Blizzcon 2016: Major announcements and opening ceremonies

It’s been a big year for Blizzard. Overwatch has hit the scene as a popular new shooter and a quickly growing e-sport. Hearthstone saw the introduction of the Standard format for the first time and has had some of the rockiest balance patches we have yet seen. A new expansion hit World of Warcraft which reinvigorated the life of what remains the most popular MMO of all time. And we all got to see the Warcraft movie which, despite mixed reviews, was the highest grossing game based movie of all time.

Yet despite all this new content, fans want more. Questions abound such as: “When is Sombra releasing?” “What’s the new Hearthstone expansion like?” and “What will you do to support Diablo III and Starcraft II?”

Luckily, Blizzard is here to provide us answers at Blizzcon 2016, the massive celebration of Blizzard’s 25th anniversary in Anaheim, CA. What surprises do they have in store for us this year? We sat in on the opening ceremonies to find out.

(Writers Note: If they don’t announce an HD version of The Lost Vikings I’ll be very disappointed.)

The Grand Introduction

Mike Morhaime took the stage after a huge roll of footage showcasing e-sports, fan content, and highlights throughout all of Blizzard’s history. He made a point to mention not only the 25th year anniversary of Blizzard, but the 20th year anniversary of Diablo. He also mentioned that Allen Adham, one of the original Blizzard Founders, would be coming out of retirement and rejoining the company.

Sombra

His next big presentation was on Overwatch, which has recently surpassed 20 million users. What would have been a very interesting look back on the launch was interrupted by what every fan was waiting for, the notable static of Sombra. We got the first chance to see Sombra animated in action through a fully animated movie. She guided Reaper and Widowmaker via satellite toward an assignation target. Sombra is also seen using cloaking abilities and hacking turrets and doors. She also appeared to have some sort of parkour ability to climb walls and hang off ledges, and the ability to hack moving platforms among stages. Her main weapon appears to be a submachine gun of some sort.

Perhaps the biggest news came in the form of Sombra’s plot. While she works for Talon, she appears to be some sort of double agent. Instead of assassinating her target, she instead decides to blackmail her for her own purposes.

Morhaime called her a “stealthy offensive infiltrator that can turn the tide of battle in subtle and not so subtle ways.” Sombra will be available to play at Blizzcon and we will bring you a full character run-down when more info becomes available.

A new map was also announced: Oasis, described as a high-tech town (likely to work better with Sombra’s abilities). A new “arcade” mode was also announced including 1v1 and 3v3 match modes including a new map specifically designed for that mode. All the content (except for Oasis) will be available in the PTR next week.

Starcraft 2

Starcraft 2 only had a short presentation this year. The third and final set of Nova missions are coming out on November 22. Alexi Stukof is announced as a new commander and more information will be coming out about Starcraft 2 later in the convention.

A.I.

Oriol Vinyals from Google’s Deep Mind A.I. team took the stage next after a short overview of Deep-Mind’s 4-1 victory in Go against champion Lee Se-dol. Their next project: Starcraft 2. They are hoping to use Starcraft 2 as an Artificial Intelligence research tool in order to teach A.I. real time reasoning and asymmetry. Researchers and hobbyists around the world are being asked to develop A.I. that can play Starcraft 2.

They are hoping to develop an A.I. that can take on the Blizzcon champion, though other concepts were mentioned such as A.I. coaches, which can examine player’s strategies and point out weaknesses. Information will be fed to these new A.I. projects simply by examining online Starcraft 2 matches, so you too can help out simply by playing. More information about the project will be announced in its own panel, later in the convention.

E-Sports

No Blizzard opening ceremonies could go by without mentioning e-sports. By the end of the year, players will have taken home over eight million dollars in Blizzard tournaments alone. Blizzcon marks the conclusion of several E-Sports seasons, including World of Warcraft Arena, Starcraft 2, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, and the Overwatch World Cup.

Their next big e-sports announcement was the new Blizzard official Overwatch League. Called a “next generation e-sports experience” the league is attempting to push Overwatch e-sports toward a traditional e-sports model. Teams will be fielded around cities just like professional sports teams. There will be a combine where players will attend tryouts and will be evaluated by team owners. There will be regular schedules, professional contracts, bassline salaries and benefits, and basically everything else you have come to expect from traditional sports. While Morhaime couldn’t give specific details, he did say more information would be coming in the near future.

Heroes of the Storm

As Morhaime exited, Kaeo Milker, production director for Heroes of the Storm, took the stage. While he began talking about The Lost Vikings, it seemed to be little more than a tease (damn you Blizzard.) Instead he announced the newest Brawl, Blackheart’s Revenge. This new brawl will be asymmetrical, where only one team has a core. One team will attempt to defend the core against Blackheart’s onslaught while the other team attempts to aid him. The mode will be integrated into the game on November 15.

New heroes were also announced. Varian Wrynn will be introduced to Heroes of the Strom, after his… untimely death. Varian will be the first multi-class hero who can change between six different styles depending on what abilities you choose at levels 4 and 10. As a sword and shield hero he focuses on defense, tanking hits from the enemy onslaught. Fighting with two swords turns him into a DPS hero, allowing him to cut through enemy waves. As a two-handed sword wielder, he becomes very mobile, allowing him to dart around the map and fire projectiles at range.

Joining him will be Ragnaros, The Firelord. Might incarnate, Ragnaros excels at area of effect spells and abilities. His most unique skill allows him to “possess” a tower, effectively becoming a makeshift raid boss. His abilities as a tower allow him to rain town meteor showers on the enemy, devastating clustered groups. But the best thing about the firelord is his death animation, which calls back to the thumbs up in Terminator 2.

Varian will be entering the game next week and Ragnaros will be joining in December.

They also announced the brand new Heroes of the Storm Nexus Challenge. Players will be asked to complete 30 games with friends over a limited time period. Completing 15 games grants you a new Overwatch skin for Genji and unlocks Zarya as a hero permanently in HotS. Completing 30 games unlocks a whopping four more heroes! More information is available on the official Heroes of the Storm website.

Hearthstone

Hamilton Chu, the executive producer of Hearthstone took the stage next and announced the next expansion we were all waiting for, Gadgetzan.  The plot of the expansion takes place after the cataclysm, once Gadgetzan has become a port town. The expansion envisions Gadgetzan as a thriving city, similar to New Orleans or New York, profiting from its increased trade. Gadgetzan also has a seedy underbelly filled with organized crime. So the new expansion, “The Mean Streets of Gadgetzan” will have a Goodfellas-esque tone to it.

Three crime families run Gadgetzan. The Grimy Goons are the thugs of the city. They walk the streets and offer “protection” from disaster. They focus on weapons, and one of their weapons is the Piranha Launcher, a 5 mana 2/4 Hunter weapon that summons 1/1 piranhas when you attack. Yes, the Piranhas are beasts.

The Jade Lotus is themed around the Yakuza, spies, and assassins. Including much of Gadgetzan’s Pandarian populace, they specialize in stealth making them a perfect Rogue fit. Their newly announced card was a 5 mana 5/5 Rogue card, the Lotus Assassin, which starts with Stealth and regains Stealth every time it kills an enemy.

The final faction is the Kabal, who specializes in spell-casting and illicit potion dealing. Their new card was the Kabal Talonpriest, a 3 mana 3/4 minion that gives a minion 3 health on battlecry. It’s…not exactly what Priest needed to get a leg up in the meta, but hey it’s better than nothing.

The biggest Hearthstone announcement was brand new “tri-class” cards. These cards, instead of having a normal class, belong to one of the three factions of Gadgetzan. Each faction has three classes within them and faction cards can be used in any of those three classes. For example Kabal cards can be used in Mage, Priest, or Warlock decks. We even got to see an example in Kabal Courier, a 3 mana 2/2 which discovers a Mage, Priest or Warlock card on Battlecry. The ability to effectively “multi-class’ like this will massively shake up the meta.

We even got to see a brand new legendary card, Kazakus the leader of the Kabal. Taking the place of Reno Jackson when League of Explorer’s rotates out, Kazakus has yet another effect which goes off if your deck has no duplicate cards in it. He is a 4 mana 3/3 that allows you to “create a custom spell,” one of Hearthstone’s most interesting new mechanics.

First, you get to choose the spell’s mana cost, either 1, 5, or 10, which will adjust the spell’s power accordingly. You then get to choose a number of effects for the spell to have. The example shown forged a 10 mana spell, allowing the player to choose between “Copy 3 cards from your opponent’s deck and put them into your hand,” “Deal 6 damage to all minions,” and “Draw 3 cards” first and “Summon 3 friendly minions that died this game,” “Gain 10 Armor,” and “Transform all minions into 1/1 sheep” second. What’s particularly notable is that Kazakus is only a 4 mana card, so you can choose to play him and get a 5 mana spell, keeping to your curve, or a 10 mana spell, if you are, say, playing a heavy control deck. The expansion is playable on the show floor and will release in early December.

Diablo III

For the final presentation, Blizzard once again celebrated Diablo’s 20th anniversary. The original Diablo will be getting a brand new HD re-release. The original Diablo chronicle will be made into a new adventure in the Diablo III engine. The new anniversary patch puts you up against the four main bosses from the very first game. Everything will be themed around the original Diablo mechanics. Movement will be locked to eight directions. Filters will be used to make the graphics look old-school and pixelated. The Diablo anniversary patch will launch on the Diablo III PTR next week.

In addition, next year two new free zones will be added to the game. They are called Shrouded Moors and Temple of the First Born. And perhaps the best news for hardcore fans, a new class is coming to Diablo III. The ever classic, ever cheap, fan-favorite Necromancer will be coming to the game. Get ready to resurrect some skeletons, blood golems, and vengeful ghosts all while throwing bone spears from the backlines. The Necromancer will start raising the dead in Diablo III in 2017.

Stay tuned to GameCrate for more news from Blizzcon 2016.