Media events for an upcoming videogame release are pretty much all the same.
A diverse, often international group of reporters, bloggers, streamers, and YouTubers sit around an excessively air-conditioned space waiting for the moment embargo warnings can stop so gameplay can start. When that happens, each media outlet springs to work collecting as much information as they possibly can. It isn't exactly a competitive environment, but you never want to be the person who spends the entire time distracting others with fan talk.
YouTubers usually only care about recording as much gameplay as possible while the more niche community bloggers can be found taking detailed notes about every possible game mechanic on display. Streamers tend to just enjoy the game and, more often than not, end up in front of the camera of whatever outlet could afford to bring a film crew.
" Unfortunately, there was absolutely nothing for me to do after I created my character. "
Most of us recognize each other from some other event but, despite the fun environment and free muffins, socializing takes a back seat. After all, we each have a job to do and it ostensibly involves playing a videogame for 3-4 hours with the intent at producing content from the experience.
When I (@nickdorazio3rd) attended the Blizzard hosted Warcraft 25 year anniversary / World of Warcraft 15 year anniversary media event on May 7th, I pretty much expected the same experience that I've been through dozens and dozens of times before.
To be fair, World of Warcraft: Classic is one of my favorite games of all time and because it is absolutely, certifiably impossible for me to have ever played any non-Blizzard sanctioned version of the game, I was excited to get my hands on the latest build of the official classic experience.
Unfortunately, there was absolutely nothing for me to do after I created my character.
Like any other 20 something would do, I made an offering to the old-god of nostalgia that we all worship and re-created my primary gnome Mage down to the very last detail. I ran around on my mount for a bit, chuckled at having to click 30 different times to select my talents, checked out the auction house, dueled someone outside of Ironforge and promptly logged out.
I guess I'll create a new character?
I did the same nostalgia trip with my old dwarf Rogue and ran into the same wall. Nothing to do, nowhere to really go. Sure, the demo had some quests pre-accepted that I could have chased down, but since none of these characters were actually my own, the thought of killing sabretooth tigers as a rogue with only daggers because it might be enjoyable ever wasn't a real option.
"They tore through the instance with aggressive pulls, passive-aggressive heals, and extremely aggressive AoE attempts..."
So I got up from my station and visited a nice little museum of sorts Blizzard created to show off some of the incredible artwork that has defined the Warcraft franchise.
After my trip down memory lane and now armed with a cup of coffee, I casually walked around the stations of my peers. Some of them were playing Warcraft 3: Reforged, but the overwhelming majority were playing Classic. After all, this was the first time since BlizzCon 2018 that a version of Classic was available to play, and these characters were level 40 instead of just 20. In addition, nearly everyone I had talked to prior to the demo-stations opening up had a gushing story about how much they loved Classic and how excited they were to play all over again.
I walked around more stations and, I eventually noticed a group sitting together that were having a much better time that I was. Laughing, sometimes yelling, the four of them had chosen to play as Horde and the first thing they did was head to Razorfen Downs to go through an instance together. They tore through the instance with aggressive pulls, passive-aggressive heals, and extremely aggressive AoE attempts -- they were getting some great footage and, to my extreme envy looked like they were having a great time.
And then it happened.
I realized that, in order to have fun and do my job, I would have to make friends.
Just as I did when I was 15 in my high school cafeteria and some kid noticed the "Green Linen Shirt" t-shirt I was wearing, I began to ask strangers if they wanted to play World of Warcraft with me. It was an easy sell, as I wasn't the only solo writer representing my outlet and it would have been a huge missed opportunity for us to attend the event and not complete an instance or experience any world PvP.
"Make no mistake, Classic is a tedious game at times."
So I mentioned to all the people playing Classic by themselves that a group of us were planning on meeting at the crossroads between Tarren Mill and South Shore to try and recreate the epic battles of our past. I had talked to a group of Horde players as well and the plan was to each meet there after lunch. Everything was set and I felt good about having something interesting to write about.
But no one showed up.
Well, almost no-one. Turned out "after lunch" is a nebulous thing during a media event, as a lot of interviews are scheduled after lunch and everyone finishes their food at different times. Despite this, I met up with one other allied player, @Champepro who was also dutifully running around Southshore with nothing to do. He, like me, craved action so we picked up the pieces of our failed meet-up and tried again.
Thankfully, this time @ThuggnDuggn took pity on us and explained to me how our location was kinda out-of-the-way for the Horde players and the town guards were too high for level 40's anyway. Instead, he recommended we tell everyone who wanted to PvP to meet at the Gurubashi Arena in Stranglethorn Vale. This was an iconic, hard to forget location and also made it so anyone could kill anyone regardless of faction.
Perfect, I can finally play Classic!
This turned out to be a much better idea and we enjoyed about 30 minutes of great PvP. On top of that, our merry band of Alliance decided to stay grouped and run through Scarlet Monastery. The flight path alone took ages and, after that, each of us had to make it all the way to the instance by our selves, sometimes dying in the process because we accidentally ran into a ??? level enemy.
When the Warlock in our group summoned me, I sincerely felt lucky and hopefully, my in-game '/bow' reflected that. That player had just saved me a lot of headache because they just so happened to navigate said headache faster than me.
After clearing Library, we were in a rush to try and complete Armory before each of us has more interviews to conduct. After a huge AoE pull that led to disaster (pictured above) it was the wipe that ended our media coalition.
We came, we looted Arena Master from the Gurubashi chest, and we wiped clearing to Herod. Just another day in Classic.
Maybe the real treasure...
At this media event, I initially thought that I had wasted some time inefficiently playing Classic. After all, the fun gameplay moments were only after I had found people to play with -- everything before that was just messing around in major cities, agonizing over talents, and putting cheese up on the auction house for thousands of gold as a joke.
But since that day I realized something. From the moment I jumped on top of the mailbox because I had nothing better to do around Ironforge, I was already neck deep in authentic vanilla gameplay.
It was all there condensed in about 3 hours of play time:
The necessity of finding a group trying to achieve the same thing as me.
The possibility, and reality, of my first group falling apart.
The idle chat that happened between flight paths and mounted travel.
The subtle moment of joy when my group, despite everything, successful met in the same place.
The stakes of PvP because every death meant a corpse walk.
The organic rivalry between the Horde and Alliance.
The individual friends I met along the way.
It was one of the most memorable media events I had ever attended and a big part of that was due to the unique social value that that Classic gameplay manages to create each time you sit down and play. Make no mistake, Classic is a tedious game at times. Instance locations are obnoxious, flight paths take forever, and things like auto-dismount the second you enter water really drove me crazy.
However, I become more and more convinced that the frustrations of Azeroth are an essential ingredient that makes playing and socializing within the gameworld a magical experience. When gold is hard to come by, in-game generosity and helpful guilds matter. When instances are hard and finding another group is unthinkable, friendly players are needed to ease the sting of a wipe and encourage the group to keep at it. When PvP is brutal and often unfair, real emotions paint the rivalry between The Horde and The Alliance.
In other words, when World of Warcraft: Classic releases on August 27th, I won't be playing alone. None of us will be.
Warcraft 3 is my one true love and I will challenge anyone to a game of Super Smash Brothers Melee.