UK Burning Crusade launch draws thousands

Midnight debut of Blizzard's popular MMORPG attracts huge numbers; news of next Starcraft adds to buzz.


Around 3,000 fans queued outside HMV's Oxford Street store in London, all waiting for the chance to grab the highly anticipated expansion pack for MMORPG World of Warcraft. The gamers filled the store, as well as making a line that continued outside and around the block.

The expansion pack, The Burning Crusade, will add two new playable races, a new continent, and raises the level cap to 70. There were launch events around the globe, including the one in London, where designer Jon LeCraft signed copies of the game.

Many had come in costume for the event, some of which had taken days to make. Cosplayers were given preferential treatment in the line for the Collector's Edition of the game, and they also received a Murloc pet called Gurky. One couple came dressed up as a warlock and a succubus minion--David Groves, 26, who works for Sky TV, said, "It's not something that happens every day, so we thought we'd dress up and come along." His girlfriend, Lellini Santanas, a 19-year-old student, added, "And it's good to have an excuse to wear a corset!"

First in the queue was Ray Li, 22, a student, who had been waiting since 5:40 a.m. When asked if he was going to go straight home and play the game once he'd managed to bag a copy, he laughed and said, "No, I'm so tired. I'm going to go home and get some sleep first." Beside him in the queue was Elliot Stewart, 19, also a student, who was surprised to find that he wasn't first himself when he arrived at 2 p.m. He said, "Well, I could have been here at 6 a.m., but you know, we were playing Warcraft."

Jamie Beckingham, 16, took the day off school to make sure he picked up a copy. He said, "I've had the game on preorder since January. January 2005, that is!"

Also near the front of the queue was Monique Hogg, a 19-year-old who works in a comedy store. She had been waiting since 3 p.m., but would be unable to play the game as soon as she got home. "My friend deleted my character!" She said, "He did it because he was angry at me for playing so much. So I'm going to go home and update it, but I won't be able to play until I can get it restored." She added that she knew lots of other women who played the game. "I used to play on a US server--there are a lot of stay-at-home moms there who play, but there aren't so many women on the British servers."

Blizzard's vice president of business development, Itzik Ben Bassat, gave a short speech as the event in-store began. He said, "This is the first time we've done a Blizzard launch in Europe, and we were a little concerned [about it]. It's a great, pleasant surprise to see so many people with us to celebrate the launch of Burning Crusade."

He added that other Blizzard franchises would not be overlooked in the future. "We'd like to say to our fans of Diablo and Starcraft that we haven't forgotten we have these franchises. We cannot wait to be here in a few years, or however long it will be. It won't be a decade, and we'll be celebrating the launch of [the next] Starcraft together." Since Starcraft went on sale in 1998, some took Bassat's comments as meaning a new Starcraft and/or Diablo would be out by 2008. Others interpreted his words as meaning new Diablo and Starcraft titles are less than 10 years away.

Designer Jon LeCraft added about the huge number of people who turned up, "It's a little overwhelming to be honest, but it's really good."

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