The Legend of Leeroy Jenkins

I'm a stranger in a strange land.

Chirping birds and stands of medieval forest surround me. Though I'm a fresh-faced, Level One warrior, I'm already attracting attention. An armor-clad soldier asks me to take out a nearby pack of wolves. A blue-hatted gnome a third my size challenges me to a duel. I wave them off. I'm on a mission: I'm here to find Leeroy Jenkins.

I notice a character in the distance tangling with a diminutive, goblin-like creature. My computer screen tells me the character is Gogger, a Level Two warlock. I rush to his aid, laying the goblin low with my sword, then chivalrously step back so that Gogger can pick over the body for spoils. I type "Hello" in my chat window, expecting effuse thanks. He ignores me. "Hello?" I try again. He sits on the forest floor and pulls out a mug of ale. "You there?" He chugs the beer and stares off into space.

I'm about to stomp off in a huff when Gogger responds: "I'm on the phone." I'd forgotten that this isn't a typical video game, where mindless, computer-controlled characters immediately respond to your every action. This is World of Warcraft, a massively multi-player online role-playing game that has thousands of players from around the globe simultaneously wandering across the same immense 3-D world. World of Warcraft, released in 2004, has become one of the biggest things in video games since Pac-Man, with eight million paying subscribers. The gamers organize themselves into guilds, trek off on adventures that require weeks or months of play, and build relationships and reputations that exist well beyond their computers.

World of Warcraft is more than a game, they say; it's a worldwide social experience. And somewhere, one of these eight million players, the gamer behind Gogger, is on the phone. After he finishes his conversation, Gogger turns to me. "What's up?"

"I'm a reporter," I explain. "Have you heard of Leeroy Jenkins?"

"Yes," Gogger says. "I have watched the video that gave him his fame." Of course he has. Millions and millions of people have watched that video, a poor-quality, three-minute World of Warcraft clip titled "A Rough Go" that has spread across the Internet over the past two years. In the process, it's made Leeroy Jenkins the most famous name in the game -- not to mention one of the most recognizable video-game characters of all time.

"A Rough Go" opens with a band of characters milling around inside an ominous dungeon. Over the computer voice-chat system, the players plan in nasally über-geek detail how to tackle the baby dragons nearby: "Um, I will use Intimidating Shout to kinda scatter them," "We're gonna need Divine Intervention on our mages," "I'm coming up with 32.33, repeating of course, percentage of survival." Just when it seems they will be forever mired in painful, Kafkaesque planning, a character sitting silently off to the side leaps to his feet. "All right chums, let's do this!" he declares in a deep, slightly insane voice. He charges headfirst and alone into the fray, hollering his name as a battle cry: "LEEROOOOOY JEEEEENKINS!" The others are stunned. "Oh, my God, he just ran in!" one gasps. "Save him! Oh, jeez, stick to the plan! Oh, jeez, let's go, let's go!" Cursing and confused, they dash after Leeroy -- and the dragons start ripping them to shreds. Soon bodies litter the floor; all the characters are dead. "Great job! For Christ's sake!" the players whine. "Leeroy, you are just stupid as hell!" To which Leeroy responds, "At least I have chicken." End scene.

"What do you think of Leeroy Jenkins?" I ask Gogger.

"I have no opinion on Leeroy Jenkins," he says. "Why would you do a story on Leeroy?"

I hesitate, fumbling for words. "I'm looking at the nature of video-game celebrity," I say, wincing at how pretentious this sounds. But it would take too long to explain that I'm trying to find out why, in a game based on achievement (kill the ogre, collect the loot, get to the next level), the most renowned character is a complete screwup. Why his one idiotic battle charge in a seemingly insular video has spread beyond World of Warcraft to MTV, Howard Stern references, Jeopardy questions and schoolgirls' T-shirts in Asia. And why, in the fickle, fleeting world of pop-culture celebrity, Leeroy Jenkins remains a global phenomenon. A legend.

"I think his fame helped to promote Warcraft," Gogger adds. "The video was humorous -- but that's all I really know of him."

There's nothing Ben Schulz can do to stop the whispering. Tonight's like all the other nights -- except that Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind World of Warcraft, has recently released its first expansion, The Burning Crusade, and gamers can now advance ten more levels in the game than were possible before. Ben is sitting in the cramped, chatchke-filled back room of the house where he grew up in Lafayette, laboring away at World of Warcraft on his mom's Dell computer -- trouncing a spike-bedecked thug named Talon King Isis, obliterating the walking undead to collect their Ghostly Essence -- to take his hitherto Level 60 character to Level 70 as quickly as possible. But he keeps getting distracted by the whispers.

"Are you THE Leeroy Jenkins?" The whisper pops up in Ben's chat window, just as it has a thousand times before. People are always sending him personal messages about Leeroy, which show up labeled "whispers."

"Yep," types Ben.

"lol awesome," responds Ben's inquisitor, a character named Yosdhas. "LEEEERRROOOOYYY Jenkins!"

"That's pretty much how it resides now," says Ben, who estimates that a stranger messages him every twenty minutes when he's playing. "People make a lewd comment, laugh or yell my name back at me." It's been happening since April 2005, when then 24-year-old Ben and his teammates in the World of Warcraft guild PALS FOR LIFE first posted "A Rough Go" on WarcraftMovies.com. In one day, more people had downloaded the video than any other on the website. Ever. Soon that number doubled, then tripled, eventually reaching into the millions. Gamers flooded World of Warcraft forums with comments about Leeroy. They reenacted his idiotic dash all over the game. A furious mother logged on to berate Ben for inspiring her son to constantly yell "LEEROOOOOY!"

"I was really surprised about how fast it caught fire. Leeroy was still on the front page on our 'Top downloads/day' list even a year after the initial release," says Staffan Sundblad, aka "Uzbeki," the founder of WarcraftMovies.com. "I would say he is still by far the most well-known World of Warcraft player around the world."

Leeroy's even had a stalker.

A character named "Leeroy's Apprentice" wanted to hang out with Leeroy in the game -- all the time. "He was kind of crazy," says Ben nervously, before quickly switching the subject.

At first Ben could escape the commotion by turning off the computer, but that stopped working when people started using his video-game character in everyday conversation: "That jerk totally Leeroyed us," or "Asshole pulled a Leeroy." Someone told him a high school named its mascot after Leeroy. A friend said he'd seen schoolgirls wearing "I love Leeroy" T-shirts -- in Korea. Blizzard created a Leeroy card for the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game. Leeroy references appeared on South Park, The Real World: Denver, the Howard Stern Show and even the College Championship version of Jeopardy: "This role-playing game out in 2004 returns to the 'world' of Azeroth, where heroes like Leeroy Jenkins do battle."

"Alex Trebek said my name," says Ben. "When I saw that, I realized it had gone beyond anything I could control." He shakes his head, flabbergasted, and returns to the game -- more Ghostly Essences to collect. Soon, however, there's another whisper. "Was the video really on purpose?" a character named Lucifuge wants to know. People ask him this constantly. Did the movie capture Leeroy accidentally screwing up his guildmates' plans? Is the rumor true that Ben was away from his computer, reheating some KFC, while his buddies planned the famous dragon attack -- hence his imprudent charge and his enigmatic last line, "At least I got chicken"? Or was it all completely staged, a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the geekiness of World of Warcraft gamers? Ben smiles while reading Lucifuge's message. "I like people to decide for themselves," he responds. "It is more fun that way." This is his patented response on the subject; it's all he'll ever say.

"Lol yeah you're hilarious bro," gushes Lucifuge.

Then he's gone.

"Ben's very polite. He talks to everybody," says Josh, his brother. "After the first couple of weeks, I would go crazy."

One forty-ounce-malt-liquor-fueled night when he was getting his electrical-engineering degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Ben and his friends decided to create the most culturally inappropriate character names imaginable for a bunch of white guys playing video games. Out of Ben's inebriated mouth tumbled "Leeroy Jenkins," a moniker so amusing that he decided to use it for his characters in assorted games -- and, ultimately, World of Warcraft.

"I've always been a gamer," Ben explains. "I just like playing the games with my friends." And when these friends created a guild in the newly released World of Warcraft, sarcastically giving it the touchy-feely moniker PALS FOR LIFE and demanding that all members wear a puerile heart on their digital chests, Ben quickly got hooked.

"I know this is kind of disgusting, but adding up all the time I've spent on it, I've played this game for ninety days of my life. Four hours every night will do that," he says. But it's not an addiction, he says, "It's just another form of entertainment. I don't watch TV. Cut down on two movies a night and you have the time for this."

His pale face, its newly sprouted orange beard illuminated by the glow of his computer screen, frames a thoughtful smile. "I am starting to get tired of the game," he admits. "I'm not going to play it forever. Nothing lasts forever."

Not even the legend of Leeroy. Maybe.

When I asked Gogger where I could find more World of Warcraft folks who might talk about Leeroy, he pointed me toward the city of Stormwind. Using his directions, I wandered down tranquil forest paths until I reached a pinnacled stone citadel that looks like Cinderella Castle.

But now, as I stroll down Stormwind's bustling cobblestone streets lined with quaint, shingle-roofed houses, the Magic Kingdom aura melts away. Everyone here is feverishly hawking or buying digital wares. Their incomprehensible trading-floor chatter fills my chat window: "Plus 35 agi to 2h, have mats," "WTS ENCHANT WP +7 DAMAGE ON 2H, BOOTS +5 AGI +5 STAM." They all seem extremely busy -- too busy to be bothered by a meddling online reporter.

I bother them anyway. I find a druid standing in the town square and tell him I'm writing a story about Leeroy Jenkins. "$#^^%& Leeroy," he shoots back. "Leave dude." I try approaching others about Leeroy and get the same reaction. Many ignore me or run away. One inundates my chat window with rude comments: "Rurneji shoots you the finger! Rurneji shoots you the finger! Rurneji shoots you the..."

I get the picture.

I finally find someone willing to talk: Netti, a female gnome dressed like a 1970s pimp who's riding a flaming-hoofed steed. I ask why everyone is down on Leeroy. "Well, all these random people get on this server to talk to Leeroy, so people who actually play here have to wait like hours because the server is full," she explains.

Since having eight million people concurrently play the same version of World of Warcraft would completely overcrowd the game, Blizzard has created many different servers, with several thousand gamers inhabiting each one. I'm exploring Leeroy's home server, Laughing Skull, to get the locals' take on their homegrown celebrity. It sounds like they're sick of him.

"Personally I think the video is lame," continues Netti. "I really don't care about Leeroy. He's just a loser who made a video -- wow, big whoop. If you log onto MySpace at all and search videos, there are tons of World of Warcraft videos there."

Netti's right. Gamers have created endless World of Warcraft movies: orcs dancing to MC Hammer, taurens lip-syncing to Broadway musicals, trolls and humans enjoying the love that cannot be named. The quality of many far surpasses that of "A Rough Go." So what is it about this one clip -- and Leeroy Jenkins?

Ben is as astounded as anyone else by the cult of Leeroy Jenkins. "I think it's absolutely ludicrous," he says. "I chuckled a good amount when we first released it, but I don't think it's the epitome of comedy by any means."

Ben hails from a dramatic family: His mother is a theatrical director and his father, a retired chemical technician, designs theater sets. Ben himself has considered voiceover acting; he has a great, deep voice and has taken classes to improve it. But no one in the family has ever achieved the sort of global fame that Leeroy has, thanks to a handful of words mumbled into a computer microphone one night.

"You could take the most famous theatrical production and I don't think you would get the broad awareness of it that you get with this thing," says James Schulz, Ben's dad. "I'm sure Shakespeare or any great playwright would just be dumbfounded at the possibility of it."

To even begin to understand "A Rough Go," Shakespeare would first have to wrap his mind around the concept of "machinima," the emerging form of filmmaking in which movies are created entirely inside video games. The term was coined in the late 1990s, when players began using game-play recording systems in titles such as Quake and The Sims 2 to make increasingly creative films. Machinima productions have now been seen on MTV, the Independent Film Channel and in Volvo commercials, and a few enterprising gamers have turned their cinematic hobby into commercial success.

Rooster Teeth Productions has created a business around its comedic video series Red vs. Blue, which it produces in the games Halo and Halo 2. "Most people have powerful computers sitting at home, and that's pretty much all you need to make these videos," says Gustavo Sorola, staff member and voice actor at Rooster Teeth. "Without too much investment, people can make their own videos. It's the equivalent of everyone having a camera."

But it only took one camera to capture Leeroy Jenkins and turn him into the most popular figure in World of Warcraft. Part of Leeroy's attraction, suggests Carl Goodman, deputy director and director of digital media at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, may be the fact he is such a loser -- his straightforward foolhardiness is immediately identifiable and seditiously refreshing for players who spend way too much time planning strategies with their teammates and obsessing over virtual accomplishments. "In World of Warcraft, there is might and magic," he says. "You have an instant action movie available to you" -- an action-movie set that Ben and his friends had the audacity to use for a slapstick comedy. "It makes fun of gamers' overly analytical approaches to action," Goodman adds. "It's saying, come on, you geeks, just get in there and do it."

That Leeroy is the game's biggest failure rather than its highest achiever may explain why he's transcended the self-referential sphere of World of Warcraft and moved into the realm of pop culture. Everyone everywhere has pulled a Leeroy. "There's something more universal about this guy who screws things up for everybody than someone who is the best at something," says Henry Lowood, curator for film and media collections at Stanford University. "If you're not a player in the game, you are not going to be that interested in how spectacularly good a player is. But you can relate to someone who messes up."

These days, says Henry Jenkins, co-director of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, people don't just identify with the lowly underachiever; they take subversive pleasure in using the Internet and other new social mediums to elevate him to a status previously reserved for the rich, talented or otherwise successful. As proof, Jenkins points to atrocious American Idol contestant William Hung scoring a record deal, Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf winning the popular vote for People magazine's most beautiful person and Leeroy Jenkins becoming enshrined in video-game history alongside Pac-Man and Mario. "For the first time, we as a society get to decide who's famous," he notes. "Having gained the right to project celebrities forward, we often choose losers, because in the past it was always success that connoted celebrity. If Leeroy Jenkins can become a celebrity, anybody can."

But maybe all this high-minded pontificating misses the point. Maybe "A Rough Go" -- with its madcap battle cry, hopelessly nerdy and foolishly loyal teammates ("They had to follow me into the dungeon," Ben would say. "We're pals for life!") and bizarre reference to chicken -- is just plain funny. And in this YouTube era, it's easy for an in-joke to go global. "The whole Leeroy Jenkins thing is amazing," says Scott Rubin, editor-in-chief of National Lampoon. "It's an inside joke that a couple of million people are hip to. This could only happen because of the online world that funny people now express themselves in. It wasn't that long ago that a bit like this would have been confined to a few gamers at a high-school cafeteria with too much time on their hands. Now these same guys are one phone call away from being the next Kevin Smith."

Ben wouldn't mind getting that call. He's heard a rumor that a computer-monitor company wants to use Leeroy's voice in its promotions. He's thinking about finding an agent, possibly making a demo CD, getting started in that voiceover business -- although even he admits, "I don't know why you would want Leeroy to endorse anything."

It takes a while, but I discover someone in Stormwind who's fond of Leeroy. "Funny video," declares Hawkz, a friendly-looking bearded gnome jumping up and down on the stairs of the local bank. "So you like it?" I ask excitedly. "Oh yeah," he says. "You know what they say."

I don't know what they say.

"Any press is good press!" Hawkz jumps up and down.

Score one for Leeroy -- although Hawkz may not be the sort he wants as his fan-club president. When he's not hopping on the steps, he seems to be feverishly shining his belt buckle. Nevertheless, I use a game command to salute Hawkz, thank him for his time and continue my quest.

A few minutes later, I notice a familiar guild name attached to a green-haired elf strolling across the city square: "PALS FOR LIFE." Realizing that the character, Nantosuelta, must be in Leeroy's guild, I corner her to ask for her take on the man and the myth.

"This server has been overrun by many people enrolling here because of Leeroy," says Nantosuelta. I'm about to say I've heard that when she continues. "It's pretty annoying to see 'LEEEEROOYY JEEENNKINNNS' in trade or general chat all the time." I begin to respond, only to be cut off. "24/7." I can't get a word in. "Or to see people running around as 'leeroysappren' or 'iluvleeroy.'"

Poor Leeroy. Even his own guild seems sick of his fame. I realize it's going to take drastic measures to get the residents of Stormwind to open up, so I mosey into a nearby auction house and insert myself into a group of characters involved in an in-game auction. When the time seems right, I furiously type a holler into my chat window: "LEEROOOOOY JEEEEENKINS!" I jump up and down and flex my digital muscles. When no one responds, I try again. "LEEROOOOOY JEEEEENKINS!" This time, a well-armed man turns to me. "Shut up!" he yells into my chat window. His words are red with anger.

I run away.

Four business types get into an elevator. One of them starts giving the others inane elevator-riding instructions. "Most of us have to get off on 21, but Stacy has to pick up a package on 7...Stan, can you do some number crunching about the time efficiency of this whole thing?"

"Yeah, we're at about an 88.8 percent efficiency," says Stan. "Repeating of course."

"Of course," says the order-giver. "Well..." He never finishes. The fourth rider, whose unbuttoned shirt exposes his flabby chest, jumps forward. "Time's up!" he yells. "LEEROOOOOY JEEEEEN-KINS!" He slaps every elevator button, plants a wet one on Stacy and runs out of the elevator, scattering employees and paperwork like bowling pins. Stan hangs his head. "Goddamn it, Leeroy!"

Spike TV created this commercial to promote its 2006 Video Game Awards. There are numerous Leeroy-inspired works all over the Internet -- some made in World of Warcraft, some not. Leeroy versus the wolves. Leeroy bungee-jumping. Leeroy, for some reason, committing suicide. Leeroy folk songs. Leeroy techno remixes. And one disturbing and confusing movie combining the voice track from "A Rough Go" with Iraq war footage to suggest that Leeroy killed Cindy Sheehan's son. Leeroy in the elevator is probably the most popular of all. Something about Leeroy in the working world cracks people up.

In real life, Leeroy's job -- or, more accurately, Ben's job -- isn't that funny. He works at an industrial lighting company in Denver, and right now, he's fixing a malfunctioning dimmer light switch at a local high-school theater. He's wearing work boots, and his beard shows several more weeks of growth. He works quietly, intently, carefully prying wires from the wall and rummaging through his toolbox. A member of the school's maintenance staff watches Ben work; he says the Farmers' Almanac is predicting another forty inches of snow. Ben nods; he's not one for small talk. There's no manic glimmer in his eye, no abrupt hollering of "LEEROOOOOY JEEEEENKINS!," no mad dash into the band room next door, sending schoolgirls and clarinets flying.

After that stop, Ben drops by a nearby grocery-store Starbucks for an apple cider. This isn't his dream occupation, he says, staring into his cup, but hell, it's a job, and it allows him to play with electricity, which he likes. Plus, it's not easy finding work in his field; after he graduated from CU, it took nine months, several rejection letters and a few unattractive job offers before he decided on this gig. He's saving money living with his folks, but it gets tough seeing all his computer-science buddies living on their own, buying fast cars, making big bucks. "Everything doesn't go as you want it in life," he says. "And that's the way it is."

He sounds like any other struggling post-grad trying to figure out what to do with his life. But any other struggling post-grad isn't the alter ego of Leeroy Jenkins. "People told us, you guys could have been millionaires," says Ben Vinson, the PALS FOR LIFE member who recorded "A Rough Go" from his computer. "I don't really think so, because there's no way to capitalize on it."

Ben used to agree that there was no way money could be made off Leeroy. But then things happened that suggested otherwise. Leeroy T-shirts started appearing online. Since PALS FOR LIFE was powerless to stop them -- they couldn't trademark "Leeroy Jenkins" because it's not associated with a product or service, and they can't make money off the movie because Blizzard hasn't given them a licensing agreement -- they made their own clothing line: T-shirts, hoodies, even thongs featuring Ben double-fisting 40s. The venture never made money, although someone did buy a couple of thongs. "I laugh my ass off thinking that my face is underneath some girl's pants," says Ben.

Then GGL, an online game publication, tapped Ben to produce content -- but that didn't last. "I guess I'm not that good at pumping things out creatively," he shrugs. The magazine did fly him to BlizzCon, a Blizzard convention, where he met the people behind World of Warcraft. He thought they might give him some work, but nothing came of the connection. "The feeling I got from them was like, hey, thanks for the free publicity," he says. Finally, this past summer, Legendary Pictures, a film studio working on a World of Warcraft movie, flew Ben out to Hollywood to meet the staff. Ben is still hoping for a walk-on cameo, but lately Legendary hasn't been returning his e-mails.

"One of the things I thought was hardest for Ben was PALS FOR LIFE weren't ready for the phenomenon they created," says Marcus Graham, head broadcaster for GGL. "As a result, a lot of other people took advantage of the Leeroy Jenkins name before they could."

"Leeroy Jenkins definitely has helped the community grow in World of Warcraft and undoubtedly has helped us get more subscriptions," says Shane Dabiri, the game's lead producer. Some World of Warcraft machinima filmmakers have even landed jobs at the company. Could Ben become one of them? "Who knows?" Dabiri responds. "Yeah, there's always a possibility."

Just in case opportunity knocks, Ben has created a business -- Leeroy Jenkins Entertainment -- and copyrighted sound clips and the script of "A Rough Go." But so far, no one is knocking. "His is almost a joke fame, where everyone is laughing at him," says Carlos Villar, Ben's friend and PALS FOR LIFE teammate. "If Homer Simpson was real, people would think he's funny because he messes everything up, but no one would offer him a job. It's all the annoyance of being famous without the benefits."

"That's the thing about Leeroy. The myth is a lot more fun than the actuality of it," says Ben. He can't make "A Rough Go II," he explains, because "There's no way I can top this -- anything I do will be totally ripped on."

But that's no big deal, he insists. "I never really wanted to be famous," Ben says. "I don't think I'm going to wake up when I'm forty and say, 'God, why didn't I do something?'"

It's customary to start a celebrity interview by profusely thanking your subject for deigning to speak with you, as if his time is inherently more valuable than yours. I can't help but do this when Leeroy Jenkins agrees to meet me in the game.

"NP," says Leeroy, facing me in Stormwind's central square. No problem.

The white-bearded, dark-skinned paladin casually shifts the weight of his hefty armor from one foot to the next. There's no slobbering, no leg-humping of passersby. Unlike some World of Warcraft dorks, Ben doesn't roleplay as Leeroy the screwball buffoon when he's playing; he acts like himself. "Leeroy doesn't exist," he says. "I am who I am."

Leeroy gives me some directions: "Right click on my character picture and select 'Follow.'" I do and he takes off, jogging down Stormwind's back alleys and across canal bridges -- my character automatically tagging along like an obedient dog. He takes me into Stormwind's cathedral, where solemn music echoes through the soaring nave.

"Are we getting married?" I ask nervously. Maybe Leeroy was lying when he said he doesn't like to roleplay.

"No," he laughs. "We were starting to draw a crowd in the square." In fact, I had noticed the folks gathering around us, pointing in awe -- or possibly anger -- at the superstar.

Leeroy doesn't know why so many people hate him. "People can be mean over the Internet with no repercussions," he says with a digital shrug. "I wouldn't trade the good stuff for these minor annoyances. The trips, the people I have met, that cancels out the bad stuff. The only bad thing is that random people talk to me. And most of the people who talk to me aren't the ones who are angry."

I fire off a question. "Do you think the legend of Leeroy Jenkins is starting to fade away?"

"Like all things," he says. But the legend isn't fading so much as morphing. "There are people who don't believe I exist, despite the fact that someone had to make the video. Now, these are of course kids, but that is the majority of those who pay attention to the video."

"So in other words, you're like Santa Claus," I venture. "All the kids love you, older folks are sick of the hype and some just think you're made up."

Leeroy considers this as he prepares the spell that will whisk him out of Stormwind. Before he disappears in an explosion of green electricity, he leaves me with these parting words: "Santa brings presents and happiness, while I bring death and mild irritation."

Ben stares intently at his computer screen, his hands poised over his keyboard and mouse. His beard is downright bushy; he's really starting to look like Leeroy. One of these days he'll get around to shaving; it's just been a busy month. First the dash to get to Level 70, then his guild raided a few big dungeons, and now Blizzard has launched a three-month battle tournament to determine the best players in the world. The contest began today, and already Ben and his teammates are jockeying for a top slot. "They are pretty crafty in the ways they make you keep playing," he says. "They just keep adding stuff to the game."

He's been so busy that he hasn't really pursued any voiceover work.

"I don't really know what's stopping him," says his brother Josh, who's in PALS FOR LIFE. "Maybe it's because he's always been very careful and calculating. He always wants to do what he thinks is right. He's not the type of person to jump headlong into something."

He's not the type of person to pull a Leeroy.

"Maybe he doesn't think he's good enough," says Carlos. "It took him almost a year to find a job. His job isn't really in his chosen field. I guess Ben feels kind of like he's behind or something, and that if he goes out there and does something, then something bad will happen." It's not as easy to catch up in real life as it is in World of Warcraft; there's no clear-cut route to Level 70.

Yes, Ben says, "I do second-guess whether I could have done things different about the Leeroy." And yes, he reluctantly admits, "There were times that I have probably played way more video games than I should have." But he's still young and enjoys playing World of Warcraft, so big deal. He could rush headfirst and alone into a voiceover career, but he'd have to leave all his online pals -- and Leeroy -- behind. "Pursuing voiceover acting would definitely take full-time commitment," Ben explains. "I could probably stop playing video games whatsoever and do it. But then I would essentially have to release Leeroy as I know him and stop hanging out with my friends every night. That's kind of a depressing thought."

And it's one he has no intention of pursuing right now: Ben needs Leeroy for the arena tournament. But before the next online clash can begin, there's a whisper in his chat window.

"How's life treating you?" asks Infernaldark.

"Same shit different day," responds Ben, polite as ever.

"The rumor is you sold your account," says Infernaldark. "Are you really Leeroy or did he sell his account to you?"

"I'm the one," types Ben. "There are lots of rumors about me."

"Only one really though," says Infernaldark. He's referring to the rumor that "A Rough Go" was staged, and he's hoping that Ben will clear up the confusion. Infernaldark may have read through Wikipedia's "Leeroy Jenkins" page, which lists the many obvious ways the video is fake. Or he may have come across the 2005 PC Gamer UK article in which some PALS FOR LIFE members seemed to suggest that they made up the scenario. But he can't be certain whether Leeroy is real or not until the man behind the legend gives him an answer.

Everything that's happened because of Leeroy -- the fame, the love and hate from the masses, the possibility (or lack thereof) of a financial windfall -- has been thrust upon Ben and remains frustratingly out of his control. The only part of his peculiar journey through stardom that he can influence, the only part that is completely his, is the mystery behind Leeroy Jenkins. And he's not about to let that go.

Ben's eyes glimmer mischievously, and a wide grin spreads across his bearded face as he repeats his patented response: "I like people to decide for themselves. It is more fun that way."

That's all he'll ever say.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner