Hey everyone, welcome to a really special piece where we get a nice, detailed look at the creators of the likes of World of Warcraft, Diablo, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, and Starcraft. That’s right, after many months of waiting, pining, and hoping, the email finally arrived, formally inviting me to tour their Irvine, California headquarters.
That tour took place this weekend, on a sunny day just a few minutes’ drive from home. The tour was special, in that it was very intimate and and displayed a lot of the daily activities that the employees get to participate in on a daily basis. The tour took place with a group of 15, out of a thousand applicants that applied monthly. Not only that, though, it was a great way to look into the company’s culture and see that they’re much more than the games that they make. Everything that I got to witness was extremely detailed, and full of fun little Easter eggs. From the towering statues of Tyrael and Illidan Stormrage, to the hidden developer work areas, this place is rooted in a great culture that extends deep into the universe that they’ve created.
The tour began with a small group of us meeting in a reception hall and signing some non-disclosure agreements, which prohibits us guests from disclosing the projects we may or may not be able to witness that have yet to be unveiled to the public. Paperwork aside, they started us out in the main building where we got to tour the museum, a regularly rotated collection of Blizzard’s latest art works and designs. One of the really unique things about Blizzard as a company is that they have a lot of employees on campus, some of whom fulfill really intriguing and niche roles. For instance, Blizzard has a full-time museum curator, who is responsible for rotating the displays on a biannual basis depending on the latest game and expansion launches. Our tour guides, Nicholas and Antonio, spent some time showing us the many different awards that Blizzard has received for their works, including Guiness records and awards for philanthropy. Even with the heart of the company being rooted in gaming, the team is quite well-regarded in philanthropy, as they regaled a tale of Ezra Cole, a young child who was terminally ill. The child wanted to come to the Blizzard campus, and the team took quite a liking to the boy; as a result, Ezra left behind a wonderful legacy in the form of a quest in the World of Warcraft MMO, with one of the characters actually being voiced by him. Other highlights of the museum included gawking at highly-detailed sculptures of popular characters; Diablo and Kerrigan featured prominently. Our tour guides noted that the characters were meticulously sculpted, two or three months at a time, by a full-time sculptor. The finished product would then be sent to the company Sideshow for compression and printing for mass-production, for distribution at Blizzard events and as employee gifts.
Just outside of the theater, though, was a neat little piece that displayed service awards for all. At five years, an employee would receive an entirely unique sword, a real sword, metal and all, for their efforts. Ten years of service netted a shield. There were also hallmarks for 15, 20, and 25 years. The ones seen for ten years of service were inscribed with the emblem of Lordaeron, the centerpiece of the Alliance. The tour had many different shields and swords on display within offices and on many different walls throughout the studio. Even within this lobby were enormous plushes (I want that Whelp!) and giant, lifelike statues of characters such as Grommash Hellscream and his axe, Gorehowl. These statues pay incredible attention to detail; the materials used to build up these statues is beyond insane, and clearly shows an incredible amount of time and care went into their creation. Each one is a work of art in itself, and used plenty of materials such as clays, fiberglass, metal, organic biofilm compounds, and may more. They are interesting because they are mostly mobile, and able to travel to different events around the globe.
The first major stop was at the sound department. The sound department was special, because of the way the building was designed for the team. In this development area, one of the first major things we all noticed was that all of the ceiling tiles were removed, revealing the gritty interior of the building. As it turned out, this was planned out because Blizzard had wanted to mirror the grit of the Starcraft universe. As a result, conversations could be heard anywhere throughout the building, except for rooms that had been isolated. These isolated rooms were soundproof due to the raucous noises that surely come out of there; swords clashing, goop sloshing, squelching, and other undesirable noises. The rooms were properly insulated by blocky formations in the ceiling. Throughout our tour of the sound area, a lot of unique marks could be found throughout the building, further driving home that point of Blizzard culture. These rune marks led to clues for the employees to solve, which told things such as the release date of Diablo III, well in advance of Blizzard’s announcement to the public. Even aside from the runes were loads of art and funny posters leading into rooms.
After being finished with the sound department, we managed to make our way to the Blizzard academy, passing by the office of the head of licensing. This office was chock full of Blizzard swag, and had tons of fun Blizzard paraphernalia, ranging from plushes to action figures. The academy focused on the ongoing learning experiences that Blizzard employees are asked to follow. One such room was a 45 x 15 room that was described as a room for “anything.” From yoga, to animal learning studies, to development, storyboarding, and acting, the room was special; the director of the academy remarked that it was his favorite room. He then escorted the group over to a computer room. Quite literally, the room looked like a collegiate computer lab, only the crummy college library computers were replaced with state of the art equipment: computers with 32 GB of RAM, Razer gaming equipment, and other such goodies. The PCs contained dual drives, one for Windows and the other for Linux. A point of note was that there was no environment for Mac OS X, which definitely intrigued me. The OS X department was over in quality assurance. Either way, this room was expensive. Over a million dollars worth of equipment, easily.
Nicholas and Antonio then moved us over to the different recreational facilities, passing by the Diablo development area. Sadly, we weren’t able to go into that area as it was classified with relations to their next patch in the works. Blizzard really does have a unique culture and gives employees incentives for working out. Each employee receives a FitBit wearable for free, and for completing fitness milestones, money would be added to their pay check. The campus features a full recreational facility, complete with weight lifting gyms, sand volleyball courts, a walking trail that spans several miles, and other such amenities. Their cafeteria provides subsidized foods to all employees, their family, and friends. Blizzard also does a ton of catered lunches for employees; In and Out Burger is considered quite common with other food trucks.
Some of the other hallmarks of the tour brought us to the Battle Net development floor. Before that, though, we were placed into a lobby, which featured life-sized statues of figures such as Tyrael and Tracer. These statues are insane. I can’t stress that enough. The attention to detail is stunning. Above them rested flags of the Alliance and the Horde. The statues themselves weighed several hundred pounds, nearing a thousand. Heading up the stairs, we were stopped at a picture of Raynor from StarCraft. I mentioned that the company was filled with a ton of really interesting Easter eggs. This picture was no exception. Raynor is fully helmeted in his bulky attire, and his helmet has an on-screen display. As it turns out, the on-screen display data was actually the phone number extensions of several Blizzard staff, including the head of the cinematic department.
The Battle Net floor was probably the biggest part of the tour, because it represented the detailed and intricate infrastructure that all of their games function by. We were able to meet people from everywhere on the chain: the social media folks, the blue posters on the community forums, the game masters, and the many different developers who work in the company. Each “cubicle” was decorated with a ton of Blizzard paraphernalia, unique to each employee. Definitely a cool stop was one in which we got to look inside their “command center,” of sorts, guarded by a door with a very humorous label. The room is always occupied by somebody around the clock. The command center features many large displays of data, weather patterns, and other means to obtain data. The employees manning this area were responsible for overseeing the stability of all of these titles. It was something to behold. I’d love to have gotten a photo, but we were expressly forbidden to do so.
Blizzard has a number of “resting” spots. Some of these areas included a library, run by a full-time librarian. This library was one built for gamers in mind; copies of games from almost every generation lined the shelves. Board games, books about leadership, you name it. The room also had its own gaming table, unique because it had a false bottom that allowed employees to stow away unfinished games for finishing later. Besides the library, though, other resting spots included a gaming lounge, which was special because it had been curated by the employees themselves rather than from Blizzard. Things like a full bar. This room contained a Blizzard-unique billiards table. That was definitely a point of jealousy.
There were definitely some other stops, each one just as memorable as the ones I wrote about, and of course, the stuff that may or may not be disclosed by the non-disclosure agreement. This place really has a special atmosphere to it, and welcomes many. Interestingly, Blizzard hosts an open-pet policy. Tons of dogs and some cats were seen wandering around with their owners in the buildings. In these buildings were, of course, tons of opportunities to display the service awards that employees received. In one such location, located just across the street from the main campus, was a wall of swords and shields, with one that was noticeably covered with a black fabric. This one, apparently, was to honor a fallen employee who had passed away recently from leukemia; this sword and shield was designed in honor of his ten years of service to the company. Blizzard definitely had some amazing art works and pieces that clearly had some sentimental value, such as the wall where employees and persons of interest to the company could sign their name. One such name that was pointed out were the parents of the creator of Blizzard, who wrote a heartwarming message to their son expressing their support. Apparently, they were the ones who believed in their son’s idea and provided him the necessary capital to start Blizzard, to the sum of $15,000. Needless to say, that has more than likely been repaid several thousand times over, without even breaking a sweat. This story really stuck with me, because it gave me hope, hope that Gamer Professionals could achieve a similar goal. I had to tap into the parents’ pool to make this website a reality, and I know that one day, it will be something great.
At the end of it all, Nicholas and Antonio returned us to our starting destination, where we were escorted to their on-site private theater and treated to a montage of trailers from the latest expansions of their respective intellectual properties. Blizzard shows incredible poise, an absolutely amazing culture, complete with jaw-dropping art structures. They showed that they’re a lot more than the gaming company I came to know them for; they’ve an incredible track record in the service industry and have received a load of accolades. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see into the minds of this team, and definitely one to remember. Thank you to Blizzard for graciously inviting me to tour, and to Nicholas and Antonio for being the guides on this tour. Maybe I’ll see you guys at E3 again!