Diablo 3 isn't far off from launch in North America, as a Rochester, Minnesota-based Twitter user spotted a display for the game in a local Best Buy store showing a February 1 launch for the game alongside a countdown timer. The image was subsequently picked up and pushed to Twitter, where we first saw it. Bizarrely, the tweet has since been pulled, but we snagged the image (addressed to former Joystiq previews editor Arthur Gies -- thanks Arthur!) and tracked down the Best Buy to confirm its existence.
A store employee politely assured Joystiq of the endcap's existence and noted the February 1 launch date, which will coincide with a midnight opening (at least at her location). We've reached out to Blizzard Entertainment and Activision for comment, but, well, this looks pretty legit. Oh, and it also doesn't hurt that Best Buy's web store is showing a February 1 launch date for the game.
The last official word we heard from Blizzard ("early 2012") was in September 2011, after the game was delayed beyond its original 2011 launch window. When we checked back up with the company during BlizzCon back in October, we were told nothing more solid was ready to be announced in terms of a launch date.
Update: UK retailer Gameplay is showing a February 3, 2012 release date for the game, adding more fuel to the fire. Thanks to Twitter user @JKeverne for the tip!
Update 2: This piece originally credited the photo to a Canadian Twitter user, which is accurate as to its origin with us, but not accurate to the credit of the photographer. Rochester, Minnesota Chatty Pics user "sasquatchxing" tells us that he took the photo (as well as a second) and uploaded them to image service Chatty Pics before taking to the Shacknews forums.
Update 3: It gets more interesting! When we called the Rochester, Minnesota Best Buy this morning, a manager explained that the sign has been taken down as a directive from the store's "GM" (general manager), not because the manufacturer had asked but because the manufacturer has been "not very firm" in picking a launch date. As many had guessed (per the misspelling of "February," among other things), the signage was made in-house and not sent by Blizzard. If you happen to spot any similar signage in your local big box retailer, don't hesitate to contact us!
Update 4: Blizzard community manager Micah "Bashiok" Whipple has responded on Twitter (though not to us), where he said both "The word is lol" and "We can't really keep every individual retail shop from making up a date," as well as "Retailers will not know a date until it's officially announced through a press release," in response to questions from followers. We're still waiting on official response from Blizzard.