A band of Robin Hoods will help you get WoW's rare moose for free, and some raiders aren't happy

While most hardcore players in World of Warcraft are spending their evenings still pushing through raids, grinding up new characters, or preparing for the launch of Legion, a player named Zelse spends his time helping people earn a rideable moose. 

But this isn't just any old moose, it's a legendary beast with eyes and antlers that flare with beautiful turquoise energies—oh, and did I mention it can fly? Getting one, however, isn't a walk in the national park. You need to be level 100, equipped with powerful gear, and able to take down Archimonde, a colossus of hatred that lives only to break the will of the players challenging him. As if that wasn't enough, time isn't on your side either. Once Legion launches on August 30, the Grove Warden moose can never be earned again. But don't you worry, FriendshipMoose is here to help.

"I think it's making people believe that the community can still be a positive place," Zelse tells me over Skype. "That's what drives me," he adds, "knowing that there are people out there that I can help." While he didn't start FriendshipMoose, he is responsible for transforming it into the well-oiled machine that has, to date, helped over 5000 players earn the right to ride their eldritch elk since December of 2015. What started as a simple hashtag on Twitter has grown to a movement involving a few dozen players with a simple quest: help as many people get the Grove Warden mount before it disappears forever. But through this, FriendshipMoose is also countering some of the elitism that exists in MMOs.

While later patches have nerfed Archimonde, he's still looks pretty scary.

The moose master

When Blizzard first announced that the Grove Warden would be locked behind one of its toughest bosses and would only be available for a limited time, it divided World of Warcraft's community. On one hand, thousands of players felt like hiding the moose behind a 'heroic' difficulty dungeon was unfair to Warcraft's more numerous casual players. On other hand, it was a gorgeous reward worthy of those who had put in the time and effort in order to earn it. WoW has no shortage of mounts that can be earned by defeating its brutal raid encounters, but this was also one of the few times a mount was under the clock—players couldn't go back later at higher levels to collect it.

"It's about helping out because it's the right thing to do."

While many resigned to grousing on the forums, one player decided to see the Grove Warden as an opportunity. Early in the winter of 2015, a player named Thomicks began a Twitter hashtag jokingly called FriendshipMoose in order to coordinate the community and help each other achieve the lofty goal of felling Archimonde on the requisite heroic difficulty. But it wasn't until Zelse became involved that things really began taking off.

He created a team of veterans that could carry less experienced players through the fight quickly and efficiently whether they had the proper gear or not, streamlining the process for maximum output of Grove Wardens. The goal, for Zelse, isn't to teach players how to defeat the boss—they can learn that on their own time—he wants to make sure they got their moose before it was too late. 

The majority of raiders are good folks, but a few tend to be worse than orcs.

Five nights a week, Zelse and about a dozen other 'carriers' hop on Twitch and run multiple roulettes where any World of Warcraft player with a level 100 Alliance character on North American servers (there's separate groups for Horde and EU players) can opt in for a chance to get their own Grove Warden. Winning the roulette earns you one of several spots in the raid party to kill Archimonde, with multiple runs happening each day.

Zelse and the other FriendshipMoose carriers typically spend around three hours helping roughly 50 different players a night earn their Grove Warden. After over 500 kills, Warlords of Draenor's biggest badass is little more than a tired routine for Zelse. Why someone would remain motivated to dedicate hundreds of hours to such a repetitive activity seemed beyond me, but Zelse has a simple answer: "It's just the type of person I am, I like to help people out. It puts a smile on my face to hear that someone enjoys that they finally got to experience something or get an item they've been looking for."

While FriendshipMoose is largely praised by the Warcraft community for its efforts, not all of Zelse's attempts to kill Archimonde have gone off without a hitch.

Moose sabotage

Not everyone looks favorably on Zelse and his peers at FriendshipMoose—perhaps most of all those who make a serious profit by exploiting players unable to compete at their skill level. For years, elite guilds have been selling spots in their raids to players unable to complete them otherwise. But with FriendshipMoose cutting into their business, a few went so far as to strike back. "They've been hostile multiple times," Zelse recounts. "They've reported me over and over, which has gotten me warnings because it's an automated service." Fortunately, those warnings were later revoked when reviewed by Blizzard, but a few of the sellers didn't stop there.

Zelse tells me that, on more than one occasion, players affiliated with those selling runs would volunteer with FriendshipMoose to carry players. Instead of helping, they'd do whatever they could to disrupt the run. Some were so petty as to leave the group just as the party engaged Archimonde, leaving them a man down against a boss whose difficulty is tuned for a greater number of players. 

The Champion of Pro Wipers guild poses for a shot with their moose. (...Mooses? Meese? Moosi?)

The Champion of Pro Wipers guild poses for a shot with their moose. (...Mooses? Meese? Moosi?)

"Elitism creates a massively toxic environment for the community," Zelse says. It's not a problem unique to World of Warcraft, however, but just about every MMO that models itself after the same endgame structure. The reality is that, for many raiders, the only reward is the distinction of having something that someone else doesn't. As loot is eventually outclassed by better gear, and even the challenge is washed away as level caps are raised, raiders have no choice but to push forward or fall behind. With such fleeting rewards and increasingly demanding ways to earn them, some players find other ways to validate themselves.

Anyone playing an MMO at endgame can likely attest to this rampant toxicity. Whether it's kicking players from parties for making a simple mistake, setting unrealistic requirements for joining a raid, or just being rude, it's a problem that seems to be growing. While most hardcore raiders are passionate, respectful fans who love the game, there's no shortage of those who use being a competitive raider as an excuse to look down on others—and there's plenty of opportunities to step on the lower class when you're the one percent. 

The Wiping As Intended guild celebrates next to the corpse of Archimonde.

The Wiping As Intended guild celebrates next to the corpse of Archimonde.

A different kind of fun 

FriendshipMoose might be one of the more recognized groups in World of Warcraft's community, but it isn't the only one trying to inject a little kindness and warmth back into its cold digital spaces. With WoW's Legion expansion only weeks away, the raiders at FriendshipMoose are working hard to make sure everyone can get their shot at the majestic mount. But once Legion arrives, Zelse and company won't be winding down—they'll be getting even bigger. FriendshipLegion, a new guild created by Zelse, plans on taking that same approach to an even wider audience by creating a positive environment where players of all skill levels can enjoy and progress through Legion together. There's even an new moose, Grove Defiler, that FriendshipLegion will be helping others earn.

But Zelse and FriendshipMoose are doing more than helping players get a silly moose, they're highlighting how MMOs are often built to create inherently negative spaces that incentivize being selfish over being social. But as flawed as those structures might be, the members of FriendshipMoose aren't letting it get them down. "I get these messages saying that if it wasn't for us I would never have gotten this mount because I never would have been able to get the gold in order to [pay for the run]," Zelse says. "Which means they never would have had anybody to help them at all because some raiders only want gold."

"It's about helping out because it's the right thing to do." 

Steven Messner

With over 7 years of experience with in-depth feature reporting, Steven's mission is to chronicle the fascinating ways that games intersect our lives. Whether it's colossal in-game wars in an MMO, or long-haul truckers who turn to games to protect them from the loneliness of the open road, Steven tries to unearth PC gaming's greatest untold stories. His love of PC gaming started extremely early. Without money to spend, he spent an entire day watching the progress bar on a 25mb download of the Heroes of Might and Magic 2 demo that he then played for at least a hundred hours. It was a good demo.