BlizzCon 2019 has come and gone, and it was quite an event: the final (official) debut of Diablo IV, the first female champion of Hearthstone’s Grandmasters Global Finals, and a glimpse at the next Overwatch.
So much happened at this year’s convention that I barely had time to take in half of it. This is my third BlizzCon, and I’m pretty confident that the convention is slowly marching its way to Comic-Con status—not in size, obviously, but in the personal strategies you have to employ to have a successful weekend.
If you’re considering going to BlizzCon next year — and you’ll want to make that decision soon, as you’ll be able to make reservations for the two major convention hotels (the Hilton Anaheim and Anaheim Marriott) for potential BlizzCon 2020 weekends in a few days — you’ll need to go in with a game plan. I realise we’re a bit far out to start worrying about this, but some of these tips are also applicable to other geeky gatherings you attend throughout the year.
And, of course, if you want to know some of my favourite highlights from BlizzCon, wait no more. Let’s start with the tips, then we’ll get to a quick recap of this year’s convention—and how to get (or preorder) everything Blizzard announced.
Get your room squared away early
If you want to be at the centre of the party, I recommend booking your BlizzCon hotels as soon as rooms are available—typically one year prior to your arrival/departure. While we have no idea when BlizzCon 2020 will be, odds are good that it’ll be the first weekend of November, as has been the case since BlizzCon 2015. Whether you’re looking to blow a fortune at the two hotels nearest the Anaheim convention centre, or you’re looking to get a decent-but-still-big deal at a nearby hotel, booking early is always better than booking late.
(That said, make sure you’re also scouting for deals throughout the next year so maybe, just maybe, you can save a little cash on your room. And don’t be afraid to book one that requires a little walking—you’ll survive, and you’ll have that much more money to blow on convention stuff.)
Consider paying Blizzard more for early access
Here’s a controversial tip. If you’d rather maximise your time at BlizzCon instead of suffering gigantic lines to get good seats for the opening ceremony—or even to pick up your convention registration materials, period—consider plunking down some extra cash for its Portal Pass (assuming Blizzard offers one in 2020).
Hopefully, by this time, Blizzard will have improved this program even more. I’ve seen plenty of people on the fence over whether the pass was worth it this year: the “premium parking” didn’t feel that premium since it cost the same as everyone else’s (and some non-Portal Pass holders, like me, were allowed to park in the nearby reserved garage); the exclusive early access to Blizzard’s Darkmoon Faire—where you can buy collectibles—wasn’t all that useful; the special “Portal Pass lounge” for relaxing didn’t feel very special with its lame snacks; et cetera. (Though, I am envious of the Portal Pass holders who got free World of Warcraft 15th anniversary mugs, whereas the rest of us mortals had to wait in the world’s longest line outside for one.)
I didn’t pay the extra $US300 ($436) for a Portal Pass this year (which is one guaranteed way to get a BlizzCon ticket before the mad rush for general admission seats, similar to Blizzard’s Benefit Dinner Pass), so I can’t directly speak to these issues I heard about.
Nevertheless, if you’re a bit collectible fanatic—as many at BlizzCon are—this is where you’ll want to pay a little extra to ensure you have the best chance of getting the most exclusive stuff before everyone else. Do you need a Portal Pass? Of course not. It just improves your shopping odds (and likely lets you wake up a wee bit later).
Know how hard it is to do everything, and create your game plan accordingly
Comic-Con is obviously insane, and I’ve ever heard of the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) lovingly referred to as “LineCon.” BlizzCon is popular, no doubt, and you’re going to be doing quite a bit of standing around all weekend to play early game demos, get autographs, buy exclusive BlizzCon loot, et cetera. I’d like to think I have BlizzCon pretty down by now—and I get to bypass the clusterfuck that is the game demo area thanks to my press pass—and even I always end up feeling like I could have planned a more optimised day.
The prime problem with BlizzCon is that it’s easy to stumble across something that you would have wanted to do, but now have no way of actually doing. Or, to put that in convention terms, when you see a BlizzCon staffer holding one of those dreaded “The line is capped for this experience” signs at the entrance of something fun or exclusive, you’ll know you planned your schedule poorly.
What I’ve found most helpful is to first, above all else, come to terms with the fact that you won’t be able to do it all at BlizzCon. I rolled opening to close on Friday at BlizzCon (I had to head back home Saturday, unfortunately), and I still missed out on plenty of activities (and collectibles) I would have loved to have gotten to check out—that includes the full Blizzard Arcade, which I was annoyed to have missed; most of the esports events I would have loved to have seen live; and my favourite live event at Blizzcon, Andrea Toyias’ amazing voice actor panels.
And why did I miss these things? Scheduling and lines. I checked out the panel discussion for Diablo IV; played some game demos; suffered in line for opportunities like free caricatures, dropping tokens in Capsule Toy machines, and getting developer autographs for various BlizzCon franchises. I also stood in line for food, stood in line for various vendor booths, and spent way too much time trying to remember where I parked my car—not Blizzard’s fault on that last one.
If you try to go to BlizzCon and do everything you want to do, you will fail and feel frustrated. You’ll also miss out on a lot of special opportunities at the convention that you couldn’t have planned for. And here’s how I address this. I start by making a prioritised list of all the main events—panels, sessions, and whatnot—and save those in my official BlizzCon app (iOS, Android).
This does not become my set-in-stone list of things I must do; however, by having them favorited within the app, I can get notifications about when these events are about to start, so I can decide if these pre-planned activities are something worth doing over whatever else it is I’m in line for (including lunch).
Generally speaking, I tend to err on the side of attending activities that are more interesting to see live—like the voice actor panel—versus ones that are simply informative, like the panel discussion for whatever new World of Warcraft expansion is launching that year. I can always catch up on that after the fact, and I’ll probably learn more by reading the one-on-one (or group) interviews with the game’s developers, too. I find BlizzCon’s panel discussions interesting, but not mind-blowing. They’re something I can surely watch in the hotel later, unless I really want to be there to see any live Q&A sessions.
As for everything else that’s not officially listed on a schedule somewhere, I like to take a little time to plan my attack whenever I enter a new space at the convention. That includes walking the show floor a bit to get a sense of what is going on and selecting which line I might want to tackle first—that way, I know I’m not missing out on priority experiences (a free caricature or a special autograph session) for things I can do any ol’ time (buying not-limited-edition merch).
Also, it’s important to know when to gamble; for example, if a vendor booth is being flooded with people, maybe it’s best to try going back again during a larger event—the finals for an esports competition, lunchtime, or a popular panel—instead of wasting time needlessly. If an experience is on your mid-tier list of “things I must do,” don’t wait two hours for it. Wander around, do other things, and scope out the situation throughout the day; you might be able to sneak in after only waiting ten minutes, once its initial popularity fades.
Sneak in snacks
BlizzCon, like most conventions, doesn’t want you bringing in a backpack full of lunch or snacks. You get bottled water; that’s it. But fuck that. I was amazed the slippery hamburgers at BlizzCon didn’t give me E. coli, and watching the endless lines for the convention’s food trucks snake around did not instill confidence, in my stomach, that food was on its way within a reasonable time frame.
What I should have done, and didn’t, is try to sneak food in. I’m not taking full meals here; but a protein bar (or tw0), a few granola bars, or whatever else might fit discreetly into one’s pockets would have been worth the attempt—if for nothing else than to have something to snack on while waiting in line for a larger lunch.
If that doesn’t work for you, or you get your sneaky food confiscated, the only other advice I have on this front is to know each and every place around the convention where you can possibly get food. The food trucks at BlizzCon might be slammed, but I definitely saw reasonable lines, if not no lines, at some of the more obscure food vendors located around the convention. You’ll have to do a little walking to scope out the situation, but it beats standing in line an hour to get a hot dog.
Nobody knows anything, so ask everyone until you get the right answer
The problem with conventions—and BlizzCon is no exception—is that it feels like nobody has the right answers for anything. Where do you stand? Where do you enter? Is this the right entrance? Is this the right line? Why is half the line moving somewhere else, and why are they going into something first? What is this the line for? Will you get more of that thing you just sold out of?
I’ve found that the best way to approach these kinds of geeky conventions is to never be satisfied with an answer if you suspect it might be incorrect. Question everything. I don’t mean be annoying; please don’t be annoying. But if you suspect that you aren’t getting accurate information, ask someone else. Ask someone wearing a different shirt. As someone who appears to work for the company putting on the convention, not convention staff. Ask your fellow attendees. Again, don’t piss people off with your interrogating, but don’t accept answers at face value if they don’t pass the smell test.
And even then, it never hurts to double-check. For example, I read reports this weekend that an exclusive pin—Lilith, “blessed mother” of Diablo IV—sold out at Blizzard’s pin-purchasing location in its Darkmoon Faire. Bad news for those who wanted one, right?
I later heard that sold-out pin was restocked at some point during the day, so if you were patient, or checking back in at said pin-purchasing location throughout the day, you could have scored that which was seemingly unattainable. Again, healthy scepticism never hurts.
The same is true for any situation you encounter at a convention, really. For example, I tried using Blizzard’s official BlizzCon app to load up its convention-only shopping site, in the hopes I could nab an exclusive item or two after the company’s big opening ceremony. The shopping portal, of course, refused to load. Foolishly, I gave up, instead of realising that I could have also tried to access the shopping portal via my regular web browser—which did work, and could have helped me nab some key items before they sold out.
It’s OK to miss the big stuff
BlizzCon opening day is a bit of a mess, since most everyone is trying to jam-pack their way into the main hall for the opening ceremony—the Mythic Stage—or trying to score a semi-decent seat for any of the overflow areas. Here’s the thing, though; while these announcements are fun to see in person, sitting far enough back means you’ll be watching tiny little bodies on afar or, more likely, a broadcast of whatever is happening on a nearby projection or TV screen. At that point, why bother being there at all? You’re only really cheering for games with people; otherwise, any announcements made will look just as good on your phone or laptop later as they would in person.
My advice? It’s OK to miss the big stuff. You don’t need to see the opening ceremony. Go stand in line for some collectables, a quirky experience, or a reasonable breakfast. Heck, camp out around the demo areas for games-you-think-might-be-unveiled. Go buy your $70 mystery boxes of World of Warcraft loot.
Similarly, don’t be afraid to sit down for the panel before the panel you want to see. If you know the finals for a big esport competition are coming up later that day, start jockeying yourself closer to the seat you want throughout the day rather than fighting the masses five minutes before the final kicks off. Sure, you’ll have to sit through some content you might not care a ton about, but you’ll never get a decent spot if you try to run in last-minute.
Tap into the community
The best way to find out about all the exclusive opportunities at a convention, including BlizzCon, is to tap into the power of the community. Why walk a mile across a crowded hall to find out that something you wanted to buy is sold out when you can simply pull up a Facebook group and see (or ask directly)?
For BlizzCon, I relied on a number of social sources to tell me what was going on, meet up with cool people, and trade stuff:
Twitter (of course)
Club Titos Facebook group — never con alone!
Blizzard’s big announcements for BlizzCon 2019
Now that you’ve made it through my list of tips—achievement unlocked for you, for doing so—let’s do a quick recap of the major BlizzCon 2019 announcements, including what you can play or purchase right now (or soon).
To say I have been waiting for this for a very, very long time is a understatement. Also, Blizzard’s cinematics team is the best in the business, period.
Release date: ???!?! Seriously. This one isn’t soon, nor is it even “Blizzard soon,” as was said at this year’s reveal and subsequent panel discussion. I wouldn’t put Diablo IV on your radar until 2021, and even that’s ambitious. Remember, Blizzard announced Diablo III in June of 2008, and the game didn’t officially arrive until May of 2012—and I was there, to note, for the horrible server issues at launch, since I was planning to all-nighter it for a review. What fun we had together.
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands
At this point, I have to actually go to Wikipedia and count what World of Warcraft expansion we’re on. Blizzard, to its credit, is going to milk this cash cow until the bitter end, as much as I’d love to see some World of Warcraft II (or World of Starcraft) action happening someday.
In this latest expansion, the game’s eighth, you’re going to the neitherworld afterlife to make friends, pick a side, accrue reputation with that faction, get some sweet loot that took you a month to grind, and beat on your favourite World of Warcraft NPCs in a large, unlockable raid. Well, that, and a new roguelike experience in Torghast, the Tower of the Damned. This large dungeon promises randomly generated layouts and plenty of unlockable abilities to help you during your progression up. I’m intrigued, only because it’s at least something that shakes the repetitiveness of ye olde dungeons and raids.
Also, Blizzard’s cinematics team still rocks.
Preorder: Right now!
Base Edition: $59.95
Heroic Edition: $89.95
Epic Edition: $119.95
Physical Collector’s Edition: ??? (should be available to purchase months before the expansion’s expected 2020 release date.
The PvP shooter is back with a brand-new edition, even though it doesn’t—so far—feel all that new from regular ol’ Overwatch. Still, as one who gets ripped up every time he plays Support, I welcome the chance to team up with friends against AI bots instead of really good Overwatch players. Also, I love that Blizzard is allowing you to carry your unlocked items from Overwatch straight into Overwatch 2. Can has for Diablo III?
Preorder: Nothing yet, but the game will be available for PC, Xbox, and PlayStation when it arrives...someday.
Descent of Dragons (Hearthstone)
I don’t play a ton of Hearthstone at the moment, but I’m intrigued by this expansion’s mechanics—powering up a mega-card in your deck and unleashing it on your foe (who likely has an awesome counter for it just sitting in their hand)—as well as it’s new Battlegrounds mode. It’s an auto-battler with some quirks, but it...works? Also, let’s talk about that theme song.
Preorder: Right now!
Standard preorder (60 packs): $66.95
Mega Bundle preorder (100 packs): $109.95