Blizzcon 2019, the annual fan event put on by video game developer Blizzard, will have a unique politically charged atmosphere when it kicks off today. Protestors already confirmed they'll be in attendance to confront the company over its decision to ban a Hearthstone player who supported the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests. All eyes will be on Blizzard to see what -- if anything -- it'll do to address the controversy.
Oh yeah, there may be some new games announced too.
Blizzcon, which runs for the next three days at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, started back in 2005 as basically a World of Warcraft convention. Since then, the fan fest has expanded to include the company's Diablo, Overwatch and Starcraft franchises. Some fans left last year's event unsatisfied that Blizzard's big announcement was l, a mobile version of role-playing game.
In comparison to Blizzcon 2018, this year's event could be chock full of animosity stemming from the banning of Hearthstone pro player Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai on Oct. 8. Blitzchung was pulled from a Hearthstone tournament after showing support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong during a post-game interview. Blizzard, the company behind the game and the competition, originally banned him Hearthstone competition for one year and stripped him of his winnings.
This caused an uproar from video game community. The hashtag #BoycottBlizzard began to trend on social media, with many speculating that the company's business ties with China were behind the harsh penalty. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, also expressed concern that a US company would punish a person for expressing themselves.
On Oct. 11, Blizzard President J. Allen Brack released a statement saying the ban for Blitzchung would be reduced to six months and his winnings returned. "China had no influence on our decision," he added.
That move may have quelled the controversy a bit, but protests are still expected. The nonprofit organization Fight for the Future scheduled their demonstration for Friday, the first day of Blizzcon, at 3 p.m. ET/12 p.m. PT.
Big game announcements
With six panels listed only as "Coming Soon" on the Blizzcon schedule, there's plenty of speculation around new games Blizzard might show on Friday and Saturday. The opening ceremony is usually streamed live on Blizzcon's website, but for the rest of the event, fans will have to buy a to access livestreams of competitions and community events.
Here's what we think will be announced at the festival.
One of the likely announcements at Blizzcon will be the next game in the action-RPG series Diablo. In June, Blizzard reportedly transferred resources from a first-person shooter based in the Starcraft universe to developing Diablo IV and a new Overwatch game.
Rumors have been circulating about a possible announcement of the game at Blizzcon, and this month an ad for a Diablo artbook listed the art for Diablo, Diablo II, Diablo III and Diablo IV. On Wednesday, a Reddit user who has a history of leaking information about new games posted a detailed summary Diablo IV, saying it would be darker and grittier than previous entries. A Diablo IV announcement could make up for the Diablo Immortal debacle of 2018.
Rumors of an Overwatch sequel began swirling in recent days. On Sunday, ESPN reported that Overwatch 2 was coming and would include a four-player narrative co-op mode. The next iteration of the hero shoot will have a larger focus on player-versus-enemy gameplay instead of the current player-versus-player combat. Since the next game may still be a year or two away, Blizzard could announce a new hero for the game.
A new World of Warcraft expansion
, which Blizzard re-released in August, appears to have revitalized the popular massively multiplayer RPG franchise for many. We'll likely see some new content for the nostalgic version of the game at Blizzcon, but the current iteration might also see a new expansion.
A couple of leaked, now deleted, images from Blizzard's online store prominently showed Bolvar Fordragon, the new Lich King in the game. The former paladin sacrificed himself at the end of the Wraith of the Lich King expansion released in 2008 and then became the new lord of the undead. Since that expansion, he's only made brief appearances but could be the focus once again in the next big addition called The Shadowlands.
As mentioned, there are six "Coming Soon" panels on the Blizzcon schedule. Even if all three of our predictions are correct, that leaves three more unknown reveals.
One might be a Hearthstone expansion, and another might be about the Warcraft III remake called Warcraft III: Reforged. But both games already have separate panels on the Blizzcon schedule that could be used to deliver updates on the games. This means there may be something new from Blizzard. One franchise the company hasn't touched in a long time is Starcraft. Could we see a new Starcraft announced?
For now, we'll just have to wait and see.