It was a good weekend to be a Blizzard fan. The eighth Blizzcon held reveals for nearly every one of the studio’s treasured franchises along with the announcement of Blizzard’s first all-new intellectual property in 17 years. And if you were paying attention, the conference put Blizzard’s long-term strategy of honoring its legacy and loyal fans while keeping a close eye on external trends in clearer relief than ever before.
First, about that new project: Overwatch is a team-based shooter that sets a dozen characters (so far) with unique abilities against one another across several maps and modes. Like a typical Blizzard game, it was revealed with a super-slick CGI trailer (seriously, the thing looks like a cross between Frozen and The Avengers) that set up the charismatic heroes and their place in the futuristic world. Unlike a typical Blizzard game, it was available for play minutes after said trailer concluded, and our friends at PC Gamer approve of what they have played.
If you’re upset that Blizzard’s first new franchise in almost two decades cribs liberally from Team Fortress 2 and MOBA character design instead of blazing new trails, you should have been paying more attention to all of the company’s other products – WarCraft and StarCraft, which were, uh, liberally inspired by Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, just as a few examples.
Blizzard didn’t specify a business model for Overwatch, but it’s hard to imagine the game as anything but free-to-play, given its direct competition with TF2 and its cast of characters that could easily be purchased a la carte. Speaking of a la carte heroes, Blizzard revealed a few new characters for Heroes of the Storm (including Jaina Proudmoore and The Lost Vikings of the eponymous SNES adventure series) and a beta planned for January. Smash-hit F2P card game Hearthstone will receive a 120-card expansion, titled Goblins vs. Gnomes, in December–its first big boost since the introduction of the Naxxramas single-player adventure over the summer.
Ok, so that’s all fine for fans of Blizzard’s trendy new stuff, but what about all that legacy-honoring business I mentioned before? Well, the last chapter of StarCraft 2’s trilogy (finally) approaches, with beta sign-ups now open for Legacy of the Void and a brand-new cinematic trailer introducing the Protoss-centric narrative. And significant planned revisions for Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls show the company remains committed to existing products that don’t yield subscriptions or microtransactions, which is heartening. Last but not least, Blizzard and Legendary Pictures revealed the cast list and an exclusive trailer for the Warcraft movie.
Blizzcon 2014 held a little something for almost all Blizzard fans (including some awesome cosplay). It’s tough to say where the company’s priorities will lie in five years, whether they’ll shift further toward free-to-play online titles or if we’ll be looking forward to the premium, single-player campaign of Warcraft 4. But this year, at least, the balance of old coolness and new hotness felt just right.