The Game Archaeologist: When World of Warcraft opened Ahn’Qiraj’s gates


This past month, Blizzard has been testing what might well be the milestone moment for World of Warcraft Classic: The Ahn’Qiraj gates event. In the 14 years that have gone by since the original opening, this event has gone done in WoW’s history as one of its more infamous moments… and that infamy is not something that Blizzard wants to repeat.

But what happened back in 2006 during vanilla World of Warcraft to make this moment so memorable? Let’s take a trip in our wayback machine to revisit a time when Blizzard bit off far more than it could chew — and players managed to bring WoW down to its knees.

The Gates of Ahn’Qiraj marked Blizzard’s first real attempt at a server event in World of Warcraft. By early 2006, the MMO already boasted around six million monthly players — and this count was still on the rise. Realms were booming and players were quickly burning through high-level content. More was needed, and the developers were hard at work on a pair of raids for Update 1.9. These raids, the Ruins of Ahn’Qiraj and the Temple of Ahn’Qiraj, were placed in the bug-strewn desert region of Silithus.

While the debut of these raids would have been exciting for the vanilla crowd, Blizzard decided to get experimental and turn the occasion into a genuine event. Instead of the raids opening on a certain date, their start would be determined by the efforts of an entire server.

This war effort to open the gates took place in three distinct phases. The first phase was a weeks-long collective gathering mission for both Alliance and Horde players. Hundreds of thousands of materials and crafted items had to be turned in to help fill up a meter and trigger the next phase. When that finally happened, uber guilds went into action, blasting through a series of incredibly long and difficult quests to restore a Scepter of the Shifting Sands.

This multi-phase approach served to stir up great interest in almost every player in the game at the time. Materials ended up being in short supply, throwing the world economies in disarray, and the slowly ticking meter stirred up a real sense of community and cooperation among the playerbase.

The first server to meet the threshold and open the gates was Medivh, which did so on January 23rd, followed quickly by Mannoroth on the 27th and Zul’jin on the 31st. Europe’s servers were only slightly further behind, with the first realm getting into Ahn’Qiraj being Kael’thas on the 30th.

Only after the second phase would the actual server door-opening event occur in the form of a 10-hour battle across the sands of Silithus. A special title and fast mount awaited those who went through the quest line and took place in the battle, which meant that a whole lot of players ended up descending upon Silithus within the same time window.

As the doors to Ahn’Qiraj broke open, enemies poured out — and these were no regular-strength mobs, but de facto mini world bosses with highly desired loot.

The opening of the gates was meant to forge lasting memories of epic battles and server spirit — but the event also became memorable for other reasons as well. To put the situation succinctly, the players broke the world. Thousands of players streamed into Silithus, which was a war zone full of rampaging mobs at the time. Servers lagged. Servers crashed. Servers started messing up in all sorts of bizarre ways.

It was both fun and frustrating in nearly equal measure, although Blizzard wasn’t eager to replicate the headache that Ahn’Qiraj created. Yet even after so much time, it still remains one of the most cherished experiences for those who can boast of being there.

The Gates of Ahn’Qiraj event wasn’t limited to the early days of 2006; future servers required the gates to be unlocked in the same way. It was only around February 2009 that Blizzard changed the rules so all future servers would start with Ahn’Qiraj opened.

Were you there when the gates opened? If so, share your memories of this epic event in the comments!

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to World of Warcraft! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from… and where it might be heading.
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