BlizzCon 2019: The Positive Power of Video Games

Trey Guillotine, Staff Writer

“The skies shattered and we are left staring across the veil between life and death,” says Ion Hazzicostas, Game Director on Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. Behind him is a large screen depicting two castles, almost mirror images of each other, one cast in blue light, the other in a bright red. In front of him is a sea of fans wearing “World of Warcraft” merchandise, some holding their phones up, recording Hazzicostas’ panel, others in costumes of their favorite characters, with the rest of the audience watching via live stream across the world, myself included. This is BlizzCon 2019, and Blizzard Entertainment’s annual convention and conference where they preview all of the new games that they will be releasing over the next year, held at the Anaheim Convention Center in California. This three day event 


Shortly before BlizzCon 2019, Blizzard Entertainment has found itself in a controversial situation when they quickly banned “Hearthstone” tournament competitor Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung after expressing his support for the protests in Hong Kong during a live stream. Their actions have generated backlash from the gaming community, casting a shadow as Blizzard prepared for BlizzCon 2019. “We didn’t live up to the high standards that we really set for ourselves…” begins President of Blizzard Entertainment, J. Allen Brack, standing on stage with no special effects, just him addressing Blizzard’s fans. “We aspire to bring the world together through epic entertainment, and I truly believe in the positive power of video games.” Brack seems to pause for a moment, hoping for some reaction, but is yet to receive one. He takes a breath, ready to continue, but is cut off by an uproar of applause. He smiles and takes a breath, a weight seemingly lifted from his shoulders. 


Blizzard’s dark, hellish R.P.G. “Diablo IV” was the first game to be announced with a new trailer. Tomb raiders are fleeing a swarm of monsters, breaking into a chamber and slamming the door behind them. They discover the treasure they search for is actually a gateway, and they become sacrifices to summon the Mother of their world, Sanctuary, into the mortal realm. What designs the demonic mother of creation has for the mortals of Sanctuary is unknown, but fans were given a glimpse at the characters they’ll be playing and the changes coming to the franchise. As of this reporting, Blizzard has announced only three classes; the Barbarian, the Druid, and the Wizard. “Diablo IV’s” biggest change seems to be in its diversion from a linear storyline and gameplay. “The world is how you engage with other players in “Diablo IV,” says Senior Game Producer Tiffany Wat, sharing the stage with her colleagues. Where past entries have been mostly single-player from one map to the next, this new chapter is opening up the world not only in the border but making it a shared multiplayer world. “You may be wondering ‘Why do I want to look for a group?’ As you’re exploring the open world, you’ll come across world events, and you may not want to fight these events alone.” While I’m a fan of the series and excited for the game, this gives the impression that “Diablo IV” will be more like “World of Warcraft,” or “World of Diablocraft.”


“Overwatch 2” was announced next, a sequel to their newer, but quickly popular series, “Overwatch.” The first-person P.V.P. (player versus player) game promises the same action-packed missions with fun and exciting heroes new and old. While I’ve been a fan of Blizzard’s games for a long time, “Overwatch” was never my style. I prefer games that are more story-centric over the jump-in quick play format that “Overwatch” takes on. However, I may now have to start getting into the game. “‘Overwatch 2’ will have a complete story experience featuring story missions,” says Jeff Kaplan, “Overwatch 2” Game Director, after a new, action packed trailer. This is a good move on Blizzard’s part to bring in fans of their more plot-driven content. 


Finally, the big reveal for BlizzCon 2019 was the next expansion of their popular M.M.O.R.P.G., “World of Warcraft: Shadowlands.” Following the unfortunately poor reception of the previous expansion “Battle for Azeroth,” and some fan anger over the game’s storyline being almost completely recycled from a previous expansion, “Mists of Pandaria,” Blizzard hopes “Shadowlands” can restore some faith and goodwill between them and their player base. While the new expansion doesn’t offer new races or classes as others have, they are introducing a number of character customizations that will allow players to make their hero look just as they imagined. “That’s YOUR avatar in the game. That’s YOUR connection into the world,” says Hazzikostas to a cheering crowd. This offers a new layer of diversity as human characters are receiving options such as different ethnicities, hairstyles and textures, and eye colors, making a stronger push for representation in video games. 


BlizzCon 2019 didn’t offer many breathtaking announcements but had its share of interesting features to look forward to over the next year. I can’t help but feel like the lack of excitement may indicate some troubled waters for Blizzard. However much I’m ready to play “Shadowlands” (I already pre-ordered it for the bonuses…), the expansion feels like it has less to offer than stronger expansion of the past. Even the base price of the game was only $40, much less than a new expansion would normally go for. This price drop could simply be an olive branch from Blizzard, or it could mean the company itself is struggling. Hopefully, the games seen at BlizzCon 2019 are successful enough to keep them going until BlizzCon 2020.