Once upon a time I was an Idiot in Azeroth, now I'm an Idiot at Blizzcon. I'm in the belly of the beast, the heart of the swarm. This is the place where Blizzard fans congregate. This is their church and I'm confused and awed in equal measure...
The scale is simply ridiculous.
Sitting, waiting for the Blizzcon opening address to begin, it’s difficult to communicate just how many human beings are actually in this space. The number must be astronomical. The only metaphor I can concoct is ‘football stadium’. PAX Australia is like going to watch the Western Sydney Wanderers at Parramatta Stadium. Blizzcon is like going to the Nou Camp to watch El Classico.
And that’s absolutely no disrespect to PAX Australia. I’ve been to overseas conventions, attended E3 a ton of times and I’ve never really seen anything like this. This space I am currently sitting in, the space where all Blizzcon’s panels take place, is utterly humungous. There are so many people here. So many. I asked a local Blizzard employee how many seats are here. He’s not sure. Five minutes later he comes back with an answer.
Holy lord Jesus Christ on a goddamn bike.
When I arrived, 90 minutes before the opening address, seating was almost full. As I walked towards the seating area people were running towards the remaining seats. Not walking at a brisk pace – running. Sprinting even.
I was not expecting this. But that makes sense. I am, after all, an Idiot at Blizzcon.
What strikes me is the raw enthusiasm. It seems redundant to describe any crowd atmosphere as ‘electric’ but there is a tangible buzz in the air. People are expecting some sort of announcement and the chatter is focused on that.
Some people are expecting Warcraft IV; but dozens of theories are doing the rounds. I’m sitting next to Australian YouTuber Ziggy D who is convinced Blizzard is working on a first person shooter. Bold prediction Ziggy. A bold prediction that will later turn out to be correct.
At this precise moment in time, all we can do is wait. The show kicks off in 40 minutes. This place is pretty much full. I’m looking forward to that roar of approval when Blizzard actually does announce something. I don’t know why. At E3 I listen to other journalists whooping and hollering and think of it as mildly embarrassing, but this is a fan convention. This is something different altogether. These people are entitled to their glee and I can’t help but get swept up in it.
Blizzcon is insane. Like I mentioned before. The scale. It is ridiculous.
“Not only are you among friends, you are among family.”
I used the sports stadium analogy before and I think there’s life in it. The crowd is comparable and the roar of the crowd is absolutely comparable. Even before Blizzard CEO Michael Morhaime walks onstage to wild roars of approval, people are losing their minds. All it takes is the mere mention or visual suggestion of Starcraft II, World of Warcraft or any other Blizzard game you care to name.
But when Morhaime finally does walk out? The noise is so dense I can feel my internal organs shake. This is unlike any video game convention I’ve ever attended. 15,000 people are bursting their lungs in this moment, losing their minds collectively.
Yet Blizzcon, and this opening address in particular, also feels sermon like. I feel as though I’m at church, a mega-church to be more specific. I consider myself agnostic, but regularly attend church with my wife to keep her company. That feeling I often get during inspiring sermons -- where I forget myself and get swept away with the momentum and the poetry and the enthusiasm of the people surrounding me -- that is Blizzcon. In no way, shape or form do I consider myself a fan of Blizzard. I spent a month playing World of Warcraft, that’s it. I might have played a couple of races in Rock N’ Roll Racing. That is it.
And don’t get me wrong: I don’t dislike Blizzard, but there is literally no explanation for the voodoo curse being cast upon me. I’m getting excited for the announcement that The Lost Vikings are in Heroes of the Storm despite the fact that I’ve:
a) Never played Heroes of the Storm and don’t really intend to. b) Have actually never played a MOBA. c) Didn’t even play The Lost Vikings on the SNES!
I mean, seriously. This makes no fucking sense.
“This community is everything,” says Chris Metzen. “Look around this room. It’s amazing to be part of this thing.”
If Blizzard is a religion -- if Blizzcon is a church -- then Chris Metzen is its Billy Graham. Chris Metzen is the pastor who’ll have you speaking in tongues. Chris is a Senior Vice President at Blizzard but is also in charge of Story and Franchise Development.
He is an incredible speaker. During the pivotal moment of this opening address he pauses.
“I want you all, as I freak out, to relax. I want you to open your hearts and minds to what comes next.”
He sounds like a hypnotist. His words are the words of a hypnotist and this crowd is hypnotised. On a certain level, I am too. Despite having no investment in this company or the video games it makes, I am on the edge of my seat. If Metzen asked me to bark like a dog I probably would.
Metzen, of course, shows off the demo for Overwatch, making a prophet of the afore-mentioned YouTuber Ziggy D. The game looks great. At one point, as the crowd falls silent, a lone voice blasts out: “STOP I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!”
When Metzen walks back on stage he is visibly emotional. He appears to be holding back tears and is either legitimately moved by the support of the crowd or this is the performance of a lifetime. Swept away by the electricity of this space I’m convinced this is the face of a man who is, after years of development, finally revealing a labour of love.
“Passion”, “accessible”, “community”. If you invented a Blizzcon drinking game using these words, you’d be drunk in minutes. In an hour they’d be peeling your lifeless corpse off the pavement.
Of the three “community” might be the word Blizzard repeats most.
Later, Blizzard COO Paul Sams tells me that the line dividing the developers at Blizzard and their fans barely exists and it completely dissolves at Blizzcon. That's the beauty of the thing. He tells me that Blizzcon is a place that celebrates "us and people just like us".
In that sense it’s been difficult to avoid the feeling that I’m a little bit of an outsider here. But strangely, I don't felt unwelcome.
Next year you'll come back and you'll be one of us, Sams tells me, or something to that effect.
"Chris will have you speaking in tongues yet."
Disclosure: Mark Serrels travelled to Blizzcon as a guest of Blizzard