He had just 14 hours to live, but I didn’t care.
I had just gotten access to the World of Warcraft Beta that morning, only to learn that the actual game was releasing the next day, which meant all the Beta servers would be wiped at 6 am the next morning and all the characters created during the Beta would perish. They’d witness only a single sunset over Azeroth, and then a million pre-programmed voices would concurrently cry out in terror, followed by a dark and lonely silence.
Following that massive digital genocide, a new generation of immortal heroes would be born with access to the real game. These new heroes would live forever in the post-launch Azeroth, eventually becoming binary representations of the hopes and dreams of 13 million mortal human beings.
I’d like to think that I gave Theones more of a life in those 14 hours than most humans will experience in a decade.
Yes, I knew he had less than a day to live, but I still brought Theones into the World of Warcraft. As a human warrior, he was quite boring compared to the half-human half-cow female tauren shaman that I could have created. But I didn’t. Because Theones felt just right.
The week before I had watched a movie called The One, starring Jet Li as everyone. It had made a deep impression on me, specifically for being completely and utterly horrible. I don’t recommend that movie by any means, but I thought it would be funny to name my new warrior The One, knowing that he’d be The Gone in less than 24 hours. That’s irony to a 21-year-old. But Theone was taken on Blackrock server, so I added an “s” and Theones (thee-oh-ness) was born, resplendent in his torn peasant pants and ugly red shirt. He was so weak upon birth that a large rat could kill him in a couple of blows (and did so).
When I wasn’t studying, it came down to a choice between Theones, college football, and parties; and honestly Theones won about half the time.
Theones was no one. It was my job to make him someone. And make him someone I would.
I played World of Warcraft all night until I was coldly booted off for the server wipe. I’d like to think that I gave Theones more of a life in those 14 hours than most humans will experience in a decade. He started off small, killing said rats and insects. But under the guidance of wise Llane Beshere of Northshire Abbey, he quickly mastered skills with sword, shield, and sheer intimidation that had him taking on the infamous bandit Garrick Padfoot within three hours. He ventured beyond, to the idyllic village of Goldshire and the golden fields of Westfall, helping his fellow peasants, battling a massive boar-person called Hogger, and just being all around awesome.
He was so well-rounded he even learned how to cook chicken, fish, and blood sausages! And when he finally died at 6 am the next morning, I felt more alive than I had in days.
I was going to have to buy a copy of WoW. I was going to have to re-birth Theones. And he was going to have to be even more awesome this time around.
He did turn out pretty great, but initially fell short of his potential because I had a lot of studying to do. When I wasn’t studying, it came down to a choice between Theones, college football, and parties; and honestly Theones won about half the time. I’d use those Friday nights to take him on glorious adventures, but his progress was slow. People who had bought the game with me, on day one, had advanced multiple characters to Level 60 (the highest level at the time) and were raiding massive dungeons. They were making history in Azeroth.
Meanwhile, poor Theones just wanted to earn enough gold to buy himself transportation. A horse.
He and my laptop received all of my gaming attention; my Xbox was left gathering dust. From the day I bought WoW until the day I finished college, I did not play a single other game. I prioritized him as much as I could, but it just wasn’t enough. My best efforts had gotten Theones to a meager Level 38 on the day of my graduation.
My life would quickly turn into a lukewarm bowl of turd.
I graduated magna cum laude, but my parents couldn’t make it to my graduation. Not one to feel bad for myself, I went to a few parties, got pretty drunk, and prepared for my reward for the last four years. I was about to step into the American workplace.
Little did I know that the Land of Opportunity was about to totally fuck me. My life would quickly turn into a lukewarm bowl of turd. But Theones, my digital protege — his life would become truly awesome.
In 2006, the U.S. government ran out of work visas. For the first time ever. Lucky me.
As a student from another country, I needed one to begin my dream job with Xbox. Due to some shady folks at Indian contracting companies who applied for work visas in bulk, the quota of visas ran out before most US companies like Microsoft were able to submit applications for their new hires.
I’d wake up on someone’s couch, grab my backpack and head over to a San Francisco gaming café…
I was stuck in limbo. I could stay in the US legally for one year, but couldn’t start working until I got a visa. Microsoft assured me that they would find a solution, and that I should sit tight. Unfortunately, I had no income, being unable to work. Fortunately, I was able to convince Microsoft to give me a small portion of my signing bonus in advance. That was going to be my war chest for an indefinite period of time, until Microsoft’s legal team figured out a solution for orphans like me. Having your future in the hands of corporate lawyers isn’t super comforting — take my word for it.
It was a weird time. I couch-surfed with a lot of friends, most of whom by then had become productive members of society. I had infinite free time. So I started spending a lot of it with Theones in the World of Warcraft.
Before I knew it, Theones had become my sole occupation. I’d wake up on someone’s couch, grab my backpack and head over to a San Francisco gaming café, the first one to arrive. I’d plug an open Ethernet cable into my laptop, plonk down $10 for the day (yes, San Francisco was a semi-affordable place once upon a time), and become Theones.
…now Theones needed a new goal. And since his life goals were the same as mine, I needed one too.
I didn’t have a home in the real world, but Azeroth always had a place for me.
Theones started leveling up, fast. Soon he acquired his much-coveted horse, a chestnut-colored steed, bought from a trusted stable near Goldshire. But now Theones needed a new goal. And since his life goals were the same as mine, I needed one too.
We found one by sheer chance.
Theones had started running instances with some regularity. An instance in WoW is a massive dungeon that is only populated by players in the same adventuring group and their digital foes.
Instances were also where the best loot dropped.
I didn’t have a home in the real world, but Azeroth always had a place for me.
Theones was a human warrior, which meant that in an instance his job was that of a tank. The enemies were significantly stronger than any of the players, which meant that the players had to work together to take them down.
Roles were typically divided as follows: the mage or warlock would cast powerful, damaging magic spells, the priest would be in charge of healing everyone, and the tank would distract the enemy, drawing their attention and soaking up damage while protecting the rest of the group. The tank was usually the quarterback of the team, marshaling the troops to execute the right moves at the right time.
Theones was a natural leader. Tanking was in his blood.
When running an instance of the legendary desert village of Zul’farrak for the very first time, he was rewarded with Jang’thraze the Protector, a short-sword engraved with a legend. The legend said that if the sword was forged together with its brother Sang’thraze the Deflector, the legendary Sul’thraze the Lasher would be born, an epic sword owned by less than 1% of WoW’s thirteen million players.
Here it was: Theones’ chance to show his quality. His chance to separate himself from other, more ordinary heroes. Theones was going to forge Sul’thraze the Lasher and embrace his destiny.
Sang’thraze, much like its brother, dropped exclusively at Zul’Farrak. But the enemy who dropped it, the nefarious troll shaman Antu’sul, wasn’t part of the instance’s main objective. He inhabited the east wing of the village, and was extremely difficult to kill since he spawned a bunch of minions every few seconds. That made convincing any group to take him on very difficult. And even when they were convinced, there was a less than 5% chance that Antu’sul would drop Sang’thraze when he was killed. So Theones needed to run Zul’Farrak. A lot.
I’d log in around 10 am and start spamming “LFG” (Looking for Group) on the general chat channel. Theones was in Zul’Farrak all day, with one group after another. He braved the cruel sun and screamed battle cries that induced fear and madness in his foes as Jang’thraze feasted on the blood of evil desert trolls, seeking out his brother.
Things weren’t going fast enough. I could only kill Antu’sul twice a week. Theones wasn’t close to the statistically expected number of kills needed for Sang’thraze to drop.
But then, during a run where Theones promised his group mates 5 gold each to go off the beaten track and kill the great troll, he unlocked the secret to his enemy’s mortality. While engaging Antu’sul as his team took out his minions, Theones started backing out of the east wing. Antu’sul followed, further and further away, pursuing Theones through the village. And then something magical happened.
I screamed aloud, “For the Alliance!” and then realized that I probably should go to the restroom soon. And maybe take a shower.
Antu’sul stopped spawning minions. It turned out that if he was drawn far away from his lair, he couldn’t spawn them, and became extremely easy to kill. With this trick in my bag, Theones started convincing every group he fought with to go after Antu’sul, blowing their minds by leading the shaman away from his lair, cutting off his minion supply, and taking him down with ease. It was just a matter of time before the great dice in the sky rolled the number that would make Sang’thraze drop.
And drop it did. After countless days of running Zul’Farrak and killing Antu’sul, a window popped up. I stopped breathing for a few seconds. I imagine Theones did too.
In the window was the most beautiful thing that Theones had ever seen. There was the art for Sang’thraze the Deflector, its wide blade glinting in the Azerothian sun. I screamed aloud “for the Alliance!” and then realized that I probably should go to the restroom soon. And maybe take a shower.
That was the beginning of the end.
When high-level loot dropped in the World of Warcraft, a quaint ritual took place. Everyone was forbidden from touching the loot, since once the loot was picked up by a player, it got bound to them, which meant that no one else would ever be able to use it. So everyone would roll virtual dice, and the winner would receive the loot. This ritual was trumped if the loot that dropped was clearly designed for a certain class of player (warrior, mage, and so on), in which case the group would just agree to give it to that player.
…a massive shitstorm of disappointment rained down in Azeroth.
Sang’thraze was a sword that could be used by warriors, paladins, and rogues. However, Theones had promised the group that he’d lead them through Zul’Farrak in record time, but if Sang’thraze dropped, it would be his — no one else would roll for it. There was a rogue in the group who joined late, however, and didn’t know of this noble pact (or just wasn’t paying attention). As soon as Sang’thraze dropped, the ill-informed rogue started a die roll.
This was bad. Once a die roll was initiated, there was no backing out. Every group member had to either roll or pass, and the game would automatically award the loot to the player with the highest roll. There was no choice, Theones had to roll for Sang’thraze.
The entire group started berating the rogue, their keyboards furiously clacking. He was apologetic. He sounded sincere. I took a deep breath, and told him, “It’s cool, we all make mistakes.” Inside, I was completely and utterly devastated. WoW had taken my mind off of so many other things that hadn’t worked out right in my post-college life, and suddenly, without mercy, a massive shitstorm of disappointment rained down in Azeroth.
Everyone else in the group passed on rolling. It would be Theones’ roll against the Rogue’s. I closed my eyes, sent a prayer up to Lord Cthulhu, and typed /roll.
Even without Sul’Thraze, Theones would become the legend that he was born to be.
We lost. But as Theones watched Sang’thraze get picked up and bound to the rogue, he felt strangely content. He turned down multiple apologies and an offer of 150 gold from the rogue as compensation. He could now stop running Zul’Farrak.
He hadn’t forged Sul’thraze the Lasher, and never would. But in the process of chasing the epic sword, he had reached Level 60 and acquired some amazing gear. Gear that could catapult him to the big leagues — the massive raids. That’s where the big boys played, spending days planning for a raid that could last over 12 hours.
And Theones was ready for it. He was now an experienced, capable, well-balanced tank. His new goal would be to take on the fiery demon Ragnaros, the big bad of the World of Warcraft, with 39 other heroes. He would be on the front line, staring Ragnaros in the eyes, absorbing blow after blow as his comrades sent the demon to the hell he belonged in.
Even without Sul’Thraze, Theones would become the legend that he was born to be.
Theones applied and was accepted to join a raiding guild. He would have to work his way up the ranks, learning and demonstrating his skill, before he could become the lead tank. But Theones was ready for the challenge.
He spent days preparing. He ran smaller raids to upgrade his gear. He spent hours at the auction house looking for deals on ingredients needed for magical healing potions and bandages. He honed his skills in Player vs. Player arenas, earning the rank of a Captain of the Alliance.
He stared up at the mountain, and fell asleep dreaming of the glories that awaited him within its fiery depths.
Finally, a day before the raid, Captain Theones made his way to Blackrock Mountain on trusty Chestnut. He stared up at the mountain, and when he fell asleep, he dreamed of the glories that awaited him within its fiery depths.
The next morning while waiting for the raid to start, my mobile rang. It was my hiring manager at Xbox. Their legal team had found a solution to my predicament. They would open a small Microsoft campus in Vancouver and ship new hires to this purgatory for a year, until they were able to get us U.S. work visas. I’d still be with the team that hired me, except I’d be working remotely. “Would you be interested in going to Vancouver?” he asked. I don’t think I’ve ever said yes to anything so quickly.
That’s great, he said, but I’d have to go apply for a Canadian visa as soon as possible or risk missing my start date. I was out of the gaming café before the call was done, leaving a note for my guild mates that I was dealing with an emergency but would be back as soon as I could. I felt a twinge of guilt when logging out, but Theones was just tank number 3, and he would have spent most of the raid watching and learning, rather than fighting. The raid would go just fine without him.
When I got back from the Canadian consulate, the raid was well under way. Theones hung around outside Blackrock Mountain; there was no way for him to join the instance that his guild had entered. He sat there on patient Chestnut while I excitedly called and emailed friends and family to tell them about my upcoming pilgrimage to the city where they shot The X-Files and Battlestar Galactica.
I finally logged out after waiting for a few hours for the raid to finish. I told my guild that I’d see them the next day to figure out the plan for the next raid, and apologized again for missing this one. They were all supportive and happy to learn that I was going to start working on video games myself.
I didn’t log back in the next day. I only had a week to plan my move, so I didn’t log in all week. When I got to Vancouver, I immersed myself in learning how to do my job and making real-world friends. I wanted to go wake Theones up, but real life always got in the way.
I felt guilty, but I just couldn’t bring myself to log back in. I’d recall the effort needed to play WoW at a high level, and choose something easier like Grand Theft Auto that would just let me veg out.
After a year of living with this guilt, I had an epiphany. I realized that Theones had turned into the reflection of a past life — a life that he had given meaning and purpose to, but a life that was now over. I once again had goals and aspirations in the real world that had nothing to do with epic swords and hellish demons.
He’ll be there until the end of the world, or when Blizzard decides to finally shut down the World of Warcraft servers.
It was selfish, but I had moved on from Captain Theones.
Even today, ten years later, thinking about him makes me feel the deep nostalgia and loss that only a past love can evoke.
But he hasn’t moved on. He’s still sitting on his chestnut mare, outside Blackrock Mountain. He’ll be there until the end of the world, or when Blizzard decides to finally shut down the World of Warcraft servers. Which for him are one and the same.
I don’t know if I’ll see him before the apocalypse. But it’s nice to know he’s out there, waiting.
Just for me.