Longform

The Legend of Leeroy Jenkins

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"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.

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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