BlizzCon goes all-in on e-sports – Los Angeles Times
Part game conference and part sporting event, the two-day BlizzCon gathering at the Anaheim Convention Center reaffirmed team South Korea as the nation to beat in e-sports, no matter how new the video game.
The country trounced every other national team to claim the first ever World Cup championship for the recently released shooter “Overwatch.”
Although the weekend — Blizzard Entertainment’s 10th convention — marked the company’s 25th anniversary, it couldn’t quell the clamor for new content from fans. But Blizzard refrained from unveiling sequels or new titles and instead focused on supporting its main franchises, as well as bolstering “Overwatch” as an e-sport newcomer.
The company’s major announcements at BlizzCon were mostly refinements.
“Overwatch,” “Diablo,” “Heroes of the Storm” and others all got their due with add-ons and expansions. The company also unveiled a partnership with artificial intelligent researchers Deepmind to collaborate on opening the real-time strategy game “StarCraft 2” as a testing environment for machine learning.
BlizzCon attendee Maria Keller admitted she expected the company to reveal a live-action movie based on “StarCraft,” or even a sequel to this year’s “Warcraft.” Still, she had no complaints.
“It wasn’t a year of big major announcements,” Keller said. “We all expected a new ‘Overwatch’ character and knew where they were going with ‘Diablo III,’ but it’s things that are really catering to what their player base wants. They know their customers and they really are serving us.”
“Overwatch” — Blizzard’s most recent and popular game with more than 20 million players — led BlizzCon with the formal debut of character Sombra, upcoming game modes and the announcement of an “Overwatch” League.
The league models itself after traditional sports. Blizzard will host an event next year where players can compete for a guaranteed team contract.
Blizzard Chief Executive Mike Morhaime called it a “genuine career opportunity” for dedicated players. It’s also no doubt another chance to attract investors to the booming e-sports industry — expected to generate more than $500 million in global revenue this year, according to Deloitte.
“Overwatch” game designer Jeremy Craig said he recognizes the importance of e-sports for Blizzard, as well as the task of building a competitive scene that is attractive to spectators. “Overwatch” upon release quickly established itself as a star of the shooter-based genre of video games, boasting a tone that is more “Guardians of the Galaxy” than urban warfare.
“From a challenge standpoint for e-sports, ‘Overwatch’ has a lot going on at once with different character effects and mobility,” Craig said. “It’s very different than other shooters out there in terms of watchability, so those are the challenges that we are dealing with right now.”
Elsewhere on the show floor, crowds of fans pursued the latest merchandise and waited up to an hour to play new content at demo stations. The regular trappings of a game convention were there, for sure, though by the second day, it had started to more closely resemble a sports stadium.
Crowds of spectators — either seated at the arena or standing in front of a jumbo screen — watched the best teams from each of Blizzard’s global e-sports programs compete for a world championship. At stake was a combined prize pool of $2,750,000.
Among the announcements throughout the weekend was the release of the documentary “A New Hero,” showcasing the young talents behind last year’s “Heroes of the Dorm” collegiate tournament in Seattle.
The film presented a personal examination of up-and-comers vying for the prize of full tuition and is an earnest look at the growing pains associated with a developing industry.
“I think time management plays a part in [collegiate e-sports], but I also think the structure of tournaments is very detrimental to players, ” Michael Udall said to a group of journalists at BlizzCon. Udall, who appears in the film, previously led Arizona State University’s “Heroes of the Storm” team to a championship.
“I think something that e-sports is lacking as a whole, not just collegiate, is an off-season,” he added. “At some point, we’re gonna have to have a players union and say, ‘This is our off-season.’ I think that is very important if we want this scene to continue.”
Blizzard’s weekend showing was a reminder of its refresh-over-reset mentality for its franchises, bucking a trend for most major publishers around this time of year. The holiday season is traditionally when the video game business drops its biggest titles.
“They’re still trying to be a little bit of everything,” said attendee Don Murphy. “Sure, there’s the e-sports thing they really seem to be pushing this year, but there’s a lot of different games for a lot of different types of players. A good jack of all trades.”
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