Kingfox’s guide to BlizzCon 2011

Unfortunately, this is the first year I will not be attending BlizzCon. This year I stand with the 99% who aren’t able to make it out there to sunny Anaheim, California for two days of standing in dark cavernous rooms, waiting in lines for one beta or another. Believe me, I wish I was joining the unwashed masses scrambling for seats near the stage just to hear Metzen announce that they hadn’t prepared anything for the panel.

If you’re like me and unable to attend, keep glued to the usual sources for World of Warcraft news. We’ll have a podcast up discussing whatever is announced, giving you our analysis of the groundbreaking revelations.

If you are on your way to BlizzCon, read on. I’ve learned a thing or two, and am happy to share my tips with our listeners.

Advice for next year
Some of my advice is given a bit too late for this year’s event, but might help you for next year.

  • The moment the dates are announced, if you’re sure you can get tickets, prepay for a room at the Anaheim Hilton next to the convention center. The Hilton is right outside the front doors of the convention, has a convenient Starbucks inside, and offers quality rooms. While booking the Hilton at the standard convention rate is rather pricy, they do let you prepay at a steep discount; usually this is available between when the dates are announced and when the tickets go on sale. If you are sure you’re getting tickets from an inside connection, an army of dedicated guildies, or a clever Perl script a guildie has written up to defeat the Fail Murloc (how I got to go in 2008), it’s worth checking out the prepay rates.
  • Otherwise, still book a hotel as soon as you can.Hotels near the convention center go fast, but there’s still plenty of decent options to be had.
    • The Red Lion‘s just a short walk away, yet offers decent rooms at a reasonable rate. My (now) wife and I stayed there in 2009, and enjoyed a great view of the Disney fireworks.
    • The Anabella‘s incredibly convenient, is a nice middle-range hotel, and you have the added joy of looking at the parking lot full of people waiting to get in on the first day (more on that later). It also hosts the WoW Insider meetup lately, so that’s convenient.
    • The Cortana‘s much cheaper than most hotels in the area, and while has less amenities, is just a short walk to the convention if you walk through parking lots.
  • Collaborate with friends. Share hotel rooms, if you’re sure your online internet adventure friend is not a complete psychopath. Make sure someone has a car. Share rides to and from the airport. A lot of the fixed costs of a trip can be split.

Before you leave

  • What to wear.
    • You’re going to be standing on a lot of lines. A lot of long lines. For hours. While the store line has mostly gone away through letting people buy it online ahead of time, there’s still plenty of lines left. Wear comfortable shoes that you can stand in for hours. Shoes with support and comfortable insoles.
    • And you’re going to be inside a series of large dark halls for most of the weekend. Skip the sunglasses, consider a layer if you’re the kind of person that gets cold easily. I’ve seen some people bring a sweater, then use that sweater as a seat cushion. Don’t forget you’re also going to be doing a lot of sitting.
  • What to bring and what not to bring.
    • Don’t bother bringing a laptop, generally. You can’t bring them into the convention hall, and the internet connection of most hotels in the area will be over-saturated by thousands of crackheads trying to get their fix by logging into WoW after hearing about it all day. Most hotels can’t handle the traffic, and even browsing the web will be as painful as dialup.
    • Bring a camera. Take lots of pictures. You will see some amazing costumes, some beautiful art, and you’ll want to get a picture of yourself sitting on the Frozen Throne or posing next to Kerrigan. Make sure you bring extra storage for the camera, batteries, and your camera charger.
    • Pack light, but bring a large bag. I’ve had to have friends ship swag back to me, as I’ve run out of room in my bag. Don’t make that mistake. You only need a few days of clothing, bringing an alternate change of gear isn’t as important as bringing back that limited edition Pandaren beer cozy signed by Samwise Didier. You’ll be getting a swag bag, you’ll be buying things at the J!NX booth (be honest), and plenty of other vendors there will either give you things or sell you things. Leave room for it all.
    • Bring contact information for everyone you hope to meet up with there. BlizzCon is a huge event, don’t expect serendipity to help you run into your main tank. Exchange numbers now.

    Tips for the convention itself

    • Lines, lines, everywhere lines. Have I mentioned the lines enough yet? The worst is the line to enter the convention itself, Friday morning. That line has, for the past couple of years, stretched down the length of the convention center, and into a nearby parking lot. Looking out my bathroom window the year I stayed at the Cortana, I saw a long serpentine mass of humanity winding back and forth on the pavement. It’s a brutal line. Now that there’s no longer the mad dash to the store to get the first crack at loot, my advice is to skip it. Grab some coffee, and stroll in half an hour later. Unless you’ve been camped out for hours before the doors opened, you’re not getting in first. If you walk up after the doors are open, they’ll usually wave you in instead of making you wait in line. Crowd control for the entry line is poorly managed once the seal has been punctured. They typically do an excellent job of queueing you up and directing you back into that parking lot along the North side of the block, but give up once they’ve started letting people in. Last year I wandered in after getting coffee, and still made it to the stage before the GEEK IS mantra began.
    • Get your badges early, but not too early. You can pick up your badge and swag bag on Thursday, the day before the convention begins. Unless you need to race back to your hotel to get pictures of the swag to put on eBay or your World of Warcraft news site, wait a bit. The line’s incredibly long, but dies down in the evening. Go grab a bite to eat with guildies instead.
    • Eat more tacos. Convention food is notoriously bad and overpriced. You’ll wait in even more lines to spend a fortune on some small portions of mediocre grub. The best bet for your buck has usually been the taco stands. You get your choice of meat, the line moves relatively quickly compared to the dining options along the walls, and it’s not terribly expensive.
    • Don’t eat near the convention center.
      • My friend Dave wrote this excellent guide to eating at BlizzCon last year. He’s a foodie, he lives in the area, and he knows what he’s talking about. Item #1 on his list, Nhu Lan Bakery, became the favorite destination of a guildie of mine. Every day he snuck out there for more Vietnamese iced coffee, and the banh mi sandwiches were fantastic. Most of his recommendations require a car, but trust me when I say that you’ll want a car for the area.
      • King’s Fish House, right near the stadium, is a great option if you’re not feeling brave enough for the list above. Again, it requires a car, but it’s worth the short trip straight down the road. Even if it makes you late for an afternoon panel.
    • Conversely, drink near the convention center. You’ll be at a convention about something you’re interested in, surrounded by people also interested in it. While the Hilton bar isn’t as cool as it was a few years ago before they remodeled it, it’s still one of the best bets for having fun after the convention. Metzen was buying shots like a rockstar there Friday of 2009, and I ended up having a long discussion with a drunken Diablo 3 artist about why the Witchdoctor’s dog should be lit on flame from his flaming skull missile attack in 2010. It’s right by the convention center, it has alcohol, it’s going to get a fun crowd.
    • Plan your attack. Figure out what panels you’re attending, when your best opportunities are to wait in line for demos, and when you’ll want to check out the vendors. If the line’s too long for Diablo 3, it might be time to see what Razer’s offering until the line dies down. But make sure you’re done in time to get to that WoW Profession panel you’re planning on crashing to demand better engineering gear at.
    • Read descriptions of panels carefully. In 2009, WoW Insider ran over to The Guild’s panel to try to groom Felicia Day instead of attending the Starcraft II + the future of Battle.Net panel. The Starcraft II panel showed the beginnings of Real ID, and was missed by a few World of Warcraft news sites. Don’t make such a blunder, read the panel descriptions in the program guide.
    • Don’t ask stupid questions. Every year, there are a few people dressed as Pandarens, asking when they’ll be able to play a Pandaren. Every year, there’s someone asking why ret paladins have been nerfed so badly. Every year, there’s dozens of people who ask questions that are answered by a simple search or paying attention to WoW websites. For every red shirt guy, there’s ten people asking for ret paladins to get mortal strike. This is your opportunity to directly communicate with the people who build the game you love, as nervous as you might be, at least have a decent question prepared if you’re going to stand on line.
    • Unless you are a massive Foo Fighters fan, that is your best opportunity to get in a ton more time on whichever demo stole your heart. I’d seen Ozzy before, I’d seen Level 60 70 80 85 Elite Tauren Chieftan Death Knight before, and after seeing Jack Black come out in a robe I was fine with just glancing up at Tenacious D from playing yet another round of Diablo 3. Usually, during the concert, you have the perfect opportunity to play plenty of whatever Warcraft, Diablo, or Starcraft offering they’re showing that year. The first year Wrath of the Lich King was being shown, a few of us skipped the concert to play the demo. Instead of the usual experience where we were kicked off just as we started to make headway in an instance, the employees let us keep on playing. Last year, I played Diablo 3 over and over until I got my fill for the evening. The lines are gone, it’s your turn to completely nerd out with the games.