World of Warcraft has been around a long time. Across eight expansions and dozens of major updates, players have slayed intergalactic demon lords, traveled through time, saved the world, and fought atop a city-sized dragon. But even with so many big showdowns, a few stand out from the rest as the greatest moments in World of Warcraft history.
For this list, I’m just focusing on in-game events that have happened over the past 17 years. Instead of including funny memes like Leeroy Jenkins or silly things players used to do like leading world bosses on a rampage through major cities, we’re looking at the crazy plot twists, big world-changing events, and unexpected plagues that created some of the coolest moments in Warcraft’s history.
The Corrupted Blood incident
Most of the events on this list were intentional, but the Corrupted Blood plague was the result of a tiny bug that devastated entire servers for days. It all happened when a new raid, Zul’Gurub, was added to Warcraft back in 2005. In that raid, a boss named Hakkar the Soulflayer inflicts players with a curse called Corrupted Blood that causes them to take fatal damage very quickly. To avoid the whole group becoming infected and dying, players have to spread out since Corrupted Blood is highly contagious. What Blizzard didn’t realize, though, was that if a Hunter’s pet had Corrupted Blood and was then dismissed (causing it to despawn), it would still be afflicted with Corrupted Blood when it was summoned again.
We don’t know who was patient zero, but at some point a player returned from Zul’Gurub and summoned their pet inside of a major city. The Corrupted Blood curse spread like wildfire to any player nearby. In a matter of hours, every major population center on some servers was a ghost town filled with the bones of dead players. NPC could be corrupted but wouldn’t die, turning them into deadly asymptomatic carriers, forcing most players to run for the hills and avoid one another.
Some players became plague doctors, using their healing abilities to keep others alive, while others willingly infected themselves and tried to spread Corrupted Blood to everyone they could. Blizzard tried to create quarantine zones, but trolls kept ruining them, and Corrupted Blood disrupted life in WoW for over two weeks until a patch was released that changed how it worked with pets. Corrupted Blood was such a fascinating moment that real scientists studied it as a model for real-world diseases and how humans respond. Some of that learning even helped them prepare for the Covid-19 pandemic.
The zombie plague
The coolest WoW players
Best moments is one thing, but some of the best stories of World of Warcraft come from its incredible players. Here’s some of our favorites.
Looking back, the Corrupted Blood incident is a fascinating chapter in WoW’s history but at the time players absolutely hated it because it made it impossible to venture to major cities. Years later, though, just before the launch of Wrath of the Lich King expansion, Azeroth was again infected with a deadly plague that disrupted the game for a few weeks. Only this time it was intentional. Wanting to recreate some of the drama of the Blood Plague, Blizzard created one of WoW’s most memorable launch events ever.
It started when players found mysterious crates in the far-south port of Booty Bay. Anyone who interacted with those crates became infected and had a low chance to transmit the disease to nearby players. After a few minutes, infected players would turn into zombies that could attack anyone regardless of faction. A day later, those crates appeared in major cities along with infected roaches that spread the disease even further. What’s worse, the zombie disease became stronger—taking less time to manifest and becoming more resistant to healing magic.
This pattern kept up for several days until every major city (and the zones surrounding them) were a zombie hellscape. The infection was almost impossible to cure or avoid, and players who turned into zombies were encouraged to seek out others and attack them. Alone, a zombie wasn’t much of a threat, but the plague spread so quickly that soon entire armies of undead players were roaming around Azeroth.
Like the Corrupted Blood incident, this naturally ruined the game for many players just wanting to go about their usual business. The backlash eventually became so bad that Blizzard had to cut the event short.
Sargeras stabs Azeroth with a giant sword
A lot of players think the coolest events in WoW all happened back during its early years, but the end of the Legion expansion had one hell of a dramatic twist. In the final content patch, players went on an interplanetary adventure to the homeworld of the draenei, Argus, and the primary headquarters of the Burning Crusade. Here they finally fought Sargeras, the biggest archvillain Warcraft has ever had, in an attempt to seal him away and forever end his demonic crusade.
But I think Sargeras got the last laugh. Once players defeated Legion’s final raid they were treated to an extended cutscene wherein Sargeras invades Azeroth hoping to corrupt the planet’s soul and make it the new seat of his power. Instead, the Titans (the good guys) and Illidan (the lovable bad boy) use their combined might to magically suck Sargeras into an alternate dimension. But just as Sargeras is being pulled away, he plunges his continent-sized sword into Azeroth.
This cutscene wasn’t just for show. Players who ventured to Silithus found an enormous blade sticking out of it that could be seen from miles away. It was so big that flying from the base to the hilt took several minutes. This blade (and the wound it caused) precipitated the events that led to the next expansion, Battle for Azeroth. But even though we’re onto a new expansion now, the Blade of Sargeras is still there just sticking out of the earth and towering over the horizon of Kalimdor.
You can’t talk about World of Warcraft’s biggest moments without also talking about the one that transformed the entirety of Azeroth. Everything changed after the Cataclysm. Areas like Darkshore were ravaged by natural disasters, Thousand Needles was completely flooded, the Barrens was cut in half, and most of WoW’s original quests were swapped out for entirely new ones that not only were more varied and fun but also told a more coherent story for each zone. It was WoW’s biggest, most dramatic makeover ever.
It was also its most controversial. The whole event happened offscreen, with the black dragon Neltharion exploding from his home in Deepholm and shattering the boundaries between the elemental plane and the physical one. It reshaped Azeroth as we know it, and not everyone was a fan of its new look. The old versions of zones were gone forever, but the Cataclysm also signalled a bigger change: World of Warcraft was evolving into a different MMO than what it was in 2004, and not everyone was into it. It’s why Blizzard finally rolled out WoW Classic servers many years later.
In the early years of WoW, its greatest strength was the world of Azeroth and the way it let players tell their own stories within it. Narrative beats did happen, but they were disorganized and scattered. One day you were fighting trolls, the next it was liches. There was only a loose plot to follow, and it was only through the endless pages of text accompanying each quest. Once in a while you might get a short, inconsequential in-game cutscene with some stiff animation. But that all changed in Wrath of the Lich King.
To defeat Arthas and put an end to his undead invasion, the Horde and Alliance join forces for an all-out assault on the front gate leading into Icecrown Citadel. Both factions mustered an enormous army and the battle played out in an epic four-minute cutscene (embedded above). Just as Arthas arrives for a final showdown, however, the whole fight is interrupted by a group of undead Forsaken supposedly under the command of Slyvanas Windrunner. The Scourge have a bone to pick with both the living and their fellow undead ruled by Arthas, so they try to kill both sides in one swoop, slinging caskets of poison onto the battlefield that force both sides into a full retreat—but not without enormous losses.
It’s basically World of Warcraft’s take on the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones: a shocking betrayal followed by awful scenes of countless soldiers dying in agony. The Wrathgate is easily WoW’s most memorable cutscene.
The Gates of Ahn’Qiraj
World of Warcraft Classic recently redid the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj event. This time players were much more prepared and it only took a fraction of the time, but that didn’t stop some servers from sliding into all-out war as guilds resorted to dirty tactics to try and get ahead.
Read about the betrayal and retribution here.
Fifteen years later and the opening of the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj is still the greatest event in Warcraft history. After being dormant for thousands of years, the insectoid armies of the Qiraji Empire stirred to life thanks to the Old God C’Thun and were threatening to spill out from behind its Scarab Wall and sweep across Azeroth. To stop them, each faction on a server had to amass an enormous stockpile of crafting resources while top guilds raced to complete a sprawling 31-part quest to assemble the fabled Scepter of the Shifting Sands. The first player to complete the Scepter could then ring a gong before the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj and trigger an enormous battle called the Ten Hour War. Only once that was over could players then venture into two new raids to earn powerful loot and challenge what would become some of WoW’s most iconic villains, like C’Thun itself.
It’s hard to overstate just how daunting this was, though. Factions had to work together to amass millions of resources for the war effort, while hardcore guilds racing to complete the scepter had to defeat tough-as-nails raids and even had to obtain 42,000 carapaces. Everyone had a part to play, and it took the fastest servers almost three weeks to complete all the steps.
Once everything was done, thousands of players per server congregated outside the Gates to witness the gong being rung, which would signal the start of the Ten Hour War. Most servers couldn’t handle all those players in one place at the same time. Frame rates were awful, disconnects were frequent, but the spectacle was incredible. When the Gates finally opened, thousands of colossal monsters spilled out and players had to fight off their opening assault all across Azeroth. And the lucky few who managed to build the scepter and ring the gong before the war concluded were given a one-of-a-kind mount and the title of Scarab Lord. Fun fact: Destiny 2 director Luke Smith is one of those few people.