My favorite type of post to write – rampant speculation!
This week, the schedule for next week’s (next week?!) Blizzconline event was posted. With an in-person event, this would be strictly necessary for planning and facilitating attendance at your chosen events. With an online show, it is less strictly necessary, but as ever, we can derive some details about what to expect at the show via the scheduling.
Firstly, before diving into WoW, I want to share my non-WoW surprises.
Overwatch seems to have no real big panel of new content, based on the schedule. There’s a “Behind the Scenes of Overwatch 2” panel after the opening ceremony, but that naming doesn’t really fit the nature of a large new content reveal. There are Diablo panels of interest, namely the What’s Next and Deep Dive that normally denote new content unveilings, but without a title on them, it is hard to tell if we’re talking about Diablo IV or Immortal, which has a beta test ongoing as we speak and is the one closest to release without further details. However, given how the Immortal reveal went back in 2018, I would understand Blizzard’s hesitation on revealing much more about that title. My best guess is that we’re likely to see mostly Diablo IV content, with a sprinkling of Immortal news, and that balance should better sit with the fans who tore apart the initial unveiling of Immortal. Or, and I’m adding this after getting further in the post, the title is vague because we’ll get details about the Vicarious Visions-developed Diablo II remaster that many of us have been anticipating! Perhaps all 3 will weave into a single panel, which makes the time perhaps feel constrained, but there is also a Deep Dive and my expectation is that whatever combination of these titles they want to discuss more will get some additional details there.
Lastly, oh man, it is quite telling how little actual strategy content there is. Once Blizzard’s bread and butter, the genre has been whittled down into a state of near-nothingness, not even just for Blizzard, but at a macro level – RTS games in general have seen a sharp downturn. On that note, while Heroes of the Storm is not quite an RTS in the purest sense, it is also very telling that in the channel list for the show, there is no Heroes channel, no Starcraft channel, no Warcraft RTS channel – just a single “Strategy” channel that largely doesn’t offer actual strategy content, and there are no panels of new content or even meaningful discussion of these games specifically. Instead, they are lumped into panels like “In-Game User-Generated Content Showcase” with a single larger block for some Starcraft eSports. No Heroes eSports or even a panel, nothing about Warcraft III Reforged, not even a vague confirmation of new co-op commanders or other content for Starcraft II, and while I would sort of expect that, given that Starcraft is actually where I started as a Blizzard fan – it kind of disappoints to see it out like this.
Oh, and also, Hearthstone has a couple of unveils. Given they just announced the new Core Set in the last week, I wonder what else there is to tell. At the same time, there’s a mix of predictability there – new expansion sets, adventure modes, and likely some retuning of rewards to discuss given the community’s viscerally negative response to reward changes in the game.
But onto WoW!
WoW has a mix of fun panels, including sound design, voiceover work, and artist’s panels – the kinds of things that Blizzcon started offering as side-stages not in the PPV broadcasts that eventually got so popular they were integrated properly into the show for virtual attendees, but those are usually mostly retrospective, with rare mixes of upcoming content.
What I want to focus on is the main two panels that kick off Day 1 – the What’s Next and Deep Dive.
The format of the naming of a Blizzcon panel is usually instructive in telling us how much to expect. A What’s Next panel tends to be high level, focused on an overall plan for upcoming content. It might be semi-detailed (at an in-person Blizzcon, this panel is generally the one where we get most details for new patches and expansions), but the presence of a deep dive suggests this is a high-level panel.
Deep Dives, on the other hand, are, well, deep. Far more details on new content, intricate looks at new systems and gameplay modes, and larger listings of the actual nuts and bolts content in upcoming patches. The presence of a deep dive panel in a mid-expansion Blizzcon where no new expansion is likely to be announced (I would peg it at a 0% chance, so man Blizzard could catch me out if they announced 10.0 here haha) is quite interesting, and suggests a fairly substantial shift is coming mid-Shadowlands to one or more systems.
Given all of that, here are my thoughts (italics used to denote my wishlist):
-The “What’s Next” panel should have an outline of upcoming content, using the 30 minutes to discuss upcoming patches
–Ideally, the What’s Next is long enough to give us a structured, high level overview of the remainder of Shadowlands content, with a longer section for earlier patches. 9.1, 9.2, and even 9.3 should be discussed, even if the later patches are just blips or concept art about zones or story hooks. Any 9.x.5 patches should also fit into that dialogue, as there is enough room in 30 minutes to fit 5 minutes each for 6 patches (9.1, 9.1.5, 9.2, 9.2.5, 9.3, 9.3.5)
-The major WoW news likely to come out is the 9.1 news, unless they do meet my wishlist for the What’s Next panel and unveil the rest of the expansion, which is likely to give us some talking points
-The “Deep Dive” panel is, mostly likely, going to focus on 9.1 and the systems and content that will come with that patch
–Based on a recent interview with Ion Hazzikostas, I expect that 9.1 will have a new raid tier, and with it a new gearing paradigm for raids (also perhaps the stated return of class tier armor?), as the Valor Points expansion in 9.0.5 will not apply to Castle Nathria gear. I also predict (pure speculation on my part here) that we’ll see some major shifts to Covenant systems in 9.1 – whether that is less-restrictive movement between Covenants, a unified covenant, or even new covenants (new zones could put this forward) remains to be seen, but I feel like Covenants are low-hanging fruit that can be improved.
–I suspect a substantial part of the Deep Dive is going to be the new Pathfinder requirements that are slated for 9.1. Depending on how big the time commitment is post-9.1, I fully expect that the team will want to jump out in front of them and message clearly on the design intent and expectations for it
-9.0.5 was pre-announced in the manner it was in order to clear the slate for content discussions (and also to get balancing and fixes to players earlier). I think, similarly to the Core Set announcement for Hearthstone, Blizzard is clearly trying to clear the way to Blizzconline by getting the nuts and bolts type stuff out of the way first so that the panels next week can focus in solely on content which is more fun and engaging for a panel
Now, one thing I noticed at first about the panels that bothered me is the timing. 30 minutes for most, with some panels barely going 40 minutes? What is that about? However, it makes sense if you think about it. A standard, in-person Blizzcon panel goes about an hour, minus any lost time to overrun from prior panels on the same stage. Of that hour, a substantial portion is lost to audience hyping, applause breaks, and the natural jitters of live presentation – sometimes unpolished public speakers being put on stage and having to make the best of the time they get, with all of the pacing issues that can introduce. Without a live audience and with the ability to pre-film and edit, 30 minutes should, in practice, fit just fine for the amount of news to come. My suspicion is that the schedule went live at the point that all of the content was already filmed and produced, so instead of putting people on Zoom or other shoestring videoconferencing options from home, they could use high quality cameras, weave in any slide decks for the show, and deliver the message directly without any deviation from the script.
Overall? I think there is a chance that Blizzconline might actually be a great show for WoW, with enough details to get most players invested into the game, and those that are currently still enjoying it invested even more. At least, that is certainly my hope – because rough edges and all, I do think Shadowlands is genuinely pretty good and has a lot of upwards potential even still.