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BlizzCon 2011

Orion Tippens

Barbarians, Zerg, Blood Elves, and more from three different universes unite in the great OC for discovery, battle, fun.

Here, at the Anaheim Convention Center, we have another epic BlizzCon. This sixth annual show is for all things Blizzard Entertainment, those masters of compelling, deeply involved computer gaming. Here, Blizzard continues to build upon its three main franchises: "StarCraft," its science fiction military strategy; "World of Warcraft," its massive multiplayer fantasy adventure; and "Diablo," its contemporary horror-based action explorer.

So Blizzard players far and local leave their indented chairs to gather under BlizzCon's darkened yet colorful exhibit halls. Walking through its massive convention floor where hundreds of computer stations, top accessories and products from other related companies, and rows of chairs welcome spectators to the latest news and observations of their computer gaming masters.

Some would say this is pretty much the same thing every year at BlizzCon. Fans arrive and relish in the same traditions. All start clutching their amazing goody bags, as this year everyone is treated to some exclusive in-game items. The same, yet always amazing big featured events await: world championship tournaments, the masquerade stage show with comedian Jay Mohr again as the guest MC and the musical grand finale, this year, the Foo Fighters.

Perhaps the most important and exciting draw to Blizzard gamers is the gaming news: "World of Warcraft" will have another expansion, the “Mists of Pandara,” now involving large, warrior pandas. "StarCraft II" will have “Heart of the Swarm,” the latest expansion pack featuring new missions. And there is "Diablo III," the long-awaited (over 10 years since the last) sequel to the classic franchise.

For the games, the fans gather and they talk, discuss, praise, and/or complain. They are given ample opportunity to provide honest feedback to the game makers and amongst each other (via live Q&A sessions) and chances to meet the developers.

New issues arise, including Blizzard now allowing players to sell in-game for real cash items in their upcoming "Diablo III" game. Many WoW players are concerned for the strange and less serious direction of the next expansion, including "Pokemon"-type elements as players' virtual pets that can be collected and used for fighting amongst each other. "StarCraft II," may someday be our next favorite national pastime.

Then, there is the often unusual fandom. Looking around, there are many costumes, as these BlizzCon attendees impress the world with some of the best, most well-crafted costumes representing their favorite Blizzard game characters and personas. And for those not wearing armor or enchanted cloaks, there are still friendship bonds in the making.

Then, there are the relationships that go beyond complicated teamwork. During BlizzCon, I reunited with Sara Inman, my old college friend who spent much of her last four years online in the "World of Warcraft." Sara now has 10 maximum top-geared characters for the Alliance side. Two years ago, Sara's life took an exciting turn during a dungeon raid in the Icecrown Citadel as her level 85 human priest, Emmadal. There, she met Brian Mello, aka Darkace, a level 85 human warrior. Their meeting began as an exchange of frustration over another incompetent Paladin in their group. Eventually, more conversing led to an exchange of gifts and real-life pictures. Then, a dedication to each other as boyfriend, girlfriend.

Sara and Brian raided over 250 dungeons together while planning their real lives together. They met repeatedly in Boston and Orange County, and now look forward to spending their lives together here in California. This is their first BlizzCon, a fascinating experience for both, as they have much to say about the players, the game and relationships.

From what I'm told and looking around the BlizzCon floor, there are many fascinating parallels between the virtual and real games of life. For example, Brian detailed his own observations on the attractions of women  (far more than outsiders expect of WoW players). Online in WoW, many female players are attracted to men of power, the guild leaders, top players and PvP (Player vs. Player) masters, those wearing the best gear. Others are into serious relationships. Sara and Brian advise that a mutual relationship in a virtual world should be built on trust, giving, helping each other, and avoiding heavy raiding together until knowing each other well.

Is this perhaps Blizzard's secret to its success beyond gameplay? These relationships, whether based on romance, friendship or competition. All three of Blizzard's major games can be played online, and best enjoyed meeting and sharing with others for whatever reason.  

So that is BlizzCon, nevermind the excitement of their evolved games. This is a show about relationships between the fans and the company, and each other. Here's hoping to many years more.

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