Hi everyone! I'm in my home office, watching the stream and desperately convincing myself that this is as exciting as being in Anaheim. I've thrown blue T-shirts over all the lamps for that authentic BlizzCon show floor atmosphere. (As an EG employee I have an infinite supply of blue T-shirts.)
After a hiatus last year, Blizzard's big California fan convention is back this weekend and we'll be reporting live on the opening ceremony from 7pm GMT this evening. Although Blizzard charges for Virtual Tickets to watch the stream of every panel over the weekend, you will be able to watch the opening ceremony (as well as the StarCraft 2 World Championship Series matches) for free over at the BlizzCon site.
Oli Welsh, who is definitely fine with the fact that the next-gen console launches mean he isn't able to go to BlizzCon this year, will be joining you to watch the stream and offering live commentary below. Oli and other members of the Eurogamer team have Virtual Tickets so we'll be able to report from the later panels, while noted World of Warcraft expert and EG contributor Richard Cobbett is our man in California. He'll be soaking up the atmosphere, interviewing developers, getting hands-on time with the games and taking furious notes at panels to bring you a series of in-depth reports after the show has wrapped.
So what do we expect this year? Blizzard's next MMO Titan is rumoured to have gone back to the drawing board, so that's off the table, but even setting that aside, the developer has never been busier. The fifth World of Warcraft expansion - probably Warlords of Draenor - is a dead cert to be shown, and will be the big reveal of the show.
Diablo 3's first expansion, Reaper of Souls, was revealed at Gamescom back in August and we're sure to hear more details on that. Meanwhile, Blizzard's push into the console market continues with the PlayStation 4 version of Diablo 3 - also likely to put in an appearance. Will we get release dates for either?
The real story, though, is arguably Blizzard's move into free-to-play. The closed beta test for trading card game Hearthstone is red hot right now, and it may be going into open beta very soon indeed. And after two years of silence, we're going to get a proper look at Blizzard's rebooted rival to League of Legends and Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm (formerly Blizzard All-Stars, which was formerly Blizzard DOTA).
All this, and for the first time Blizzard is making its ambitions in e-sports clear by hosting the actual WCS StarCraft finals, as opposed to the usual invitational matches.
It looks like being a fascinating couple of days. Join us at 7 for the kick-off!
Our man at the show Rich Cobbett has so far only filed a report about the chocolate cake he ate last night. I hope his work improves.
Geoff Keighley, video gaming's own Ron Burgundy, is doing his thing on the Virtual Ticket stream. He's having trouble saying the word Hearthstone for some reason.
Seems like the WoW expansion leaked a few minutes early, mmo-champion has a picture of the logo. I won't link 'cause I don't want to "spoil" the reveal for anyone. You'll have to seek it out on your own!
Here we go!
Blizzard execs are waxing lyrical about the community. Chris Metzen is such a hunk.
To be fair, I've been to enough of these shows to know that they really mean it. Only CCP's Fanfest matches it for genuine dialogue between developers and fans. The panels are surprisingly frank affairs.
The video showreel shows us marriage proposals and hot lady troll cosplayers. Standard.
President Mike Morhaime's here, accompanied by deafening thrash metal, to kick things off. He's a bass player don't you know.
Aw, no bushy beard this year. Mists of Pandaria bowling shirt present and correct.
He's thanking the fans for 22 years of support. BlizzCon is their way of saying thank you (and getting loads of coverage and selling virtual tickets, but hey. And I understand they only break even on the event itself.)
Mike's talking about the eSports line up. The big deal this year is the finals of the StarCraft 2 World Championship Series - previously BlizzCon only hosted invitationals, while the main events took place in Korea.
The atmosphere at the invitationals was always amazing, so I can only imagine what it will be like tomorrow.
Now onto upcoming games. Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls is playable on both PC and PlayStation 4.
Mike wants to talk about getting rid of the Diablo 3 auction house. Humble pie time.
It took away the joy of finding loot, Mike admits. It shouldn't have happened.
Now he's talking about the improvements: new endgame, new loot.
Now it's on to World of Warcraft players - saving you for last, he says. You're going to hear about plans for the future very soon. And Duncan Jones, director of the Warcraft movie, will be making a presentation tomorrow.
Blink 182 are doing the closing ceremony. They're still together?
"We do have a couple of new things to show you this weekend."
Dustin Browder - lead designer on StarCraft 2 - is next up to talk about Heroes of the Storm, formerly Blizzard All-Stars / DOTA.
It's Jim Raynor in his space marine gear - and Diablo! And Kerrigan! And Tyrael!
Hot crossover action. Arthas the Lich King versus StarCraft's Ghost.
The crowd laps it up.
Heroes of the Storm is an "homage" to the player mods, says Dustin - including, of course, the original Defence of the Ancients.
"Our community created this genre that has gone on to dominate all of gaming." And Riot and Valve walked away with it. (He didn't say that.)
He's referring to the Blizzard DOTA map, an official mod, that they showed three years ago, and again two years ago.
They wanted to do even more with it, they said, which is why it's changed its name a couple of times. At one point, it was just a map. Now it's a full game, he says.
Alpha version gameplay video!
Aw, it's nice to see Warcraft art assets in that top-down RTS perspective again.
"Unique battlegrounds" - that implies more than one map to me.
It looks slick, even by Dota 2 standards.
I can see characters from Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo, but all the environments seem very Warcraft themed.
"Heroes of the Storm is Blizzard the game." Arthas, Kerrigan, Diablo, all playable.
But it's not enough just to pay homage to their own games, says Dustin. They have to challenge the MOBA genre and show what it can become.
The battlegrounds are not just maps - they're worlds with their own characters and stories. Black Hearts Bay sees you collecting treasure for a pirate lord.
Another battleground is the Haunted Mines - where skulls create a massive golem. Another sees you taking obelisks to create a dragon knight. All three maps playable at BlizzCon.
The game devs are going to play each other in a live match - and beta sign-ups are live today!
"This is going to be Blizzard's next big game" - pretty unequivocally not part of StarCraft 2 any more, I'd say. Although it is being made by the StarCraft team. (Where does that leave Legacy of the Void?)
More thrash! Now it's Rob Pardo taking the stage. Chief creative officer, I think Dustin said, but he's basically the head of game design there. He's going to talk Hearthstone.
Hearthstone was an experimental stealth project at Blizzard made by a small team. There was a lot of scepticism internally. Would card games appeal to a broad audience? LOL.
A year ago, Blizzard tested the game internally - and had 5000 hours of play in three weeks.
The beta is huge. Having hosted a key giveaway here a couple of weeks back, we can vouch for that.
Hearthstone is a lot of firsts for Blizzard: a tablet game, a free to play game, and a game announced and released to the public in the same year.
Open beta is next month. "But in Blizzard speak, that might mean January."
The tablet version is playable at the show.
Attendees get a special Hearthstone card - the Elite Tauren Chieftain (a reference to Blizzard's house rock band).
Playing the golden card triggers heavy rock riffs in the game - cute!
They're also working on golden versions of the hero characters - like the collectable golden cards they'll have special animations. You'll be able to earn those in ranked play.
They want ranked play to be as much fun as arena play.
One more piece of Hearthstone news; at Blizzard they prefer to play it on tablet. But not everyone has tablets.
iPhone and Android phone versions are in development.
Probably out in the second half of next year.
The Warcraft movie was announced in 2006 - "that's a long development schedule, even for us," jokes Pardo. The special effects director did Life of Pi - and more importantly he's been playing WOW since the start and has a level 90.
This month is going to be World of Warcraft's ninth birthday. I've been working on or playing it most of my adult life, says Pardo. It reminded him of getting his first game design experience playing D&D.
We're going to look back at the history of the game. Pardo references the epic scraps in WOW's "first battleground" - the eternal scrum of the Hillsbrad Foothills. Ah, nostalgia. (I hated it.)
Now we're reminiscing about raiding Onyxia with 40 players, and heading through the Dark Portal to Outland.
He's apologising for the swooping gank introduced by flying mounts. And recalling the epic world event of opening the Gates of Ahn Qiraj (sorry I forgot how to spell it).
He apologises to the server engineers for that one. Then he recalls the first virtual world pandemic sparked by Zul'Gurub.
Here's the theme: even when they mess up, they create shared memories. Just like back in the day with D&D.
More talk about the fuzzy joy of the BlizzCon community. HUGS. "Thank you for letting us be your dungeon master all these years."
Now here's Chris Metzen to introduce the next chapter in World of Warcraft!
He's got a Blizzard track top. Pardo had a Hearthstone T-shirt. Poor Mike, nobody wants his bowling shirts any more.
With all the stuff they have in development - the movie, Hearthstone - they've been thinking about what makes Warcraft tick. They've been thinking a lot about the early days - Orcs & Humans. Tides of Darkness. Beyond the Dark Portal. The original trilogy of RTS games.
Those events predicate the world of modern WOW, and the roots of the Alliance and Horde factions.
I'm guessing this means a time travel plot...
There are so many WOW players who never knew those events or characters, Metzen says.
The modern story of Warcraft begins about 30 game years ago, when the Dark Portal was opened between Azeroth and Draenor.
He's referencing the "baddest dudes ever" of the Warcraft franchise who invaded Azeroth through the Dark Portal if the cultures of Azeroth hadn't banded together against them.
The Alliance. "The Captain America faction," says Chris.
Following the Siege of Orgrimmar (the last patch), the Alliance remains the standing superpower.
All that history, all that context - "We asked ourselves, what if those dark days could come again? What if a pantheon of the most vicious villains of Warcraft could threaten again?"
The conflict coming will be the Alliance's finest hour, he says. (Where's the Horde in all this?)
Oh, here we go. Man, this guy loves to set a scene.
The Horde had to live with Thrall's choices and the consequences of Garrosh's reign of terror. Now, under Vol'jin - the new troll leader installed by the latest patch - they have a chance of a new start.
They have to confront the ghosts of the past in the coming adventure, he says.
Right, finally, here we go.
Blizzard is proud to present... Warlords of Draenor! Trailer time.
"When past and present collide, the fate of all worlds hangs in the balance."
We're seeing the characters of Draenor before it became Outland - the Draenei and original orcs at war with each other.
New character models!
Boost immediately to level 90!
And all the usual - new PVP, quest and dungeon content.
Did I miss the part where they said there was a new level cap? I don't think I did...
Oli you did: Level cap 100 in the trailer.
Phew. Thanks for that.
That's more or less as expected, then. A lot of detail still to come, though.
Here's the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYueIdI_2L0
Draenor is "a new world', so I guess it won't replace Outland and there's an alternative timeline plot.
Interesting, but if you ask me, Heroes of the Storm was the most exciting new prospect there.
And iPhone Hearthstone is going to ruin Wes' life.
Thanks for watching with us! We'll bring you much, much more from BlizzCon over the next two days and int he coming weeks.