This BlizzCon 2014 report was written by Brent Allen Thale on November 11, 2014. Please do not use these pictures for any commercial purpose or post them on any web site without written consent from Brent Allen Thale, the copyright holder.
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2014 was a great year to attend BlizzCon, Blizzard Entertainment's sort-of-annual celebration of the games and surrounding culture of the greatest long-term computer gaming company! The show was held once again in the Anaheim Convention Center literally across the street from DisneyLand in sunny Southern California, conveniently located not too far from Blizzard's main Irvine office.
As we approached the convention center to begin our con, we observed the same five banners from last year promoting Blizzard's currently announced games: World of Warcraft, Diablo III, Starcraft 2, Hearthstone, and the upcoming Heroes of the Storm. Well, that's all fine and dandy we thought, having played most of those extensively, but would there be anything new this year?
As it turned out, yes! Blizzard maintained their unmatched track record of keeping secrets and used a suspiciously empty time slot on the show schedule to announce a brand new IP called Overwatch in a genre completely new to them, cooperative shooters! The news generated huge excitement, and the game was available for playtest on the floor if you were willing to endure the always-long line. Lines aren't our thing, but people tell me it's great! And somehow there were already a few cosplayers in Overwatch garb, we saw Tracer, Widowmaker, and a large Predator/Punisher-ish guy whose name I didn't get. Overwatch seems to be the only truly new intellectual property from Blizzard currently, with their other games drawing from older properties. Since Blizzard is one of the strongest IP creating companies, I hope they stay true to their core and keep creating new original content like this.
The announcements continued with the long-expected conclusion to the StarCraft 2 saga, the Protoss-themed "Legacy of the Void", which I'm sure will satisfy fans of the classic space-themed real-time strategy game. Also new was the first Hearthstone expansion, "Goblins vs Gnomes", which will add wacky new cards in the spirit of World of Warcraft's greed-crazed goblins and scientifically steampunkish Gnomes.
Speaking of Hearthstone, we were able to observe some of the final matches of the Hearthstone world championship where two players match wits and luck in a bracketed tournament leading to one champion, which this year was "Firebat". I don't know him but hey, this is The BAT Cave, so go Firebat, woo!
Competitive e-sports are a huge thing at BlizzCon, and most every Blizzard game has some way of matching human player versus player in a tournament setting. Starcraft 2 has big money and prestige associated with winning the tourney for that game, there were some technical issues involving a power outage at the convention center, but it was announced "Life" took the grand prize just as the closing ceremony was beginning!
And of course there was news surrounding Blizzard's giant MMORPG "World of Warcraft", which I played for five years, the new expansion Warlords of Draenor will be officially released this very week to bring more levels, improved character models, and tons of content to millions of players.
Pshew, that was a lot of gaming announcements, but the other great thing about Blizzcon is cosplay, and that's really why we go. BlizzCon is a smaller show than most general conventions, but the cosplayers who attend are usually huge Blizzard fans and put their all into incredibly intricate and awesome costumes. With the long-term staying power of Blizzard games, people often remain fans for many years and often attend Blizzcon several times cosplaying their favorite characters, so we see a lot of familiar faces even if these faces are sometimes hidden behind face paint and prosthetics! We caught past cosplay contest winners Avery Faeth, Svetlana "Kamui Cosplay" Quindt, Lorraine Torres, and the latest winner, Mantid Queen Cosplay Py. We also spotted many awesome cosplayers we have seen before, GeekyRed's Malfurion, Carissa Creveling's Rexxar, Monika Lee's Demon Hunter, Triple A Cosplay's Countess Kerrigan and Roller Derby "Brova". We were also lucky to catch gamer girl with the sexy English accent Katers for the third BlizzCon in a row! And special mention to Blaargh's cosplay debut as a WoW abomination, can't imagine how hot it must have been inside that thing. But we shed a tear for our longtime favorite Troll Malis, who did not seem to be there this year.
The surprise most popular costume was Roller Derby Nova, an alternate skin character from the upcoming game Heroes of the Storm, we counted at least five and possibly six of these, not sure why this one character was chosen to cosplay so frequently. I'm not in the Heroes alpha, so I was completely clueless about these characters, I'll have to try it.
Last year we didn't actually have tickets to the show, so we hung around outside the convention center and did all our shooting there. This year we were legit with official badges, so we got to see the costume contest, which sometimes provides the only opportunity to see some costumes, usually the ones that are the most painful to wear so people only put them on for the contest. Chris Hardwick of Nerdist fame hosted, and did a fine job working the crowd.
Another benefit of having tickets is the closing concert, this year Blizzard featured heavy metal legends Metallica who provided their brand of fast, hard metal including some of the oldies like "Master of Puppets". I'm not a huge metal fan, so if Blizzard is listening, for next year please contact Weird Al Yankovic for concert duties, I bet he'd even write a song about it! Anyway, I tried to get some good Metallica shots but everyone close to the stage was standing with their arms raised and security would not let me move any closer, oh well.
Camera-wise we were using the Canon 5D Mark 3, with the 24-70 2.8 II lens and three Canon 600EX-RT flashes, one in a Chimera 24 inch octobox, one in an Orbis ring flash modifier, and one using the Magmods grid system as a rim light. I don't usually shoot Canon, but I wanted to try the built-in wireless TTL triggering of the Canon flashes since I had never used that system. It was nice, especially the effortless syncing and rock-solid performance, but I'm not sure there was any noticeable difference in quality between this and my usual Nikon/Pocketwizard setup. Oh well, live and learn.
We had a couple equipment casualties this year, but with a bittersweet ending that reaffirms my faith in humanity even though I'm still out 700 bucks: first up, a light stand knockover cracked the plastic mounting bracket on one of the flashes, and worse, I have my iPad on a shoulder strap while shooting to use for shot concepts and image review, one time when I laid down on the ground it somehow came off the strap and I didn't notice, walking away and leaving it on the ground! I figured it was lost forever but when I locked it remotely and turned on the lost mode feature, someone called me back, and it was the lost and found lady for the convention center, someone had turned it in instead of stealing it! So that was awesome, salute to you sir or madam, although apparently someone stepped on it and cracked the screen so I'll have to buy a new one anyway. At least it's a good excuse to get an iPad Air 2!
We tried some new shot ideas this year, we brought along some soap bubble solution to see if we could get a mighty warrior to slash a bubble in awesome way. We didn't get that, but we did get Zu Fu the cat to play with the bubbles and a wizard to summon an especially large bubble with his magic wand! The other thing we tried was colored gels on the rimlight flash since they are so easy to change out with the Magmods system. It worked pretty well for a few unique-ish shots.
And this was our first year driving the Electro-Batmobile to BlizzCon from the San Francisco Bay Area, it's a Tesla Model S black electric car. I kept my passengers entertained with some spirited driving, it's really a powerful car, and we drove for free, taking advantage of Tesla's network of free Superchargers along I-5 which recharge the 250-mile battery in about 30 minutes. We even met another group driving a Tesla back from BlizzCon at the Harris Ranch supercharger, they were really nice. I mean, for Alliance.
Speaking of passengers, also attending (other than me, Brent Allen Thale aka Batty) were my intrepid assistant Melissa Case who roped in the costumes and worked on posing (I'm definitely tripling her salary this year), and eight year old Tobias who didn't cosplay this year but helped hold the rimlight and got some bragging rights by meeting his hero, YouTube star Markiplier!
So that was BlizzCon 2014, definitely the biggest BlizzCon we've been to in terms of gaming announcements. Thanks to all the awesome cosplayers who always have time for just one more picture, and hopefully we'll see you again next year!
Next stop: PAX South, a first-time new show in San Antonio, Texas!
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