Train, ‘Game of Thrones’ Actor, Lindsey Stirling to Close BlizzCon 2018

As BlizzCon continues to grow and evolve, Blizzard gives it an executive producer

Train, 'Game of Thrones' Hodor,  Lindsey Stirling Close BlizzCon 2018
Sara Kiesling www.sarakiesling.

For the first time in its 13 year history, the annual celebration of all things Blizzard from “World of Warcraft” to “Overwatch” has an executive producer. The decision, made by the co-founder and chief operating officer of the mammoth company brings into focus just how important BlizzCon is to the company.

“They thought that BlizzCon should be put on the same level as our games,” Saralyn Smith, executive producer of BlizzCon, told Variety. “They want to give it the same attention and love as the games.”

That’s a tall order.

Across its 27-year history, Blizzard — which merged with Activision in 2008 — has released a steady stream of beloved properties including such mega-hits as “Warcraft,” “Starcraft,” “Hearthstone,” “Diablo,” and “Overwatch.” In many ways, Blizzard is the Disney of video games. And as with Disney, the company understands the value its many original properties have outside the constraints of what made them popular to begin with.

But instead of building theme parks — or at least real-world theme parks — Blizzard built an annual convention in Anaheim, close to its Irvine headquarters. What started as a gathering of about 8,000 fans in 2005 has grown to a massive event that fills the 1.2 million square feet of Anaheim’s Convention Center (that’s 21 football fields) with an expected 40,000 people this year.

The convention is packed with talks, playable demos of upcoming Blizzard games, costume contests, parties, and tournaments. All of it is now streamed to a through a growing list of providers and fans who miss out on the physical tickets, which often sell out in minutes, can purchase digital ones which provide goodies for games as well as special streamed access to the events.

Smith said planning the event is a 12 to 18-month process, making sure that not just the venue is packed with interesting things for fans to do, but that there are plenty of big activations around the city as well. This year’s show, which runs on Nov. 2 and Nov. 3, brings with it a number of changes.

“We’re trying to do a lot more with bringing in not just local people and people willing to fly here,  but also that global audience,” Smith said.

That means adding to its slate of free livestreams, which include the show’s opening ceremony and all esports tournaments. Last year, more than 10 million viewers from more than 180 countries tuned in to BlizzCon.

BlizzCon’s biggest news and announcements begin with the opening ceremony on Nov. 2.  Online viewers can tune in for free to see the pre-show and opening ceremony on the BlizzCon All-Access Channel starting at 10:30 a.m. PT. This time around free livestreams will also be made available on Blizzcon.Com, via the BlizzCon mobile app for Android and iOS and using the BlizzCon TV app and the Blizzard Battle.net desktop app. There are also more than 100 third-party channels streaming this year’s show, Smith added.

The team also worked to include more translated channels, with content available in English, Spanish, German, Korean, French, Chinese, Russian, and Portuguese.

This year’s BlizzCon also expanded its diversity and inclusion space.

“We wanted to plus it up,” Smith said. “So we rebranded it as the Inclusion Nexus. We have special activities, guest speakers and representatives from Blizzard’s Veterans Group, LGBTQ Council, and Women’s Advisory Council.”

The space will also have a series of mini “lightning talks” “This is a priority for Blizzard and I love how it’s coming together,” Smith said.

Another major change coming to the show is how it will wrap-up. Every year, BlizzCon typically has a big band come in to play the show’s closing ceremony, but Smith said they realized that wasn’t really making use of the full venue.

“We just realized that in years past we were aggregating the attendance in one area where we have the whole hall where we can have people mingling and enjoying themselves,” Smith said.

So this year instead of one performance, BlizzCon will have three.

The band Train, DJ and “Game of Thrones” actor Kristian Nairn, and performance artist and violinist Lindsey Stirling will all perform at this year’s closing ceremony.

Smith said the acts will perform in three separate locations within the convention center with the performances staggered out to start 15 minutes apart from each other starting at 8 p.m. PT. The entire performance will run about 90 minutes.

“We want the show to feel like you are mingling with each other and enjoying the whole floor,” Smith said.

This year’s selection of performers came from a variety of inspirations. Train, Smith said, was booked at the direct request of a number of Blizzard execs who saw they perform and really enjoyed the show. Nairn had actually approached Blizzard before about performing at the show and this year seemed like a good fit, she said. And Sterling often does her performances in cosplay (though to date, not dressed as any Blizzard characters) and seemed like a good fit for rounding out the sort of eclectic mix of performances the team wanted at the show.

“We were looking at the performers and their town and how they connect to their own audiences,” Smith said.

Finally, for the first time, those who buy digital tickets for the show will also get access to one of the game demos the day it goes live on the show floor. “World of Warcraft Classic” will be made available to everyone as part of the virtual ticket experience, so they can try that at home. That’s something the team hopes to expand for future shows.

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With this year’s show quickly approaching, Smith and team are already thinking about how they want the show to evolve. Among the ideas are providing support to some of the viewing parties being held around the world. BlizzCon streams are shown at a movie chain in Australia, Internet Cafes in China and bars in Europe. Smith said the team would love to see more of that.

They’re also open to the idea of perhaps holding more than one BlizzCon on a different continent, sometime in the future.

“I think all of those ideas are exciting,” she said. “I just don’t know if that’s a three or five or 10-year idea.”