BlizzCon 2023 Might Be Just What The Company Needed After 2 Years Of Hell

BlizzCon 2023 Might Be Just What The Company Needed After 2 Years Of Hell

Blizzard hasn’t hosted a physical BlizzCon since 2019. The developer ran a virtual event in 2021, and what followed were a turbulent two-and-a-half years that saw many players boycott titles like World of Warcraft and Overwatch. Between lawsuits, a global pandemic, some less-than-well-received expansions and the recent Microsoft acquisition, there’s been a lot of change at Blizzard – both internally and in player sentiment – which has left BlizzCon 2023, the fifteenth iteration of the convention, feeling somewhat like a ‘make-or-break’ moment. 

Held at the Anaheim Convention Centre, BlizzCon 2023 spanned over November 3-4th with two days full of announcements, panels, and a showfloor filled to the brim with more freeplay demos and activations than you could poke a stick at. As mentioned, this was the fifteenth BlizzCon – prior to the four-year break, the event was an annual hypefest that saw fans from around the globe make the pilgrimage to the United States to get amongst everything Blizzard. Diablo, World of Warcraft, Overwatch 2, Hearthstone and the newly-released Warcraft Rumble all got a look-in on the showfloor with taverns, a pop-up tattoo studio, and the much-anticipated (and very packed) Darkmoon Faire amongst the highlights.

BlizzCon 2023
Image: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

But despite the huge showfloor and show-stopping setup complete with towering gates, moody lighting, and a real-life Lilith walking amongst attendees, the real make-or-break moment for BlizzCon was the opening ceremony. It felt, and the sentiment in the crowd seemed to confirm, that the success and return of the physical event hinged on just how much hype Blizzard’s announcements on its next twelve months of releases were able to drum up.

And while, sure, a new hero for Overwatch 2 (a long-awaited one at that), the first Diablo IV expansion, and many other announcements were exciting, I’m going out on a limb and saying that World of Warcraft shouldered the majority of the responsibility for reinvigorating interest in BlizzCon and Blizzard titles at large.

From the moment returning Warcraft Executive Creative Director Chris Metzen stepped onto the stage, the crowd lit up with resounding cheers and encouraging shouts (ranging from “we missed you!” through to outright declarations of love) – so loud that Metzen at one point settled the crowd briefly with a “hearken to me,” much to many fans’ excitement. It’s pretty clear Metzen’s return, which he described as “coming home”, felt like a homecoming moment for fans, too. It certainly helped that cinematic reveals for the multi-expansion Worldsoul Saga and The War Within followed him, as well.

BlizzCon 2023
Image: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

Even outside of the clamouring at the event, social media seems to tell a similar story of reignited interest in World of Warcraft, both the main game and Classic – from veteran players who put down the MMORPG signing into Battlenet for the first time in years, to those fresh to the experience of dungeons, raids, and the ongoing Horde vs Alliance debate. 

Phil Spencer’s brief cameo on stage was perhaps met with a more muted response, but it’s possible this was simply attendees waiting with bated breath for a Game Pass or WoW console announcement, which wasn’t forthcoming. Also notably absent from the opening ceremony were the dormant franchises Heroes of the Storm and Starcraft, much to some fans’ disappointment.

Post opening ceremony, the vibes across the board remained high. There was plenty of discussion about what players expected, hoped to see, or were concerned about on the showfloor between the unfortunately long lines for many areas of BlizzCon. There’s no official headcount just yet, but between the showfloor and the packed BlizzCon arena for LE SSERAFIM, the K-pop group behind a new Overwatch musical collaboration, it certainly felt like a full event – despite tickets remaining available to purchase just weeks out. 

BlizzCon 2023
Image: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

Attendees revelled in demos, took photos with massive statues of iconic characters like Jaina and Tracer, and generally just got together to celebrate Blizzard’s iconic titles and their shared interests. The Darkmoon Faire was filled to the brim with pin traders, although lines did close this area at some points due to eye-wateringly long queues of punters keen to check out the carnival area guarded by a massive gate and an all-seeing, blinking eye.

Outside the expo hall, cosplayers met up, Murlocs marched (complete with the addictive-to-replicate sound effect), and hype generally built. Interestingly, despite taking up the largest real estate on the showfloor, Overwatch had perhaps the least activities beyond tuning in to the Overwatch World Cup.

Of course, while excitement pushed BlizzCon forward, for those watching on at home and attendees, there was the looming spectre of Blizzard’s difficult past reputation to reckon with always there in the background. Plenty of work has been done internally to fix company culture (and the public image), which has already recovered some ground since news first broke in July 2021, but the question has remained: is it enough? And while I can’t comment on whether it is, and the work is undoubtedly not yet done, it did feel like the tide was turning – which is likely what Blizzard had hoped for and honestly needed in the aftermath. 

BlizzCon 2023
Image: Blizzard

Do I think an event like BlizzCon would have succeeded, even with the same announcements, even eighteen months ago? Probably not, in all honesty. The player base and gaming community at large weren’t ready to forgive and forget so quickly. However, it does seem like perhaps now they are, even if tentatively, to let Blizzard titles get them excited again – in the hopes of a return to the developer’s heyday. 

Players want to stay up late doing raids with their guild, getting play of the game and grinding through Diablo IV – and recapturing the joy that’s felt when playing any of the developer’s titles from even a few years ago is a hefty ask of a player base that has witnessed some pretty big changes recently, and not all good ones.  Whether the upcoming expansions, new heroes, and other reveals all stick the landing enough to solidify the work done at BlizzCon, only time will tell.

The author of this article travelled to BlizzCon 2023 as a guest of Blizzard.

Lead Image Credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

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