Wednesday, November 08, 2017

BlizzCon 2017 Review!

I think my brain has calmed down enough that I can provide a thoughtful review. Two days ago, the post would have been filled with "ZOMG It's Awesome!" over and over again. That's not compelling reading; though it does sum up the experience well.

The 11th running of BlizzCon opened up the doors to over 35,000 fans as they took over every square inch of the Anaheim Convention Center in California. The two-day event was one of the largest that the company has held, as they showcased their collection of games and announced new content for fans to expect in the upcoming year. I was one of those who did not get the first or second round of passes after camping them online, but was lucky enough to snag them on round three. Minus the bizarre flight home, this convention was easily one of the best I have attended.

The Breakdown:

BlizzCon began in 2005, but skipped some years (which is why this was number 11 and not 13). The event focuses on all things Blizzard, the developer behind World of Warcraft and Overwatch. You won't see outside vendors or other games here. Not even Destiny 2, which was recently added to Battle.net for PC users. This was 100% all about Blizzard games, and that was just fine by me! The content of Blizzard's games filled the halls of the convention center with ease. Other games and vendors would have dissolved some of the magic of the convention.

There were a few PC tech booths on the floor and 2-3 clothing vendors that focused on Blizzard-only items. But they also helped sponsor the event and provide equipment for demos. Their presence felt much more natural then an indie game. So if you're expecting anything outside of Blizzard here, you won't find it.

In The Know:

Repeat BlizzCon attendees definitely had a leg-up on the newbies with how the event runs. We took tips from veterans before planning out our schedule. All BlizzCon pass holders receive a virtual ticket as well to watch panels online. The best thing to do is to pick the panels you really want to see, and camp out an hour early if you want decent seats. You can watch the panels you're missing with the virtual ticket - and since Blizzard streams their own content on their platforms you don't have to worry about lag and delays from Twitch. We did this for while camping seats for Community Night and the Overwatch tournaments.

But also, pin trading is a big deal at BlizzCon. So big it makes PAX look like child's play. If you are a collector, you have to try out BlizzCon just to experience it. The space easily could have doubled in size and there still wouldn't be enough room for the pin traders.

Booze! Another thing in the know is that alcohol is served at the convention. While children are allowed in with a badge purchase, it is nice to have a more adult event where such things are encouraged.

Community Night is indeed the cosplay contest! Unfortunately the program description was missing on several panels so we had to ask around to find out the details. Community Night is more then just cosplay. Blizzard also hosts an art contest, movie contest, and a talent show. All of these culminate into Community Night. It's a lot of fun and worth the 2 hours to sit through, plus the hour to get a good seat.

Go with friends or make new ones to seat camp. Because seat camping is life. There are quite a few friendly people at BlizzCon, some of the friendliest I have met since PAX. But if you really wanted to sit in on that Muse concert to get into the pit, you need friends that will save your spot.

You will walk a ton. I'm glad I brought my 3DS with me both days to cull up loads of street passes. Got new countries and finished several puzzles!

The best day for merch is Thursday, or Day 0 as we say at anime conventions. The lines are longer, but we only spent an hour waiting by the time we were able to go through. At one point the line was capped because the systems were down! Yikes. But once everything was working again, it was a quick process. Buying everything on Thursday made it easier to enjoy the rest of the convention without having to lug around pounds of stuff. And we didn't miss out on the content we wanted to see.

Cosplayers and photographers: if you want nice photos stay outside at the fountain. Due to BlizzCon's very archaic photography rules, no DSLR's are allowed inside the venue. I even saw several point and shoots that were turned away at the door for looking "professional." So if you cosplay, stop at the fountain at the main entrance and get a few pics before you sequester yourself inside. Unfortunately we missed out on the cosplay gathering because of this (which also wasn't listed anywhere) but it was a good note to remember for next time.

Needs Improvement:

Their food and drink policy is about on par with most large convention centers, but you can bring in water as long as it's in a clear container. However, in some areas of the convention you can't have any drinks at all. Even if you purchased something IN the convention center, you better drink it fast because it may not be allowed to go to any other halls. This was beyond aggravating to have wasted money on a drink only to have to dump it a few minutes later. The biggest issue of this was at the registration/vendor room. It's listed as a no food or drink zone. However, once you enter there is a concession stand full of food and drinks for you to purchase. So much for that logic! BlizzCon (or the Anaheim Convention Center) needs to review that policy and have some leniency on it. If you're in the con center with a drink, it follows the rules or was purchased on site. Let people roam with it.

Program descriptions. In many situations, such as Community Night and Writer's Panels, the content was blank. It was difficult to know what the topic was covering where there were no panel details. If this was a mistake or an oversight, it's a fix for next year. But if this was intentional, it should be addressed. I, as a first time attendee, would have had no clue what Community Night was without asking around. The info should be on the schedule.

The antiquated photography policy needs to be updated for 2010. Not even 2017! So the rule states that no professional photo or video equipment is allowed inside the convention center unless you are media that has been approved by BlizzCon. No tripods. No monopods. No lighting equipment. The problem is, what the staff deem as "professional" has been standard for most consumers since 2010. No DSLR's. No mirrorless. Not even some point and shoots are allowed in if they seem "professional." This was beyond aggravating. I wanted nice pics to capture memories of the event and had to do it all from my phone with a sub par camera. Sorry phone. Love ya but your camera is only okay. The problem is, most consumers can buy a DSLR for $299 or less, the same price as a nice point and shoot. Walking around Downtown Disney and we saw nearly every couple, family, or group with a DSLR. The basic lens that came with the camera and that's it. They were not professional photographers. They only wanted nice photos of their time at Disney. The same can easily be said for BlizzCon attendees. The convention can keep the no tripods, monopods, and lights rules. But at least make it feasible for your fans to take in their cameras without hassle.

The Cool Stuff:

The arenas for the tournaments were some of the best I have seen. I thought QuakeCon had a good setup. BlizzCon blew it out of the water. Each hall was sectioned by games. World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, etc. The stages were decked out in the style of the games, along with cool artifacts to help make each one distinctive. The Hearthstone stage looked like a tavern straight from the game.

They also made sections of the convention center feel like you were involved in the games themselves. There was a Darkmoon Faire setup with facepainters, tarot card readings, and other fun games you can play in World of Warcraft. The Hearthsone room also had a live tavern that you could walk though, play with the dev's, and order food and drinks.

While the convention staff was less then desirable on their attitudes, the Blizzard team was fantastic. They were attentive and always helpful. When convention staff were trying to block me from going into the cosplay room for assistance (though I was in costume, but it does look a little casual if you were going demon hunting I guess?), one of the Blizzard staff members jumped in and helped me out. Many thanks to the gentleman holding down the room on Saturday mid-day. You made this cosplayer happy. Unfortunately the convention staff were very quick to say no and block people before they could ask their question. At least Blizzard staff made up for that rudeness.

Opening ceremonies was a blast! In all my years of convention-ing, I've never been to an opening where they put effort into making a statement. It's usually pretty dull. Guests are introduced, sometimes. Maybe they'll play a video with the convention rules, or put on some dull anime music while the owners rabble on about policies. BlizzCon turned this into an event giving everyone a preview of what to expect on the show floor. We got all our big announcements from it and we were able to playtest everything right there! It was full of everything fun that an opening should have.

And BlizzCon fans are really freekin' nice. It's easy to find someone to chat with while waiting in line, or see people trading off pins and patches they didn't want without asking for anything in return. Yes there are bad eggs in the bunch (some people had their patches stolen). But as a whole people were nice, helpful, and willing to lend a hand when we had questions.

Final Thoughts:

If you are a Blizzard fan, even if it's only for one or two games, this is an event you need to experience. This rivals PAX East as one of my favorite conventions. Blizzard took their time to craft an event for their fans, and it shows at every demo and every tournament stage. I am so ready to go back for another round. And maybe I can finally make a Warcraft costume!

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