The Leeroy Jenkins meme, which immortalized an idiot getting his entire World of Warcraft party wiped out by ignoring the plan and running into a horde of enemies, is part of the bedrock of gaming culture—and on Sunday, it celebrated its tenth birthday.
First posted on May 10, 2005, the video—in which paladin Leeroy Jenkins ruined an evening of WoW by spontaneously screaming his name and diving into a cave filled with baby dragons—birthed a meme that wormed its way onto game shows, into Hollywood films, and even back into World of Warcraft itself.
The backstory to the video is as detailed as the payoff is ridiculous. In order to challenge an MMO’s most powerful, high level characters, endgame content has to be made punishingly difficult. Raids, potentially hours-long activities in which MMO players face overwhelming odds or skill challenges, require coordination and precision teamwork. Leeroy Jenkins threw caution to the wind when he famously spoiled an endgame raid.
The video begins with some World of Warcraft players planning a strategy for tackling endgame content while Jenkins is away from his keyboard (he was reheating some chicken). Then, out of nowhere, Jenkins screams his name into the microphone and runs into the encounter area, which almost immediately gets his entire party killed. Jenkins retorts against his party mates’ complaints by stating, “At least I have chicken.”
The video may have been staged. Everything is a little too perfect in terms of timing, and the crunching-numbers-for-success-rates bit sounds fishy. Ben Schultz, the WoW player controlling Jenkin, has neither confirmed nor denied that the video was staged. Schultz did tell an NPR reporter in 2008 that the video was a result of his crew “drinking 40s” and yelling at one another.
By mocking the preposterousness of set-piece MMO endgame strategies (also the basis for another of WoW’s most well-known comedy videos, 2007’s Onyxia Wipe Animation), the Leeroy Jenkins video went viral. Schultz picked up work as an announcer at World of Warcraft tournaments and Blizzard events. YouTube channel Know Your Meme in May 2011 broke down some of the ways in which the Leeroy Jenkins meme began to spread.
Leeroy’s name appeared as wall graffiti in Wreck-It Ralph, Disney’s animated love poem to video games, and worked its way into Duke Nukem Forever as a joke. The villain in the South Park World of Warcraft episode was named Jenkins. There are scores of Leeroy Jenkins tributes and pastiches on YouTube, including a short film about a bank robbery gone bad.
If you take nothing else away from the Leeroy Jenkins meme, let it be that, if and when you get your party wiped out in any online game, you should have some chicken handy and immediately announce its presence. If you do it right, you might earn a laugh that defuses some of the anger at how badly you screwed up.
H/T Polygon | Illustration by Max Fleishman