The Blizzard Show: Fear & Longing in Paris

By Alec Meer on June 30th, 2008 at 9:47 pm.

I’ve recently got back from Blizzard’s 2008 Worldwide Invitational in Paris, and, well, it was an odd affair. A travel-addled brain-fart on the show in general follows.

There’s an inherent sense of disassociation in being a journalist at a fan event. On the one hand, it’s all-too-easy to be disparaging about the hordes of long-haired men in black t-shirts, uttering spoken OMGs and LOLs without irony. On the other, I had a constant sense of being an interloper. These people were here from love, or something like it. For them this event was about celebration of Blizzard games, pure and simple. For me, it was about information. Well, and maybe a little swag.

The Invitational had all the superficial trappings of a tradeshow like E3, but that it was for fans and not for the industry gave it an entirely different feel. While clearly there was the big Diablo reveal, this was more about community than info-gathering. I enjoy most Blizzard games, and I’ve given a suitably unhealthy amount of my life to at least two of them in the past – but journalist or not, there’s no way I’d ever have dropped a small wad of my own cash to go to a convention dedicated solely to them. I was horribly concious throughout that I didn’t fit in, that if I started a conversation with any of these guys I’d rapidly get out of my depth, and they’d look at me with sadness or contempt.

My sense of displacement was only exacerbated by the surprising number of women, many of whom were painfully super-cute, wandering around, generally on the arm of long-haired blokes in black t-shirts. There really were a lot of couples, and in most cases it was apparent both parties played WoW, rather than one partner having been unwillingly dragged along. The degree to which WoW gets into peoples’ lives never ceases to amaze me.

You really don’t get that kind of crowd at E3. While cameras would spring up from everywhere should someone in a half-decent costume wander by, it reallly wasn’t the same mentality as the hordes of slathering men who pose with bikini-clad booth girls. It was about the costumes, not the exposed flesh – give or take the odd Succubus. Of the sizeable female audience here, a fair few (more of ‘em, at a visual estimate, than were the men) were cosplaying to varying degrees – some crap, some incredible, some chaste, some gleefully sluttily – while others were breaking hearts just as effectively with the simple power of glasses and knee-socks or Guild t-shirts and shopping bags full of action figures. The urban myth that every female WoW character is actually a fat bloke playing from his parents’ basement was disproved right there. I felt backwards and chauvinistic for gawping, but newly single and sadly devoid of super-cute geek girl acquaintances, it all almost tempted me into taking up WoW again, just in case. God, I can be an idiot.

Of course, there was a huge amount of general happy to be had from being so knee-deep in gaming culture en masse. I thought I’d hate it, as I’ve got this hideous memory of being at E3 back when the first Halo 2 footage was shown, in a room full of several hundred or thousand FPS-loving men. There was excitement on a level I’d never seen before – the whooping, the cheering, the oh-my-godding. It was an excitement that made me uncomfortable – it was weird and testosteroney, with an uncomfortable edge of almost religious fervour. When dual-wielded weapons were shown, two American chaps in front of me shot up from their seats, bellowing like animals in heat, then repeatedly sat down and stood up again, suffering some hysteric, complete loss of muscle control. Truth be told, it kind of disgusted me – it was because an FPS character was holding two weapons at once. Get a grip.

Come the Diablo III announcement though, the rapture felt somehow more rational, more deserved – not just idiots shouting about guns. The crowd had been waiting eight years for this news. It was the stuff of dreams for them, so they went understandably absolutely nuts for it. Diablo doesn’t mean anywhere near as much to me, but it was fantastic to be there when the crowd found out their wish had been granted. If I’d have just read the news on the web, I’d have quietly thought “oh good”, but because I was there for the announcement, in the company of people to whom it was the most important thing in the world, I grinned uncontrollably and applauded until my hands ached.

There was a similar sentiment to the costume and /dance competitions. On paper, and even in still photographs, this aspect of fandom can seem ridiculous – we’re talking about someone constructing a home-made, real-life version of a warlock’s robe, complete with balloon-animal Imp pet, or the bewildering post-modernism of a guy impersonating a Night Elf impersonating Michael Jackson. On stage, in motion, in front of a like-minded audience, it’s just pure, unfettered love for these folks’ foremost hobby, and it’s impossible not to get caught up in it. The crowd treated ‘em like celebrities, and so did I.

At one point, a plain, dumpy girl (I don’t say that out of unkindness, and indeed a man with my face would have no right to, but wish merely to set the scene) takes the stage, dressed in an elaborate Gnome priest outfit. She looks overwhelmingly nervous, but she immediately launches into a perfect recreation of the booty-wiggling female Gnome dance. She’s really not the kind of girl you’d ever expect booty-wiggling from; yes, there’s very clearly a strong sexual undercurrent to this whole affair, but mostly she’s doing the Gnome dance because her character’s a Gnome and she wants to celebrate that. Some people in the crowd inevitably remark on her plainness and dumpiness. The rest of us cheer for our lives. I won’t say something vacuous and false like “just for that one moment, she was beautiful” (though I’m sure others in the crowd did indeed feel that way) but she was certainly luminous. She was a star, and the crowd treated her like one.

By that point in the show, I was bored to the back teeth of the wandering, of the queuing, of the permanent semi-darkness and, frankly, of Starcraft 2, but the dance competition left me grinning from ear to jug ear.

I can’t imagine myself ever feeling that strongly about a game. I sometimes feel that strongly about games, but I’m either too much of an omnivore or too easily-distracted to give myself so to a single title, or even to a single developer. The show as a whole didn’t really work for me, other than as an exercise in journalistic curiosity, but I did find myself very glad it existed, pleased that Blizzard’s fans could so cheerfully gather and unite.

Well, with one exception. When the crowd even cheered its lungs out for Blizzard’s Vice-President of Human Resources? That was when I knew I had to murder each and every person in that audience. For their own good, you understand.

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49 Comments »

  1. Jaik says:

    did they elaborate on SC2 at all? Seems like all I hear is about Wrath and D3 (D3 looks amazing). But any NEW SC news?

  2. Jim Rossignol says:

    SC2 was playable on the show floor, but I don’t think there were any specific announcements.

    (Maybe the fact that Battlenet is being relaunched with SC2? That was about it.)

  3. Alec Meer says:

    There were some unit changes from what had been previously shown, I believe, but no significant announcements, no.

  4. The Hammer says:

    I’d like to go. I’m a big World of Warcraft fan, and can really see myself getting into the whole Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3 thing, even though I missed their forefathers.

    To see the Wrath of the Lich King trailer…or sit in an audience and listen to the World of Warcraft soundtrack…good lord, I think I’d need to be sitting down.

  5. K says:

    So, how many did you manage to kill before they realised they’re not in the game?

  6. Mark says:

    Great write-up Alec, I can see myself feeling and doing the same as you illustrated in a similar situation. I love games, I love them I think more than most, but there definitely is that level of fervor that can really freak me out, I think that’s why I usually stray from fan-centric conventions.

  7. RichPowers says:

    “… it kind of disgusted me – it was because an FPS character was holding two weapons at once. Get a grip.”

    Ha ha! Methinks there’s a plan to the universe: you were in that situation solely so you could make a pun about it years later.

  8. Ubernutz says:

    Slutty succubi: Blizzard’s greatest invention.

  9. Seniath says:

    Hmmm, I was somewhere in between, as I went as both a fan and a (wannabe) journalist. However, yes, I’m not the worlds biggest Diablo fan, but even still I couldn’t help but get caught up in the spirit of things when Diablo 3 was announced. I even got a little fanboyish when I bumped into Samwise.

    I’ve plenty more to say about it, I just need to find the energy to write it all down. I take it you only stayed for the first day?

  10. Ash_Firelord says:

    Really enjoyable read. As someone recovering from a life-crippling WoW-addiction (clean for one month, yay), I can imagine the sentiment that goes on an event like this.

    Your article didn’t make me want to go back to WoW, but it made me smile.

  11. Tr00jg says:

    Great write-up! I’m a huge Blizzard fan. I wish I could’ve been there. To see fandom like this is awesome. :)

  12. Duoae says:

    The twist at the end was the best part. Though if i’m honest i saw it coming half-way through… and the way Shyamalan played the part of the writer was a bit egocentric but…

  13. alphaxion says:

    I regretted not signing up to do the male undead “dance” (it can’t be classed as a dance, more an undirected outburst of whatever) when I noticed that no-one else had picked it – or they had but dismissed it cause it’s not as interesting as someone being forced to perform a russian dance 7 times in a row. I swear he got 3rd place because of that!

    I was glad that none of the obligatory female nelf dancers won anything and surprised that the grinding that went on between the female orc dancer and the male host didn’t generate a harrassment case >.<

    And there was a group of us sat in our little right hand corner 1 row away from where the vip seats began questioning why people were clapping away to the head of PR and financial services.

    The CEO and team leaders, yeah. But the people who didn’t deliver the little bit of magic so many devote their time to and are, in essence, faceless suits or slimey propaganda spreaders didn’t do anything that we felt needed applauding.

    Still, during the closing ceremony I was surprised my yells of lost vikings and killing the violent game complainers was even heard from the second to last row :S

    And yes, that last one was meant as a piss take.

    I have a feeling the next european invitational will be hosted in ireland after the pictures of sheer frustration that adorned the faces of most blizzard guys during the panel Q and A sessions :S

  14. Talon says:

    There were indeed quite a good amount of very cute girls there. And the thing that surprised me the most was that it wasn’t only the body models and hostesses (you know, the people who are being paid to be good-looking) but that there actually were that many cute/pretty/hot gamer/geek/nerd girls around.

    Ah, but now it’s all over. /sadface

  15. Nimic says:

    I’ve been saying lol out loud for years now. It’s the hallmark of a geek in these parts, how could I not?

  16. ZenArcade says:

    When gamers talk about gamer girls, I cry a little inside

  17. Heliocentric says:

    unrelated but..
    “Sid Meier’s Colonization!” (as i demand the right to call it) hands on preview.
    http://www.1up.com/do/previewPage?cId=3168463

  18. DragonSix says:

    The girls were pretty because it’s in Paris, and our women are cute (I remember how London depressed me in comparison).

  19. Jimi Hendrix says:

    “Truth be told, it kind of disgusted me – it was because an FPS character was holding two weapons at once. Get a grip.”

    Right on man, or well rather i just burst out laughing at their reactions.

  20. Fede says:

    @Dragon: you certainly can’t say it wouldn’t have been the same in Milan or Rome instead of Paris. You French should know at least a thing or two about it ;)

  21. Factorial says:

    Unit changes! Not significant!!!

    Don’t give a toss about Diablo but I would like to hear about this “not significant” news. Some of your readers still regularly play SC, as the past-3-months post revealed.

  22. sluz says:

    …with corey feldman playing the dwarf

  23. Servitor says:

    Heh. I think soon it’ll be time to stop being surprised by the presence of women at these events. Although I do sympathize with “OMG BOOBIES” sentiments expressed by the newly single. ;)

  24. The Hammer says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQk_CT7fY9E

    That is absolutely electric!

    You see, it seems to me that out of all media, videogames have the most passionate audience. We bitch, whine, flame, complain, and generally act like immature dicks, but when it comes down to it, we just really, really, really want to play games, and Blizzard have captured perfectly this.

    It’s the sense of community, of meaning, and of the franchises themselves that come together. Stick 6000 people in a room, all of whom love the game to bits, and show them their favourite characters. Show them Illidan. Show them Diablo. Show them Kerrigan, each one in an immaculately presented cinematic, that caters directly to their wants.

    It’s why I desperately want to go see a Videogames Live concert. Just to hear the opening growls of my favourite music, along with fans from all over the world…

  25. roskelld says:

    Wicked article Alec, great piece of writing.

    The comment about dual weapons took mirrored my feelings back then too. Not that there isn’t a slight jealous tone to my words. I mean to have people waiting on your every announcement, no matter how seemingly small, must be a great feeling of accomplishment for the team.

  26. Kieron Gillen says:

    That Halo event will never cease to depress me. I’ve used it in god knows how many articles.

    It’s worse than the Blizzard thing for one main reason: Blizzard’s event was for fans. Halo was a press event.

    KG

  27. Roritharr says:

    Your Halo event remembers me somehow of the video footage of the audience as Zelda The Twilight Princess was announced, http://de.youtube.com/watch?v=zwMdcESljqg&feature=related … the funny thing is, if you watch different videos on youtube about the same presentation, you hear different screams from different points of the audience, but they all go wild and well, it was staged by nintendo in a great way…. and well, their fans waited long enough for a realistic zelda too…

    well… to unleash my own disgrace right in front of you… to tell my story about that, i came home late from school, opened the webbrowser, was flooded with links to that video via icq, without commentary… i cheered myself out load, alone, in my room, 10 hours after everyone else… hows that for a sad life?

  28. RichPowers says:

    Even though I rarely play Starcraft and Diablo II sits unopened on my shelf (the horror!), I was really excited to see my gaming RSS feeds loaded with news about Diablo III when I awoke the other morning. Something about Blizz games just does that.

  29. Larington says:

    I’ve got a budget copy of D2 around here somewhere which refused to work on my lap top so I just didn’t bother playing it in the end. When I mentioned this on the AoC guild chat recently the reaction was “you have to play that”, but I think on the whole, I’d rather play the game(s) I’ve already got installed.

    I’m not entirely sure I’m gonna bother with D3, I’ve started buying games and not even getting them installed months on which is somewhat bizarre, not that playing a timesink game like an MMO doesn’t help.

    And yes, I find that whole Halo 2 thing slightly disturbing, I’m glad I never got to see that.

  30. AndrewC says:

    picsplzkthx

  31. Zell says:

    The decent male/female ratio is probably the number one reason I’ve stuck to WoW for so long. I am spiritually wearied somehow by single-sex communities, whereas a mix just feels healthy and dynamic at some fundamental level, good job capturing that feeling in this write-up, Alec.

    In the US, at least, there is also an unusual amount of all-walks-of-life mixing in this game — your raid leader being a precocious high school kid who works at McDonalds, there’ll be an aging southern belle playing one of the healers, a heart surgeon mage, and then there’s always a chance you have a Joi Ito as well.

  32. BrokenSymmetry says:

    Excellent, excellent article! You are now my favorite RPS writer.

  33. Acosta says:

    Excellent article Alec.

    Did any of you went to the Nintendo event were the last Zelda for Gamecube was presented for first time (the one of Reggie’s “I’m about kicking asses” . It was quite the thing to watch.

  34. Paul Moloney says:

    “I have a feeling the next european invitational will be hosted in ireland after the pictures of sheer frustration that adorned the faces of most blizzard guys during the panel Q and A sessions”

    Why Ireland? Just curious.

    P.

  35. Seniath says:

    @ Paul Moloney: I presume because Blizzard Europe also has offices in Cork.

  36. alphaxion says:

    yeah, they confirmed that they only hold events in countries where they have offices.
    Unless they decide to actually host it in england (NEC arena as one example) and use their cork office as a staging ground for it.

  37. Manu says:

    I must admit that I too cheered for the HR guy, and the global finance dude.

    They started by announcing the founders of Blizzard, then the heads of game development/artwork/whatever, and everybody cheered. When they announced the names of the others, much less known guys, I cheered mostly to be polite, but also ironically :

    “Wow !! Human Ressources guy !! You rooooock !”.
    Haha.

    Anyways, ’twas a fun event, but with enough content for one day only, I think.
    I went back sunday only to be able to play lich king and SC2 without having to wait 2 hours :).

  38. mechazawa says:

    I watched most of it thanks to the pretty good streams Blizzard provided. The live shows on Sunday’s evening were pretty cool :)

  39. Tr00jg says:

    Yeah, haha! The Murloc mating calls was classic!

  40. heh says:

    good article though the author kinda sounds like he needs to get laid LOL
    Rock on diablo 3 and all of that (though diablo 3 uses the WoW color scheme, wtf?)

  41. Manu says:

    I can’t post a comment .. If I indicate my website, WP says that my comment has been flagged as spam (??), and that I should wait.

    If I write the same comment without my website address, it tells me that I “already said that comment”.

    What’s up with that ?

  42. Alec Meer says:

    Spam filters are never reliable beasts, unfortunately. I’ve retrieved your earlier comment from its nets .

  43. R. says:

    I can certainly understand where the writer is coming from, I felt much the same (especially at the ’2nd Vice President of Stationery Supplies, wooo!’ bits) – a mate got me a ticket so I figured I’d pop by then enjoy Paris for the rest of the weekend but as he says, the atmosphere was surprisingly great. Having never played the Diablo games, the announcement meant little to me but Christ, the 3 French guys in front of me acted like it was their favourite band, the second coming, Christmas and their birthday rolled into one, they just went delirious. And you can’t help but get swept away in that.

    I’ve been to a mere handful of gaming events over the years and come away unimpressed but this one…this was actually really fun. A bit padded out but fun. Blizzard are undoutbedly a moneymaking behemoth but unlike many of their peers, you do get the feeling their hearts are in the right place.

  44. MeestaNob! says:

    Speaking of people being ludicously happy, here’s some fan reactions to Diablo 3 as per the magic of mobile camera’s:

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=1qSs6QdNxCQ

    Seeing that many people happy actually warmed this grumpy old bastards heart a smidge.

  45. Manu says:

    @Alec Meer

    Thanks ! :)

  46. Walsh says:

    For awhile there I was empathising but then Alec was slowly going native until the last paragraph which made me laugh out loud. Cry.

  47. ben hurr says:

    Was this the dumpy looking girl?

  48. Coco duro says:

    Hi guys, am I too late?

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