Just because a wanted man can hide out in another country doesn't mean he can hide out in Azeroth, as one unlucky drug dealer has learned all too well.
Police work can be pretty tough, and I don't just mean the stuff you see on CSI where they need to digitally enhance the image and then do the stuff with the evidence - I mean that if you're a local sheriff's deputy in Howard County, Indiana, and your wanted man can't be found anywhere in your state (let alone your county), your limited jurisdiction means there's not a whole lot you can do.
But that didn't stop Matt Roberson in his search to arrest Alfred Hightower, a suspected drug dealer whose arrest warrant had been issued in 2007 for "charges of dealing in a schedule III controlled substance and dealing in a schedule IV controlled substance, and two charges of dealing in marijuana." Roberson was determined to get his man, and this past summer enlisted the aid of U.S. Marshals to track Hightower down as part of Operation FALCON.
Their research turned up two tidbits of information: One, Hightower was living somewhere in Canada - though the Marshals couldn't do a thing without the exact location - and two, he was a fan of World of Warcraft, playing as a Level 80 Tauren Restoration-specced Shaman named Rastylnn on the Bladefist server. Though Robeson was initially only told that Hightower was playing "'some warlock and witches' game," further information helped the deputy piece together the fact that it was WoW - he knew Azeroth well, having played the popular online game himself, once upon a time.
While the idea of two WoW players - one cop and one criminal - having a virtual manhunt, running through the sewers of Dalaran before confronting each other by a waterfall like that one scene in The Fugitive is really kind of cool, that wasn't how it actually went down. Instead, Robeson gathered all the evidence he had and sent a subpoena to Irvine, CA-based Blizzard Entertainment ... but since Blizzard was located in another state entirely (and far out of his legal jurisdiction), the man wasn't confident that he'd hear anything back.
But hear back he did. It took several months - it looks like Blizzard is glacial in all things, from StarCraft II development to collecting data about a suspected criminal - but the developer cooperated fully, sending Robeson a package of information that included "everything he needed to track down Hightower, including his IP address, his account information and history, his billing address, and even his online screen name and preferred server."
From there, Robeson used the IP address to get a location (with help from Google Earth), and U.S. Marshals contacted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Border Services Agency to track Hightower down to Ottawa, Canada (which is the capital of Canada and not Toronto, you know). The Mounties picked him up, and brought him back over the border where he was taken into custody in Minneapolis.
This isn't the first time that Blizzard has cooperated with law enforcement officials - see the case of the idiot who threatened to hijack a plane back in July - but it may well be the first time authorities have ever used someone's avatar in an online game to track them down in real life. Even if (if found guilty), Hightower will be in an actual prison and not the Stormwind Stockade, this is some serious Neal Stephenson crap right here.
I'd make the joke about "at least he'll have a ton of rested XP when he gets out," but the Penny-Arcade guys beat me to it. Ah well.