BlizzCon: the Opening Ceremonies

The atmosphere is tense. The countdown begins. And one of the biggest shows in the gaming industry is about to begin! It’s BlizzCon 2016, and I’m here live…well…sorta…watching over the Internet, anyway.

Opening things off is an awesome shot of dice on gaming paper. “The journey began underground…” Since this is a big anniversary for Blizzard, looks like we’re opening with an obligatory origin story, but it’s honestly a really cool tribute to geekery. “Unleashing their imaginations…harnessing their nightmares.” It really speaks to the image that Blizzard projects, a harbor for geeky awesomeness, all gathered under one roof. So, with that setting the stage, let’s see what lies in store for all of the many franchises now gathered under the Blizzard banner. Who’s putting money down for the announcement of Lost Vikings 3?

Honestly, it’s pretty impressive, seeing all the games that Blizzard is showcasing in this brief clip, as well as the various fanworks (including the WoW South Park episode, Carbot animation, and Wronchi animation tributes). It’s a pretty big 25 years.

Opening Speeches

Mike Morhaime, president, steps up to open things. Echoing his opening lines from last year, he gives shoutouts to Blizzard’s current franchises–World of Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch. It’s a neat touch, even if it comes across a little cheesily. But, of course, that’s not the biggest reason we’re watching.

Right off the bat, Mike pulls up the other big anniversary everyone’s hyped for: the 20th anniversary of Diablo. A lot of folks have been incredibly stoked for this franchise; is Blizzard going to announce another game in the Diablo franchise? I guess we’ll find out!

Warcraft

Unsurprisingly, Warcraft is their first franchise brought up, and the Warcraft movie is first off in mention. We then get a smooth transition to talking about World of Warcraft: Legion, including its latest event–Return to Karazhan. There’s apparently an upcoming content release, but no real teaser here, except for…”It’s going to be an awesome 2017 for the Alliance…and for the Horde.” Oh, you tease.

Overwatch

Overwatch gets next billing, because it’s their flagship, the game they’re aiming to push into the spotlight, and it just released officially this year. And it’s had a big year! But wait, the stream starts…glitching out? Oh man, this is Sombra, isn’t it? And yep, there it is! This should be fun. (Sombra is a character that they’ve been teasing extensively through ARG stuff and other elaborate hinting.) She seems to be a hacker type, operating doors, shutting down security turrets, and guiding her team on their way to their target: either a politician or a CEO.

She looks like she’s working together with Reaper and Widowmaker, already-established villains in the Overwatch universe. So we’re getting another baddie! Oh, hang on! Is there something else going on? It’s a double-cross! Oh, not because she’s a hero. It’s because she’s a blackmailing opportunist. Brilliant! And pretty fitting for a character named Sombra: “shadow”.

“I’ll be in touch. Boop.”

Okay. This might be my favorite Overwatch character yet. Confident, cunning, ruthless, opportunistic…oh yeah. Delving into her gameplay, Mike talks about how Sombra is a sort of mastermind hero, influencing the map in subtle ways. That’s pretty sweet!

There’s also a new map coming, as well as an “Arcade”: a place for them to host weird game variants and other stuff, akin to the Starcraft II Arcade. Which is actually pretty cool, and pretty big stuff, even if it’s not hype enough to follow Sombra.

Starcraft

It doesn’t seem like there’s a ton to announce for Starcraft: a lot of recap, talking abouta new set of Nova missions (solo missions inspired by the axed game Starcraft: Ghost), and a new “co-op mode” commander, which is something they’ve been slowly rolling out.

But wait, there’s more! He’s talking about AI? He’s talking about the DeepMind AI…so what’s this about? They’ve brought up Oriol Vinyals, of the Google DeepMind team, to talk about whatever it is they’re talking about. He’s moved from his past playing Starcraft: Brood War to talking about DeepMind taking on the ancient board game Go. Is this what I think it is?

Huh, that’s pretty cool! Blizzard is going to release the Starcraft II AI API so that anyone can build AI that plays Starcraft II! It’s not big and flashy, but that’s really interesting! I know some folks will love the chance to try this out, and I hope this leads to other stuff.

Blizzard Esports

Mike takes a little bit of time, then, to highlight the various championships happening at BlizzCon for WoW Arena, Hearthstone, Starcraft II, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch. It’s a nice recap, and I don’t think we’re going to hear anything radically new. We do get a pretty sweet montage of all their Esports from 2016. Some of it looks more impressive than others (World of Warcraft: Arena isn’t quite as flashy as the others…), but it’s all pretty fun to see, enthusiasm and all.

Wait, there is an announcement, about Overwatch! It’s something called the “Overwatch League”, so essentially organized play for Overwatch. Unsurprising! But it sounds super-ambitious! Super ambitious! Like, they’re talking about team owners all across different cities, holding tryouts, having contracts, setting base salaries for players…like, wow. They just said that they’re going to essentially build an eSports profession from scratch. If they can pull it off, that’s incredibly impressive.

Heroes of the Storm

Okay! Here’s the one I’ve been waiting for, and Kaeo Milker, Production Director, is introducing us. First, he goes over everything that’s happened in the game…and honestly, it’s been a ton: Unranked mode, Starcraft maps, Brawl mode, Overwatch heroes, the MVP system…it’s been a busy year! But naturally, what I’m hyped for is about to come: what new characters are getting added?

Oh shoot! First off, it’s a new Brawl announcement! And it sounds really cool! It’s a defense map: one team is defending their core, the other team is trying to take down the core. Sounds neat!

But here we go! The hero announcements!!!

Looks like it’s Warcrafty, boys! And honestly…this is a super-poignant trailer. I don’t even play Warcraft, and I’m getting chills. Varian Wrynn it is! It’s a tale of lost glory and a fallen warrior. This is pretty epic, yo! Like, lava-and-fire battle against Ragnaros. LOVE IT! I wonder what his kit will be like? OH SHOOT RAGNAROS IS A HERO TOO.

So, Varian is a hybrid-class character, apparently. He can take talents that change how he plays dramatically. The game’s experimented with hybrid-ish characters before. Looks like he can either spec into a dual-wielding assassin or a sword-and-shield tank.

But let’s get to Ragnaros! Apparently he’s able to spread fiery destruction everywhere…and even take control of a fort on the map! OH YEAH. So he’s got a mini-form that walks around the map, inleashing fiery terror on everyone, and he can also become Giant Ragnaros by taking over a fort.

Oh, but what’s this? “Nexus Challenge?” Playing with rewards and…free heroes? I’ll have to hear about that. Apparently all you have to do is play a bunch of games with someone on your friends list in order to unlock a ton of heroes. 5 heroes! That, plus the free hero every player gets, plus the Recruit-a-Friend promotion, adds up to a great bunch of heroes to start the game with.

Hearthstone

Okay, time to hear about the new expansion! It’s Hamilton Chu, Executive Producer, ready to talk about the news! He’s talking about how stressful the latest adventures and expansions have been…and here we go! A vacation to Gadgetzan! Sounds nice and relaxing to me! It’s just a sleepy little outpost, definitely not a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Hamilton presents the context: in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, Gadgetzan turned into a port town, and now they’re reimagining it as a bustling port city! …and because it’s nestled away from prying eyes like the Alliance, a lot of unsavory types have taken root in Gadgetzan. Looks like this expansion is about the Gadgetzan underworld! OH DUDE. It’s a Roaring 20’s gangster take on it! “Mean Streets of Gadgetzan”!

He outlines the three crime families who run the city: the Grimy Goons (brutes and enforcers of Gadgetzan who run protection rackets), the Jade Lotus (a syndicate of pandaren monks/ninjas who act as spies and assassins with sneaky plans), and the Kabal. But even more importantly, this expansion is introducing cards that can be used in multiple character classes! That’s huge and exciting! I think that’s a fun way to mix character class cards. We’ll see how that effects the game.

But wait, there’s more!!! There’s an absolutely bonkers card that’s getting released: it lets you build your very own spell card! I’m officially excited to see this expansion launching, because it’s adding some super-hype card designs. I really like this a lot better than the expansions in the past. While I have issues with the game, it sounds like they’re doing some great wacky fun stuff.

Diablo

Okay, so what’ve they got here? It’s Blizzard’s Chief Development Officer Frank Pearce, upon the cusp of Diablo’s 20th anniversary. Is there something huge in store for this game? There are camera flashes going off everywhere right now, and for good reason! The hype is real!

Oh man! That’s super cool! They’re porting the original Diablo game into Diablo III, sorta. Or, rather, it’s a throwback expansion that retraces the steps of the … wait. Am I being messed with? He’s talking about artificially degrading the graphics, limiting character movement to 8 directions…and they’re saying to check out the panel for more.

He talks a bit about zones for Diablo III, and then…”one more thing”.

Here it comes…

It’s something about a character class that hasn’t been available in Diablo III…is this the Necromancer? Yes it is! A classic character class from Diablo II, a huge call back to one of the older games. So, not as big an announcement as it might have been. But still pretty cool for Diablo II players. Is there possibly more in store for the Diablo panel later? I guess we’ll have to find out…

Anyhow, I’m signing out now; it’s been a fun watch, and I can’t wait to see how all this plays out for Blizzard in the year to come!

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