Jeff Kaplan, the game director of Overwatch, has parted ways with Blizzard Entertainment after 19 years with the company. Kaplan started out as a game designer on World of Warcraft in 2002, developing quests for the iconic MMORPG. He was credited as a game director for World of Warcraft before leading Project Titan from 2009 to 2014. Elements of Project Titan eventually made their way into Overwatch, where Kaplan served as game director until today.
Kaplan oversaw the iconic game’s development, which won numerous Game of the Year awards and resurrected the team-based shooter genre. Overwatch‘s popularity also spawned an esports league called the Overwatch League, which is currently in its fourth season. He announced his departure in a letter on Blizzard’s website. You can read the full text of the letter below.
Greetings, Overwatch Community,
I am leaving Blizzard Entertainment after 19 amazing years.
It was truly the honor of a lifetime to have the opportunity to create worlds and heroes for such a passionate audience. I want to express my deep appreciation to everyone at Blizzard who supported our games, our game teams and our players. But I want to say a special thanks to the wonderful game developers that shared in the journey of creation with me.
Never accept the world as it appears to be. Always dare to see it for what it could be. I hope you do the same.
GG, Jeffrey Kaplan
Development on Overwatch and Overwatch 2 will continue with assistant game developer Aaron Keller as the new game director. “Jeff’s been a great leader, mentor, and friend, and he knows how much we’re going to miss him,” Keller wrote in a letter to the community. “I’ve been lucky to work alongside him and the rest of the Overwatch team for many years in building something that continues to inspire people all around the world, and I’m honored to carry the torch forward.”
Have you ever been laid off from a job? You either get severance pay or continuing benefits until a certain date. Activision Blizzard recently announced a round of layoffs affecting around 190 people. The latest round of Blizzard layoffs include $200 Battle.net gift cards. These layoffs mostly affected live events, which have been suspended for a year due to COVID-19 lockdowns. This is also a signal that there may be a (temporary) shift away from live events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick received $200 million while layoffs were happening. “While the increase in Activision’s stock price is somewhat commendable, as we stated last year and continue to assert, this achievement alone does not justify such a substantial pay outcome for the CEO,” CtW Investment Group researcher Michael Varner said. Kotick’s track record of emphasizing the bottom line at the expense of rank-and-file employees has been well documented. His compensation as CEO in 2019 was the 21st highest CEO compensation in the United States, and his handling of previous rounds of layoffs has also come under fire.
“Players are increasingly choosing to connect with our games digitally and the e-sports team, much like traditional sports, entertainment and broadcasting industries, has had to adapt its business due to the impact the pandemic has had on live events,” a company spokesperson said. This year, BlizzCon was held online due to COVID-19. It is expected for BlizzCon to hold a live event in 2022, but that is all dependent on how many people worldwide get vaccinated and if COVID-19 and its variants are still undergoing community transmission.
The bright news at the end of the tunnel is that the company expects to hire 3,000 people in 2021. We hope those laid off find new jobs soon. Hopefully live events also return so that we can start enjoying social events that are centered around gaming.
Ahead of this weekend’s virtual BlizzCon event, a Blizzard employee mistakenly posted PR information about World of Warcraft that discussed both Patch 9.1 and The Burning Crusade Classic. The leak was immediately posted to the MMOChampion forums. BlizzCon is being held virtually from February 19-20, 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and is free of charge.
While not much about Patch 9.1 has been set in stone yet, there will be a new 10-boss raid, the Sanctum of Domination, as well as a new eight-boss mega-dungeon, Tazavesh, the Veiled Market. In addition, there will also be a new zone, Korthia, the City of Secrets. The new PvP season will be released with 9.1 in addition to the next Mythic+ season.
There will also be additions to the covenants, such as upgrades to soulbinds and (possibly) new conduits. You can also fly in the Shadowlands in 9.1, although it is not clear what achievements will be needed to unlock flying. Flying will be similar to Legion with players only being able to fly in the four original Shadowlands zones of Revendreth, Maldraxxus, Bastion, and Ardenweald.
It is not yet known when 9.1 will release, but several reports have speculated a late May to early June release due to the amount of content involved.
The Burning Crusade Classic
While this was a matter of when and not if, The Burning Crusade Classic was also leaked. While all features of The Burning Crusade return (along with being free to play for World of Warcraft subscribers), there is also an option to advance characters straight to The Burning Crusade or opt to remain in WoW Classic. This is an interesting addition and may spark some debates in the community.
We’re looking forward to more information during BlizzCon Online this weekend. Stay tuned for more news about Blizzard games in the upcoming days!
Reckful once held the highest PvP ranking in the game’s history.
Byron “Reckful” Bernstein was once a fixture in the World of Warcraft arena scene for many years, playing a rogue. He was in the middle of developing his own video game before he sadly took his own life at the age of 31. His roommate and ex-girlfriend confirmed his death via Twitter. Many others in the gaming world paid tribute to Reckful, who once held the highest PvP ranking in World of Warcraft history.
What made Reckful even more prominent was his openness with his struggle with mental health issues. Typically, mental health issues are still a taboo subject even in the gaming world, where a higher percentage of individuals may suffer from mental health issues than the general population. He even talked with a psychiatrist on his stream to encourage other viewers who were also undergoing depression and other mental health issues to seek help. Sadly, some people took advantage of Reckful’s vulnerable state. Some viewers even openly encouraged him to commit suicide despite their knowledge of his mental health issues.
Hours ago, Reckful made a series of tweets proposing to his ex-girlfriend and even apologized to people who had to deal with his struggles with mental health. These were the last tweets he would make before taking his own life.
ahh, i feel bad for anyone who has to deal with my insanity
Reckful was developing a game called Everland at the time of his death. He will be missed by everyone in the World of Warcraft community and the gaming world. We would like to use this time to remind everyone to be kind to one another and check in on all your friends during this difficult time, especially those who are struggling with mental health issues.
If you are struggling and want to reach out, here are some global resources for you to use.
Lead Overwatch Writer Searches for New Opportunities
After 20 years at Blizzard, Overwatch lead writer Michael Chu is leaving the company to pursue other adventures. Chu is a significant contributor to the ongoing Overwatch lore and story outside of the game. He’s written many of the hero’s origin stories and flushed out the universe in which the game takes place both through comics and short fiction. Two of Chu’s pieces, “Bastet” and “Reflections” were celebrated throughout the community for revealing Soldier:76 and Tracer as LGBTQ+ heroes. Chu also worked on Diablo 3, World of Warcraft, and the in-development Overwatch 2.
On Chu’s website, he stated that: “Overwatch has been a life-changing experience. I have always felt that games and the stories they tell have the unique ability to bring people closer together and that the empathy you feel from stepping into someone else’s shoes, even virtually, can bridge the gap between miles, cultures, and nations.”
Whoever takes Chu’s place has big shoes to fill. Overwatch 2, which will feature a story-driven campaign, will rely heavily on the writing done by his replacement. While Overwatch lore has always been a hot topic for discussion, I’m hoping that Overwatch 2 will teach us more about the characters and the world they inhabit than ever before. While lore exists in the game, many players don’t seem to know much about the world, nor do they care. Hopefully, a game based around the story aspect will entice players new and old to learn about the characters that make up this world. It’s one of my few expectations for the new game.
Here’s Blizzard’s statement on Michael Chu’s departure: “Michael’s contributions to the games and stories of the Warcraft, Diablo, and Overwatch universes have been a source of inspiration, and we will always be thankful for the time he spent at Blizzard. We wish him the best for the future.”
When Blizzard announced Overwatch 2 at Blizzcon, it left many fans wondering what it meant for the original game. Would we still see consistent updates? Or would Overwatch be put on the backburner during the development of the sequel? Only time would tell.
Luckily, it turns out that the developers still have a couple of surprises for their fans and players alike. On March 18, @PlayOverwatch tweeted the reveal of the new hero Echo. Her origin story revolves around Dr. Liao, a Singaporean scientist who worked to create and eventually fight the omnics. Liao was an expert in artificial intelligence, an employee of the Omnica Corporation, and the sixth founder of Overwatch. When she was killed in an attack on the Overwatch facility, Echo, Liao’s creation, adapted to Liao’s personality and goals. Dr. Liao built Echo to fulfill her dream of helping the world; she is an echo of her legacy.
Echo was initially introduced back in the 2018 “Reunion” short for Ashe and McCree and later took a more significant role in the Overwatch 2teaser trailer. It turns out her origins go back before the 2018 video and before Overwatch itself. Echo was formerly an asset from Blizzard’s MMO Titan, which was canceled in 2013. Her appearance has changed since then – she’s much more humanoid and sleek – but her concept has stayed relatively the same.
It turns our Echo is Overwatch’s newest DPS hero and not a support character like many players assumed. Her abilities are energy-based and seem to be quite strong so far. Her primary, Tri-shot, lets her shoot a triangular burst from her hand. She also has a sticky bomb ability that explodes after a few seconds, and a Focusing Beam that deals high amounts of damage for a limited time. Not to mention, she can fly and glide in a way similar to Mercy and Pharah.
Echo’s most substantial ability is her ultimate Duplicate. It allows her to copy any enemy team hero – minus another Echo – and use their abilities as her own for a short period. This technique means she can fill any role, tank, support, or DPS, and use their ultimate to her advantage.
According to Jeff Kaplan, Echo is most likely the last new hero we’ll see until Overwatch 2. If you want to try her out for yourself, she’s currently live on PTR servers.
Since Overwatch’s launch, Blizzard has released some stunning animations to show players the character lore and to explain essential events in the world’s history. We’ve seen a deathly dual between Hanzo and Genji, the reunion between McCree and Ashe, the loss of Mei’s team, and many other heart-wrenching scenarios revolving around the heroes and villains of the game.
After watching these animated shorts, it’s no surprise that an animated show based on Overwatch’s lore may be in the works. While nothing is confirmed yet, some leaked information may prove that both Overwatch and Diablo may be on more than just our computer screens in the future.
According to the LinkedIn profile of Nick van Dyk, the co-president of Activision Blizzard Studios, he states that he worked on both a Diablo and an Overwatch series. It seems that Diablo will get an adaptation “rendered in anime style,” which is in pre-production and will release globally through Netflix. Based on this rudimentary description, I imagine it will be artistically comparable to Castlevania’s adaptation currently on Netflix.
Further down, van Dyk also lists that he “developed and sold an animated series based on Blizzard’s Overwatch franchise.” There is no confirmation about this project, and it’s not yet clear who bought the series, but it does suggest potential in a future animated show.
Even if this information is accurate, it does not mean we’ll ever see these shows. The Overwatch series has only been bought, not greenlit, and the Diablo show can only be said to have been in pre-production at some point. If we do see some new animated series of the two, they will join the ranks of video game turned show along with games like Castlevania and The Witcher. Both show a lot of potential.
Blizzard has not yet made an official announcement surrounding either project.
Like many games, Overwatch is no exception when it comes to creating in-game events to celebrate real-world holidays. Virtual commemorations for Halloween, Christmas, and New Years reward players with new cosmetics and decorated maps on top of game modes that are only playable for the duration of the event. These celebrations tend to entice both old and new players into picking up the game, so it’s no surprise that Blizzard has made them yearly occurrences.
Recently, players have seen an increase in stand-alone challenges, where they can obtain a new skin and sprays through winning a certain number of games. We saw these types of events for the Nano Cola D.Va skin and the Brick Bastion skin. These challenges are also becoming more popular for the more significant holiday events, where players can earn exclusive skins each week an event takes place by merely winning their matches.
Mardi Gras Challenge
Thanks to a recent leak on Twitch, it appears that Overwatch will have a stand-alone event to celebrate Mardi Gras. Twitter user La Nimi claimed that her friend received both a four-hour and six-hour Ashe Mardi Gras bundle presumably for watching specific Twitch streamers. La Nimi also provided video proof of the drop in their Twitch inventory.
Naeri, a well-known Overwatch leaker on Twitter, also tweeted some higher resolution images of the drop. This information, combined with the latest Overwatch background update, proves a pretty convincing case for the Mardi Gras challenge.
While the in-game loot content is still unknown, fans are speculating that we’ll see cosmetics for several characters. The images suggest new sprays of Zenyatta and McCree, and the bundle name indicates that Ashe may be the focus of this event. Maybe we’ll see a new themed legendary skin for Ashe and her counterpart BOB.
We’re not yet sure when this event will take place, but most fans are expecting it to begin on February 25, the day of the Mardi Gras celebration. If that’s the case, make sure to log in to Overwatch and win some games to earn some fresh new cosmetics.