Wednesday, October 27, 2010

BlizzCon 2010: Recap and Impressions

After my week from hell, I was so happy to get away for a weekend and head down to Anaheim for this year’s Blizzcon. In case you live with earmuffs and blinders on, Blizzcon is an annual convention held by Blizzard Entertainment to celebrate their games and fans. Some of the biggest names in gaming are created by Blizzard, specifically their main three franchises, Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo.

Day Zero

I headed down there mid-afternoon to get myself settled in and ready for the next day. When I arrived at the Anaheim Hilton, I could already feel the excitement and passion in the air. Imagine a convention for your favorite sports team, where like-minded fans all come together to share their experiences, memories, meet new people, talk to players, and more. This is what its like for gamers attending Blizzcon. We get to meet other players of the games we enjoy, talk and share out experiences, try out the newest games being developed, ask questions to developers, and celebrate our love for gaming.After checking in and make my room my own, I made my way down to the badge pick-up line, I was surprised that it was shorter than last year, but I chock this up to the time of day. Badge pick-up started at 4 p.m. and I didn’t actually get in line until about 4:20 p.m.

After waiting in line for about 15 to 20 minutes, I was handed my lanyard with badge attached and goodie bag. I was glad to see we got a lanyard this year, last year a simple elastic string was slipped through the plastic of the badge holder, and this often led to the badge falling off. I had heard that one person had lost their badge after it fell off last year, and was not able to get back into the convention. Luckily, a good samaritan had found the badge and returned it to the owner. Anyways, I had brought my own lanyard from a previous year just in case the same type of elastic string was used this year, but I was glad I didn’t have to use it.

I took the goodie bag back to my hotel room and started digging. Since Blizzcon 2008, it seems like they’ve lessened the number of things you get in the goodie bag, and this year held true. The bag contained a mini-statuette Dethling, which really has great detail. It also came with an authenticator, which they give every year, and a free trial of Starcraft 2. The rest of the bag was advertising and a schedule/convention floor map. I was a little disappointed but in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter. I will say though, the Dethling is really great looking and looks nice among my other gamer paraphernalia.

After I finished unpacking the bag, I walked about a mile to Downtown Disney to enjoy some dinner at the ESPN Zone. I wanted to enjoy some of the Lakers pre-season game while I chomped down on a nice juicy burger. What I didn’t know was that almost every other sport besides basketball was having a game that night, which mean the place was packed. Not only was there a Lakers game, but a baseball play-off game, hockey, college football, and ESPN news. I was naïve enough to think I could try to find a seat at the bar, but after searching for nearly 30 minutes, I gave up and put my name down to wait for a table. Forty minutes later, I was relaxing with a mango lemonade, watching the Lakers game and enjoying a smoke house burger with barbeque sauce and delicious French fries.

After finishing up at the ESPN Zone, I walked back over to the Anabella Hotel to stop by the WoW Insider party. After mingling around for a bit, I was approached by a drunk patron asking me if I got glad. The first thought that popped in my head was, is this guy going to try sell me some sandwich bags? Turns out he meant Gladiator. I guess after a month of not playing World of Warcraft, some of the lingo had dropped off of me. As he walked off to pester another party-goer, I was reminded why I don’t drink or like to hang out with drunk people. A few minutes later, contests began and prizes were being given out, including MMO gaming mice, T-shirts, keyboard, and more. That was actually entertaining to watch for a while, as they were asking some lore questions that were honestly challenging. About 30 minutes later, they started going trading card giveaways, using starter decks they had tossed out to the crowd. Since I wasn’t lucky enough to snatch up a deck they threw out to the crowd, I took that as my sign to slip out. I headed back over to Downtown Disney to catch a late showing of the film Red, and then walked back to my hotel for the night.

Day One

Friday morning I woke up and after taking a shower and making myself look presentable, I headed down to the Hilton’s Starbucks to grab some breakfast. As I stood in line waiting for my double chocolate chip grande frappuccino and banana, I hyperbole wondered which line would be longer, this Starbucks line or the line to get into the convention.

The actual line seemed shorter this year, but this could be due to how they had us lining up. Instead of single file, they packed us in like sardines, standing shoulder to shoulder four-wide. After an hour and a half of what a claustrophobic man would consider eternity, the line started to move. I made my way into the convention and immediately made my way to the main stage, where the opening ceremonies would begin in roughly an hour.

The opening ceremonies is the grand welcome, where they thank everyone for coming, tell all they have to offer at the convention, and announce any big plans they have coming up. This year they announced the final class for Diablo 3, the Demon Hunter, and a new feature for Diablo 3, PvP Arena Battles. This basically means that you can take your character that you level up and gear out into three-on-three battles against other players. Think League of Legends or Heroes of Newerth but much more customizable and more hack ‘n slash. I was on the fence of whether I would buy Diablo 3 but this new feature has sold me and I can’t wait to dedicate some time to the game.

After the opening ceremonies, I spent sometime wandering around just seeing what they had this year. There was already a line around the block to play Diablo 3. They had four new Starcraft 2 mods: Left 2 Die, Blizzard DOTA, Starjeweled, and Aerie Chef. They also had a huge area where you could play the live beta of Cataclysm. While this was great, I think Blizzard overestimated how many people would want to play the beta at Blizzcon after having playing it since April. Suffice to say, you could get in line to play Cataclysm and you never had to wait longer than a few minutes. I headed back to the main stage to watch the Raids and Dungeons panel where they talked about how they redesigned classic dungeons to satisfy the philosophy of bite-sized chunks of content, and previewed some of the new things coming in the first major content patch. The Firelands raid where players will be facing off a full-strength Ragnaros and a new Abyssal Maw five-man dungeon were shown off.

I went back to the show floor and explored a bit more, checking out some of the cosplayers, and seeing all the vendors. I headed back to the main stage about an hour later to watch the live raid. They did this last year, where they had a top guild battle some very unique situations, including every single five man boss at the same time. This year it was a little more structured. Paragon battled four bosses at a time, but they were scaled up for challenge and taken from each era of World of Warcraft. They first battle four bosses from Molten Core, where each boss had about 20 million health. Then they battled four bosses from Blackwing Lair, which proved to be even more challenging. They then fought a couple new encounters from Cataclysm on top of one of the buildings in Origrimmar. After defeating said encounters, they were promptly barbequed by Deathwing’s fire breath as he flew over. It was a glorious ending.

After the live raid ended, people began to stream into the main hall for the night’s contest presentation. Jay Mohr was absolutely hilarious as he is every year. There always seems to be negative reaction to Jay Mohr taking the stage each year but if you are in that main hall, in that atmosphere, he was hilarious. I’m still amazed at some of the cosplayers this year. There was a great cosplay of Lady Deathwhisper, along with Spirit Healer, Twin Val’kyrs, and the winner who dressed up as a monk from Diablo 3. I ended the night with a New York slice of pizza, a grilled burger with swiss cheese and all the trimmings, and a diet Pepsi to enjoy. Tomorrow would be a glorious day two.

Day Two

The rush to get in the convention isn’t dire on Saturday, so I took me time and had a delicious breakfast at the Original Pancake House. A western omelette and three banana pancakes later, I headed back to the Hilton to pack up and check out. I strolled into the show floor at about 11:30 a.m., just in time to get a good seat for the Class Q&A panel. While the developers had some good things to say, the people asking questions were either asking obscure questions or being obnoxious to the developers (those being obnoxious were promptly booed). I stayed in the main hall for the upcoming open Q&A panel with an all-star developer cast for World of Warcraft; J. Allen Brack, Greg Street, Cory Stockton, Chris Robinson, Tom Chilton, and Alex Afrasiabi. Questions in this panel were pretty varied and covered everything from raid dynamics to art design. When the panel ended I had a good three hours to kill before closing ceremonies began, so I roamed around the show floor, exploring every nook and cranny it had to offer. I played Diablo 3 as a Wizard and I’m really looking forward to release so I can sit down and dedicate a good amount of time to it. I also had the pleasure of watching some of the World of Warcraft Arena Tournament matches. I knew beforehand that these type of arena players are at a skill level above and beyond most, but after seeing them play live, pro-gamer is such an appropriate term.

About 30 minutes before closing ceremonies began, I headed over to the main hall. I wasn’t too interested in the band playing, Tenacious D, but Blizzard tends to put on other performances besides just the headliner, so I wanted to see what they had. As I was just about to head into the main hall, I spotted Jack Black checking out the Orc & Wolf statue and talking to three Blizzard-sponsored cosplay models (a brunette, blonde, and redhead). After snapping a picture of Jack Black I entered the main hall where it was absolutely packed, standing room only. After COO Paul Sams had some closing words, Tenacious D took stage. I left the main hall and headed to one of the smaller stages where the feed from the main stage was being shown. I was actually a bit disappointed. I’m not a big fan of rock or heavy metal type music, but I figured that the comedy mixed in with the music should be enough to suffice. Instead, Tenacious D relied on costumes, props, and costumed characters to provide laughs, and not much of stand-up comedy.

The After-Party

As Blizzcon ended, I took a few last minute pictures headed to Downtown Disney for the unofficial Blizzcon after-party, The Raid Pre-Screening. The Raid is a film about raiding and what it means to be a raider, including the cultural, social, and psychological aspects. The House of Blues, where the event was being held, was a great location. It was small, intimate, and never felt over-crowded. A great number of prominent people in the video game and WoW community were present, including some from the Rawrcast Podcast, Gary Gannon from GameBreaker, Mike B from The BFF Report, Turpster from The Incredible Podcast, Lore from The Weekly Marmot on Tankspot, and more. As for the documentary itself, I really liked it. Though it was shorter than I would of liked, I agreed with the reasons why (the director wanted to make a film for those who didn’t play or understand World of Warcraft, and going into detail about raid encounters and mechanics would be off-putting for someone new). The production value was immensely high and it showed that a lot of time and care was taken with the project. After the event ended, Blizzcon had officially come to a close for me.


Overall, the entire weekend was so much fun, and I honestly excited for next year. I’ve heard a lot of people saying that attending Blizzcon is a waste. If your reasons for attending Blizzcon are for information purposes, then its better to not go, or watch the live-stream. Most websites have all the information collected a few minutes after each panel, so there is no need to attend. However, if you want to enjoy an atmosphere of like-minded gamers who enjoy the same thing as you, meet people who you’ve played with, and soak up the experience of attending cultural event, then Blizzcon is definitely the place to be. Some may be disappointed by the lack of announcements this year, and I can agree with their sentiments, but actually being there at the convention, that is not a top priority. As someone who has attending Blizzcon for three years in a row now, I can clearly say that years were big announcements are made are more fun, but that’s not to mean that years where announcements are absent that no fun is had. The day after the convention, you wake up wishing you were still there.

Check out more pictures and videos on my Photobucket account and Youtube channel.

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