Tomorrow, the inevitable (and often uncomfortable watching from a distance) Blizzcon Bandwagon is waved away for it’s short journey from the Irvine, CA campus to the Anaheim Convention Center. In the next two months one gets the impression you will be sold to as has never been the case before. This year there’s a lot riding on this Convention being front and centre in player’s attention, with decreasing amounts of interest being focused on Warcraft. If the howls of derision at this year’s Blizzcon ‘goody bag’ are any indicator (hardly any Warcraft content) all is already not well in certain sectors of the fandom.
The spiel from the official Blizzard Ent site is somewhat ominous too: ‘exciting changes’ to the Virtual Ticket immediately set esports radar tingling. After all, it’s been less than a week since the announcement of Blizzard’s dedicated esports arena opening in (beautiful downtown) Burbank. This year, for the first time, Warcraft itself has both PvP and PvE ‘Championships’ attached to it, and it would be a foolish woman who didn’t think that at some point, this is going to start being reflected in the Virtual Ticket’s output.
If this is the case, what does that leave for those of us with absolutely no interest in esports? Well, presumably we’re getting an Expansion reveal (as we know 7.3 is end game) but gone are the days when all Blizzcon covered was Azeroth Prime. It is now quite sensibly focused around the splinters from that concept, especially those about to be launched worldwide as part of a competitive esports league. Is it a co-incidence therefore that last night a new Battle pet got launched, some might say to assuage the howls of derision over what the Goody Bag offers? Will we see some backpedalling take place or is this, as I suspect has been the case for some time, the beginning of an intentional reduction of Warcraft’s importance as the primary IP.
I have seen people trying to assuage their friends and followers that this is ‘not the end’ of Warcraft’s dominance but honestly, that’s not been true since the disaster that was Warlords, and the game’s clear inability to capture the imagination of a worldwide audience via the Warcraft Movie. Yes, this movie did incredibly well with the faithful and in China, where Azeroth has long been of particular importance… but the truth is that elsewhere, the IP simply doesn’t have lasting appeal. Over the last few years designers and merchandisers have done sterling work at playing to the desires of those who still play and pay, keeping them engaged and interested, but there will come a point where it becomes financially nonviable to do so.
I’d confidently expect as a result to see Warcraft’s in game rewards to increase as time goes on whilst the physical items recede. The fact volume three of the Lore Chronicles was announced as the last book in the series, that the YA Traveler series appears to have vanished without a trace… someone at Blizzard HQ is doing the numbers. The future is far better served with virtual rewards which require minimal ‘creation’, though with Blizzcon coming up I can guarantee that there’s going to be some physical goodies waiting as means for you to get your Warcraft ‘fix.’ I think perhaps it is time for everybody to accept that, like it or not, this game is not the primary focus any more.
Before I’m burnt at the stake for heresy, the last two years’ Blizzcon may give some pointers as to what the future could mean for the hardcore Warcraft fan. A number of technical panels never even made it to the Virtual Ticket in 2015, as was the case last year. It is entirely possible you’ll be offered a Warcraft-only ticket, allowing access to stuff that’s tailored to those with only that interest. If this is the case, I can easily see this being offered as extra on top of the PvP only packages. The key of course will be to simply buy all the content, which will be offered at a discount but will cost more than it did last year.
Please don’t get angry if or when this happens. Remember that all that PvP prize money has to be financed from somewhere, and then go look at how PvP works for other gaming franchises and accept that if you want to watch sport, you’ll pay for it. It is the case now with every other non-esport, and that will be the future. Sponsorship, huge profit margins, and a detachment from reality that will presumably end in grass roots players simply being priced out of any possible future. I can take my cynics hat off, sure, and I promise that will happen the day Blizzard announce plans to accept and embrace diversity, offering cash incentives to encourage women, disabled and transgender players to take part.
Mostly, if tomorrow announces a Blizzcon where Warcraft seems to be less important than Overwatch, don’t be surprised. More people play it regularly, enjoy it, and have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on virtual rewards.
Like it or not, that’s the future for competitive gaming going forward.