On writing about Diablo 3

With BlizzCon at the end of this week, everyone’s been preparing for that explosion of information. There’s the one lonely Diablo 3 panel at BlizzCon, otherwise nothing going on in Diablo 3 news aside from community-created content. When I gently announced on Twitter that my Diablo 3 column was on pause for Blizzard Watch, some comments said “sorry that game has a lull.” That’s not quite correct. There’s still plenty of reason and want for me to log into Diablo 3. It’s more, every other Blizzard game is producing a lot of content for BlizzCon to spring off of.

  • World of Warcraft is looking out for Legion beta announcements as well as the annual BlizzCon PvP tournaments in the eSports arena of content.
  • Hearthstone has its tournaments for eSports and also the monthly cardbacks and Tavern Brawls to keep content going.
  • Heroes of the Storm is always adding new heroes and getting its eSports groove going strong at BlizzCon.
  • Overwatch closed beta just started, so everyone’s getting into those streams and eventual guide setups.
  • Even StarCraft 2 is ramping back up again with some renewed life due to the Legacy of the Void expansion coming up.

Meanwhile, Diablo 3 is in the middle of Season 4. It’s not dead, but it’s just not screaming, yelling, and jumping as enthusiastically as the other games are right now. Comparing Diablo 3 to the other Blizzard games at the moment feels a lot like looking back on Season 3 from the view of Season 4 — it’s not so much that there’s a lull in Diablo 3 right now, but it’s that every other game is so ridiculous that they overshadow any Diablo 3 non-newsy content.

Screenshot2821

knowledge bases are important

It’s a bit of a problem for me that I’m not a longtime Diablo 3 guidewriter or even dedicated player. I don’t have an established knowledge base to fall back on when writing on Diablo 3. Writing the two columns, Warlock and D3, has highlighted this important detail to me.

I’m a longtime Warlock on the order of nearly a decade and have been playing current end-game PvE content for almost all of it. If I don’t have the time to research a topic, I can floof around in my rough draft with a general idea of what I want, write the article, and then double-check using the known chunk of sources, research, and other guides I’ve gathered over the years. I have fully written spec guides I can alter and tailor to patch notes, and I have prepared Wowhead links or spell IDs for every spell in all three specs’ rotations. Writing on Warlocks is a matter of taking the templates I’ve constructed over the years and filling in the blanks. I’ve been around long enough to see the trends of content, the nerf/buff cycle specific to Warlocks, so even when it comes to on-the-fly analysis, I’ve developed a knack of predicting (sometimes) what Blizzard will do in the future. I’ve even been here for the Mists of Pandaria Warlock class revamp, so when the Legion Demonology Warlock revamp happens, I’m prepared for the questions I want to ask in that beta and for the article topics I’ll be writing in preparation for a new expansion launch.

In Diablo 3, I picked up the game not because I was a previous fan of the game’s franchise but because it came as a bonus item to a WoW promotion, and I’ve causally played it since Diablo 3 released in 2012. I log on when I feel like it, and sometimes wouldn’t log in for months. I haven’t been thinking critically about the game for years, and I don’t have quite the organized link library for research and double-checking that I do for Warlocks in WoW.

When I started writing a Diablo 3 column at Blizzard Watch, I got more serious about the game, and started playing it almost daily, including recently moving into a more active clan. It’s also quite different from writing the Warlock column, because, well, I write a single-class column for WoW. Yes, covering Warlocks still feels like more content to cover than some of the other class writers who only cover one spec of their chosen class (so that they write one column per month where I write two). But that’s at least just 3 specs, since most WoW specs play “one” way with minor variations. Even if you give each Diablo 3 class five builds, that’s 30 different builds! If I wrote one build in-depth in a single column, it’d take me about 7-8 months just to hit everything once. Covering all the D3 builds perhaps doesn’t go as deep as covering all the possible WoW specs, since the D3 class remains the same for every 5-6 builds, but you’re still covering distinct sets of gear and each 1-3 piece variation on each build. Where WoW guide-writing might require a lot of depth knowledge in a particular class’s spec in a particular piece of end-game content, D3 guide-writing requires a lot of lateral/breadth knowledge of an entire class’s set of builds, available legendary gear, gear gathering methods, and what of each goes together with the others.

The column was also on a weekly (4/mo) basis, not like the Warlock column’s biweekly (2/mo), so that was half the research time for content I didn’t have the established research and knowledge for. It got to the point of doing the research a month in advance. Meanwhile, the Warlock column was sometimes written on deadline morning, because of the dearth of information in the WoW-sphere. I was working twice as hard or more on my Diablo 3 column, and yet I was pulling in half the results as my Warlock column. I’m not angry or even surprised I was asked to drop the D3 column; I’m more surprised I was allowed to go on as long as I did.

And perhaps it is not my writing at all. Maybe all of Diablo 3 just doesn’t fit in a weekly column. Maybe it fits better in the Reddit-style collection of one-time posts that last a whole Season or more at a time. Even then, I still want to improve my writing in Diablo 3 topics specifically, and I can only do that by trying new topic attacks and writing more.

vault-a4

“What,” “So what,” and “Now what”

This past week, ESPN shut down the Grantland blogs. We had a few Blizzard Watch jokes, as we were also unceremoniously shut down by our parent company back when we were that other blog. Although we rose entirely from the ashes to start our site back up again, it looks like editors and mainstays at Grantland have moved on together to other projects.

Various links of opinions on Grantland were sailing through my Twitter feed, but here’s one that caught my thoughts for a while. Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post reflected on Grantland’s impact on journalism. Although Cillizza gives credit to Erik Rydholm for the “what,” “so what,” and “now what” buckets of journalism writing, it’s the first time I’ve really heard of the concept. Cillizza explains that Grantland focused on the “so what” and “now what,” leaving the “what” to “the roughly billion other people and sites trying to break news one millisecond before everyone else.” If I could slam a favorite star on a sentence, there it is.

I’m not very much interested in having the latest gear guide or rotation guide out. I’m not very interested in the laundry list of best in slot legendaries you need for the top Greater Rift 55+ build of the most popular class this Season. I’m not even interested in leaderboards myself when playing Diablo 3, or in achieving world-first or US-first Mythic titles in WoW. Datamining and theorycrafters in Mythic-cleared guilds or streamers who professionally have all day to figure class builds out ahead of the patch while it’s on the PTR will beat me every time to most “what” things in both games.

I’ve learned that I need a long-ass time in a subject before I can reliably do the “now what” kind of prediction writing. I can do a “now what” in the sense of what’s the next step after a topic, but I’m still largely hit or miss on telling the future. Thus, I focus myself in the “so what” bucket. I also learn that way — things don’t stick in my brain as understanding until I learn how they interact with the other things and how they impact other things’ results. “So what” is very important to me.

However, “so what” requires critical thinking on a subject, and unfortunately I don’t have the practice (yet) built up in Diablo 3 to create truly insightful writing. I can get the “duh” impacts down, but I’m not quite to the level of originating thoughts on taking big nerfs to crowd control and applying those effects to overall class popularity in a Season.

paragon333

So now what

One of my own writing philosophies that’s evolved over the years is that I have the most fun writing the guides I’d want to read. This usually involves the topics that are most relevant to me in whatever gaming sphere I’m current playing, so duh, yes, I’d enjoy researching that. But I also like putting puzzles together, and writing on a thing I already don’t know about guarantees that I get to do a puzzle (and possibly get paid for it).

A thing I wanted to do was to have Diablo 3 class guide references. By reference, I mean not the actual guides themselves. I’ve already established that I don’t have the knowledge base to write a Diablo 3 guide myself. However, I’m a casual player looking to get better. I’m also a Witch Doctor main who is fine with rolling an alt of the Season to try new things out.

I wanted to build a class reference of the current class builds, highlighting how they fit into the current meta and how each fits into ease or difficulty of playing and building the final sets. I’ve found that theorycrafting is often a top-down look at things. There’s the BiS and you should strive to reach that because, well, it’s the best. There’s plenty of boss videos out there for WoW, but no one talks about the trash (unless it’s completely horrendous and complicated). Same with Diablo 3 — plenty of guides are out there for the leaderboard-high Greater Rift builds, but there’s not much prominent talk about how to get there.

I wanted to build a class reference that looks bottom-up, and perhaps one that looks at more casual reasons to play. For example, I don’t particularly play melee classes in Diablo 3, because often their past builds were very click-heavy, and my hand would cramp up after a short time playing a melee class. Meanwhile, my DoT-style Witch Doctor let me hit different buttons in rotating orders, allowing me to play for days at a time, if I wanted. Is there a guide out there for class builds that are easy on the hands? I haven’t found one yet. Is there a guide out there for adapting class builds to be easier on the hands than they currently are? I don’t know. I’d like to try to fill in some of those niche gaps for casual players.

I also am curious about being midway through learning or building a build. What pieces are essential to a build or skillset working? Which just make the build more fun? Can you play a top end build’s skillset with just a few pieces, or do you need almost the full set before you can dive into the playstyle? Which sets are more expensive in Blood Shards or Death’s Breath to gather? Which playstyles are easier to start from as a class beginner?

monk-a4

Tagged with Diablo 3

I have a lot of questions for Diablo 3 play and I need some practice. Thus, I’ll be writing more Diablo 3 things over here, to practice. I might still write Warlock things — we’ll see what fits in Blood Pact over at Blizzard Watch and how much Warlock-specific Legion information we get at BlizzCon (as well as when beta starts up).

All my Diablo 3 posts here will be tagged as “diablo 3” in case you wish to mute them.

On writing about Diablo 3