If you’re one of the many people that once called World of Warcraft home and have since moved on to other games or adventures in life, there’s no denying that World of Warcraft holds a special place in the hearts of many. The game has provided its players with not just memorable moments in-game, but has at times also transcended the games industry and spilled out into our popular culture.
With World of Warcraft Classic allowing us to relive the early days of this brilliant MMORPG, we thought this would be the perfect time to take a trip back into the game’s storied history. Here are our top 25 World of Warcraft moments, in-game and IRL, of the last 10+ years.
The Blood Plague
Ebola ain’t got nothing on Corrupted Blood. One of the very first World of Warcraft moments to get the game significant press in the mainstream media, this virtual plague began on September 13, 2005 and lasted for about a week. Players discovered an exploit that allowed them to take a debuff that was dished out by Hakkar The Soulflayer, the end boss of the Zul’Gurub raid instance, and use it to infect unsuspecting players in the game’s major cities.
The “disease” was highly contagious and rapidly jumped from player to player, quickly killing hundreds of low level characters that came into contact with it. Blizzard had to code in a quarantine of sorts and the player base reacted by changing the way they played the game, including staying out of the major cities in order to avoid infection. The pandemic and ensuing reaction caught the attention of scientists, who used the incident as a case study on how human beings might react in the case of a bio-terrorist attack or accidental deadly outbreak.
Did Someone Say Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker?
Molten Core was vanilla WoW‘s first major raid instance, and a sword called Thunderfury was one of the game’s first seriously coveted pieces of loot. As a “legendary” item, Thunderfury was more powerful than even the “epic” gear that dropped off of most raid bosses. Befitting its status, obtaining Thunderfury was no simple task.
Players had to obtain two different low percentage drops off two different Molten Core bosses, and that was just the beginning. Thunderfury’s long quest line would serve as a blueprint for how Blizzard would handle “legendary” items for many years to come. The sword has continued to be popular in the years since Molten Core, most likely because of how easy it is to solo the raid instance now and attempt to get the needed drops.
Thunderfury is also responsible for a meme that still pops up in one of the game’s main chat channels even today. A player will ask, “Did someone say Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker?” at which point multiple players will start linking the item in trade chat, which of course then dissolves into people linking every other legendary added to the game since, greatly annoying all the normal people trying to use the channel for its intended purpose. (Some might argue that this IS trade’s intended purpose, but I digress.)
Leeroy is arguably the most famous WoW character of all-time, which is funny, considering that the viral Internet video that created him was completely staged.
The video was released by guild “PALS FOR LIFE” in 2005. In it, “Leeroy” and his guildmates are about to pull a difficult room in the Upper Blackrock Spire dungeon. The group goes over an in-depth analysis of the upcoming battle, calculating their odds of survival. Sadly for the group, Leeroy walked away from the keyboard and never heard the plan. Upon returning to his computer, he simply screams his name and runs into battle, tossing the group’s careful preparation out the window and ultimately leading to their deaths.
Jenkins quotes of “LEEEROOOY!” and “At least I have chicken” are still widely quoted by the player base today. Blizzard has honored the character’s place in WoW‘s history several times, including making Leeroy a playable card in Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.
The Onyxia Wipe Audio
“Odd groups got left, even groups got right.”
So starts one of the most epic recordings of a raid in WoW‘s history. What makes this recording so special is that unlike Leeroy, it really happened.
In early 2006, someone recorded the Ventrilo audio of Wipe Club guild leader Dives during the encounter in Onyxia’s lair. Most players thought it was funny enough just because of Dives foreign accent, but things took a turn when someone didn’t follow the leader’s precise instructions.
Dives’ screaming of phrases like “Many whelps! Handle it!” and “50 DKP Minus!” quickly found their way into the lexicon of every WoW player.
South Park WoW Episode
You know you’ve made it when Matt Stone and Trey Parker come after you.
This 2006 episode saw Stan, Kyle, and the rest of the boys adventuring in Azeroth, only to be foiled by an evil character who kept killing them off. South Park had Blizzard’s full cooperation, including in-game graphics for the episode, even though Stone and Parker used “Make Love, Not Warcraft” as an opportunity to make fun of gamer stereotypes.
“Whoever this person is, he has played World of Warcraft nearly every hour, of every day, for the past year and a half. Gentlemen, we are dealing with someone here who has absolutely no life.”
Azeroth is saved after the boys use the Sword of a Thousand Truths, (arguably a rip-off of famous WoW swords like Thunderfury) to vanquish their attacker.
Illegal Danish (and Other WoW Machinima)
As World of Warcraft grew in popularity, more and more players wanted to try and make their own creative mark on the game and its community. One of the first original movies featuring in-game graphics to really take off was called Illegal Danish Super Snacks. The machinima film by Myndflame won multiple awards in a contest held by Blizzard and Xfire.
Illegal Danish features many memorable quotes (ARCANITE REAPER…. HOOOOOO!) that players started using in-game. The success of Illegal Danish and other early works led to an explosion of WoW machinima films on sites like WarcraftMovies. Not every film is a priceless work of art, but a great deal of them can probably claim influence from this early classic.
Southshore vs. Tarren Mill
When World of Warcraft first launched, the game didn’t have any of the PvP battlegrounds or arenas that we have today. If you wanted to kill players of the opposite faction, you simply had to go out into the world and hunt them down.
One of the earliest zones to see Alliance vs. Horde bloodshed was Hillsbrad Foothills. The map located north of Ironforge featured an Alliance town, Southshore, and a Horde town, Tarren Mill, in close proximity to each other. Players from both sides formed up at their respective town and then attempted to push forward and take over the opposing side. The fights quickly got out of control with hundreds of players from all across the server all descending on Hillsbrad to try and lead their faction to victory.
What is truly remarkable about SS vs. TM is that there were no real rewards to win, other than the satisfaction of destroying the other side. The battle, and World PvP in general, is often brought up by WoW veterans as something that they miss the most in the game’s current landscape.
Blizzard will be giving players a taste of what this epic battle to the death used to be like during its special 10 year anniversary event in-game. Players will be able to go to an instanced version of Southshore vs. Tarren Mill and fight in a 40 v. 40 battle.
High Warlord/Grand Marshal
Once Blizzard finally implemented an actual PvP system, things intensified in a different way. PvP had a tiered gearing system, and the better you were at PvP, the better tiers you had access to. But in order to reach the highest possible ranking of High Warlord for the Horde or Grand Marshal for the Alliance, players had to be absolutely dedicated. If you took even one week off, you could plummet back down the ladder and have to climb all over again.
In order to hit the top ranks, some gamers played for 16 to 20 hours every day. Some even shared accounts (against Blizzard’s terms of service) and took turns playing the same character to try and increase the chances of getting the best gear. Blizzard would eventually do away with this system so that players would no longer have to kill themselves to get gear, but the system is still remembered fondly by some. Hitting Grand Marshal or High Warlord was a sign that you were truly hardcore.
Alterac Valley Lasting All Day
Speaking of hardcore, how about Alterac Valley in its first couple of iterations? Whereas other battleground maps focused on smaller scale 10 v. 10 or 15 v. 15 battles, Alterac Valley was the first, and for a long time, the only 40 v. 40 map. AV was also a bit different in that it contained PvE objectives that needed to be accomplished in order to win the PvP battle. As such, AV was immensely popular with the player base.
What made the battle truly epic in the beginning was that one match could literally go on seemingly forever. If one side started to win the fight, the opposing side could “turtle” at one of several bottlenecks along the map and delay or even push back the aggressors. Add in NPCs that could be summoned into the battle to fight for you, and the overall feel of the match could change at any given moment. It wasn’t uncommon for the typical Alterac Valley to last for several hours. The most epic battles would literally take up much of your day. Blizzard eventually implemented a system that gave all battlegrounds a finite amount of time to complete, but classic AV will always be remembered by those who were there.
Ahn’Qiraj was vanilla WoW‘s third major tier of end game content, and Blizzard wanted to do something special to celebrate its release. When AQ was first patched into the game, the gates to its 40 and 20 man raids were closed. In order to “open the gates” and get access to the next tier of content, the entire server had to participate in collecting various items for the “AQ War Effort.” Once players collected enough items, a limited, one-time only event took place out in the desert near the raid entrance. Players had to do battle with some of the huge monsters they would be fighting inside the raids out in the open world. It sounds like a fun idea, but in practice, it was a real headache. Having every single player on the server show up to fight in the same spot caused some significant lag issues, which is why players have never really gotten another event quite like this one since.
The Most Amazing Raid That Nobody Saw
At the tail end of vanilla WoW, Blizzard released a new 40 man raid called Naxxramas. It was by far the most difficult content available in the game, with players needing gear from Blackwing Lair and Ahn’Qiraj to even have a chance of survival. Those who got to play it still say that it was one of the most tightly tuned but epic experiences Blizzard has ever created.
That said, Blizzard learned an important lesson from Naxx that had a significant impact on future development of the game. The developer didn’t see the point to spending so many hours of development time for a raid that so few players would ever get to see because of its difficulty. You could argue the failure of many players to ever get to Naxx is one of the reasons Blizzard began to take steps to make its raid content more accessible to a larger group of players.
Blizzard has gotten plenty of mileage out of Naxx since those early days, reusing it as the entry-level raid for Wrath of the Lich King and even using an adaption of it as Hearthstone‘s first PvE adventure.
I Can Fly, I Can Fly!
When Blizzard released The Burning Crusade, WoW‘s first expansion in 2007, one of the biggest new features was the ability to gain a flying mount at the new level cap of 70. Adding flight is arguably one of the biggest changes to WoW‘s gameplay over its 10 year history. Every zone had to be designed with the idea of players being able to take to the skies at max level.
Flying provided a great thrill and sense of progression for many players, but some also hold it responsible for hurting other aspects of the game. With players now able to mount up and take off in seconds to avoid danger, that classic World PvP made famous in the Southshore and Tarren Mill days started to die off. It could also be said that the world felt a little less alive in some spots, with everyone hovering up in the air by themselves all the time instead of traveling the world by foot alongside other players.
Blizzard may be attempting to fix some of these issues in Draenor. Players will not be able to fly at all in the new zones, and while the ability might be patched in at some point in the expansion, Blizzard has remained non-committal. It sounds like we might be getting an experience that harkens back to the days of classic WoW.
The Horde Can Now Bubblehearth
In vanilla, each faction had a class that was exclusive to them. Only the Alliance had the Paladin class, and only the Horde had Shamans. While this was fun from a lore perspective, it created some problems with game balance. The raid designers had to test every encounter twice, to make sure that each faction could beat it without access to the other faction’s special class.
When Blizzard announced that the Horde would be getting Paladins and the Alliance would be getting Shamans in The Burning Crusade, it was a huge bombshell for the player base and a source of heated debate in some corners. In the end though, both factions have seemed to accept the new roles over time.
Karazhan Attunement and Beyond
Upon hitting level 70 in The Burning Crusade, players had to go through a complex series of requirements in order to unlock the expansion’s first major raid, Karazhan. It involved running multiple dungeons in a specific order to acquire special items, and the later dungeons were not easy to complete. Still, the long attunement quest was well-received by much of the player base. Even the most difficult 5 man dungeon can be taken down eventually with enough persistence.
Blizzard continued its attunement requirements for later raids in The Burning Crusade, but with mixed results. Eventually, the developer had to nerf or drop several requirements for getting into the more advanced tier 5 and tier 6 raids, because too many players could simply not progress.
This shift from hardcore attunement requirements to eventually letting everyone in would be a precursor of things to come. Blizzard realized that players enjoyed the epic feeling of finishing an attunement, but also that if you made it too much work, your more casual players simply wouldn’t bother and your subscription numbers would start to drop. That’s a lesson that some other MMOs (*cough* Wildstar *cough*) still haven’t learned.
The Rise of Nyhm (and Other WoW Music Stars)
The Burning Crusade era saw an increase in community contributions in line with the increase to the game’s player base. One area where this was quite obvious was in the realm of machinima made popular by the likes of Illegal Danish Super Snacks back in vanilla.
During BC, one area of machinima that really took off was music videos. In particular, one player made a bit of a name for himself and inspired many copycats in the process.
“Nyhm” of Madcow Studios took popular modern songs and rewrote the lyrics to be about World of Warcraft. His rapper meets WoW videos such as “Hard Like Heroic” and “Ni Hao” brought in millions of views on YouTube and created a new focus for the machinima category.
Ahab Wheathoof/Ezra Chatteron Make A Wish Foundation
One of the saddest but coolest WoW stories ever is the tale of Erza Chatteron and Make-A-Wish. Ezra was a young boy who was dying of cancer. He told the Make-A-Wish Foundation that he wanted to visit the developers of his favorite video game before he died.
Blizzard rolled out the red carpet for Ezra and let him be a developer for a day. Ezra was allowed to create his own unique quest, which was added to the game. Ezra’s creation of “Ahab Wheathoof” remains in the game near Thunder Bluff today.
Ezra was also given some of the best loot in the game, and was the first person in the world to obtain the Ashes of Al’ar, then the game’s most coveted flying mount in The Burning Crusade. Ezra passed away in 2008, but his story touched millions of WoW gamers around the world. Blizzard has created numerous other tributes to real life people in Azeroth, including a tribute in the upcoming expansion to comedian Robin Williams.
One of the biggest changes to the game with the pre-patch for the Wrath of the Lich King expansion was addition of achievements. Just like on Xbox Live, players were now able to earn vanity points for accomplishing certain tasks in game. For a while after release, many players became absolutely obsessed with earning points. You could earn points for things like completing a raid or dungeon, but there were also more fun goals to accomplish, like pulling off a Leeroy Jenkins impersonation in order to get a special title. Achievements have provided WoW gamers with additional dozens if not hundreds of hours of content to go after once they bore of traditional gameplay.
Don’t Push This Button (Heroic Modes In Raids)
We’ve mentioned several times on this list about events that caused Blizzard to start leaning towards making its content more accessible for all players. Options for raid sizes moving from 40 down to 25 down to just 10 had a big impact on this, but with the release of Ulduar in Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard would stumble on a formula that is largely still intact today.
Blizzard began designing not just multiple raid sizes but also multiple raid difficulties. This allowed the developer to provide a truly elite level experience for the best players in the world, while leaving the regular mode much more accessible to the average player. Ulduar’s raid had special mechanics that had to be triggered in order to activate the hard mode. Blizzard would eventually move to a toggle system instead, but many long-time players look back at Mimiron’s big red button (Do Not Push!) as the start of what the game has turned into today.
For WoW‘s entire history up until late in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, players had to physically meet up at the entrance portal to the dungeon they were going to run. In the early days, it could take an hour or more just to find the right group of players for a particular dungeon and then get to where you needed to go.
That all changed with the release of the Dungeon Finder in Lich King. With the click of a button, World of Warcraft now offered matchmaking for its most popular content. The game would grab one tank, one healer, and three damage dealers, none of whom likely knew each other, and throw them into a 5 man group. This was a tremendous quality of life improvement for the game, and it’s probably the one feature many players would not be able to do without today. (Evidence: Any MMO that releases without dungeon matchmaking today has already shot itself in the foot. Like Star Wars: The Old Republic, at launch.)
When Deathwing erupted back into Azeroth at the start of WoW‘s Cataclysm expansion, he reshaped the entire world. Blizzard used the Cata expansion as an excuse to make the biggest amount of overall changes to the game’s world since vanilla. Deathwing “destroyed” many vanilla zones, allowing Blizzard developers to rewrite new quests using the technology and knowledge they had obtained since 2004.
Some long-time players thought the changes were a little bittersweet, as many popular old quests simply no longer existed. But overall, the changes were seen as an improvement to the world at large.
Introduction of Transmog
And all of a sudden, everyone was playing dress-up. Blizzard had noticed a long time before the Cataclysm expansion that many players were holding on to their old pieces of gear that they most enjoyed wearing for roleplay purposes or simply just out of nostalgia. So they came up with a system where players could transmogrify their current raiding gear to look like their favorite gear of old.
The new system provided a great excuse for players to run old raids, and plenty of legacy content started seeing considerable action again for the first time in ages. Transmog provided Blizzard with a great way to tap into Warcraft‘s old content and give players a reason to run it again, and again, and again.
Looking For Raid
Blizzard’s Dungeon Finder tool was so popular that they then tried to do the same thing in the next expansion for raiding. It has had admittedly more mixed results. While helping you find 24 other people to go raiding with instantly is great in concept, it provides some unique challenges.
Raids are typically the game’s hardest content, and asking 25 people who don’t know each other to work together at the drop of the hat was never really going to work. So the “Raid Finder” is intentionally tuned to be a cake walk. It allows players to make it through the entire raid in just a few hours, allowing just about everyone to see the game’s content.
The dynamics of throwing 25 random people together sometimes don’t turn out that well. People intentionally troll each other and fight and argue simply because there are no real consequences. You don’t know these 24 other people, and you’ll likely never see most of them again.
Blizzard seems to be trying to fix this by adding “flexible” raiding, and essentially a new difficulty level between LFR and harder raids, in Draenor where you can still progress through the content at a rapid clip but will need to invite people that you actually know.
Introduction of Cross-Realm Servers
Blizzard has been able to avoid many of the negative things that happen to other aging online games due to its continued popularity. But its Connected Realms feature shows that even the behemoth that is WoW can suffer from low server population.
World of Warcraft once had more than 12 million players at its peak at the start of Cataclysm, and it had countless servers to handle all of those players. But as the player base has decreased in size, some of those servers have become ghost towns.
The Connected Realms feature has served to rejuvenate some life back into previously dead servers. It’s not quite the same as having players that you know personally on your own server, but it at least makes it feel a bit more like an MMO again for some.
WoW does Pokemon (Battle Pets)
World of Warcraft players have collected in-game pets for the entirety of the game’s run. But with Mists of Pandaria‘s release, all of those pets suddenly could be put to use in an exciting new way. Blizzard came up with a fun battle system in which player’s pets could do battle with each other. It has a very Pokemon feel to it, with players going out into the world to capture new pets and training them over time.
Great. As if WoW and Pokemon aren’t both addicting enough by themselves… Now we can Pokemon while we WoW, or is it WoW while we Pokemon? Either way, the addiction is never ending.
The Level 90 Neutral Panda
Just when you think you’ve seen everything, along comes a panda with a serious addiction to mining and herbing.
For Mists of Pandaria, players could level a new race called the Pandaren in a starting zone called the Wandering Isle. At the conclusion of the opening quests, your Panda would have to pick whether he wanted to fight for the Horde or the Alliance.
One player, however, decided that he didn’t want to be forced into making that choice. By continuing to mine ore and pick up herbs on the Isle, he was able to level all the way to Mists level cap of 90 without ever picking a faction.
He can’t ever leave the Isle unless he makes a decision, of course, but that’s not the point. It just goes to show you that 10 years after the release of World of Warcraft, players are still finding creative ways to entertain themselves in Azeroth that even Blizzard didn’t see coming.
What are your favorite World of Warcraft moments? Tell us in the comments!
This article was originally published on November 6, 2014.