So, something I avoided discussing publicly last week was the announcement of Blizzcon 2019.
I think a lot of people, despite the current state of the Blizzard community (it’s definitely not just World of Warcraft feeling a bit meh right now), were still looking forward to the ritual trip down to Anaheim for what is likely to be a good year – a WoW expansion announcement, the possibility of Diablo 4, maybe some Overwatch goodies, HotS stuff (less likely in the current state of the game, but possible!) and maybe a new classic team remaster – Diablo II brought up to a 2019 standard of visual fidelity would be pretty awesome if possible!
Blizzard did, as modern Blizzard does, and brought down expectations a smidge with the announcement last week. Because yes, there is a Blizzcon 2019, and we now have dates, on-sale dates, and details, but some of the details have left a bad taste.
Firstly, I need to stress that while I dislike a few of the changes, which we’ll discuss momentarily, I am still excited for the con, still planning to go, and still think it will be an overall awesome event.
However, the changes made are less than ideal.
We can’t start this discussion anywhere else than the price. A 15% increase to the base ticket would be irritating enough, with the price going from $199 to $229. This I am willing to entertain at least slightly, because the change in registration, moving from Hall E to an offsite location means an additional venue rental and the logistical challenges that poses need to be offset, and I am empathetic to that. However, it does also mean that a fair number of added attendee tickets can be sold, which also serves as a way to manage the added cost.
More bothersome is the addition of the Portal Pass. A second-tier badge option, the Portal Pass takes the base Blizzcon experience and adds a number of bonuses to it, such as reserved parking, an at-con lounge with complimentary beverages and viewing areas for panels, early access to the con on Friday and Saturday through a designated special lineup area, and Thursday access to the Darkmoon Faire area for a limited time that evening to allow you first swing at the purchasable collectibles they sell and to trade with your fellow Portal Pass attendees. For a community event, the idea of separating your attendee base into groups feels highly suspect. There are serious logistical questions of how they’ll designate Portal Pass attendees and prevent the proletariat from sneaking through (given the number of outright fake badges I’ve seen at past cons get through and inside, I am not swelling with confidence at how they’ll manage that). The price increase, however, for these small perks, is a whopping $321 – bringing the cost of attending with a Portal Pass to an eyewatering $550 per ticket.
Lastly on the topic of cost, a cost-saving measure for Blizzard, as the goody bag is already confirmed for this year and it is a single item – the item is a statue in the style of their Legends lineup, with a choice of Orc Grunt or Human Knight for the Warcraft 25th anniversary. While I think it is far better than last-year’s collection of dollar-store cheap baubles (with a fairly nice book, to be fair), there was once a time, not too long ago, where a $175 ticket got you a goody bag with a statue and other cheap baubles along with the full con experience.
On top of asking for more money from anyone wanting to go, Blizzard also announced just 9 days before the first on-sale date, meaning people have little chance to save up to a precise target, and a lot of the questions around the Portal Pass will simply remain poorly answered, if at all, before potential attendees must make a choice. And make a choice you must, because the new ticketing vendor (yet another change!) requires a line-up by ticket type, so while you can line up 3 times for the regular, portal pass, and dinner ticket (which is being sold at the same time as standard tickets for the first time ever), you’re going to have to make a decision.
Speaking of the new ticket vendor, they have what is a fairly standard practice to disincentivize scalpers – they offer a waiting room 30 minutes prior to on-sale, and then people are plucked from the waiting room randomly (RNG? In your Blizzcon ticket sales?) and given 7 minutes to buy or leave. Despite my quip about RNG, to be fair, this is, to me, a positive change – prevent scalpers from getting through as easily, make it a little less stressful to jab F5 and miss a ticket by 0.3 seconds, and allow me to get into line early and just hang out and wait – but these are changes, and not everyone is as accepting of them.
The event itself is seeing some change too. In addition to the reclamation of Hall E for convention space (instead of its past life as registration and the store), the store will move to the North building of the convention complex, and it has not yet been confirmed if the store will be open for Day 0 as it has been for years now. Given the location, I suspect it is unlikely the store will be open for day 0, as controlling access to the building will be challenging. Alongside the Thursday night addition of Night at the Faire for high-end ticket holders, Blizzard will also have general admission events in the outside courtyard at the convention center on Thursday night, both of these competing directly against the fan events that have become a cornerstone of many attendee’s vists to the con. Making matters even worse, this is also Halloween, and so many attendees will be torn between Halloween events at the area’s theme parks, Halloween parties that will likely be tied into the existing fan events, or attending the “official” kick off events. This is a choice for attendees to make, but one that directly pulls people away from the fan events, which seems to further fracture the community, in addition to the division along badge pricing lines.
To be completely fair, the base ticket doesn’t lose anything to accomodate the higher tiers, although it eliminates some of the ability to strategize and plan to get good seats for hot events, instead as the Portal Pass attendees will be in around 30 minutes early to take the best seats and move to their preferred activities. The other possibility is that the Portal Pass may end up being over-allocated, in which case, the benefit it offers will be less valuable – and that is a fine line to walk. For example, the reserved parking sounds nice, but I imagine it will not be 1:1 on tickets sold and spaces held, meaning that if more people drive and park with Portal Passes than expected, there may be someone locked out of that benefit. If the lounge is a smaller space, you might just be fighting with portal pass holders for a seat, or waiting in a long line for your free drinks. If they offer thousands of portal passes, the posibility exists that your dedicated line may still let you in after a base attendee, if you stroll up to the line too late and end up at the back of a smaller, but less resource-allocated line.
The thing about this year’s event is that it very much follows the trend of modern Blizzard. Some of the changes are good – and things like a preferred pass have been requested by some attendees for years! Moving registration offsite to make more room for activities means more people can attend and will likely allow more seats at panels, more spread out events, and an opportunity for more demo areas. The Darkmoon Faire is consistently one of the most congested areas of the con, and allowing some a chance to get their business there done early is a net positive in theory – sure, those portal passers get their chance early, but if they get what they want and don’t need to come back later, there is more room and opportunity for those on regular tickets. However, this was rolled out in a hamfisted, awful way – the Portal Pass perks have almost zero explanation, the base ticket increase isn’t great, the lack of saving and budgeting time between the announcement and on-sale date sucks, and the choice of dates is less than ideal – and these are all things (well, mostly – the dates seems to be driven by another large con that booked the expected weekend first) that could have been improved upon by Blizzard.
Still, however, I am excited for Blizzcon. Regardless of the quality of the show itself (and it has had its ups and downs, for sure), I always have a good time with the community events, just hanging out, and enjoying myself for a few days away. Plus, for me this year, I’m going to be wrapping up an extra special trip with Blizzcon, as rather than driving down from my home in Reno, I’ll be completing a world trip with my girlfriend for her first time out of the country, with us going to London, Rome, and Tokyo, and then flying from Tokyo straight to LA for the convention.
So for me, at least, even if the con is awful, at least I’ll have had some fun beforehand!