It is my favorite time of the year! Or, well, it would be, if there was a Blizzcon tomorrow and WoW wasn’t gradually slipping further and further from the light.
Why would it be my favorite time? Leak season, of course! And by “leak season” I mean “leak” season. A timehonored WoW tradition is generally this – Blizzcon comes up, someone posts a photo that purports to be a new expansion announcement, we all look, we read, we laugh, and then the show makes it clear that it was a fake. Short of when Blizzard themselves do the leaking, like listing an artbook with Diablo IV artwork prior to Blizzcon 2019 or their printers releasing the Shadowlands demo sign and merch catalog with Bolvar cinematic print, the genre is full of fun.
There’s the old standby of the expansion listing, which claimed that there was a 10-year plan for WoW with expansions mapped all the way through and content/features planned, which was good at guessing the early expansions enough that it became folklore in the community, there’s Secrets of Tel’Abim and the general fascination with island-bound exploring expansions (except Battle for Azeroth, NOT LIKE THAT), and there’s a sea of bad Photoshops that hide their badness by creating the lore of espionage – someone makes a photoshopped expansion website or slide, shoots a photo of their screen at a 30-degree angle, and then posts it somewhere and goes to Reddit, Twitter, or the like and says “oh hey, have you heard about the leak?”
No matter how farcical they can be, though, I fucking love fake expansion leaks. I have a lot of reasons for that, and I want to discuss it today while also looking at a recent “leak” and some other fan content and exploring what is just so enjoyable about it.
My Jumping Off Point
For the first year of my blog, one post stood tall above all others, and it was when in August 2017, still in low double-digit posts (this post will make 722!), I posted a fictitious leak called Veil of Shadows and analyzed it. This post was one of my early breakout moments on the blog, as it got posted around to MMO-Champion forums and NeoGAF before it essentially died and turned into a shell of itself and for a couple of years, it was my most-viewed post (until my Shadowbringers 5.0 ending post became my biggest in 2019). That leak was funny in some ways, because while a lot of the gameplay beats were incorrect, it actually got some elements sort-of right (Kul Tiras and Nazjatar being in the 8.x cycle, the involved characters including Wrathion, expanding DK race options to Pandaren, the void elements corrupting the world can resemble 8.3 if you squint) and while my analysis kept the ideas at arm’s length, I kind of wanted the expansion it was selling.
It was also one of my favorite leaks because it had the tropes of the genre I love – a grainy monitor photo with almost no details visible, yet a whole “website” text capture as the caption, playing off what players wanted and expected in the post-Legion landscape (weapon customization and build your own was a big thing people were clamoring for back then!), and there’s always a couple of curveballs where someone went wildin’ out while writing and threw in a tell that the whole thing was a fake (it’s a void expansion, but we also go a bunch of islands like Kul Tiras, Nazjatar, and the Dragon Isles all in one expansion?).
It was a fun moment in time, where the possibilities of post-Legion were infinite (especially because we did not yet have the Antorus raid in our hands and thus speculation about what came next ran rampant) and where fans were excited for what came next. Sometimes, though, fake leaks are just wishlists or carefully-crafted speculation that leans into what people expect. Speaking of…
Today’s Fake Leak Selection
The above graphic has been floating around social media a smidge today, and it is what prompted this post. Looking at it, there’s clearly some weirdness in the graphic (the next expansion logo font breaks the age-old aggro font tradition, the word “buld” in there, the clearly weird fake-slide borders at the bottom that look like a bad hatchet job on some stock image ducting and mechanical texture, the idea of WOTLK Classic launching back-to-back calendar years with TBC Classic (although fun fact, TBC did launch in 2007 with WOTLK in 2008, although the spacing was close to two years between the two), and the idea that we’d get a mid-expansion complete game overhaul with factions being unified.
Now obviously, the ideas here speak to a general desire within fans – unified factions are a thing that people want, Zereth Mortis seems like our next destination as it stands today, a generic name like “Trials of the First Ones” for a new campaign chapter in the original stomping grounds of the First Ones seems a no-brainer that could resemble any amount of content, and both a new dungeon and raid is an optimistic idea that I think most of us would be thrilled with (instead of the likely raid-only with Taza’vesh being split down the middle for Heroic/M+ consumption). TBC Classic hasn’t been the slam dunk people expected, both because the Classic community has soured on the increasing encroachment of modern-game monetization and because the ease with which one can rush through a 10 level WoW expansion knowing what we know today about the game hits a lot different than the initial fervor for vanilla Classic, and so there’s a logical thought process to the idea that Blizzard might cut TBC loose quicker and move to what is, for most, the holy-grail Classic era where even my most Classic-averse friends (and myself) are far more likely to tune in and try it out. On the expansion front, the idea of Awakenings matches some expectations – a vague theme idea with a changed Azeroth after our Shadowlands journey, a light-suffused logo offering a vague thematic hint, and a pile of modern-Blizzard cruft like new systems.
Yet we all look at this and obviously don’t believe it, because of course we don’t. It has enough wish-listy stuff (a new class in 10.0, meaningful-sounding profession changes, early WOTLK Classic) without being aggressively positive about new systems, which is a sure-fire tell that modern Blizzard didn’t make this.
In many ways, I think the art of a fake expansion leak like this is that it isn’t for the viewers as much as it is for the creator. Which is a perfect segue to my main point!
Fake Expansion Leaks Are Fun and Everyone Should Try Making One
I’ll be really honest, the most fun I have writing this blog is when I get to speculate on things coming to WoW. One reason is that it is obviously more creative than analytical writing or community discussion, because the boundaries of what is allowable are drastically opened up. It’s one of the purest methods of providing feedback, because I think when any of us speculate about the game, we’re ultimately projecting our own desires for the game into the world, and saying what we would like to see absent the boundaries of possibility, Blizzard’s tendencies, or the like – a pure distillation of our wishes. I would posit that nothing tells you more about the type of a player a person is like someone’s fake leak or speculation. If I made a fake leak, it would be built around the modes of play I like – dungeon-focused, with strong multi-instance raid tiers, a strong world content design with more fun explorability, lots of new stuff for Mythic Plus, more focus on character customization both aesthetically and statistically/playstyle wise with new player progression mechanics, and large questlines with no timegates or artificial gameplay lengtheners. I suspect that most of my readers would all go in very different directions, as would my guildmates, as would everyone, really.
Speculation about WoW is fun because when the game is good, it is an unmitigated fantasy of what could come next and how enrapturing it will all be, and when the game is bad, it is a dream of better times, the idea that this too shall pass and the next thing will improve on what we all hated about the current content and bring us back into the fold fully.
Another big piece of the fun is the possibility space. In FFXIV land, everything gets built up pretty well and so each new expansion and piece of content has logical connections to what came before, while in WoW, that isn’t usually true because they love their surprises, so things will come out of nowhere, like how an expansion centered on Kul Tiras and Zandalar started because Sargeras stabbed Silithus with a fuck-off huge sword, or how Shadowlands started because Sylvanas went to duel the Lich King while we were all off dealing with N’Zoth. In WoW at this point in time, basically anything can happen because the game has eroded the lore setup of many of the preceding bits of content, both from the RTS franchise and the origins of the MMO. Shadowlands as a place wasn’t something that had a rich lore setup or even a logical pathway to arrive at it, it was just a cool idea and once that idea was set, we started getting lore to build it up in BfA, mostly via the Vol’jin quests for Horde players. Any leak that comes out, no matter how farfetched, at least gets a skeptical once-over because who knows, it could end up being real at least in theme!
Things don’t even have to purport to be leaks to be good in that way. One of my favorite things I’ve seen lately is a series of posts on a random Instagram account that have class “skins” to offer mostly cosmetic customization, like this Demon Hunter idea:
Like, on the one hand, I suspect that Blizzard likely wouldn’t go with this kind of concept, but at the same time, it presents as something that requires recolored textures and icons and a small questline, and you know what, in that context, it would be kind of cool and worth doing, and I could imagine a world where Blizzard does it!
One of the best parts of Blizzcon is the fan creations, seeing what people who are passionate about the game put forward as their vision of the world of Azeroth. In times where the game content is less-inspired, these things are exciting and put a certain fire back into fans, injecting a world of possibilities into a game that is sometimes overly constrained by the rigid structure of its development team.
To close, here are some fun old leaks and discussions over the years!