Back on June 2nd, Blizzard Entertainment released one of the most anticipated games of the year: Heroes of the Storm. Its big selling point was easily what the game featured as playable characters. Instead of being another top quality online battle game by a company that basically redefined the entire concept, the cast was a celebration of Blizzard’s history in the game industry. Characters are featured from games as recent as Diablo III and as distant as The Lost Vikings, which came out before the Blizzard name even existed. This is a concept very similar to what Nintendo pulled off to great success with Super Smash Bros. Instead of looking for new ideas for their next hit, Blizzard just looked back at their history and made it even more exciting. The already very positive reviews show that Heroes of the Storm is likely here to stay.
Of course, it’s not easy for a company to have developed such a deep history that it can support a mashed up game of this scale. Blizzard reached this point after over two decades of extremely hard work and keeping up with growing trends. Perhaps one of their big reasons for success was their singular focus on PC and Mac systems. Blizzard games have come to consoles before, but their specialty is historically with computers. This meant that instead of having to adapt to new consoles with wildly changing operating systems, Blizzard grew with the PC industry and always stayed up to speed with advancing technology. It also helped that very early into the company’s history, they delivered what would become their biggest and one of the most profitable franchises in history: Warcraft.
Warcraft is a multi-media juggernaut by this point. Books, card games, and even an upcoming feature film adaptation, on top of a very storied history with electronic gaming. But before Warcraft became a name that millions practically worship with each new installment, it was an ambitious real-time strategy game called Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. By the time this game came out in 1994, the RTS genre was already a proven success. Warcraft was not the first to give players control over a vast army fighting another vast army while also building a sprawling base for resources. It was, however, the first to feature multiplayer, which turned Warcraft into a defining group experience. The high fantasy setting of Azeroth was very attractive to a lot of people as well, likely hitting the same fascination people had with fictional regions like Middle-Earth.
Orcs and Humans had the exact features necessary to give Blizzard a defining franchise for them to build an entire company around. It was a massive world that featured its own mythologies that were all connected through a central story of one overwhelming force versus another, with plenty of emphasis on character personality. Prepared to take the property one step further, Blizzard released Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness one year later. It was a notable step forward despite a very little chunk of time actually passing between games. One of the wisest decisions Blizzard made in creating Warcraft II was putting an emphasis on multiplayer. That is what made Orcs and Humans stand out and it was definitely where the most success was coming. So Warcraft II compensated for its short single player campaigns with robust competitive play and an engaging map builder.
By the time Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos came in 2002, both Warcraft and Blizzard were unstoppable. Blizzard had soundly proven their prowess by creating two other very popular franchises, Diablo and Starcraft, and even went as far as creating Battle.net, the very first online gaming service. As for Warcraft, it stood out from the RTS pack and crushed its biggest competition. Warcraft III didn’t seek to change the formula that Blizzard had perfected over the years. It sought to give Blizzard it’s next step forward from a game that, honestly, came out in the mid-90s and needed an overhaul. It shouldn’t be surprising at all that Warcraft III was another massive success.
What is surprising however is where Blizzard went next with the brand. Instead of continuing Warcraft’s dominance on the RTS genre, Blizzard moved on to the MMORPG field with World of Warcraft. In a way, this was Heroes of the Storm before that was even a concept. WoW was the next evolution of the series that featured countless characters and races from the past three games and expansions. It was a celebration of what Warcraft had created since ‘94 in a format that wasn’t particularly huge at the time. Through a freakish combination of a dedicated fanbase, monthly subscriber fees, and a disturbing willingness to abandon real life for the virtual space, WoW is no longer a video game. It’s an entire lifestyle for some people. With over 10 million subscribers as of 2014 and a revenue in the billions, WoW is the most profitable single game in history.
Despite all of this, Warcraft was never my forte. RTS games in general are probably the only ones out there that I was never able to grasp. Was it a lack of dedication? An impatience when it comes to building a city for resources instead of just attacking? Distraction from every other game out there? Likely yes to all of these. I even remember going to a birthday party for Starcraft, designed very similarly to Warcraft, and getting third simply because everyone just left me alone. They all knew I couldn’t win and let me enjoy my peace before utter slaughter. My brothers, however, were all about Warcraft. They played Warcraft II and Warcraft III so many times, and subsequently became very involved with other RTS games. One of my brothers even made the jump to WoW, paying monthly for the series and spending hours on raids. All I did was piggy back off his own account with my own character and never getting very far. What I most readily remember though was my brother telling me that his guild master quit his job and moved in with his parents to play WoW full time. Seriously.
Thanks to WoW, the Warcraft name is now in the upper echelons of the gaming world. Fans readily remember this franchise for its excellent quality and borderline addictive gameplay. If Blizzard were to ever make a Warcraft IV, and I doubt they will but who knows, gamers will collectively scream in excitement. There is no way that Blizzard could have imagined the brand reaching heights of this magnitude. Nor did they expect that it would bankroll their entire company future, leading to other amazing games and eventually smashing them all together with Heroes of the Storm. Through a ton of hard work and the right amount of ingenuity, Warcraft became something special and it changed the way video games are viewed forever. It also decimated workplace productivity and probably voided more than a fair share of college degrees.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.