[Quick note before we begin: I'm proud to announce my third short story, "Legs," has been published over at the science fiction webzine Aphelion. This post-apocalyptic thrill ride is a short and punchy read. Check it out!]
I was going to write a dense blog about Art and The Process this week, but since I had so much fun gushing about Star Wars on May the 4th I’m doing something a bit different. And by different I mean I’m going to write about World of Warcraft, the early 2000s, and Leeroy Jenkins.
Twelve years ago today, a humble video was uploaded to www.warcraftmovies.com. In this video, a World of Warcraft guild, PALS FOR LIFE, meticulously plans their next move in a challenging end-game dungeon. All the while, a player named Leeroy Jenkins is AFK (away from keyboard). After the rest of the group painstakingly hammers out their plan, Leeroy returns to his computer and all hell breaks loose. He roars his now-infamous eponymous battle cry and charges toward the enemies. This, of course, throws the entire guild into disarray. The plan ruptures, the team scatters, and they all end up dead (otherwise known as a “wipe”). If you somehow haven’t seen this ubiquitous video, watch it below. I’ll wait.
When this video went viral in 2005, I was feeding my own obsession with World of Warcraft. Blizzard’s MMORPG had taken the gaming world by storm, even going head-to-head with Everquest 2 and eventually dethroning the genre’s former king. Blizzard successfully converted their popular strategy games into a third-person RPG. And I was hooked. I played every damn day, grappling with my slow internet connection and an old family computer on its deathbed. None of those roadblocks stopped me. Like clockwork, I’d hop off the school bus, run inside, do my homework (I was a responsible little nerd) and then log in. I can still hear that ominous, intense login menu music. I still remember the sounds the buttons made. I remember how the portal in the background swirled between those two stone guardians, beckoning me into a new dimension. To this day, I still get chills when I look at old screenshots of vanilla World of Warcraft. The sheer breadth of the actual game was overwhelming. I’d never experienced such a vast and detailed world before. In real life, my world was small. On Blizzard’s servers, I was anybody I wanted to be, free to go wherever I pleased. That’s a rare sort of freedom for a thirteen-year-old.
So you can imagine I was utterly taken by the video of Leeroy Jenkins and his pals. I showed it to everyone. My parents. My sisters. My few friends at school. It was my first experience with something I loved being featured and condensed in a shareable package. It was the first time I could drag anybody in front of a computer and easily say “look at this thing that’s important to me.” Before web content became as fluid and widespread as it is today, it was hard to do that. You could explain the funny parts, sure, but that’s the quickest way to inadvertently mangle a quality piece of content. The Leeroy Jenkins video represents an evolution in the way my peers and I shared information. Before, we exchanged rumors on the playground about Sonic being a secret character in the original Super Smash Bros. After Leeroy Jenkins, we started shifting to a more recognizable arrangement: videos from eBaum’s World over AOL Instant Messenger, gaming on Miniclip, filling out those stupid chain surveys on the Myspace bulletin boards.
That was twelve years ago. Thinking about how much everything has changed since then makes my head hurt. I can’t help but get nostalgic! Even though I don’t play anymore, video games will always be an important part of my life. The Leeroy Jenkins video was the first time I’d seen a clip of a game go viral. It helped me understand the internet is a place for people like me. I was not alone.
If this blog has whet your appetite for other surreal viral videos similarly based on World of Warcraft, then gosh darn you are in luck. I’ll leave you with this gem: the 50 DKP Onyxia Wipe animation. If you need me, I’ll be feeding my Neopets while drinking Mountain Dew Code Red and listening to No Strings Attached.