Blizzard announced in February that it plans to make 2019 a “transition year,” meaning fewer major releases and instead focusing on its strong, longtime “proven franchises.” In addition, esports, mobile gaming and free-to-play titles will receive significant support with newly staffed development teams.
Following on the inaugural season of the Overwatch League (OWL) with twenty teams, Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick affirms that Activision had sold the first five city franchise teams for the new Call of Duty League. The five teams will be located in Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Paris, and Toronto. Interestingly, CFO Dennis Durkin stated that despite having high expectations of the league, Blizzard is not expecting to gain any revenue from esports team sales this year.
The same is true of the incoming mobile projects. Despite this, developers will be added to the major franchises, including Candy Crush, Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Diablo, and Overwatch by upwards of twenty percent each this year.
Time will tell how this shift towards mobile gaming works out for Blizzard. This unforgettable moment at the 2018 BlizzCon event is certainly a relevant point from which to begin, whereby fans did not react well to the announcement for Diablo Immortal, bringing us perhaps the most out of touch presentation and reaction to shocked audience.
At the same time, choosing to buckle down and invest more into the big four blizzard IPs might be exactly what players want in the end. Hearthstone has recently released a new expansion to rave reviews, with a fresh meta and an incoming new format to their tournaments. Overwatch has its league and new characters to explore, while World of Warcraft is always churning out new adventures to explore, even if this last particular expansion has been less than stellar. Diablo is the only property that stands out in the announcement to be an object of Blizzard's focus. Are they referring to Diablo Immortal? If so, it will be a challenge to sway those who have played the series on their computers since the late 1990s. Speculation is high right now that Diablo 4 may be announced at BlizzCon 2019, but the comments in the Diablo 3 forums are less than optimistic.
Overall, the push into mobile gaming is a bit of a gamble. On the one hand, there may be an entire new market of untapped consumers who are not big into PC gaming but who are familiar with the Blizzard franchises by name. On the other hand, the shift towards a more mobile-centric development base may burn those long-time consumers and fans. Perhaps the reasoning lies in a simple financial forecast, whereby the potential profit of the mobile sector outweighs the loss of PC gamers. Whatever the case may be, let us hope that the franchises remain strong and healthy to keep providing quality games for years to come, and not simply turn into shoddily made and cheaply developed with the goal of wringing as much money from consumers as possible before being abandoned in favor of the next cash cow.