This BlizzCon 2015 report was written by Brent Allen Thale on November 10, 2015. 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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BlizzCon, the world-famous almost-annual celebration of all things related to Blizzard Entertainment, the most enduring and successful computer game company, was held in Anaheim, California November 6 and 7, 2015. This was the fourth BlizzCon we have attended, 2011 was the first for us. We are the cosplay photography team of Brent Allen Thale, aka Batty, Realtor extraordinaire Melissa Case, and occasionally nine-year old Tobias who holds our rim light and squirms around a lot, we couldn't convince him to cosplay Anduin again.
Before I get started with the blog here, here is a special note to cosplayers about our photos: Can you share your picture here on social media? Yes! Just be sure to credit me, my photo
name is "Brent Allen Thale", and if possible, include a link back to the page on my site where you found your photo. We do this for love, not money, so if you don't mind clicking "Like" on this page
while you're doing that, we shall be forever indebted to you! Thanks for being awesome! For other uses, please ask me.
Blizzard Entertainment is known for quality of games, not quantity, so they don't have a huge number of titles out at any one time. They instead focus on long-term properties that are likely to support a growing community of fans for many years, but even so they have been expanding their range of games lately. From the venerable MMO World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, and Diablo 3, they now offer a sort-of trading card game called Hearthstone that is very popular, a MOBA called "Heroes of the Storm" that just came out, and a shooter called "Overwatch" that is a brand new IP, something Blizzard hasn't done in a quite a while.
I believe the big announcement for this year was "World of Warcraft: Legion", the next expansion for Blizzard's megahit MMO scheduled to come out next year. I haven't played WoW heavily since 2009 but I'm sure it will be intriguing. Also announced was a new expansion for the "trading-card" game Hearthstone that featured an Indiana Jones-like theme for a single player game. Looked kind of cool. The final Protoss-oriented campaign for "StarCraft II" was also there, and Blizzard's new shooter "Overwatch" drew big crowds excited to join the newly-announced beta.
BlizzCon has been hosted by quite a few different people, mostly from the comedy sector, last year Nerdist's Chris Hardwick did an admirable job. This year featured first-timer Wil Wheaton of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" fame, who I believe is now a writer, comedian, and Internet personality. He did ok I guess, but he was trying a little too hard to relate to the hardcore Blizzard audience, since it was apparent he is only a pretty occasional casual player of Blizzard games. I don't want to pile on here, but he probably won't live down calling Elite Tauren Chieftain, which sometimes is abbreviated "ETC", "Etcetera", which pretty much destroyed his Blizzard cred. Oh well, it was fine. It's just that he seems linked to the Felicia Day cadre of celebs who are harder-core Blizzard fans, so that's what my expectations were. Wouldn't mind giving the ladies a chance, like Olivia Munn, Adrianne Curry, or Milla Jovovich.
Several sections of the show floor are set aside for competitive gaming, StarCraft II had that little circular atrium just for epic RTS matches, we don't really have time to go there and watch the games, but I'm sure someone maxed his APM and dominated for the giant cash prize! Hearthstone had a big area as well for its championship tournament, I've played Hearthstone in the past but I tend to rage quit when I lose rank, so I'm not playing right now.
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BlizzCon is known for awesome cosplay, there are fewer costumes than most shows we go to, but the ones that we do see are awesome. People put so much effort into replicating their favorite character from Blizzard games, especially "World of Warcraft". Friday night featured a costume contest where most cosplayers got a chance to walk the stage in front of 12,000+ fans and a worldwide audience in hopes of winning a prize and recognition for their work. The first place winner was a guy who made a space marine costume from "StarCraft II" out of metal and leather. I never got a close look at it, but people tell me it was awesome craftsmanship.
Blizzard also has a talent contest, where various Blizzard fans demonstrate random selections of abilities that they excel in. The winner was a jazz band that had a cow-themed song involving a lot of mooing. They were ok but my personal favorite was a lady named Alysia James who not only had a cool Ysera costume with props and makeup, but also had an awesome acrobatic act with silk banners that she lifted herself up over the stage with while performing dangerous flips and flying moves. How she did not win is beyond me.
Since BlizzCon has a smaller, harder-core audience than most cons, we often recognize some of the cosplayers from year to year. We spotted the awesome Stella Chuu working the Razer booth as Widowmaker from the Overwatch game, and she even had time to come outside later and pose by the fountain in front of the convention center. Stella is great because not only is she beautiful and has a positive attitude, but she cares about photographers' needs and is willing to work with people to get great shots. We spotted three other big-name cosplayers who were strangely not in costume, they didn't seem interested in shooting with us and one kind of dodged us when we asked, so oh well. It's frustrating to me when cosplayers "helicopter in" to cons and only make brief appearances and then disappear, since we rely on people being accessible for our photo blog format. On the positive front, we shot the always-awesome Geeky Red as Malygos the dragon from World of Warcraft, last year's Costume Contest winner Cosplay Py as a Night Elf and a pajama Sprite Darter, Dan Miller as Elite Tauren Chieftain, Malis Vitterfolk as her awesome Arrakoa (which should have a won a prize, were those judges bribed or what?), Lyz Brickley as Nova, Lynesta Cosplay as a Tier 5 priest, Blizzard cosplay pioneer Predzor in her Vestments of Faith, beautiful lady Lindsay Elyse as her Wow Priest, 2011 Costume Contest winner Avery Faeth as Vol'jin the troll, Triple A Cosplay as Overwatch Grunts, and I'm sure a lot of people we've seen before in various costumes whose names I don't know. A hearty BAT Cave Salute for your awesome efforts!
Blizzard keeps the Anaheim Convention Center really dark, I guess so computer graphics look punchy onscreen, but it's not really ideal for photographs, so we only occasionally venture inside the hall. Fortuitously though, we happened upon a Blizzard Cosplay Panel hosted by PC Doom Princess who we have shot several times before as a cosplayer. They even featured one of our photos in the panel, Geeky Red's Thrall from a couple years ago, so that was nice. The panel was about how Blizzard supports cosplayers and has even hired some of them as customer liaison and QA personnel.
Blizzard threw us a curve ball this year that caused us to miss some of the best costumes. In past years, cosplayers have signed in for the costume contest at the little information booth right inside the atrium doors. This year they moved the signup to a dungeon-like area under the convention center, which greatly reduced the costume traffic upstairs where it has been in past years. Melissa pointed this out to me but it didn't register, and so we didn't get to shoot many of the people in the contest except for when they were onstage, and that type of photo isn't our strong point. Arg.
We carry a lot of camera and lighting gear to the con, and people see us and often ask about it. This year I was using my old Nikon D7100 camera with three lights: Our main light was actually three Nikon SB-910 speedlights on a tri-flash bracket inside a 36-inch octagonal softbox. That light casts the main shadows. Our second light was an SB-910 flash inside an orbis ring flash adapter on my camera. That light fills in the shadows. If you look closely at the pictures, in people's eyes you often see two white reflections, the big one is the main light, the small doughnut-shaped one is the ring flash. We do this so we don't need to carry a large reflector or a second light that must be held off-camera to fill shadows. Our third light is another SB-910 that is used for accent lighting like rim lighting or putting a colored light on something for effect. Lens wise most shots were taken with the Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 lens, but we also used the Sigma 8-16mm lens and the Nikon 70-200mm F/4 lens for a few shots. I shoot most things at f/4 because these are costume shots and I like the costumes to be like, you know, in focus. We had quite a few equipment malfunctions, I'm sorely tempted to do the next con with Profoto gear, with the Profoto B1 battery-powered light as main, and two B2's as fill and rim. Would free me of so many AA battery and connectivity issues.
Since we live near San Francisco, we decided to drive down to Anaheim in our Tesla Model S electric car. It's a really fun car to drive with plenty of power, and Tesla provides superchargers along the way to quickly recharge the battery for free in order to cover the long distance. We had no issues with the car, but the very first night we parked it at the Hilton, some guy left a nasty note on it complaining about my parking job and claiming to have vandalized the car. We had Hilton security come over and look at my car, and they said it was parked adequately and did not deserve this kind of response. I can't find the actual promised door ding, so I assume the guy was just trying to scare us and had some kind of anger-management issues. Hopefully it was not a BlizzCon attendee, but if you're reading this, nyah, nyah! Anyway, the story ended decently since the manager of the Hilton agreed to move our car to the valet area for free parking and discounted our rate 50 bucks a night, so we came out ahead!
I'm still not done talking about Hilton, though. BlizzCon used this thing called the "Anaheim Housing Bureau" to book hotels, it's some kind of third-party organization that provides booking services to conventions, we've never had a problem with it, but this year we decided to book the brand-new Homewood Suites hotel right across Harbor from the convention center since it was new and I figured it would be clean and modern. It was supposed to be open in July 2015, but it turns out they had huge construction delays and were still not open for BlizzCon. Despite this pretty colossal screwup, the only concession they offered us was booking us at another one of their hotels several miles away and shuttling us to the convention center on a bus. That is not really acceptable to us, since we have a lot of camera equipment that we sometimes swap out and we like to have a walking-distance room to be able to do that. Despite repeated complaints about this, the Homewood Suites manager refused to budge and basically gave us the middle finger. Fortunately I just called the Hilton at the convention center, and they weirdly had rooms available albeit at their full price, not the discounted con rate. So anyway, that's what happened and we ended up paying less (see above) due to that angry dude who parks his car really straight.
BlizzCon closes with a famous concert featuring big name bands, this year it was 90's grunge act "Linkin Park", of which I am not a huge fan. I've been trying for five years to get my message across to Blizzard that the perfect BlizzCon musical guest is WEIRD AL YANKOVIC, every Blizzard fan knows who he is and he would bring something truly different to BlizzCon. Not every Blizzard fan is a metal head, I'd like to have a long chat with the people at Blizzard who keep picking these loud, annoying screaming-dude bands instead of something more people can relate to. Al, 2016 is your chance, I am officially nominating you here!
Battle of the Shoes update: For the past few years Melissa and I have been competing to see who gets the most compliments for their awesome shoes. I supplemented my trusty shiny blue Velcro high-tops with a new pair of golden leopard sneakers that easily carried the day, 10-0. Melissa claims not to be playing the game anymore but that's just because she's a sore loser!
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