WoW Archivist: The legacy of Leeroy Jenkins

Alex Ziebart
A. Ziebart|06.28.11

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WoW Archivist: The legacy of Leeroy Jenkins
The WoW Archivist explores the secrets of World of Warcraft's past. What did the game look like years ago? Who is etched into WoW's history? What secrets does the game still hold?

Leeroy Jenkins is easily the most recognizable name in all World of Warcraft. It isn't Thrall, it isn't Arthas, it isn't Chris Metzen or Ghostcrawler. It's Leeroy Jenkins. Leeroy has transcended the realm of geekdom in a way that no other aspect of World of Warcraft can.

While World of Warcraft may have made appearances in shows such as Stargate Atlantis, Leeroy has found a place on How I Met Your Mother, My Name is Earl, Scrubs, and beyond -- he has become a genre and a trope unto himself. Leeroy Jenkins has been mentioned and plugged so many times in pop culture that the days of his being a World of Warcraft reference are in decline and we're coming to a point that most of the world has no idea of the origin of the joke. It's just a funny thing that exists, disembodied from its nerdy, video game roots.

So who is this Leeroy Jenkins fellow, and why is he so gosh-darn funny?

In the beginning

The original Leeroy Jenkins video was uploaded to over six years ago on May 11, 2005. The video was created by Leeroy and his buddies in the guild PALS FOR LIFE on Laughing Skull (US). It depicts ... you know what, no. Just watch it.

The video, originally titled A Rough Go, was included in a tie-in thread posted to the official World of Warcraft forums, which has been immortalized in the truly ancient bluetrackers floating around on the 'net, such as cardplace.

I'm new to WoW and ... what?

The Rookery is a section of Upper Blackrock Spire that, back in 2005, was notoriously easy to screw up. The room is littered with dragon eggs. Touching an egg causes it to hatch. There are dragons within the Rookery that intentionally hatch eggs as part of an event called Father Flame. If your group broke one egg, it was likely to break more -- and in your group's panic to kill the whelps it hatched, things would get a little chaotic and inevitably you would break more.

The Rookery could be done with no problems at all, but it took either experience or planning. The PALS FOR LIFE video parodies exactly that -- standing in fear outside of the Rookery, discussing in-depth strategy for how to handle the room. Their plan is nonsense, of course, but the basic message is close to reality. We've all had those moments in a dungeon or raid where we stare into a room, gripped by fear of what lies ahead and wasting our night away discussing strategy. Then a Leeroy comes along and blows it.

Sociologists have spent countless hours trying to determine precisely why the Leeroy joke is so funny to people on such a large scale, when many of those people may not even understand the minutiae of the gag. I'll take care of it for you, guys: People love seeing other people do dumb things, especially when there's an element of surprise.

Since 2005, many viewers of the video have questioned its authenticity. Was it real? Was it staged? Leeroy spent years leaving fans in the dark about that, stating it was more fun to leave people guessing, but come on. Come on. Of course it's staged, you dweebs. That doesn't make it any less entertaining.

Leeroy pop

PALS FOR LIFE had a hit on its hands, and it was obvious from day one. From the very beginning, A Rough Go was's most popular download. It remained on the site's most-downloads-per-day list for over a year after its release. Millions had seen the video within weeks. "Viral video" was an understatement.

And then it left World of Warcraft behind and became a monster unto itself. Here's just a selection of references to ol' Leeroy:
The original video was posted in 2005. Some of these pop culture references in various forms of mass media are three, four, maybe five years old themselves. You might think that the Leeroy Jenkins phenomenon is over, blown away with the winds of the ages. It would be reasonable to think that.

Reasonable it may be, but it's wrong. At least two more Leeroy nods have cropped up in just the last few months. The new TV series Breaking In plugged Mr. Jenkins not too long ago, and even more recently than that, the cesspit that is Duke Nukem Forever killed Leeroy, too. Huge language warning on that Duke clip. (And ... don't play the game. Trust me on that.)

Leeroy has reached the rare level of meme that simply does not die. Leeroy ranks up there with All Your Base and the Rick Roll. Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Who knows, but if you hear someone make a Leeroy Jenkins joke and you ask them if they play World of Warcraft, don't be shocked if they give you a funny look and say, "What do you think I am, some kind of nerd?"

Edit: In my search for all things Leeroy I spotted something very special but it turns out I completely forgot to link it. Luckily, Reddit reminded me. Here's the US Armed Forces discussing Leeroy!

Azerothian legacy

Leeroy Jenkins may have transcended World of Warcraft, but we haven't forgotten him -- and he hasn't forgotten us. Leeroy's real-life counterpart, Ben Schulz, still plays the game, and Blizzard has laid honors upon him that few others can claim.

Sure, some people have items named after them, but how many people can say their name is a title in the game? Nobody but Leeroy. The achievement Leeeeeeeeeeeeeroy! was one of the very first added to the game when the achievement system was implemented. It requires you to travel to the infamous Blackrock Spire Rookery, pull a Leeroy, and kill 50 spawned whelps in 15 seconds. Pull it off and you get the surname of Jenkins. Alex Jenkins? ... eh, nah.

Leeroy also has a card in the WoW TCG all to himself. It stands apart from the rest, too: the Leeroy Jenkins TCG card, which you can see at the very top of this post, was drawn by Mike Krahulik. You may know Mike better as webcomic Penny Arcade's Gabe. Leeroy also had a chicken-clutching figure in the WoW Miniatures game, but that whole WoW minis thing didn't fare very well, did it?

Leeroy's legacy lives on and will continue to live on, both in pop culture and within World of Warcraft. If you think we've seen the last of Leeroy in Azeroth, you're nuts. He's a staple of the universe now. They are inseparable. Leeroy is, without question, the most famous man in WoW. There's no stopping that train and if you don't like it, at least you have chicken!

Nope, that still doesn't make sense.

The man behind the mask

I'm actually not going to talk about Ben at all today. Why? Because it's already been done extremely well, and I would rather give credit where it's due and point you there. Back in 2007, Joel Warner of Denver's Westword newspaper caught up with the real-life Leeroy and did a damn fine job of showing the world the man behind the keyboard.

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As today's edition of the Archivist is being published on what is probably a patch day, you may be interested in alleviating the boredom with even more Warcraft history. To make it easy for you, allow me to help you find more like this.

Places and things Enjoy!

The WoW Archivist examines the WoW of old. Follow along while we discuss the lost legendary, the opening of Ahn'Qiraj, and hidden locations such as the crypts of Karazhan.
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