BlizzConline will be a make-or-break moment for Blizzard’s identity, and its fans

It’s time for the company to take action and turn public perception around. Here’s how we think it can do just that.

TV photo by Diego González/Creative Commons; BlizzCon photo by tinyfroglet/Creative Commons; remix by Gamepur

It’s no secret that the public opinion of Blizzard Entertainment is a shell of what it once was. Perhaps the most celebrated gaming company in the not-so-distant past, Blizzard has devolved into one of the industry’s biggest punching bags in the span of just a few years. From the Diablo Immortal fiasco to the Blitzchung scandal to the overpromised-but-underdelivered mess that is Warcraft III: Reforged, Blizzard has been marred by controversy, and many fans have walked away because of it.

This extends into BlizzCon, Blizzard’s (usually) annual convention, too. What is typically a time of celebration has, in its past few gatherings, mostly concluded with upset fans and animosity. This year, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, BlizzCon was pushed back from its usual November date to February and transformed into an entirely online event known, embarrassingly enough, as BlizzConline. The event happens in a matter of days.

Given how much volatility is surrounding the brand, this year’s showing is a make-or-break moment. What Blizzard does this weekend will ultimately decide whether or not it can win back at least some of the fans it’s lost over the past few years. But we think there is a way. Here, we’ve rounded up a few key ideas regarding what Blizzard needs to get right to make up some of its floundered goodwill.

1. Set proper expectations

TV photo by Senad Palic/Creative Commons; Diablo IV image via Blizzard; remix by Gamepur

Before the online event even starts, Blizzard has to clearly set expectations. One way or another, it needs to shift the narrative to one it can work with. 

We all remember in 2018, when everyone was excited for Diablo IV to be announced. The entire opening day ceremony was outfitted to finish with a big Diablo announcement, and expectations were astronomically high. Attendees were frothing at the mouth to see the next step for the dungeon-crawling series. Blizzard knew this, too; it had to. Then, instead of Diablo IV, the mobile title Diablo Immortal was revealed, prompting the attending audience to literally boo presenters on stage, and bringing about the, “Is this an out-of-season April Fool’s joke?” and “Don’t you guys have phones?” comments that have lived on in meme infamy ever since.

The problem wasn’t necessarily that Diablo Immortal was a mobile title, but rather that it was set up as the “one more thing” moment of the 2018 convention. Blizzard knew its fans were ready for a new Diablo game to be announced, but it apparently did not know its fan base well enough to recognize how terrible of a move announcing only a mobile title to a room full of PC fanatics would be. If the Diablo Immortal announcement were anywhere else in the show, it likely would not have gone down as poorly as it did. Blizzard messed up by allowing fans to expect too much, then showing something that was essentially the opposite of what the faithful fans were expecting.

2. Show, don’t just tell, that you’re listening — and learning

TV photo by Alberto Contreras/Creative Commons; Overwatch image via Blizzard; remix by Gamepur

We already have a pretty good idea of what we’ll see at this year’s show, and the biggest expectations are set on the Diablo brand’s spikey shoulders. Diablo IV was announced at the 2019 BlizzCon, but it was overshadowed by the Blitzchung controversy. And with Activision CFO Dennis Durkin recently confirming to investors that “our outlook does not include Diablo IV or Overwatch 2 launching in 2021,” fans will be wanting a lot of details to tide them over. Diablo Immortal has also yet to release, and Blizzard needs to be very careful about how it presents it, especially after earning some decent press from some YouTubers, streamers, and media outlets that got to play an early build a few months back.

Then there are rumors of a Diablo II remake, which have been swirling since Vicarious Visions was absorbed into Blizzard last month. If a Diablo II remake is not going to be shown this year, Blizzard needs to make a social media post before the show stating such. If it doesn’t, and then no Diablo II remake is shown, we could see a similar post-Immortal outcry from Diablo fans.

Outside of Diablo, Overwatch 2 is apparently set to have more information revealed, and anything without a release date is, in our eyes, a failure. Overwatch fans are hungry for new content, and given how little Overwatch has received over the last year, Blizzard needs to excite fans of the IP again. 

World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Hearthstone are in a similar boat. If the pandemic has significantly pushed projects back, Blizzard needs to be upfront about it to show it is working at being better than before. If it acknowledges the challenges but still gives fans reasons to be excited, it will come out on top.

3. Properly address past problems

TV photo by Stephen Monterroso/Creative Commons; Warcraft III image via Blizzard; remix by Gamepur

One of the best ways to show the world Blizzard is better than it has been is to adequately address the controversies and problems of its past.

First up is combating the negativity around its role in the Blitzchung scandal from 2019. This is the first BlizzCon since that one, and even though it’s almost guaranteed that they won’t bring it up, the company could try and redeem itself a bit with the right moves. A good start would be bringing Blitzchung, as well as Virtual and Mr. Yee — the people fired for interviewing Blitzchung during his support of the Hong Kong protests — into BlizzConline in some capacity. This small gesture would go so far in showing that Blizzard has reversed its previous line of thinking and acknowledges its missteps.

Another must-do is addressing the Warcraft III: Reforged’s issues. What was promised as a full remake with new cutscenes ended up as a slight remaster with shoddy anti-consumer terms of service. More than a year after the game’s release, Blizzard announcing new updates addressing these issues would go a long way to starting the turnaround.

While old scars don’t heal fully, clearing up these issues, and putting a cap on the Diablo Immortal fiasco by actually releasing a good game, will go much further than wedging a lame apology speech into the event. These things would demonstrate that Blizzard is willing to acknowledge where it messed up and is ready to be better than it was before. 

Regardless of how things go, though, not everyone will buy back in. This downfall has been steady for years, and one event won’t change things overnight. Blizzard has to continue to work and prove it is better.

Blizzard used to be a company that knew how to generate excitement in its communities with its games and announcements. But the bigger it got, the more it lost the identity that so many were attracted to in the first place, until we reached the point where we are today. BlizzConline may be the company’s final chance to either take that identity back. Or maybe to forge a new one for the future. Whether that is for better or worse, and whether or not it will have the fans at its back, is ultimately Blizzard’s choice. It will all hinge on how it handles things this weekend.