The upshot is that the Corrupted Blood Incident, as it's come to be known, mimicked real-life diseases so well it's been used as an actual model for epidemic research in years since.
Opening Ahn'Qiraj - January, 2006
It was supposed to be the biggest moment in all of the original World of Warcraft — the massive Gates of Ahn'Qiraj would open, a massive enemy force would pour out, and both Alliance and Horde factions would have to team up to defend Azeroth. The event was hyped for months, with players fulfilling an enormous number of goals required to open the gates.
And then the gates opened and everything went to hell. It turns out that having every player in the entire game in a specific area at the exact same time is a terrible idea when it comes to actually running the game. Servers basically melted and performance plummeted as the remaining players valiantly struggled to make it through the actual quest content. You can get a glimpse of what it was like in this video here:
Even with all its problems, the day the gates opened is still considered by World of Warcraft players to be one of (if not the) most epic events in the game's ten-year history, with nothing else approaching the same sense of scale.
Serenity Now funeral raid - March, 2006
It started off well — an avid World of Warcraft player died of a stroke in real life, and her online friends decided to honor her with an in-game funeral. A time was set, a location was agreed upon, and the woman's friends met up to say their farewells.
Then, because the Internet is the Internet, things went off the rails.
Hearing about a Horde-faction funeral, Alliance guild Serenity Now decided to crash the event and slaughter all the attendees, most of whom weren't even wearing armor. It's still a controversial event in Internet spaces, with some arguing that Serenity Now never broke "the rules" while others argue that said actions fell outside the realm of human decency.
Me? I think the fact that we can even have that sort of discussion about a virtual world is pretty incredible.
South Park - October, 2006
You knew World of Warcraft had crossed into the mainstream when it cropped up on South Park. In Season 10, Episode 8 (" Make Love, Not Warcraft") lampooned the MMO, with Cartman, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny getting addicted to the game in order to kill off a high-level griefer.
Blizzard actually collaborated on the project, helping the team at South Park create the extensive machinima sequences that were a hallmark of the episode. The episode was also briefly memorialized in-game, with South Park's fictional "Sword of a Thousand Truths" handed out to certain Burning Crusade beta testers.
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