When introducing Overwatch 2 during the Blizzcon opening keynote, game director Jeff Kaplan joked about forgetting his lines — but it was fine because the internet had revealed everything he was going to say anyway. But in a follow-up interview with Kotaku Australia, Kaplan went into detail about just how demoralising the leaks were for those working on the game.
Overwatch 2 wasn't the only game thoroughly leaked before the show, of course. Its announcement was effectively pencilled in from June, when sources told Kotaku that work on a Starcraft shooter in the Overwatch engine, along with an unannounced mobile game, had been cancelled to prioritise development on Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2. In the fortnight leading up to Blizzcon, word got out about some of the game's PvE design, including a screenshot of Tracer's unlockable abilities that would later prove to be on the money.
If that wasn't bad enough, some of the major story beats from Zero Hour, the cinematic introduction to Overwatch 2, were leaked as well.
Given the absence of Diablo 4 at the show last year, and the shadow of how fans will respond this year, not to mention all the recent controversy, anticipation is high for Blizzcon 2019. So naturally, word about Diablo 4 and an Overwatch sequel is starting to do the rounds.
It was an intensely miserable experience for the Overwatch developers, known internally as Team 4, one that Kaplan described as akin to ruining someone's surprise party. He explained that a lot of the team was also relatively new to Blizzard and that they hadn't been through the experience of The Burning Crusade, the World of Warcraft expansion that was leaked a week early by a print magazine.
"We know leaks happen," Kaplan said. "The example I used this week a lot with the team was The Burning Crusade. And a lot of the team hasn't been around that long, or weren't part of Burning Crusade, but Burning Crusade leaked in an Italian magazine the week before Blizzcon or the week of Blizzcon that we were supposed to announce [the] expansion."
"If you fast-forward to 2019, everybody looks back at Burning Crusade as one of WoW's strongest moments, their favourite expansions, and nobody remembers that Burning Crusade was leaked at all. Leaks are very interesting in that they have more of a moral impact on the team than anything else. It's extremely demoralising. You feel totally deflated."
The biggest annoyance for the team, according to Kaplan and Overwatch 2 technical director John Lafleur, is that the game enters the public discourse with a lack of context that automatically turns into the worst case scenario. That was especially problematic when Overwatch fans began raising concerns about carrying over their progression or cosmetics, or whether Overwatch 2 would split the community.
"When you're trying so hard to deliver something for somebody and to have it be spoiled in a way that's not coherent," Kaplan explained. "That's the part that bothers us the most, where people are not given all the information and all of the context that they need to understand what we're doing."
"Our artists are heartbroken: They take such care to make the art look beautiful, and then we get some crappy version of what the art looks like ... and then people are like, 'I don't know it doesn't look that good' and we're like, no it does, it looks amazing! It's just a crappy screenshot that someone took, so it can be a bit demoralising. But my interactions with everybody on the team today is everybody's on cloud nine," Kaplan said.
Lafleur noted that the team got lucky with the first Overwatch — while news of a trademark got out prior to Blizzcon, the news was largely kept under wraps. "I think that's super important, not just for us to get sort of a real reaction from the fans but also for us to feel like, OK, now we can breathe because you know the week leading up it's been a little rough but now we really know what [the fans] think."
And so far, the fans have been pretty positive. Even bringing over small options like the new HUD design to existing Overwatch players — which is relatively simple, given both games will run in exactly the same client — have gone down a treat. As Kaplan described, ultimately that's what people will remember: not the leaks in the week or two weeks beforehand, but seeing a new map for the first time, the fresh look, and how the meta ultimately evolves around Push.
The author travelled to Blizzcon as a guest of Blizzard.