Certainly private WoW servers are still a bit dodgy these days. I'm pretty sure that it's against WoW's terms and conditions to play on a private server, and even more so to create and maintain one. That's not the same as it actually being illegal though. If anything, the fact that private servers that openly advertise themselves on the web and on YouTube are still around years after their opening seems to imply that it's not something that Blizzard can or at least cares to take measures against. Though I did hear rumours that streaming WoW from a private server was banned from Twitch or something.
Regardless of the strict legality of the matter, I have a hard time feeling like these guys are doing anything bad, especially if the whole project is offered to the public for free. I just can't see Blizzard missing out on a lot of potential revenue here, considering just how disgruntled many ex-WoW players have become with the direction of the live game (myself not entirely excluded).
This brings us to the "weird" part - private WoW servers are definitely a lot less weird and unusual than they used to be. With every expansion that completely revamps the game, Blizzard potentially alienates another set of players that loved things the way they were. And unlike for example
As more and more people disagree with this stance, private servers that allow people to return to a version of the game that they enjoyed more are seeing a distinct rise in popularity. Back in 2013 I remember seeing a video advertising the Emerald Dream private server, and shortly afterwards Wilhelm of The Ancient Gaming Noob wrote a short series of posts about his adventures on that server. (Sadly he stopped and seemed to lose interest before he even made it to Westfall.)
This year, an ex-WoW acquaintance of mine even posted on Facebook that he had started playing on a private server, inviting people to join him. On YouTube, I noticed more and more "Vanilla WoW" videos popping up that were obviously very recent and not recorded during the actual Vanilla WoW period. What was even more surprising was that the world in all those videos seemed incredibly busy.
Eventually I found these videos by a YouTuber called "Dodgy Kebab" reviewing the two newly opened Vanilla servers Nostralius and Kronos. My sense of intrigue grew, and I also started to develop a certain respect for the people creating and maintaining these servers. Somewhat naively I guess, I had always thought that creating a private server was simply a matter of pulling all the information out of an old client or something like that, but clearly a lot of NPC behaviour and such has to manually be re-scripted to resemble what people were used to in original Vanilla WoW.
In the end I was just too intrigued... I had to give it a go myself. Kronos ended up being my server of choice since Dodgy had so much praise for it, and it was also the one I had seen advertised on Facebook.
Getting the whole thing up and running still felt a bit awkward, not least because it required a download from a dodgy-looking website that caused my internet security to ring some serious alarm bells. It didn't help that it was all in Czech so I didn't understand a word of what it said and that the "I don't want to sign up for your dodgy website" free download option took a full eight hours.
Nonetheless, I got there in the end. Once I had the actual files, getting it all set up was fairly quick and straightfoward. There I was again, at the Vanilla WoW login screen... Next time: What awaited me upon actually logging in!