There’s hardly a game in all the world as famous as World of Warcraft, save for maybe the Nintendo classic Super Mario Brothers; With millions of active players almost 20 years after its initial release, it’s undeniable that World of Warcraft did something right.

The evolution of the Warcraft brand and of the game itself is almost as fascinating as the storyline the game portrays. In truth, though, it is the storyline of World of Warcraft, backed by the passion of both fans and the creators, that has led to World of Warcraft dominating the mass multiplayer online game genre.

World of Warcraft takes place in Azeroth, and the history of Azeroth began in the very first Warcraft game: Warcraft: Orcs vs. Humans. Warcraft: Orcs vs. Humans was released on PC in 1994 by Blizzard Entertainment and was largely considered to be a moderate success.

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At the time, Blizzard was still a very small company, though much of the talent that would lead the charge of the Warcraft brand had found their way to the growing studio. Chris Metzen, for example, did sketches and writing for Warcraft: Orcs vs. Humans and would later go on to lead the story development of the entire series.

Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness was released in 1995, written by Chris Metzen, and enjoyed fantastic fanfare following its release. It swooped gaming rewards and became one of the most iconic real-time strategy games of all time. It’s expansion pack, Beyond the Dark Portal, was also well received, advancing the story of Warcraft beyond the main world of Azeroth into the home world of the orcs, Draenor.

After a six-year break in Warcraft releases came the announcement and release of Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos in 2002. Warcraft III and its expansion pack, the Frozen Throne, massively expanded on the lore that Metzen and his team had been working on since Warcraft I. The already rich and enchanting world of Azeroth and beyond flourished with new graphics, voice acting, and locales, and Warcraft III became one of the most popular, if not the most popular, real-time strategy games of all time.

Warcraft III had broken records and changed the real-time strategy world forever. With a robust custom games system and incredible replayability, fans could continue to delve into Azeroth again and again to find new and exciting experiences waiting for them. It was the attachment to a world that had been grown over the course of a decade that set the stage for World of Warcraft’s success.

World of Warcraft, which released in 2004, was not the first MMORPG, but it was the first that came tied to such a well-established, colorful, and popular universe. World of Warcraft took the world by storm in a way few other games ever had. Azeroth welcomed adventurous souls to explore what seemed like an endless digital frontier. Recognizable characters from the storylines of all three Warcraft games were ready to interact with players, sending them off on adventures rich with lore and plunder.

So it was that the strong story roots of Warcraft built a foundation for a game that would persist for more than a decade, long holding the title of most-played game in the world. Warcraft’s characters were recognizable, lifelike, and complex, giving players a real attachment to the world that surpassed many other games on the market. Players who played for years would take a break only to return with their friends and see a world that often felt like a second home.

World of Warcraft is, according to recent yearly reports from Blizzard Entertainment, experiencing a major resurgence in player base as well following the release of two expansion packs that are closely tied to the events of Warcraft II and Warcraft III. With storylines that have been in the works for decades rising to their climax, the future of World of Warcraft seems as fascinating as its history.