Some people are seduced by World of Warcraft's raiding scene, where Blizzard props up a brand new universe-threatening villain with coffers full of juiced epics and legendaries. Others fall for the game's stringent PvP system, where you gorge on the bodies of the rival faction as a way to claim an unassailable military rank. Or maybe they're attracted to the Pokemon-lite battle pet community, or the auction house bull market, or the vast number of increasingly obtuse collectible mounts. One thing is for sure: Joana was the only Azerothian committed to speedrunning World of Warcraft. For a game built around flexibility of play, he still managed to push it to the brink.
"When I was laid off from work I had all this time to play. And Blizzard kept continuously releasing new servers like every couple of months," says Joana, whose real name is Paul, and is 39 years old. "I'd jump on them and play [levels] 1-60 and have a lot fun doing that. Once I did it the first time I was like, 'Wow, that was fun, I want to keep practicing and do it again."
It was through those repeated gauntlets that Joana emerged as a minor cult figure in World of Warcraft. "People started recognizing me, because I did them over and over again," he explains. But his persona went blew up after two incidents. First he won a Blizzard-sanctioned leveling contest that earned him some love from the mothership. But it was when he published one of the most sought-after documents in the history of the game that his reputation really took off. The page in question was called, simply enough, Joana's Leveling Guide, and if you're a World of Warcraft veteran, you've undoubtedly used it once or twice. It's presented as a gigantic glossy, color-coded PDF. It's crafted with a cartographer's touch, walking its user through every quest, every route, and every threshold within the lengthy 60-level odyssey.
"Grind your way back Camp Narache (make sure you are at least 3 bars away from level 4) and then turn in 'The Hunt Continues,' reads step nine of his extraordinarily detailed walkthrough of the Tauren starting zone Mulgore. 'Accept "The Battleboars.' Also accept (from the NPC patrolling around) 'Break Sharptusk!' Get your level 4 spells and abilities."
Even the most mundane minutiae of the quest paths and objectives were fussed over. Joana was always the type of counselor who let you know what mobs were soloable, what zones you should skip, and when, precisely, you should make the trip back to the capital city to buy your mount.
On YouTube, anyone can watch the most famous version of the run; Joana as a Troll hunter, carving up World of Warcraft at record pace. If followed dogmatically, with few mistakes, inefficiencies, or sidetracked dungeoneering and battlegrounds, you may just match Joana's personal best; four days and 20 hours, from Durotar to Winterspring.
I was one of his most dedicated disciples—I've brought so many characters to adulthood with Joana's help that it's honestly disorienting doing the same without his guidance. In the 15-years-or-so he's been doing this, Joana has organized adroit itineraries for every race available in vanilla World of Warcraft. Each are available on his website for a one-time $37 fee. (Though when Joana first published the guide, he sold it on eBay.)
The release of Classic has touched so many people in so many different ways, but it's been a particularly serendipitous boon for Joana. For the first time since the Bush administration, his work is back in demand. "It's slowed down a little since launch, but at launch there was quite a big rush of traffic," he says, noting that for a period of time after Classic went live, his site was knocked offline.
Log in to to the modern game, and you'll understand why. Everything about the 2019 incarnation of Azeroth has bowed towards navigability and accessibility. Blizzard slowly filled the world with generous flight paths, highlighted your map with the exact spot a quest NPC might be, and allowed its citizenry to search for dungeon parties across servers before teleporting them all directly to the instance entrance. Today, World of Warcraft feels more like a narrowing critical path—a six-lane highway—than the living thing it once was.
So, naturally, there was never much need for a leveling guide built for World of Warcraft's latter-day expansions. Joana's speciality was his ability to tell you that a secluded quest hub was hidden in a hunting lodge in western Loch Modan. These days, Blizzard is happy to hand out that information itself. Nobody needs to purchase a helping hand. "With each expansion the need for [my work] decreased greatly. Classic is by far the version of the game where a leveling guide is most necessary," he explains.
And so, now that this 15-year old MMO is somehow one of the hottest games in the world again, Joana is back on the grind. He tells me that since 2018, he's been working on his leveling routes "full-time"—sometimes upwards of 70 hours a week—and there are still a few inefficiencies he wants to buffer out. His dream project? An add-on that embeds his guide directly into the UI, ensuring that nobody will have to alt-tab ever again.
Joana says that World of Warcraft Classic speedrunning is almost exactly the same as vanilla World of Warcraft speedrunning, save for a few spawn timers that have been tinkered with and streamlined. In fact, the only major alteration is purely infrastructural. World of Warcraft Classic is built with a layering system that evens out the player count in each zone, so that there isn't a small army waiting for Hogger to reappear. Power-leveling nirvana is hustling the layers, always injecting your toon into a low-density pocket.
Joana admits that with the re-origination of Classic, he's no longer the only person speedrunning World of Warcraft. This scene keeps ballooning, and it's filled with players bringing their own obscene strategies. In fact, Joana can't claim to be the 1-60 record holder anymore. That right belongs to a runner named JokerD, who hit 60 in three days and seven hours with an ugly, Sisyphean strategy. JokerD played a Mage, and spent his entire time in-game using crowd control and area-of-effect abilities to slowly whittle down giant swathes of enemies. No quests, no dungeons, and no loot were necessary—their victory condition was crushing Azeroth under algorithmic pressure until it broke in two.
Joana tells me that as the meta develops, he wouldn't be surprised if someone eventually hits 60 in under three days of work. But that's not exactly where his passion lies. The beautiful thing about Joana's guides is that they at least resemble a facsimile of what World of Warcraft intends to be. Yes, you are hitting level 60 at a ridiculously accelerated rate, but you are still assisting all those hapless NPCs along the way. An AOE abuse, on the other hand, feels like a much more modern philosophy—the opposite of the slow-motion ecstasy that Classic was supposed to conjure.
"That's how I had a lot of fun with WoW, by doing the questing. The AOE grinding started arising during the private server scene. It looks intriguing to at least try to get the world's best time with that, but most classes are going to be doing quests. So I focus on improving my questing routes. I don't really have the time to learn the AOE strategy too."
It's a doctrine that makes Joana's guides special. Speedrunning so rarely feels like a tribute to its own game, but Joana makes sure his players stop to find Mankrik's Wife in the Barrens. He bottled and sold the feeling of never being lost, which is perfect for a time when a whole generation is wandering Azeroth all over again.
"If you don't have a guide, getting through the game is kinda cryptic," he says. "You gotta keep looking up quests and where they're done. With the guide you don't gotta do any of that. You just follow it and have fun."