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WoW Archivist: Controversies of BlizzCon

Scott Andrews

WoW Archivist explores the secrets of World of Warcraft's past. What did the game look like years ago? Who is etched into WoW's history? What secrets does the game still hold?

BlizzCon has been no stranger to controversy. As the premier Blizzard event, the stakes are high. Players are heavily invested in both the weekend and the games, and sometimes emotions run hot. We've already got a potential controversy brewing for 2013's event. Players have expressed strong feelings both for and against a possible "Warlords of Draenor" concept for the next expansion, and we know little at this point aside from the name and what it could imply.

In light of Blink 182's presence at the convention, Blizzard also asked attendees to wear clothes. It could be a truly wild BlizzCon this year!

Let's look back at other controversies from the past six BlizzCons.

The first BlizzCon

In October 2005, BlizzCon made its debut to enthusiastic crowds. However, it was hardly the massively anticipated event, with tickets selling out in seconds, that it is today. Tickets were $125, and the total attendance was a mere 8000. To put this in perspective, BlizzCon 2010 had 27,000 fans. Because so few tickets were available and "virtual tickets" did not yet exist, Murky, the pet given out to attendees, is still one of the rarest pets in the game. (Lurky isn't the same.)

The big reveal in 2005 was WoW's first expansion, The Burning Crusade. With that announcement came several big changes to the game. Outland, flying mounts, jewelcrafting, Karazhan, the Caverns of Time, linked auction houses (rather than each city having its own) -- players embraced all of these. Blood elves had their detractors, for both lore and aesthetic reasons, but most were sold on the idea.

Glaringly omitted, however, was any specific word on the new Alliance race.

No expansion race was announced for the Alliance at BlizzCon 2005. Speculation lit up forums and blogs everywhere, with some even convinced that pandaren would be the new race. Regardless, the omission disappointed those who played Alliance exclusively. Was this the origin of the "Horde bias" movement?

The two Ahn'Qiraj raids and the Gates event were also previewed. If Blizzard had told us then that the Temple of Ahn'Qiraj would be the next to last 40-man raid ever, the announcement would have been very controversial indeed. This was not revealed (or likely decided) until later, however.

Arenas proved to be a contested addition to the game. Players worried about the shift toward e-sports and how the intense environment of a 2v2 or 3v3 match would lead to future nerfs. Their worries proved to be well founded, as Blizzard themselves later admitted.

Another notable memory of the first BlizzCon is that the ill-fated Starcraft: Ghost had a panel devoted to it. According to WoW Insider's Amanda Rivera, this panel was a ghost town. It's possible that the indifference of attendees gave Blizzard an early indication that SC:G wasn't all they hoped it would be.

Nothing new in Northrend?

The controversies of Blizzard's second convention began early. The announcement of BlizzCon 2007 went public just four months prior to the event. Some of those who wanted to make elaborate costumes and such felt like the announcement didn't give them enough time to prepare.

Of course, the Wrath of the Lich King expansion was the big news in 2007. It went on to become what many consider Blizzard's best expansion. The Northrend campaign certainly proved to be very successful for Blizzard in terms of subscribers, sales, and reviews.

So with all these awesome, long-awaited reveals, what did players complain about during the convention? They said that Wrath wasn't different enough from The Burning Crusade. It was just more of the same. WoW Insider's David Bowers claimed that while the expansion wasn't going to revolutionize the game, it didn't have to.

BlizzCon also presented a Warcraft movie panel this year, and it's interesting to look back at how the panel members described it. They said the movie would take place about a year prior to the events of WoW. Thrall would play a role, though the story would be told from an Alliance perspective. Specific classes would be featured. "It's absolutely a war movie," the panel said. Brandon Routh, filming Superman Returns at the time, was hinted at as a potential lead. With no announced director, however, they emphasized that casting had not yet begun. The film was planned to debut in 2009.
Turtle mount costume
Tickets and turtles

BlizzCon 2008 will forever be known as the year of the ticket sales fiasco. With World of Warcraft at the peak of its popularity, tickets were going to be hard to obtain no matter what. Blizzard underestimated just how coveted tickets had become, and they mishandled virtually every aspect of the sales.

Things got off to a rocky start on the first day. Blizzard didn't give a specific time that ticket sales would begin, so fans assumed that tickets would go on sale at midnight. They didn't. People F5'ed for hours without results. The tickets finally became available at 6:30 am, and the site immediately began to buckle under the traffic. The "failoc" error message was out in force. Much like the murlocs in-game, there always seemed to be more of them. Making matters worse, no one was in the office to respond to complaints or provide updates. Around 11 am, Auryk posted that despite five+ hours of attempts, zero tickets had actually been sold. The site just didn't work.
As WoW Insider argued (fully admitting that hindsight is 20/20), Blizzard should have taken the whole thing down at that point so that people didn't feel compelled to continue refreshing. But they left it up while they did maintenance. People who were desperate for tickets had no choice but to stick with it. Around 1:30 pm, the site allowed a trickle of sales to squeak through.

Things continued in this vein the following day, with more communication from Blizzard, but still resulting in a lot of wasted time for ticket buyers. Around 1:30 that day, the site showed that tickets were sold out, even though Blizzard reps on the phone were saying otherwise. Rumors swirled. Tickets weren't actually sold out, but many believed the message and gave up. They later discovered that they would have had a chance at tickets if they had stuck with it.

Blizzard realized just how bad this whole situation became. They apologized, offered 3000 more tickets, and promised to do better. Blizzard learned a lot of lessons from the 2008 sales that they applied to future years. BlizzCon ticket sales these days aren't perfect, but they are hugely improved over past efforts.

To parody the incident, Blizzard made a game called "Failoc-alypse" that was playable during the next year's ticket sales. The game's goal was to kill as many failocs as possible.

Access to the 2008 event continued to be an issue. DirecTV was slated to stream the convention, but the steam was only available in the U.S. A Hungarian StarCraft site petitioned Blizzard to make the stream available overseas and rallied fans around the world to their cause.

Also controversial was the winner of the 2009 costume contest. The turtle mount costume is certainly one of the most memorable winners. The judges were blown away by the effort put into creating a massive turtle with mechanical legs that mimicked walking.

Blizzard never anticipated that participants would go so far to win. Fearing that future years would see further escalation -- and possibly endanger convention goers -- Blizzard changed the rules. The new rules stated that a costume couldn't be larger than 10 feet in any direction, couldn't include liquids, and all pieces must be worn or held -- meaning no more robomounts.

The addition of dual specs and the news that StarCraft II would be not one but three games also stirred up arguments in the community. But possibly the biggest controversy of 2008 was the lack of a major announcement. "Where is the next WoW expansion?" fans asked. "Where is this mysterious new MMO codenamed Titan?"

Shattering our systems

BlizzCon 2009 featured the Cataclysm expansion's reveal. While most had no issue with the theme of the expansion or the revamping of Azeroth, many felt uneasy at all the changes to the game's systems. Our talent trees were to receive a fierce trimming. Classic-era stats like defense, attack power, armor penetration, and MP5 were vanishing from the game, while the new mastery stat seemed strange and difficult to grasp.

Blizzard also wanted to give guilds a more meaningful impact on gameplay. Guilds would now have levels, along with their own achievements, currency, and talent trees. The latter two never came to fruition, but players aired concerns about what such systems would do to the survival of new and smaller guilds.

Finally, Blizzard dropped the bombshell that 10 and 25 man raid bosses would award the same loot. Players warned that such a measure would mean a death knell for 25 man raids. The choice continues to be controversial in the wake of many 25 man raiding guilds collapsing or splitting into 10 man teams.
Red shirt guy in-game
2010: The cursed BlizzCon

BlizzCon has always been held in Anaheim. For BlizzCon 2010, however, even the location created controversy. In November 2009, the Las Vegas Convention Center website listed BlizzCon as an upcoming event for July of the following year. The site claimed that 30,000 tickets would be sold -- a huge increase over the 20,000 tickets sold for 2009's con.

Blizzard was quick to refute the information, but the convention center stuck to their story, leaving the truth in doubt. Many fans continued to believe the "leak." Later, the Vegas Convention Center took down the listing, and then they ultimately retracted it. They chalked up the confusion to human error. They said a hold had been placed on the dates to entice Blizzard to make the switch, but then an employee had mistakenly converted the hold into a confirmed booking. The convention center apologized for the incident. The number of available tickets did increase dramatically, however, to 27,000. But the threat of moving the convention seemed to curse the event.

2010 is an infamous BlizzCon for several reasons. This year saw the ascendance of Red Shirt Guy, who awkwardly but thoroughly corrected Blizzard's own lore Q&A panel about the Council of Three Hammers. The video went viral and made him a hero to lore enthusiasts everywhere. Blizzard, of course, admitted their continuity mistake.

Red Shirt Guy later made a video to comment on his moment of glory. He revealed that he has mild Asperger syndrome, which combo'ed with his nervousness to make his voice sound strange.

Blizzard honored him with an NPC called Wildhammer Fact Checker. He wears a red shirt.

Perhaps the most controversial moment of BlizzCon 2010 came in the arena grand finals. In the third match of the best of 5, CompLexity.Red was up 2-1. They finished off their opponents, aAa, in the third game, triumphantly ran up on stage, and received their check. Meanwhile, aAa was explaining to Blizzard admins that they had stopped playing at the 20 minute mark, since the rules stated that a match could only last for that duration. The admins had told the players to keep going anyway, but aAa didn't realize that was the case. Because aAa had done the most damage at the 20-minute mark, Blizzard retracted CompLexity's win. They awarded the fourth game to aAa and resumed the match.

Confused and demoralized, CompLexity lost the fifth game, and aAa took home the $75,000 prize. Players decried the admins apparent about-face and railed against the inherent unfairness toward CompLexity. One site called it "the most disgraceful moment in e-sports history."

2010 was an unlucky BlizzCon all around. This was also the year that a participant in the dance contest slipped on the stage and broke his leg. Medical personnel carried him off. He eventually had to have surgery. We hope he's OK and back to rocking out with the undead dance!
The Mists preview at BlizzCon
Murder pandas of Azeroth

What wasn't controversial in BlizzCon 2011? This was the year of the panda, after all. Blizzard announced not only Mists of Pandaria, but playable pandaren and the monk class.

Reactions ranged across a broad spectrum, and arguments grew heated. Some fans answered the question of "why we fight" with "because pandas will kill WoW and we're jumping off this sinking ship." Others said, "because we love pandaren and Pandaria and we're not ashamed to say it."

We also learned about the new talent system that was utterly foreign to our experience of talent trees to date. The love/hate for this radical revamp was strong. WI's Fox Van Allen posted a trenchant analysis of Blizzard's talent revolution. He wrote that the new system still wasn't ideal, but that it constituted a step in the right direction. A few years later, I think most of us would agree.

Blizzard wasn't done yet. Among all these shocking revelations, players were most skeptical by far toward one particular new feature: pet battles. Some people called it a joke and expressed outright disbelief that pet battles would ever see the light of day. Comparisons to the canceled Path of the Titans system were bandied about. Other scoffed at the system's similarity to Pokemon and called it a ripoff of Nintendo's famous franchise. Some expressed outrage that Blizzard would waste developer resources on such a "silly" inclusion when they could make new dungeons or raids instead.

Then came by far the most controversial moment, at least to the greater global community, of any BlizzCon. During Level 90 Elite Tauren Chieftain's performance, they played a video of Cannibal Corpse vocalist George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher. In a brief, expletive-fueled rant, Fisher managed to offend both Alliance players and the gay community. The video was censored during the performance, but it wasn't hard for people to track down the original, uncensored interview. GLAAD and similar organizations objected to Blizzard's endorsement of it.

When ETC learned of the objections, they issued a statement apologizing for the video. Blizzard president Mike Morhaime also made a statement:

As president of Blizzard, I take full responsibility for everything that occurs at BlizzCon.

It was shortsighted and insensitive to use the video at all, even in censored form. The language used in the original version, including the slurs and use of sexual orientation as an insult, is not acceptable, period. We realize now that having even an edited version at the show was counter to the standards we try to maintain in our forums and in our games. Doing so was an error in judgment, and we regret it. and other organizations thanked Morhaime for his candor and sincerity.
WoW Archivist Controversies of BlizzCon THURSDAY
2012: The year without BlizzCon

Of course, 2006 didn't have one either, but that would have been just the second one ever. Once we were spoiled with five straight years of BlizzCon, the lack of one last year came as a bit of a downer.

Why did Blizzard forgo this extravanganza? According to Bashiok,

In a year when we're working to release multiple titles (knock on wood) it makes sense to focus our efforts. Also with multiple game releases we just wonder if we'd be at a point with any of them where we'd have anything really big or new or cool to talk about.

The controversies of BlizzCon are myriad, but many of them simply add to the folklore of this beloved event. Blizzard always tries their best for us, both at the convention and in their games, whether we like what they're giving us or not. The world has been depressingly BlizzCon-less for more than 700 days, but this weekend will change all that. Let's hope for a fun, safe, and controversy-free BlizzCon!
After months of surveying, WoW Archivist has been dug back up! Discover lore and artifacts of WoW's past, including the Corrupted Blood plague, the Scepter of the Shifting Sands, and the mysterious Emerald Dream.

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