Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Blizzcon 2015 Charity Dinner

Blizzcon 2015 was my:
  • first trip alone
  • first trip outside of Canada since I was 16 years old
  • first airplane trip
  • first Blizzcon
That was a lot of firsts, but I did it and survived!

The whole experience was fascinating in many ways and I won't go into detail about it here because that would be boring.
So here's a few highlights:
  • Met a bunch of people I had only talked to on Twitter and made new online friends.
  • Met for the first time a guildie and friend that I met back in Vanilla.
  • Got to personally thank Dave Kosak for Mists of Pandaria.
  • Got a hug from Anne Stickney.
  • Got to talk to a bunch of developers (and had a bunch of opinions vindicated).
  • Got to make crowd voices for the upcoming Arena mode for Heroes of the Storm.
  • Was in the crowd for the Opening Ceremony.
  • Stuffed a delicious large wiener in my mouth, thanks to The Viking food truck.
What made the trip extra special is that after missing out on the regular admission tickets, I decided I had to go to Blizzcon that year by all means necessary, and that meant purchasing the expensive Charity dinner ticket.
Which I did because I had put money on the side in case that situation came to happen.

The Charity dinner

The main reason I'm writing this post is because I didn't find much information online about the Charity dinner event, so I didn't know what exactly I should expect and how to prepare myself accordingly.
So here's how it went.

(Keep in mind - this is what it was like for me at Blizzcon 2016 and I was told it was pretty much the same as the previous years, so they might pull a switcheroo in the future to refresh the formula.)

The setup

The reception was at one of the Hilton reception rooms, the typical big rectangular reception room you expect to see there.
Before entering, you had to be registered and get your Blizzcon badge manually verified at the entrance - just like most con-goers got checked during the day at the convention center.
And inside the room, you had lively music happening, the lighting was in hues of blue, and the place got pretty crowded in the first couple of hours.
You had a setup of little round tables with chairs spread around the edges of the room, and an open bar on 2 opposing sides.
And in the middle and the back of the room you had several tables with cold and warm good tasty foods. (Keep in mind that it's a charity event, so don't expect the cheap tasteless sandwiches.)
So it's a standing room kind of deal, with optional chairs here and there.

The crowd

As for the people - you have 3 types that show up there: the charity people, the devs and the players.
You'll spot the charity people very quickly as they overly dressed up as if it were a gala and feel a bit out of place from the thousands of con-goers that are crawling in the Hilton.
The devs are easy to identify as they either wear their special Blizzard-only shirts and/or wear a name tag.
Which leaves the rest of the people as players, and you have the usual representation of gamers - from regular people of all ages to the extremely stereotypical (there's not too many of them though).

I'm mentioning this because the question I frequently see online and don't see many answers for is: Is there a dress code?
The answer is there is no dress code.
But given the quick description of the peoples you'll find there, you can guesstimate that "not too casual wear" is what I saw people wear.
The stereotypical gamer dudes were wearing their worn-out black-turning-grey-from-over-washing gaming t-shirts, and the ones I was close to had elected to not shower that particular day.
Some people came really dressed up as if it was a gala.
Most people were casual chic.

The event

An hour after the event had started and all the people that had lined up were inside, the speeches happened, to thank everyone for being there, to remind everyone that their monetary contribution is going to an actual good cause, and to enjoy the evening. (With a special note to the introverted / not outgoing people not to hesitate to talk to any of the Blizzard people in the room. It may not seem like something important to note, but for socially awkward Me it was the gentle nudge that I needed.)

And that's the occasion to meet any of the Blizzard people you want to talk to.
You want to ask a question to a dev?
Don't want to feel the social pressure of managing to ask a question at a public and recorded Q&A?
Just... keep the forum-type questions in the forums - the guys there don't feel the need to be harassed about whiny complaints. (Or just turn your complaint into a "Can you explain why you...?" and there's more chance you'll get a genuine good response to that. It's communication basics to not be aggressive to the person who you're trying to get an answer from.)

I talked with Jason Huck, the campaign designer for Starcraft 2, and with Legacy of the Void coming the following week, it was the perfect guy to talk to.
He confirmed a bunch of information that I already knew, but I wanted an update on how things were working internally: how stories were created in Blizzard in general, how Starcraft stories were shaped and broken down into chapters, the difficulty of making interesting campaign scenarios, the value of multiplayer versus single-player campaign, etc.
I chatted for a while with Dustin Browder, lead designer on Heroes of the Storm, and found out we had a similar background in theater!
I also discovered that he's actually really cool and not at aaaaalllll like the person you see on stage at Blizzcons as it's the old theater reflexes coming in where you want to project your voice as much as you can if you're in front of a huge crowd (I can relate).
Had a quick chat with Josh Mosqueira, the then-lead designer for Diablo III, found out he worked in my town for 4 years and I geeked out a bit about the new Season 4 stuff (and made him really happy about a few points I brought up about the system).
I asked a bunch of tiny systems questions to Ben Brode and Jason Chayes (about the difficulty of the Blackrock Mountain adventure, and me asking about an in-game achievement system) and Yong Woo (about their automated testing systems, the possible pitfalls, and what happens when they encounter Turn 2 or 3 opponent-crushing combos).
I said hi to Nethaera, saw Ion Hazzikostas and Mike Morhaime but couldn't talk to either of them because a swarm of people were surrounding them constantly, and had a quick glimpse of the elusive Chris Metzen who showed up for 5 mins just 20 feet away from me and then disappeared from my view before I could end the conversation I was in.
There were a bunch of other devs that were walking around but I didn't get the opportunity or time to talk to them, but I've spent 4 hours there and most of it was spent in conversation with someone working at Blizzard.
It was worth all the Canadian money I've put into that ticket.

Here's another tip: if you see someone you want to talk to - go to them, because you never know if you'll spot them ever again in the evening or during Blizzcon.
The crazy thing about the Charity event is that is also happens typically the day before Blizzcon begins, which is also the day where all the big parties happen.
We had at the same time the Wowhead party, the Con Before the Storm party, the Blizzard Influencers party, and a couple of other significant ones that I don't remember.
So it'll naturally happen for someone to get bored of one party and naturally go to another where they have people they want to see or people that want to see them, etc.

And when you felt like leaving the event, you could grab your goody bag and print that were on a set of tables in one corner of the room where they were all piled up.

That's all I had to say about this!
Hope this is going to be something handy for anyone wondering what the Charity dinner is like.
If you've got the money to do it, it's totally worth it!