Blizzcon 2008 was my first Blizzcon. I was too poor to attend the convention in either 2005 or 2007. The only other gaming convention I have to compare my experience with is the 2001 e3, back when GameCube and Xbox were highlighted. The one thing I hated about e3 was that it had too many publishers and too many people. A lot of studios simply couldn’t draw a lot of people. And for those that did, their demo space was usually too small to accommodate the 60,000 in a stampeding mass. Perhaps this is why e3 has morphed into an exclusive gentlemen’s club for industry insiders and why so many studios jumped ship after the ‘berg had been struck.

The nice thing about Blizzcon, in comparison, is that Blizzard owns all of the floor space for the convention. They can easily allot certain areas for specific events and demos, without worrying about competition for booth space. If they think one demo is going to be hugely popular, they can simply expand its size.

At the start of this year’s Blizzcon, it seemed to me there would be too many people. The line to get into the convention was massive. And, knowing Blizzard had decided to sell more tickets as consolation for the technical problems that overwhelmed their ticket processing system, I feared the entire convention would be overly packed and that I would not enjoy myself as a result. However, the convention’s attendance was very frontloaded. After the opening ceremony, the number of people slowly dwindled over the course of its two days.

The opening ceremony was perhaps a little too generic for my liking. Mike Morhaime as president of the company is perhaps a natural choice for helping to kick off the convention, but he plays the role much as a businessman would. He has a genuine appreciation for Blizzard’s customers, and I can respect him for it, but his delivery is too bland to keynote such a great convention for a company that has influenced PC gaming so profoundly. He definitely should speak during the opening ceremony, but someone with more flair and flavor should set the tone for the event.

I feel it would be unfair of me to speak poorly of the WoW panels. Wrath is, afterall, close to completion and most of its information has already been discussed by developers on the beta forums. However, it would be nice if something eye-opening could be included in each major panel. For example, the art panel included a screen shot of the new Dalaran rooted in the ground at its old location. While I’m not sure this will make it into the game at any point, it’s nice to see examples of things the teams have been working on. In this regard, I wished the class team had covered some ideas that have been too awkward to put into the game in its current state.

Beware the Dark PortalAs far as the WoW tournament goes, I am rather content with it as a spectacle. You have two teams playing on one stage alongside the announcers, underneath large screens showing three different angles of the action. However, a practical tournament it is not. The teams can hear everything the announcers are saying, being right next to them and out in the open. In some ways, this can be played as an advantage, if something is announced that could aid a team. However, if the announcers make an error on something, it could also become a disadvantage. Either way, the setup has a major effect on the tournament’s results. As one idea, you could have each team in a soundproof booth, as is done for Starcraft. However, with the teams concealed in sonic isolation, the amount of spectacle involved would be diminished.

Needless to say, the style of tournament seen at large events and conventions is much different than those of the smaller scale tournaments that have a mind for the proximity of teams to each other and the announcers. That said, the announcers, vhell and TooGood, did a great job. Some people say they were too soft on Hafu, but I guess they weren’t paying attention when the announcers related how they felt she had played poorly. Surely, they were shaky for a few of the matches, but I don’t think anyone could announce each match with utter perfection.

Starcraft 2 proved to be incredible in its first tournament. However, it’s left to be seen how open the final product is to rush strategies. This early in its development of competitive play, it’s difficult to say if it’s immune to such strategies or if people simply haven’t figured them out, yet. This was the first tournament and the game hasn’t even gone into beta, afterall.

Diablo 3 showed itself to still be early in the development stage. However, its showing at the convention was impressive. With environmental interaction, smoother graphics than its predecessor, a much more comprehensive skill tree, and an expanding amount of lore, it holds great promise. However, it’s left to be seen if its replayability is higher than that of Diablo 2. This is something I don’t think anyone will know until after release, far into the future.

The closing ceremony was what I expected. Though having two comedians I think is pushing it. I always thought comedy was best done for television or in front of smaller, more intimate audiences. One thing I think the closing ceremony was lacking was that last big revelation–perhaps a cinematic no one has seen, or a small clip hinting at what is to be fully announced in the future. This would have given the convention the truly dramatic close it deserved. Not to steal from the thunder of Level 80 Elite Tauren Chieftan, or Video Games Live, but novelty doesn’t provide the biggest bang.

Perhaps my biggest complaint about the event was the way things were scheduled. Various matches of the WoW tournament coincided with WoW panels. And the same happened for Starcraft’s tournament and panels. This meant you’d be missing panels for a game if you wanted to attend various matches of its tournament. I’d hope next year the panel and tournament schedules could accommodate each other. But it seems almost impossible to manage without adding a third day to the convention.

Overall, however, Blizzcon is one of the best conventions I’ve ever been to. And, living in Silicon Valley, believe me when I say I’ve been to many. For one, Blizzcon’s focus is small enough that a person attending can feel as though they’ve come away with a broad experience encompassing all of the products highlighted at the convention, or at least the product(s) of interest to the person. For another, Blizzard doesn’t use the convention merely as a glorified store to sell its products, but also as a stage on which to celebrate them. For all my criticisms, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had at an industry show and I will definitely attend next year.

–Lume