I was really sad this week to read about Jeffrey Kaplan leaving Blizzard after 19 years. That’s a heck of a long time. Think about all he’s done there: directed World of Warcraft, directed Titan, which yes, never came out, but it was recycled into Overwatch and that turned out OK didn’t it? Kaplan is a golden goose if you ask me. But it’s not so much what he did but how he did it I admire.
Jeffrey Kaplan brought humbleness and approachability to Blizzard. So much so I find it weird even writing his name that way. Because he’s not Jeffrey Kaplan is he? He’s Jeff from the Overwatch team, and he always will be. It was the humble identifier he used every time a development diary video began, as if he had to explain to us who he was: he, the face of one of the world’s most popular games. And as big as the game got, it continued. It was like he almost didn’t believe he was famous.
And nestled within that was an openness and a willingness to communicate with a community. To really invite them into the game’s development and level with them about what was going on, no PRs in sight. In fact, I once talked to a Blizzard PR about Jeff from the Overwatch team, and the videos he recorded, and whether they took longer than it appeared they did. And the PR said no, he just sits down, they point a camera at him, and away he goes.
It helped that he knew the game so well he didn’t need to prepare, of course, and that he was so senior he didn’t need to ask permission for what he was about to say. But even that I find remarkable, because how many executive-level people can you think of who would sit down in front of a community and communicate as openly as he did? This was an exec who trawled Reddit and was plugged into even the most hardcore corners of the community, revelling in their memes with them. There didn’t seem to be anything exec about him.
Watch his address in the Opening Ceremony of BlizzCon 2019, when Overwatch 2 was announced, to see how low-key he was. He spends a minute or so joking about the “dad-edgy” black D.Va jumper he’s got on. It’s a bit goofy, it’s irresistibly endearing, it’s 100 per cent Jeff.
His open approach softened the brutalist cliff-face of Blizzard community relations. He rappelled down to speak to us on our level, as honestly as it appeared he could, and we appreciated it. Who knew? Now, every Blizzard team appears to be trying to do the same. But you can’t emulate Jeff. He’s the guy who writes in all lower-case letters in his formal goodbye message to the Overwatch community. The guy who says “never accept the world as it appears to be. always dare to see it for what it could be. i hope you do the same. gg”. Forever low-key, forever Jeff from the Overwatch team. Thank you and farewell.