Vanilla Journal: Day 1
January 7th, 2017
/played, 10 hours.
My alarm shook at 9:00 AM, playing Biggie Smalls’ “Warning,” a typical wake-up call if not for the tuned-in beat and sonorous lyric: “Who the fuck is this….” I’ll tell you who this is Biggie. It’s a guy who wanted to be woken up on the weekend because he’s excited and anxious, and paranoid. I filled up my coffee pot to the line that reads 10 cups and swallowed a bowl of oatmeal. My cat looked at me confused. Why are you awake? It’s not time to eat. Awake? I barely slept. It’s 9:30, and I’m rushing up the stairs, waiting for the taskbar to read 10:00 AM, waiting to play Vanilla World of Warcraft.
I had no doubt the fresh start server would be popular. The official Discord averaged around 10,000 people daily, online, 24/7, weeks in advance. But I didn’t imagine I would be waiting in queue with 20,000 other finger-crossers, about the same number of people needed to occupy every seat in Madison Square Garden, not counting the 5,000 or so with an inexplicable Fast Pass that let them in. Maybe a better perspective is to note that a private Vanilla World of Warcraft server would be the 26th most popular game on Steam, if it was listed.
Meaning, we weren’t playing anytime soon.
We bemoaned our bad luck. Shit, we’ve been looking forward to this more than anyone, (said everyone staring at “Authenticating…”, before being disconnected and sent back to the line like a middle-schooler caught cutting at lunch). If there was a price to skip the queue and play I think everyone of us would’ve paid. “I’m in boys!” It was Plantain. None of us believed him but then he shared a screenshot. We openly wished his computer would catch fire, or some hacker would choose this moment to delete his System32 folder, and we would be the lucky ones who took his spot.
This fresh start server may be the biggest MMORPG launch of the year, and it’s January 7th.
Hours later, the server crashed, and I snuck my way in—finally—after staring at the login screen, reading spam chat, and following the server’s Twitter for any update that might include a sliver of hope. We chose Alliance this time, and I made a Night Elf hunter, sporting a Schopenhauer haircut and a chop-shop goatee. As the classic loading bar jumped across my screen I thought I had beaten the train, the tracks were clear and I could finally play, “smooth sailing” as they say. Nope.
One-by-one we spawned into our starting zones and faced the deluge of players, splashing over every green splotch of Shadowglen. You couldn’t [can’t?] run around killing mobs. Too many Night Elves. I had to find my own corner where a boar would spawn, and wait for it to regurgitate existence every 20 seconds or so; make sure you get the first hit. And if there was no spot you stole someone else's, equipping a dagger with higher attack speed so you could almost guarantee a tag.
I have never played an MMORPG so chaotic.
And it was obvious where quest items spawned, like Moonpetal Lilies, because each one was encircled by vulturous players, holding shift and right-clicking to peck first. More civil players formed theme park lines so that each got their fair chance. Not the Night Elves. I don’t know if my reaction time has slowed or it was a latency issue but I couldn’t snag items, and chose to abandon anything involving collecting, only after trying to pick up a spider egg for an hour or more.
One of us wasn’t privy to the selfish anarchy: underdog Gibran. He got disconnected, and pushed to the back of the queue, number 18,332. Brutal, made worse because we were high on our giddiness, just wandering a fresh Vanilla, shouting out exclamations when someone linked an item with green text—after all it was the first time that item dropped on the server. He listened in silence: disconnecting, reconnecting, disconnecting, reconnecting. Hey Gibran you get in? Answered by a flat “No.”
When we couldn’t play we logged in to Jealousy, muttering curses under our breath, devoutly envious of anyone who was online. Just listen to Banana’s soliloquy the last time he was disconnected:
“Me, of all people—I’m not playing the game! You guys know that I deserve, among all of you, to be playing over the rest of you.. LET ME IN… I have a feeling they’re going to let me in, just let me slip in... You know what? I hope, I hope the server goes down, just for a minute...”
I didn’t say it, but I felt the same way.
The day became a roulette wheel: each time the server went down we spun to see whether or not we would get back in. Underdog Gibran ended up a winner, and pulled ahead of our entourage, 5 levels ahead. And while the rest of our group disbanded I stayed on late into the night, fighting against mobs and other players to finally hit 10. At one point, questing was so bad I found a semi-quiet Imp cave and fired off volleys for 3 levels: 7-10. It was slow going but as least it was progress.
This must read like nostalgic masochism: putting up with BS for the sake of a game over a decade old. But I can’t deny a passion for playing—can't deny staring at the login screen way longer than I would for any other game—for the slow grind, despite my pet running away twice because I couldn’t afford meat, and my character just caught rabies: a ten minute debuff.
Why am I playing Vanilla World of Warcraft? I’m willing to admit this could all be a frenzy fueled by nostalgia, but if that’s the case nostalgia is a drug as potent as any 4th street slung substance. In the coming weeks [months?] I hope to understand what it is that makes 20,000 people sit in queue all day, to understand what it is about Vanilla that made it so special and continues to be many player’s MMORPG first choice. Maybe I'll find out something, or maybe I'll just have fun on my way to 60.