Today, Saralyn Smith, executive producer for BlizzCon that signed the note by including her World of Warcraft class of "Fury Warrior" first, made an announcement the esports and gaming industry was expecting for some time now. Like the rest of our industries flagship events, BlizzCon 2020 is being affected by Covid-19 quarantine:
"While we’re all hopeful things will look better later in the year, the bottom line is that at this point it’s too early to know whether BlizzCon 2020 will be feasible. The health of our community, employees, and everyone who helps with the show is our top consideration. It might be a few months before we know for certain if or how we’ll proceed, but as soon as we have a meaningful update, we’ll share it."
The announcement happened just two days after Google executive Daniel Alegre began work on April 7th as Blizzard's new President and Chief Operating Officer.
What does this mean for Blizzard?
While the general quarantine of people and closing of public events have been a major blow to many industries, gaming hasn't been affected as much. In fact, many analysts have noticed a surge in gaming usage on PC and Mobile platforms and esports has been in the news as a "digital replacement" for the traditional sports fans with nothing to watch.
But what about Blizzard, the beloved company that can't seem to catch a break lately? BlizzCon is the most popular and important Blizzard event that single-handedly sets the tone for the rest of their year. BlizzCon is the thing that keeps Blizzard fans loyal while attracting new ones, so how will the company fair without it?
Esports reputation in free fall
Looking back, BlizzCon 2018 and 2019 were disappointing, to say the least. Diablo: Immortal's disastrous reveal in 2018 placed major pressure to reveal something wonderful in 2019 and, while the latest Diablo offering looked good, any positive press it might have gained was eventually drowned out by Hong Kong supporters protesting against Blizzard, creating an atmosphere of unrest and a ton of miffed Blizzard fans.
Fast forward to Warcraft III: Reforged's comically bad launch and, once more, Blizzard has undermined their reputation as esports leaders. Now, during the peak of COVID-19 anxiousness, Overwatch League is hemorrhaging its most popular players to VALORANT and other new games. In fact, years of frustration regarding the Overwatch League are being revealed on the social media of esports' most popular fraggers and -- in a series of even worse news for Blizzard -- these same players are citing VALORANT as the game to reawaken that joy and excitement for competitive gaming.
These type of tweets from some of the most popular NA FPS players in the world aren't hard to find and grow more common week.
Remember Brandon "Seagull" Larned? He was, by far, the most popular Overwatch Streamer and Overwatch pro during the height of Overwatch League's popular. He was the face of competitive Overwatch and truly appeared to be having fun whenever he played the game.
Then he retired and it wasn't a good look for Overwatch. Especially with how honest and candid Seagull is. His reasons for retiring the league were simple: burnout, fatigue, disillusionment and a desire to stream Overwatch instead of competing in it (a sentiment shared by the majority of Overwatch's most popular pro-player personalities.)
So, where is Seagull now? Excitedly diving into VALORANT along with the rest of the FPS community.
A much-needed break
Currently, Blizzard staff are rightfully demoralized. All of their most iconic leaders have left for new projects, new companies, or comfortable retirement. Chris Metzen, Kim Pham, Mike Morhaime, Adam and Tyler Rosen (now working on RallyCry.gg with the support Mike Morhaime and others) Ben Brode and many more veteran members of Blizzard have already left, further stoking the rumors that Blizzard is no longer the most magical place in gaming.
So, perhaps taking a break from massive BlizzCon isn't the worst thing to happen. In fact, one can argue that the massive amounts of hype and expectation BlizzCon created every year is the same thing that started Blizzard's fall from grace in the first place (you think you do, but you don't was a BlizzCon moment, remember?).
It will certainly save the company tons of money and it's easy to imagine many Blizzard staff feeling relieved that, amidst all of the craziness 2020 is bringing the world, they don't need to worry as much about BlizzCon 2020.
A personal note.
Having worked BlizzCon countless times, both as media and twice for Blizzard as an esports talent manager, I am very aware of the pressure the event creates. When BlizzCon is running smoothly, it is magical. Fans are happy, Blizzard staff are beaming with pride, and the entire gaming world is dominated by positive Blizzard press.
However, when things don't go well? Frustrated fans, depressing sound apologies, disappointing demos and a ton of promises by the incredibly talented and passionate game developers at Blizzard that, inevitably, aren't kept because EA has other plans. In the same way that a nation-wide quarantine is causing consumers in every sector to re-evaluate their lives and spending decisions, I think the decision to start walking-back a promise to deliver BlizzCon 2020 in its traditional form is a wise decision.
Daniel Alegre is now leading Blizzard as the new President and CEO. I hope this is the first of many decisions that slow things and help re-instill the when it's done release discipline that defined the Blizzard of old.
Warcraft 3 is my one true love and I will challenge anyone to a game of Super Smash Brothers Melee.