When I booted up The Elder Scrolls Online last week I didn’t expect to take part in a player-created large-scale parkour contest, but life can be weird that way. So that’s how I ended up running and jumping around like a mad-orc in the shopping market of Vivec City in The Elder Scrolls Online.
You know how some people only floss and brush right before and shortly after a dentist appointment, and then gradually revert back to their terrible hygiene routine? That’s how I play The Elder Scrolls Online. I get way into it for a few days, then gradually stop playing until the next time I see a cool video about Skyrim or a funny Oblivion mod on Twitter. I never uninstall it, so it’s always waiting for me to come back.
This start-and-stop approach means I haven’t made as much progress as others might have over the same span of time. So when a player got in open zone chat and offered 30k gold to anyone who could win their “parkour challenge,” I was very interested. After all, I was broke, and needed to increase my bank storage. To join the “Hardcore Parkour Challenge” I headed over to the market near Morrowind’s Vivec City and typed “X” into chat. That got me a group invite, and the contest began.
Velas Gravewalker was the person running the whole thing. They had climbed up to a weird perch above the market’s entrance. To win, you just needed to climb up to him. That’s it. The first would get 30k gold, the runner-up 20k, and third place 10k. Easy, right? Wrong!
The Elder Scrolls Online is an MMORPG that wasn’t at all built for platforming. Moving around is fine when you’re grinding away in a field or cleaning out a big open dungeon. But using these same movement controls for “parkour” is a fucking nightmare. Jumping and running feel both too heavy and too floaty at the same time. When you jump, your character can get stuck on anything, including invisible walls and ledges. And guess what? ESO is filled with that stuff. Normally it’s not a big deal that all the decorations and random crates are awful platforms to clamber on. But it becomes extremely annoying and frustrating when you’re trying to, uh, parkour.
When I started there were only two other players, but this soon grew to a dozen or more folks trying to climb up to Gravewalker. It was hard to count because I was too focused on winning, and also everyone was jumping around as if we were under attack by invisible wasps.
About 10 or so minutes into this contest a pattern emerged. People would converge on one area, like a box near a table, and throw themselves at it until someone else made a bit of progress from a different starting point somewhere else. Then the herd would stampede over there and try their luck grinding against some other random prop.
Eventually, two players did succeed in reaching Gravewalker’s perch. In chat, someone mentioned something about a horse mount being useful, so of course that led to a dozen players trying to ride their horses up walls, boxes, and market stalls. It was a madhouse, and I was just as wild as the others. I wanted that gold. Even though I’d only get 10k for third place, I wanted it. No, needed it!
I devised a strategy. I would wait until the mob of jumping players had moved on to a new spot and then I would test out an area, trying to hide any progress I made. Soon, my horse and I found a spot near the fabric-crafting table that worked. It was at this point that Gravewalker upped the third-place prize to 15k, as it seemed no one else had come close to summiting. I guess they didn’t see me!
After a few failed attempts to jump off some scaffolding onto the wall that was connected to the gate where Gravewalker stood, I succeeded. I was close. I could taste that gold. (It tasted weird, like how your fingers smell after holding coins.) I slowly, carefully, got off my horse and began to inch my way across the top of the thin wall.
Gravewalker finally noticed me, as did the two prior winners, who were now emoting from up high. They cheered me on. They also told me not to screw up while I was so close. I’ll be honest, I appreciated the cheering, but didn’t need the reminder that I was so close and yet could still lose it all. And behind me, I saw other players on their horses making their way up the same way I did. The secret was out. And now, if I fell here, I’d win nothing and some asshole elf would take my deserved prize.
After what felt like 10 minutes of slowly inching toward Gravewalker I reached the top of the gate. Success! I jumped around! I danced a little dance. And I even thought about jumping off to run to the bank and await my prize. Good thing I didn’t do that, because after a minute of me celebrating like an asshole, Gravewalker reminded me that I hadn’t yet won: To win I needed to touch him. My body locked with fear. I crept a few feet closer, intersecting my character model with his, which is as close to touching as you can get in an MMO.
Success, again! I had won. A few moments later 15k gold landed in my account and the group disbanded. I jumped off the gate and ran to the bank, upgraded my storage, and now sit on the leftover gold. Maybe I’ll contribute it to a campaign to eradicate Silt Striders.
This strange episode was a great moment for me and a reminder that the best part of MMOs isn’t necessarily the massive raids or weird quests, but the people you meet. Even if, like me, you spend most of your time solo-questing, you still encounter other players. Inhabiting a world that is filled with random people you can hang out with is a neat thing any time. But in 2021, as the pandemic continues, it takes on some additional resonance, and I feel glad I got to stumble into this random, weird “parkour” challenge.