...in an unlikely place
Belarus is located in Eastern Europe, nestled above both Poland and Ukraine, a chunk found right on the far western edge of Russia. Minsk, the capital of Belarus, is a city of about 2 million, set in a dense forest of beautiful evergreen trees that look like they've been there since the end of the last ice age. It's a city that contrasts greatly from those of North America or Western Europe with its stark Soviet-Bloc style buildings and its striking monuments.
The people of Minsk speak loudly (in Russian -- English is rarely spoken) and have strong, intense eyes, but they're generally kind people that smile back when addressed, and are helpful when asked. On weekends you'll find that they enjoy themselves by walking through the city's immense parks, or having drinks in outdoor cafes. Visiting now, despite the remaining architecture of Stalin's design, it seems a world away from the headquarters of Russian army's Western Front, or one of the largest Nazi ghettos of World War II.
Minsk is also the birthplace of Wargaming. In 1998, Victor Kislyi and friends came together to make PC games they would enjoy playing. A decade or so of work brought almost a dozen games to market , but none of them enjoyed critical and financial success until they dreamt up a massively multiplayer game about tanks. Now, World of Tanks has about 65 million players worldwide. Wargaming celebrated their 15th anniversary in Minsk last week.
Kislyi took the stage at a press conference at Minsk's space station-shaped Belarus National Library on Friday. There, he revealed to international press that Wargaming would open their 16th studio in Austin, Texas this year. The addition of British planes to upcoming sister MMO World of Warplanes was also announced at the event. Updates on upcoming games, including World of Warships and both mobile and Xbox 360 versions of World of Tanks, were also detailed. Finally, Kislyi discussed on the future of the company, touching on their move toward "Free-to-Win" and their growing focus on eSports.
And with business out of the way, Kislyi was so focused and excited about the evening's 15th anniversary party that he insisted that all attending the press conference chant along with him: "Let's Party!"
The 15th anniversary Wargaming.net party took place at Belarus' Stalin's Line, a historical war museum that is packed full with old Soviet tanks, jets, and other weaponry -- a perfect setting for the type of game they make. On a regular visit one would find lengths of bunkers, ammo depots, and scattered machine gun shells in this recreation of the Soviet war fortification of the 1940s, but on this day the grounds were set with countless attractions, ranging from game demo stations to a children's bounce room to a massive live stage where acts like The Offspring played for all attendees.
Wargaming bought out every shuttle in the city to bring locals, visitors, staff, press, and VIPs to this museum-turned-fairground. They spared no expense, creating several open bar locations for all attendees. A VIP-only tent featured premium drinks, tasty food, and attentive table service, with a front-row seat for the concerts to boot. Between the numerous attractions, which ranged from tank battle showcases to machine gun firing ranges (blanks), attendees stopped in to booths that offered unlimited ice cream and popcorn. Of course, selections from Wargaming's game catalog were available for play, too. The night ended with a fire dance show, and eventually a fireworks display.
Thousands showed up from all over the world to celebrate Wargaming's 15th anniversary, and all were impressed. In the decade I've been professionally covering the videogame industry, this is easily the biggest and craziest videogame birthday party I've ever been to.
The last three years in particular have been very kind to Wargaming and their World of Tanks. Here's hoping that the next 15 years will be just as kind. With console/mobile versions of World of Tanks, and upcoming games World of Warplanes and World of Warships on the way, the future looks bright.
I hope they invite me to the 20th anniversary party.
Be sure to check out our massive gallery below for scenes from the party, promotional events, and Minsk.