It is impossible to go more than twenty feet without encountering a misshapen facsimile of your favorite Overwatch character, but sometimes, out of the corner of my eye, I catch something that looks manifested from the game, Tron-style. I feel dressed inappropriately without shoulder-pads and craft foam. Shortly after I arrive, I am handed a suitcase-sized box branded in black and Blizzard blue. It is heavy, and has a handle. I haven’t opened it yet, but over half of the people I pass are also lugging these around, so I assume there is something important inside, or at the very least something I will need. I am at BlizzCon.
There are halls everywhere, and in each of them something absolutely vital is happening right now. Each moment that passes, I am missing something I need to be writing about. That’s why, instead of writing discrete articles, I’ll be presenting one ticker tape of game updates, esports results, and experiences here at the Anaheim convention hall. I present the first entry in the Dispatches series.
3:30 – The Sombra ARG which we wrote about earlier today has come to a close in the perhaps the blandest way possible: four dudes in t-shirts walked us through her abilities one by one, on a stage. For this trans-media cryptographic treasure hunt to end this way is disappointing, but for anyone paying attention, shouldn’t be particularly surprising. The ARG has been, as our writer Victoria Rose pointed out, one long exercise in anti-climax. The good news is that Sombra herself looks radical. She has a cloaking ability that renders her completely invisible, without even a shimmer to give her away. Her “hacking,” which is an alt-fire on her machine pistol, can be used to silence enemies, stopping them from using their abilities. She can also disable health-packs for the enemy team, and, as you might expect, hack Torbjorn’s turrets to shut them down temporarily. She’s a different breed of Offense, one who focuses more on setting up big plays than pouring out damage. With her relocating, silencing and battlefield control ability, Sombra looks like a particularly aggressive control character. Oh, and her ultimate, EMP, silences everyone in the radius, and destroys shields. That could function as a well-needed Lucio counter, which is almost a sharp enough attempt at balance to make up for yet another Torbjorn nerf.
There’s also a new map incoming, Oasis. Quake fans: there’s a jump pad, so go ahead and celebrate. But, Quake fans: it’s 2016, we need to grow past this.
This morning, Blizzard announced the Overwatch League, describing it as “a world-class sport ecosystem for professional Overwatch competition.” Color me intrigued, Blizzard; why’d you leave that “e” off? The press release also states that “the Overwatch League will focus on long-term stability for teams as well as the opportunities for players to establish the types of professional careers associated with traditional sports.” This all sounds great, and well needed, and like an incredibly tall order, so we’ll see how much Blizzard can actually accomplish.
The food in the press room is nightmarish. Essentially a cafeteria-version of Panda Express. I consider leaving my mysterious box here, but decide against it. Who knows if I’ll need it out there?
5:30 – Nobody knows where anything is here. I’m currently lost. Many of these cavernous corridors are misty with Halloween-store fog machines. There are so many Blizzard shirts, it is impossible to tell who actually works here.
The last stock car in the MOBA drag race, Heroes of the Storm, putters along with such earnestness you can’t help but love them. A confession: I love Heroes of the Storm. I love matches that finish after only fifteen minutes. I love the irreverence with which they treat their genre’s DNA. I love it, and I feel no shame at all.
Heroes of the Storm is announcing two new Heroes, both expressing a new weird idea about the genre. Ragnaros the Firelord is hopping over from the Hearthstone meta to land solidly into MOBAs. He sets all sorts of things on fire. Enemies, allies, his own hammer, you name it! It’s his passive that really sets him apart, giving Ragnaros the ability to possess his own fort or the ruins of an enemy fort. His abilities all get super-charged in his commercially-zoned form, but of course he can’t move (without getting the proper permits).
The other new hero is a solo-queue dream. Varian Wrynn is the first officially multi-class character to be added to the game, and can build himself as either a tank or an assassin depending on the needs of his team (but lets be honest: you will always be forced to build tank). This is a solo-queue player’s dream. Never again will you have to suffer through the mad whims of what matchmaking considers a good team composition.
Blizzard also is changing how the ranked ladder works in Heroes of the Storm, locking Ranked mode to solo queue only. Team Ranked has been expanded to more than just stacks of five, now including duos and trios. They’ve also changed their Matchmaking algorithm, but there were so many charts that I went temporarily math-blind.
7:30 – I have been sitting behind an Ana cosplayer and watching the Overwatch World Cup from around her tent-like hood. In particular, I’ve been watching Shadowburn annihilate whole teams that were brazen enough to end up in the same bracket as Team Russia.
I tried to ask him if he was nervous going into the finals. He seemed confused by the question, as if it had never occurred to him that he might lose.
Meanwhile, South Korea continues to introduce us to plays we didn’t know were possible. Did you know that Zarya can rocket jump through the murderhole in the Eichenwald castle door? Zunba sure did. They’ve knocked out Sweden, the previous favorite to win, and made it look easy.
When asked whether he was worried about Shadowburn, Miro said he had seen plenty of good Genjis in Korea. Miro played a murderous Winston, who counters Shadowburn’s favorite pick. If he can clip the Russian dynamo’s wings, they’ll walk away with the trophy.