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Joe Grubb is having his ‘dreams come true’ as Blizzard Entertainment’s principal game designer

Joe Grubb PictureSome households may discourage an overwhelming passion for playing video games as a kid. In Joe Grubb's (Class of 2006) home, that wasn't the case.  

"I've got a photo somewhere from when I was about two years old sitting on my dad's lap playing the Intellivision (gaming console). I was fortunate that my parents leaned into it and supported my interests in games," Grubb said. "I would look forward to the weekends when my parents would take me to Movie Warehouse to rent a new game."  

Grubb spent much of his formative years growing up in Morehead playing video games, whether it was "Space Quest" or "King's Quest" from floppy disks on the PC or graduating to popular Blizzard Entertainment video game franchises like "World of Warcraft" and "Diablo."  

Now, Grubb isn't just playing Blizzard Entertainment games. He oversees their popular games as the company's principal game designer.  

"10-year-old me would flip out to know that he'd grow up to design video games," Grubb said.  

When the time finally came for Grubb to go to college, he decided to attend Morehead State University. He followed in the footsteps of his mother, Debbie Abell (Class of 1977), professor emeritus and former associate provost and dean of graduate and undergraduate programs, and his father, Jeff Grubb (Class of 1977). While his goal to design video games for a living was clear, he admittedly did not have a clear-cut way to get him to the next level.  

"I just didn't know how to go about it," he said. "I was always decent as an artist growing up, so I figured I'd try to use art as my way into the industry."  

Along the way, Grubb received invaluable guidance and experience thanks to the faculty in MSU's Department of Art and Design. Even though MSU did not offer courses in digital 3D design, he took multiple independent studies under art professor Gary Mesa-Gaido. Through that experience, Grubb completed certificate training from the Academy of Art to get started in 3D and later continued on another 1:1 independent study with Mesa-Gaido to create multiple fully 3D projects from initial sketching to final 3D video. Also, in an industry where players appreciate the most minute visual touches, he immediately thinks back to classes with the late art professor Deeno Golding where he learned about graphic design and attention to detail.  

"I have never been so careful when cutting a mat than I was in Deeno's classes," Grubb said. "Every. Detail. Mattered."  

After attending MSU and earning a bachelor's degree in art with a concentration in art in 2006, he attended Carnegie Melon University (CMU), taking classes in its Entertainment Technology Center and transitioning from art and design to game design.  

"It was great to combine what I learned from MSU with what I was learning at CMU," Grubb said. "I had the art knowledge, so communicating with artists was easy because we had a common language. I also had a solid foundation in graphic design, which helped immensely with user experience design."  

After graduating with a Master's in Entertainment Technology from CMU in 2008, Grubb got his foot in the door with a video game design company, Cheyenne World Entertainment, in Arizona. He would work as a designer for various gaming companies across the country, including Gazillion Entertainment, Tencent Boston, Inc. and Kabam. As principal designer for Kabam, he worked on "Star Wars: Uprising," a game accepted as official "Star Wars" canon.  

"It's kind of wild to know that I've created part of the 'Star Wars' story," he said.  

In 2015, Grubb went on to make a digital collectible card game (CCG) with Dire Wolf Digital. From 2018 to 2021, he took on the role as lead designer for Big Huge Games, where he had a key role in the design of the "DomiNations" combat strategy game. This eventually led to Grubb obtaining his current job with Blizzard Entertainment in May 2021.  

As principal game designer for games like "Diablo Immortal," Grubb said instead of designing the tiniest details himself as a design team member, his primary role is to "hold the 10,000-foot vision and empower your design team to execute against that vision."   

Grubb said that whether it was communication skills, attention to detail, a tough skin for criticism or a strong work ethic, the lessons learned and relationships formed at MSU helped him in achieving what might be his dream job.  

"I've been a huge fan of Blizzard games for a long time. Even back when they made games for the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System)," he said. "There's a lot of great studios that are making awesome games. But, yeah...Blizzard was my personal 'I made my dreams come true.'"  

To learn more about MSU's Department of Art and Design programs, visit www.moreheadstate.edu/art, email arde@moreheadstate.edu or call 606-783-2766. 

College can change lives and communities. Higher educational attainment increases tax revenue, decreases unemployment and even improves health outcomes. Learn more from the KY Council on Postsecondary Education at kyhigheredmatters.org


Photos: Joe Grubb (Class of 2006, right) is a principal game designer for Blizzard Entertainment, where he has worked on popular games like "Diablo Immortal" (pictured above).