’m also glad the folks at Blizzard didn’t overhype Warcraft Rumble. Shows they learned a thing or two from the Diablo Immortal debacle. But yeah! It’s fine.

Ybarra trying to pull a Yoshi P. and cry onstage was kinda cringe, but hey. Kudos on him for trying LOL.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I already have little to no emotional investment in anything out of Blizzard even before it was found that the studio is operated by absolute monsters, so nothing from BlizzCon was ever going to shift that bedrock. Consequently, most of my impressions of the show skew towards that negative bias: Overwatch 2 is beginning to look like the next Heroes of the Storm in terms of studio interest, Diablo IV continues to look like Diablo III At Home, and I couldn’t give one whit about Hearthstone, WoW Classic, or whatever this Worldsoul Saga is supposed to be. Ybarra’s crocodile tears and the D4 team comparing its expansion to a burger didn’t help to shift the idea that these some of the Blizzard bosses are corporate drones and not humans.

About the only thing that kind of got my interest was the Season of Discovery thing, which actually sounds like a neat start to the devs playing with the old WoW formula. I know a lot of us hate seasons and borrowed power ’round these parts, but the potential for making long-season weirdness to a foundational MMORPG sounds like quite a bit of fun. Assuming the devs are allowed to be creative, anyway.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): I’ve honestly got a whole column coming tomorrow about this particular BlizzCon (please look forward to it &c) but the short version is that it’s complicated. Did Blizzard nail most of its announcements? No, not really; the total lack of information on Diablo IV’s expansion and announcing that Classic would be launching a generally reviled expansion because that’s what happened next (as expected) didn’t land very well, and there was nothing to really salvage vis-a-vis Overwatch 2. A couple of announcements that did land all right doesn’t really make up for that.

Did Blizzard manage to kick itself in the throat? No, it avoided screwing up too badly, aside from the opening moments with Ybarra and Spencer; I’m particularly impressed that Ion Hazzikostas managed to actually do one of the best jobs he’s ever done as a live performer announcing features over the weekend. Did it justify the convention outlay? Well, that one’s going to have to wait for tomorrow, but the fundamentals do kind of spoil the answer here.
In summary, stop trying to make fetch happen again.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Between this week’s podcast and my personal blog, I feel like I’ve already spouted off enough on the topic, but because Bree is tapping her foot at me, I’ll try to address the specific question here. Is Blizzard back? I’m not sure — but that’s not a “no.” The studio’s been doing a lot right in 2023 in terms of development, between showing a willingness to experiment and adapt to the community with Classic and its dedication to providing and fulfilling an aggressive roadmap with Dragonflight.

The more I think on it, the more I really like what the studio’s doing for WoW as a whole. It’s being bold and casting a long-term vision for retail (including story and development) that was lacking in the past, and Season of Discovery could be the surprise sleeper rollout of 2023. I was heartened to see Chris Metzen back in charge of Warcraft, and his enthusiasm and the franchise’s current trajectory project confidence. And my current subscription shows that I am here for it.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I never was and still am not a huge Blizzard fan. Warcraft 3 being my last official game. Although a friend was kind of obsessed with Overwatch, so he bought me a copy to play with him on his birthday. Not too often you get a gift on someone else’s birthday, so we played that evening.

Anyways, I can’t say anything for me interested enough to want to play a Blizzard video game; however, the Diablo board game is very intriguing to me. It looks to be designed by the same outfit that made Frostpunk, which I’ve heard great things about. So I guess I’m interested in a Blizzard title for the first time in decades… only it’s not a video game.

Tyler Edwards (blog): I thought everything until the Worldsoul Saga announcement was pretty weak. Overwatch 2 not mentioning story at all, even in its retrospective, is worrying. Diablo IV’s expansion rehashing yet another environment we’ve already seen in past games reinforces my perception of the franchise’s creative bankruptcy. (They did say the class is new, I suppose, but perhaps hypocritically I’m not really interested in new classes until we get paladins, or an equivalent like crusaders. It doesn’t feel like a Diablo game to me if there’s no holy warrior class.) The Cataclysm Classic trailer gave me all kinds of nostalgia feels, but I still don’t think I’d actually play it. It does give me some hope for Pandaria Classic, which is the one classic server I’d actually be tempted to check out, just to be able to play my favourite incarnation of Warlocks again.

That Worldsoul Saga, though…

I’m going to be lazy and just link to the post I did about it on my blog, but the short version is I was very impressed. I have concerns about hero talents, and I have no strong feelings on playable Earthen, but everything else looks very positive, and Midnight in particular feels like an expansion calculated to appeal to me personally. It’s an incredibly uphill battle for WoW to win me back after I’ve been gone so long, but this is by far the most tempted I’ve been. If this had been the direction the game took after Legion, I never would have left.

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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