I’ve always heard great things about BlizzCon and after participating in the virtual ticket last year we decided it was something we wanted to experience in person. The announcement of Overwatch, Blizzard’s first new IP in almost two decades, certainly contributed to the experience and I was blown away by the overall excitement witnessed through panels, contests, and of course e-sports. I wouldn’t consider myself a Blizzard mega-fan, but the influence many of their franchises have had in my gaming career is monumental. Diablo was one of my gateway titles into PC gaming and decades later you can often find me running through greater rifts with my wife, Misty. With tickets in hand, we patiently waited and prepared for our departing flight to Anaheim, California.
Article by: Adam “Lersar” Army
You’ve likely heard of the BlizzCon ticket “raffle” but for those who may not be aware, due to the limited space of the convention center (which I’ll touch on more later) not everyone receives an opportunity to purchase tickets. This year there were two windows in which ticket sales were sold through EventBrite, the third-party vendor used for purchasing tickets: one Wednesday evening and one in the early afternoon of the following Saturday. Once the designated time hits, the purchase button is enabled on the event page and you’re taken to a queue supposedly based on who clicked first. You are then given a handful of minutes (I want to say it was eight) to complete your transaction or you’re kicked from the line and someone else gets an opportunity. If all the tickets designated for that window are in progress of being purchased (this is an important distinction) you receive a “your princess is another castle” message and get kicked back to the event page.
That’s what happened to us. My friends and I happened to be playing a lot of Heroes of the Storm then and we were in a game when the window went live. I shamelessly alt-tabbed from the game a safe five minutes before and spammed F5 like the rest of the unintentional DDOS’ers around the world. We have a fairly good Internet package (the fastest our ISP provides currently) so I’m confident that I was in good standing when I hit the buy button. Yet I sat in limbo, cautiously returning back to game only long enough to avoid the game’s AFK detector. After a few minutes, I was kicked out of the ticket queue. We were disappointed but I read that I should keep trying in case someone couldn’t finish their transaction, and sure enough after a few more minutes the button turned back on and I actually got a check-out page. By the time everything loaded (again, assuming traffic load on EventBrite’s side) the clock was already counting down under six minutes! Luckily I had everything ready and managed to score a pair of tickets for us.
Once we were done celebrating, it became painfully obvious how far away November was. When we had first decided to try to go to BlizzCon, I had read guides for first-timers and one of the top suggestions was to book a hotel and flight as soon as possible. We booked a hotel that night but were forced to wait on the flight as most airlines didn’t schedule that far in advance. We’d eventually book a round-trip flight with Southwest, taking advantage of early check-in and their open boarding to help guarantee seats next to one another since it would be Misty’s first time flying. In a way it was nice to have so much time for planning and scheduling. Any convention, or really traveling in general, requires a lot of preparation to go smoothly. Over the next few months we would also book shuttles between hotels and airports, add an additional hotel stay for our departing flight (we had to be at the airport around 4:00 AM), and eventually create our own convention schedule of things we really wanted to see.
I was almost looking forward to the flight as much as I was actually getting to BlizzCon. Misty had made it clear very early in our relationship that she was afraid of heights, and flying by association. She swore that I would never get her to step foot on airplane, and it wasn’t until we walked off the jet bridge onto the plane that I was convinced she actually would. I also insisted she take the window seat on the terms that she could leave the shutter down until she was comfortable enough to look. Once we were up in the air, she mostly entertained herself from the view and snapping pictures. The flights went about as smoothly as one could hope, and before too long the captain was telling us the temperature in sunny Orange County.
Long before Blizzard released the schedule for BlizzCon we had decided on arriving the day before to give us plenty of time to prepare. This ended up working especially well when they announced that they would be opening the registration and store on that same day (I’m told this was the first year they had done it this way). We dropped our bags off at the hotel and set out for the convention center which was just a short walk up and across the street. Despite studying maps of the venue it was still a bit disorienting to judge where halls and entrances were based on the outside of the behemoth building. We were far from the first to arrive and simply followed the crowd to the sub level of the convention center. This was our first taste of the convention to come, albeit a relatively small one. The lighting was mostly provided by the fluorescent glow from the merchandise warehouse behind the registers and the gleam of flatscreens positioned on the concrete pillars and were cycling through trailers, product showcases, and other previews to help entertain those in line. The registration area was on the opposite side of the hall so we had the opportunity to check out the length of the line as well as several cabinets stocked with merchandise on display. Contrasting the neighboring store, the badge pickup was very well lit and moved extremely fast.
It wasn’t long before we found ourselves with badges, swag bags, and false expectation of how quickly the store line would move. Although the line didn’t look too long from the outside, we discovered that there were many turns and a few splits that managed to pack A LOT of people in. For whatever reason, I had imagined the store in more of the traditional format: items on shelves that you would pick out and take to a register. In reality (and much more practicality) customers were given a small catalog to review as they made their way through the line. Once they reached the register, the desired item codes were given to the cashier who sent them back to the makeshift warehouse that occupied the remainder of the hall. After a few minutes give or take depending on the size of your order you’d be presented with a tub of selected items. We finally made it to a cashier at around the four-hour mark and carried out our order. Unfortunately, before it was officially complete (we were a receipt-printing away from being done) a technical issue they had been fighting with on and off all morning reared its head again. This resulted in the 20+ terminals coming to a halt while things were rebooted and restarted. It was a little frustrating, but granted us a pretty cool opportunity to chat with members of the event staff, some actually from Blizzard. Close to five hours in all we left with shopping bags in hand and absolutely empty stomachs; the last meal we had were bagels from Starbucks before we boarded our first flight. We returned to our hotel room, ordered food and opened a few of our recently acquired spoils, and passed out.
Despite the obvious troubles of a multiple hour pilgrimage to the storefront, we had our first experience with the people of BlizzCon and it was awesome. Perhaps it was a mutual boredom but people were very talkative and friendly. We met several people as we navigated the maze to the front, some who were seasoned and some who were new, but everyone willing to answer any questions and wish us a good convention. It was also a great opportunity for StreetPasses. For those not familiar, this is a feature on a Nintendo 3DS that allows people to exchange information between systems just by being close to one another. That information is most commonly in the form of Mii characters which can participate in games such as a puzzle piece exchange. What we didn’t anticipate was how perfect the line would be for this: an organized crowd of people that’s constantly changing in a relatively small area. We spied several other faces illuminated with the glow of their 3DS, some in the Mii Plaza completing puzzle panels and some playing other games. Unfortunately, I killed my battery on the plane ride and was forced to watch my wife collect StreetPasses ten at a time from people all around the world. She made a point of showing me as we plugged our systems in for a charge before heading to bed.
We woke up early but well-rested Friday morning. I’m sure it was partly due to how early we dozed off the night before as well as our internal clocks still being three hours ahead, but we didn’t have to wait in line for the breakfast bar at our hotel. With a few hours to kill before the doors officially opened, we went back the room and prepared as best we could, reviewing our itinerary and trying to orient ourselves with the convention center based on the map obtained from the swag bag and what we saw after visiting the store. By a little after eight o’clock we just couldn’t wait any longer and decided to head out. It only took walking to the sidewalk outside of our hotel to confirm this was a good idea as there were already hordes of people heading to the convention. It’s pretty easy to spot a group of BlizzCon attendees when they’re armed with inflatable Protoss blades, or walking with Tyrael.
A wide, decorative brick walkway sprawls out from the front of the Anaheim Convention Center complete with fountains and benches. Food trucks would line this vertical park later in the day, but at around 8:30 AM on the opening day of BlizzCon it’s the line to get in, and I use the word line loosely. This wasn’t single-file but a very large group of people confined by the roads that border the walkway on either side. I don’t know how to accurately portray in words the amount of people and without some very tall photo equipment it’s impossible to capture on film. When we arrived we were of course the back of the line; it took only minutes before we couldn’t see the end of people that arrived behind us. This turned out to be another great opportunity to mingle. People overheard Misty and I talking about things like the size of the crowd or caught our questions such as when they usually open the doors. Once again I was blown away at the friendliness of people as they offered insights and opinions, or simply shared their experiences. I think people generally enjoy reminiscing about their first time at BlizzCon, a feeling I share even as I write this article.
Although we were restricted to just one hall for registration and shopping, we had been in the convention center the day before. Misty was especially worried about the ingress to the building since she’s pretty small compared to the average person. A dull roar erupted from the front of the line and quickly got louder as it spread through the crowd and we knew it had begun. We weren’t sure what to expect so we braced for anything. Sure, everyone had been polite and civil while they were forced to wait, but what would they be like when the only thing slowing them down was, well, other people? Again we were pleasantly surprised. There was excitement and urgency in the air as everyone, including us, were anxious to get in but there was no shoving, no mean words, no one trying to step on someone else to get in. Event staff greeted the mob, sending people to different hall doors since they all lead to the same convention floor. It was a matter of minutes before we were staring down a statue of Illidan with the booths, stages, and rows of computers barely visible in the haze behind him.
It’s at that point that our itinerary pretty much went out the window. Ultimately we’d use it as a reminder of things, but we were simply overwhelmed by the amount of things to just walk around and see. The doors opened at least an hour before the opening ceremony so we took the opportunity to get a lay of the land. We snapped a ton of pictures as we made a mental map of the convention center while others jumped straight into demo lines, the most experienced likely scoring an early spot in the Overwatch line. From that point forward I never saw it anything less than full. Misty and I ended up in the Darkmoon Faire, an area inspired by Diablo III and home to several activities such as the capsule toy depot and face painting. The Slaughtered Calf Inn sat in the corner, which was the designated Diablo III hub complete with demo area and pub-style tables in which the development team just sat down and chatted with attendees all event.
The pet adoption center was something Misty wanted to visit, a side-store with a wide variety of plushies for sale. After experiencing the store line the day before we thought we’d be smart to hit it early, and in fact it looked as though the line was short. We had already committed by the time we discovered the true line that was hidden behind the booth, twisting and turning and fairly full of others already. Thankfully we had plenty of time before the opening ceremony and even got to watch as others explored Greyhallow Island in the Diablo III demo area while we waited.
The opening ceremony was taking place on the main stage in Hall D on the other side of the convention center, and after we left one Treasure Goblin richer we made our way there. Unfortunately, the hall was already at maximum capacity due to fire regulations by the time we got there. Instead we settled with a simulcast in Hall A just outside of the Darkmoon Faire. Perhaps anticipating the supply of room versus demand, Blizzard coordinated for all the stages throughout the convention center to stream the ceremony at the same time. It wasn’t as good as seeing it live, but there were people not only in our stage seating but all throughout the convention center that made a single audience.The opening ceremony is like a giant appetizer of announcements and previews, while the panels that take place throughout the rest of the weekend are the meat that go in much greater detail.
There was a lot to announce. A new expansion, Legion, is coming soon to World of Warcraft along with the new Demon Hunter class. Illidan and Demon Hunters were a recurring theme for this BlizzCon, such as the event-unique Murkadin pin. The Warcraft movie trailer was also premiered during the opening ceremony as promised, unfortunately my dreams of a surprise Warcraft IV announcement went unfulfilled. The third installment of the Starcraft II trilogy, Legacy of the Void, would launch on the Tuesday following BlizzCon and the team announced the immediate future of the Starcraft story in the form of supplement mission packs. While rumors of a new expansion for Diablo III also fell through, the new patch 2.4.0 is coming soon introducing a TON of content, such as some much requested quality of life improvements, new areas, new monsters, and new zones. We got our first look at League of Explorers, the new expansion for Hearthstone featuring a quartet of adventurers accompanied with appropriately-themed cards. Heroes of the Storm continues to break the rules of traditional MOBAs with the announcement of Cho’gall, a single hero controlled by two players, as well as the announcement of Lunara and ultimately Tracer, the first from the Overwatch universe. Speaking of which, Overwatch’s roster was officially completed with the announcement of D.Va, Mei, and the much anticipated Genji as well as plans for the game’s release.
Damn near all of this was playable on the show floor, an activity that we had failed to schedule any time for and probably what interested me the most. We played it loose after the opening ceremony, hitting booths and panels we really wanted to see, standing in lines for demo areas, and taking a break to watch some e-sports every now and then. Every time we would pass the Overwatch demo area I would check the line, hoping to find it at just the right time. I wasn’t one of the lucky recipients of the beta invites that went out shortly before BlizzCon, so this would be my first chance to play it. I did manage to play Lunara in the new Arena mode for Heroes of the Storm, which is something I’m really looking forward to. My friends and I play quite a bit of ARAM (all random all mid) in League of Legends since it is typically more relaxed and faster than a full game, and Arena mode has that same feeling. I also fought alongside other Demon Hunters in the World of Warcraft demo area for as long as staff would allow, and failed to escape the collapsing temple in the Hearthstone demo.
Friday seemed especially packed with panels, so any other time we had was mostly spent at the various stages. Diablo III seemed to take a backseat to all the other excitement during the opening ceremony so we were looking forward to the “New Content and Features” panel. Eric “Cytog” Beavers, a longtime member of the LanOC community and fellow Diablo fan, met up with us there as well. Unlike us, Cytog has been to many past BlizzCon events and had been a wealth of information for any questions we had. Our appetite for Diablo news was well sated as the development team dove into details about Greyhallow Island, set dungeons, teasers of new items and monsters, plans for upcoming seasons, and some much appreciated UI improvements. We were a little disappointed that there was no expansion announced, but patch 2.4.0 seems to be about as close as you can get in terms of content without being one.
“What’s New in Overwatch” took place on the main stage before the contests later that evening, so we made sure to show up early to get a seat. Hall D, which housed the main stage this year, is huge: several sections of seating both deep and wide enough to warrant use of screens on pillars throughout the crowd, very similar to the setup in the store below but on a much larger scale. It felt somewhat reassuring that even if we had made it in for the opening ceremony we probably would’ve ended up watching it on a screen anyway. Wil Wheaton soon took the stage to host the contests and did a great job. His stories and jokes seemed more sincere than the average celebrity and there were even references that went over my head, usually pertaining to Star Wars or table-top gaming. I think my favorite part about the contests is the passion that inspires people to put such time and effort into art, performances, or cosplay to pay tribute to the games they love to play. For me, these undertones are exactly what makes BlizzCon such a great event.
We had a vague idea of what to expect the next day so we showed up a bit earlier to the convention center, earning us a slightly closer position in line. I had a plan to rush the Overwatch demo line in the back of my head which turned out to be completely unoriginal as it was once again full when we got there. There were a few panels we wanted to catch on Saturday but we had the free time to really sit down and watch some e-sports, which would be the championship finals across all games. Misty and I agreed on Hearthstone; it’s one of her favorite games and to be honest I’m happy watching just about any game competitively. I’ve played enough to know the different classes and some of the basic cards like Flamestrike and Polymorph, but most (especially the newer cards) I wouldn’t recognize or know the significance in terms of strategy. However, the casters did an excellent job explaining things and after a few matches I was able to follow along intelligently. We were rooting for Ostkaka by the time he took a close series against Thijs in the semi-finals but were torn when Hotform, a North American player from Canada, triumphed over Kno to make it to the finals. Ostkaka would sweep the series 3-0, but Hotform put up a hell of a fight each round. Being a game I don’t regularly play I was surprised by how much I enjoyed watching it, but it's easy to get swept into the energy of a live crowd.
In between a few other panels I managed to demo the new area in Diablo III, with the interesting problem of having too many set/legendary drops to know what to do with. They had obviously cranked the drop rate up to show off items and builds, but in this demo you were warned of a twenty-minute limit and reminded at certain intervals so I didn’t spend much time theorycrafting. We also stopped by the toy capsule depot, which as the name suggests were giant toy machines like you’d see in grocery stores lobbies. You buy tokens and it dispenses either one of several chibi-like characters or a capsule with a prize voucher inside. Misty managed to get such a voucher and we scored an Illidan vinyl that was exclusive to Comic-Con earlier that year! There was plenty to collect and pins were probably the most popular. We had been introduced to this craze earlier in the year at MLG’s joinDOTA event. In the other corner of the Darkmoon Faire was a pin trading station: essentially a cork board that attendees could swap in one pin for another. We had more success bartering with other people in line for it though, and one person was even nice enough to just give us a Hearthstone pin!
As the day began to wind down, we made our way over to the Voice Actor stage for “So You Think You Can Monster”, a contest so-to-speak where attendees auditioned for a chance to voice a monster. There was a panel made up of Blizzard staff and voice actors that judged and provided feedback, and they showcased their skills several times as examples or references. I had always assumed that most monster sounds were made in post-production with special effects and was in awe at their ability to transform their voice live into a microphone. We actually showed up to the stage a little early and caught the end of an interview with James Hong, the voice of Covetous Shen the Jeweler in Diablo III. You might also know him as the voice of Mr. Ping, Po’s father in Kung-Fu Panda or Chi-Fu from Mulan. It was an especially cool experience for me, a Seinfeld fan, as he recited lines from “The Chinese Restaurant” episode.
The closing ceremony was somewhat of a tear-jerker for me. I get that way any time I hear someone talk about gaming with such passion, especially when it’s something they created. But being a father, I could only think of my own eight-year-old as Chris Metzen recalled a story about a little boy asking why Winston was so enraged when his glasses were stepped on. It’s that type of innocence, pure curiosity and immersion that reminds us why we’re here. We watched a bit of Linkin Park perform again from a simulcast, but I had heard that the concert was actually a good time to visit things that had been too busy before... such as certain team-based first person shooter demo. Again I underestimated my naiveness as the line was longer than it had been before, in fact there was a line for the line that was enforced not by ropes but by event staff. It was then that I forfeited the idea of getting to play and we settled with exploring the rest of the convention for its final hours.
We exited at the same doors we came in the day before, passing Illidan one final time and taking a few minutes to look back and just consider the monstrosity we had just been a part of. It was hard to bring ourselves to leave and took me promising Misty that we’d try to get tickets again next year to get her to actually go. To our surprise, the food trucks were still there and we took the opportunity to grab a few burgers on our way back to the hotel. BlizzCon was technically over, but the breakfast bar the next morning was alive with the Horde and Alliance, vinyl figures and plushies in room windows, and swag bags just about everywhere you turned. We’d find ourselves among fellow attendees pretty much until we got in our ride back in Dayton as we travelled home which served as a reminder that gamers, not just Blizzard fans, are everywhere.