Blizzcon 2023 – Seven things we learned at this year’s show

Blizzcon 2023 – Seven things we learned at this year’s show
Ben Borthwick Updated on by

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With the first in-person Blizzcon in over three years, there was plenty of speculation around the event and what it would entail. Well, thankfully VideoGamer was fortunate enough to be invited to this year’s event – and we’ve come back with seven things we learned during this year’s celebrations.

Here’s our overview of the show as a whole, and we’ve got some more in-depth interviews coming up, so stay tuned here to to hear more of what we found out from the individual games at this year’s show in the near future.

Reports of the death of in-person events have been greatly exaggerated

Blizzcon 2023: A large stage with many people watching a large screen

Since the last in person Blizzcon, gaming events in general have changed dramatically – and the publisher had a lot to prove to justify this latest bash. Blizzcon has traditionally seen the reveal and announcement of huge new games – and Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 news had almost single handedly been the big headline grabbing pillars for the show’s remote years – but both games had released in the time since the last event. Yet it turned out, the company had plenty enough up its sleeves to put on a show with enough reveals and teases to please and pop the fans in attendance for the most part. 

The crowds cheered with delight as company president Mike Ybarra opened the show. The emotion in his warm welcome back to the fans in attendance was clear – seeing the players, the people who have taken Blizzard’s worlds to heart, making it a part of their lives and those same fans finally back together under the same roof rather than over a virtual screen was overwhelming enough to cause him to pause as he hold back some genuine heartfelt emotion. Taking a moment to catch himself, it was clear that this event meant a hell of a lot to him, and to those in attendance too, granting him and the crowd a well earned round of applause out of respect.

Xbox is here, but for now (at least) it’s business as usual

At Blizzcon 2023, Phil Spencer confidently stands on stage in front of a large screen

Blizzcon didn’t waste time addressing the enormous elephant in the room, with the recent completion of the long-in-the process deal of Xbox buying Blizzard as part of their purchase of Activision. Thus, Mr Xbox himself Phil Spencer was brought out to address the crowd in one of the event’s first surprises. Spencer didn’t have much in the way of new info, and wouldn’t be drawn on things such as when Blizzard games might come to Game Pass, instead he mostly focused on the fact that – by and large, there’ll be very little changes in the sense of how Blizzard operates. 

Xbox made it clear that they understand how a lot of eyes are going to be on Blizzard’s future as a key part of this acquisition – and it seemed from Phil’s words that Xbox have no intention of messing with their winning formula,  or even stepping in with a heavy guiding hand. In fact, Spencer’s speech was more centered around how it was his first Blizzcon too, and he was looking forward to taking to the show floor as a fan to see what was coming next from the various studios, divisions and games. 

An Orc at Blizzcon 2023

Believe it or not, WoW is nearly 20 years old at this point. It’s by far the oldest of the games that were the focus of this year’s Blizzcon show. And still, that didn’t stop the game getting not only easily the loudest ovation of the opening ceremony, but by far and away the biggest announcements and a reception that rivalled the much newer Diablo 4 to its various reveals and showfloor activities. By far the biggest cheer was for the return of Chris Metzen, often considered the father of World of Warcraft, and whom had previously retired in 2016 to spend more time with his family. While he’d ostensibly been back in an advisory role since December of 2022, Blizzcon was his first major public outing in front of fans since he’d been made the Executive Creative Director for the entire Warcraft universe back in September of this year.

And boy howdy, did he have big news. The next major story chapter for the twenty year old game is too big to fit into just one expansion – and thus, he announced the next three expansions coming to WoW as part of The Worldsoul Saga. It’ll be made up of: The War Within – launching at some point in 2024 – followed by Midnight and The Last Titan at some indeterminate point thereafter. The way it was presented makes it seem this is going to be a monumental event, a cumulation of the last twenty years and in fact, maybe even bigger than if they’d announced a World of Warcraft 2. If the show floor was anything to go by, the reaction from fans rivals that of any of Blizzard’s other games put together, with masses of feet exploring the reactration of Darkmoon Faire in the WoW Hall which was consistently and universally one of the busiest areas across both days of the show. 

Diablo 4 is getting its first expansion – and it likely won’t be the last 

A statue of Lilith from the floor of Blizzcon 2023.

Prior to Blizzcon, it was a little in the air as to whether Blizzard would bother with a traditional expansion for Diablo 4 as it had with other games. That was mainly in part due to the new seasonal post-content, and making Diablo 4 part of the live service style of games that sees the endgame constantly updated and refreshed with new seasonal content that is, to its credit, pretty substantial. So despite that massive cliffhanger dangling at the end of Diablo 4’s story, there was still plenty of wiggle room.

Turned out there was no need for us traditionalists to worry, because Diablo 4 will indeed be exploring that massive loose end and a bunch more as it revealed Vessel of Hatred, and will introduce a brand new class that we’ve apparently never seen in a Diablo game before. That was exciting in and of itself, but the expansion will also heavily draw on Diablo 2, as we return to locations and features we’ve not seen since that game – rewarding both those who want something new and those who want more nods to the series’ past. And the main game isn’t getting neglected either – with plenty of additional changes and tweaks to come – and more seasons of course too. And while we didn’t get any sort of concrete confirmation of when we might expect them, the developers heavily alluded to the fact that further expansions could be on the cards in the future.

Warcraft Rumble is here, but there’s still a bit of trepidation in the air

Blizzcon 2023 - Warcraft Rumble area

Yes, the only entirely ‘new’ game (as in not an expansion) launched at this year’s Blizzcon was mobile game – Warcraft Rumble – and it was met with a relatively warm reception. With the looming spectre of Diablo Immortal’s disastrous reveal at previous Blizzcons, you’d be forgiven for thinking Blizzard would be very cautious about debuting a new mobile focused game at the show. But to its credit, it did a pretty good job at hyping it up, and at least making it look interesting enough to give a chance despite its mobile roots.

We’re not going to pretend the reception for it was as loud as the cheers for the other games during the opening ceremony, and we did notice on the showfloor a few occasions where it didn’t seem to be among the most overly-subscribed stands during the two days – but it also didn’t feel like the crowd were hostile towards it either, and plenty of people were giving it a chance to try it out and make up their own minds.

Overwatch 2 is really making great efforts to turn things around

At Blizzcon 2023, Aaron Keller stands on stage with Overwatch displayed on the screen, revealing exciting things we learned at this year's show.

It’s fair to say that Overwatch 2’s first year has been a very bumpy one. Between the changes from the first game, the switch to a free to play service model and plenty of mis-steps across its first year, the shooter has had a rough go of it over the last twelve months or so. But Blizzcon was a real chance for the developers to show how they intend to turn things around, and they seem to be going about it in the best way possible, with plenty to show for its future to the waiting crowd.

The game’s newest hero – tank Mauga – was understandably a key focus, helped by a free weekend letting those at Blizzcon and at home try him out ahead of his full launch. But – in what was no doubt a capitulation that what really interests fans are the new heroes –  the chaingun wielding Samoan was also joined by a partial reveal of the next two heroes coming to the shooter. Starting off with Venture, the game’s first non-binary DPS hero, and a mysterious Support hero that doesn’t have a final title yet, but is currently under the code moniker Space Ranger. Between those and the new PvP mode Clash, Overwatch 2 fans can rest assured that a tough first year has only pushed the teams to do better – with more changes that are taking fan feedback into account – promised across 2024.

Blizzcon is a unique experience

March of the Murlocs from Blizzcon 2023

Myself and my fellow journalists were having a discussion in the press room – who could put on a show on the size, scale and spectacle of Blizzard? It’s genuinely difficult to see what developer has not only that sort of weight, but the creativity and much loved-franchises in its house that could justify one. There’s something very particular and specific about it, that makes it much more a different experience than your average game show with multiple different publishers and developers all vying for your attention, without a coherent thread to tie them together.

Whatever the secret sauce is, Blizzard has crafted a really unique relationship between itself, its games and its fans – and it really comes to a tangible form at Blizzcon. Whether it’s through the incredible cosplays on the show floor, the excitement on fans faces and wide-eyed wonder as they’re taking part in activities like the incredible March of the Murlocs – believe me, it was quite the sight to walk into the plaza and accidentally come across an enormous sea of fans in Murloch costumes come together for a few minutes to just celebrate the silliest part of what’s already a fun show. Yes, it’s easy to be cynical about the many stalls, merchandise, ticket cost and money that’s no doubt changing hands here – but just like the nearby Disneyland Resort, Blizzcon really has a unique magic about it that’s hard to describe, but you can feel it permeate the air when you’re at the show. 

Blizzcon 2023: The convention center proudly displays a sign for this year's Blizzcon.

It’s going to be an interesting next twelve months for the company – between the various launches and the Xbox acquisition – so it’ll be very interesting for everyone else to see what the show looks like next year. For the fans, they’ve got a lot to look forward to when it comes to their games. But all in all, Blizzard can count Blizzcon 2023 as a roaring success.  

Disclaimer: Flight, accommodation and Blizzcon tickets for this trip were provided by Activision Blizzard.