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Another year, another San Diego Comic-Con; except with a “cool” addition. This year to promote the upcoming Knight of the Frozen Throne expansion for Hearthstone, Blizzard Entertainment had two events happening during the convention. The first was a special Ice Cream Citadel taking place right across from Petco Park where people could line up and get free ice cream and take pictures with the Lich King, who makes his debut in the Hearthstone universe. The second saw a local bar turn into a Hearthstone Tavern, where people could enjoy a few drinks and play Hearthstone. Honestly, what better way to enjoy the end of a day while making new friends and sharing stories together while playing a friendly game?

So what’s new about the ‘Knight of the Frozen Throne” expansion, and why the Lich King? We sat down with Hearthstone Lead Producer Yong Woo, with a few drinks, to talk about this new expansion.

Tell us about what’s happening here at Comic-Con and Hearthstone.

So we are really excited to release a new expansion for Hearthsone called “Knight of the Frozen Throne.” So here at San Diego Comic-Con, we are doing kind of a fun promotion. We have a villain in the Warcraft lore called The Lich King, and for people who aren’t familiar with the Lich King, he’s kind of like the Darth Vader of our universe. So, we’ve really wanted to bring him to the Hearthstone game for a while and to bring him into the game in a more fun, lighthearted and delightful way, which is what we tend to do with all of the serious Warcraft topics.

For people to understand what we are doing here, who haven’t been engaged with Warcraft stories before, the Lich King wanted a job at Blizzard and our game director tells him that he needed more experience, since you’ve only done one thing in your life, which is killing people. So he told him to go out and try different things, and one of those things the Lich King is trying at San Diego Comic-Con is he is starting a business and it’s the cut throat world of ice cream. In Warcraft, he lived in his castle known as the “Ice Crown Citadel,” so for his business he made the “Ice Cream Citadel,” and we have an area at San Diego Comic-Con where he is giving out free ice cream and you can even hang out with the Lich King.

For the people really excited for the Lich King because they know and love him when we first introduced him to the world in 2002, where he first appears in Warcraft 3, it’s a fun way to meet him and take a different look at a persona. For people who aren’t familiar with the Lich King, it’s a nice way to get them interested since it’s a crazy looking guy with a giant sword that is selling ice cream, and we want them to be curious since this is going to be a really fun expansion. For a long time, we’ve wanted to do an expansion with this iconic villain. We’ve always felt like we had to do more than we have in the past to do this expansion justice since it features this iconic character. In order to do a full expansion with 135 new cards and free narrative missions, all in one package — this way players can experience the whole breadth of the universe around Death Knights and the Lich King through the cards, but you also get the piece where you get to hang out with the Lich King and fight his minions as you get to understand him more as part of the single player mission.

We really didn’t want players to walk into the game without knowing who the Lich King is. You really get that narrative experience and meet him and make a relationship with him. We felt ready that this is the right time to do this. We are super excited to do it, so we want people to get psyched!

As someone who grew up playing the series and knowing the character so well, how is it for you bringing this character to a new stage?

A good way to explain it is we are at a Fireside Gathering. Some people are here drinking beer, others are playing Hearthstone, and we are all hanging out and talking about Comic-Con. This is exactly like the setting of Hearthstone. We are in a tavern while people are hanging out and playing this card game in the safe confines of this tavern. What if the Lich King burst through those doors of the tavern right now? In the serious world of Warcraft universe, we are screwed as he sucks out our souls with the sword “Frostmourne” trapping all the souls in eternal torment. In Hearthstone universe, the Lich King will burst through those doors and rather than killing us all, he will sit down at our table and challenge us to a game of Hearthstone. We would be frightened for our lives with this very serious and competitive guy who is not used to losing and wants to play a card game with us. I’m very excited. He takes himself very seriously, but he is charming and funny in his own way in that context because he is a very serious Hearthstone player.

So let’s talk about this new expansion in terms of casual players vs hardcore players.

We announced earlier in the year that there are more than 70 million players. When we began this journey four years ago, we came up with Hearthstone as we sat down and said we love card games. We get together Thursday nights after work and spend three hours or so playing card games, card games of all different types. It turns out that while there are so many of us who love card games, there are so many people out there who look at card games and go, “that’s just too much reading” or “the rules are way too complicated.” For us, card games are awesome. We made Hearthstone with the goal of if we can just get just a few more people to like card games the way we do…we win! So four years later, 70 million people are playing our game. We know there are millions of players who really enjoy the game and may try out other card games too. Our focus has always been about how do we share our love of card games, not just for hardcore but all players. For every expansion we make, we really make a conservative effort to think what’s in it for the hardcore players and what’s in it for the people who are visiting us for a few weeks. Every time we release a new expansion that sounds interesting to them. We don’t need to play Hearthstone three times a day, every day for the rest of your life. I think for the tons of casual players for Hearthstone, we are going to let you know about the cool new expansions. We are going to let you know why we are excited about it. Come visit us for a while. There are going to be a ton of new things to explore. Like one of the things that really excites me, no matter what I do like reading comics, or watching a TV show, is when we explore an alternate universe of heroes that we know and love. When you look at comics, we have Superman and Batman, then we have an alternate Earth where you have Ultraman and Owlman who make up the crime syndicate, which really gets you interested and gets you interested to know more about it. You also have the universe where all the Marvel super heroes all became zombies, which was awesome.

In Knights of the Frozen Throne, we are exploring a world where the nine heroes have been corrupted by the Dark Influence of the Lich King. They end up dying, and they come back as these evil dead badasses. We had so much fun with that; what does it mean for a half-orc half-human hunter named Rexxar. He was a noble hunter who found solace in nature and hunts beasts with respect for them and is has the trust of his beast companion, but what happens to him when he becomes corrupted by the Lich King and becomes evil? What does that mean? So for Rexxar, for instance, he no longer respects his beast companions. He is out there to hunt and his hero power which used to be “Shoot my Arrow,” which was a very straightforward hunter thing to do, his hero power becomes take to beasts and stitch them together to make this horrifying zombie monster and use that to defeat your enemy and he’s become obsessed creating his ultimate trophy. That is like so cool to me, it’s like you played Rexxar in the past and now here is this noble hunter who is has been corrupted and evil now on this eternal undead hunt. We are doing that with all 9 classes. We are creating a bit of a back story for our fans via a series of comics. We aren’t masters of that art, but it’s something we wanted to do so people can find out what happened to these heroes. We’ve already released these which you can check out at https://comic.playhearthstone.com/en-us/freedom.

We are really excited to do a lot of different things if you are a casual player, you don’t necessarily care who the World Champion of Hearthstone is, or you don’t care about becoming Legend. If you are a competitive player, that’s awesome, and if you are a casual player who cares, just come in and enjoy this awesome world we created.

Finally, let’s talk about the competitive aspect of Hearthstone. How has it been seeing the community grow in the last four years?

We want players to enjoy Hearthstone anyway they like. We want to make an environment that you can play how you like either casual or competitively. Stepping away from that, if you enjoy watching people play Hearthstone, that’s awesome for us too. Let’s talk about a traditional sport, a physical sport like football. If you take a look at all the people who watch football and enjoy football, most of them don’t actually play football on a week-by-week basis. There are more and more people who engage in Hearthstone by watching various pro player streams, which is part of the community, they go home and watch different people stream. They may not even play Hearthstone every day. They may just play once a week or even every other week. To us, that’s awesome, you’re part of our community, you are enjoying Hearthstone content.

When we see the e-sports scene really thriving, we were just at Shanghai for the Hearthstone Championship tour, which was awesome, and we had tons of viewers. To me, it’s very awesome that it’s another venue for people to enjoy Hearthstone content, whether it be in a Pro Championship level, or be it joining a streamer and hanging out for a bit after work or just playing the game.

One thing I like to say is Hearthstone has been around for four years. We are constantly learning and growing. One of the things we are doing differently this year with the Hearthstone championship tour is that we are actually making it a tour. So we went to the Bahamas for the first [Hearthstone] Championship of the season of the year, and then we went to Shanghai. We haven’t announced the next location yet, but we certainly would love to go to another location. I think it’s a great way to recognize the different areas of the world and the different kinds of people playing the game, as Hearthstone is played widely all across the globe. It’s really exciting to go to different venues and see the different representatives for those areas.