Eschewing party favors and balloons for processing power and bandwidth, LAN parties put PCs and players to the test.
For the niche gaming community of PC gamers, there’s nothing as unique as the LAN party.
To those who aren’t familiar, LAN parties are gatherings where groups of people meet, in person, to play a multiplayer video game over a Local Area Network. Players abandon the anonymity of the Internet to compete face-to-face.
While they’ve been happening for years, LAN parties have changed a lot over the years.
“I remember meeting in someone’s garage where everyone had these big beige towers,” said Johnnie Rodriques, technical marketing engineer at Intel. “We begged or borrowed equipment from places we worked to be able to network everything together, and it was a nightmare.”
Over time, Rodriques said, the technology advanced and the equipment improved. “This helped the garage LAN party grow into these huge, amazing public events.”
One key component of the LAN party involves a multiplayer game. While some of the most famous early video games were multiplayer — Pong, Combat, Joust — eventually arcades got big machines that supported two, four or even six players.
But it wasn’t until computers became connected over Internet lines that these games became true multiplayer experiences.
Even then, players would still get together and connect all of their PCs to a network. They would play one another in a more visceral way than gaming over phone lines could ever allow.
In today’s PC gaming community, with online multiplayer gaming the norm, LAN parties have evolved to be all about competition. Whether called eSports or gaming tournaments, these parties are about the never-ending pursuit of the cutting edge.
And the competition isn’t just between players. In a LAN party, even PCs compete.
Players use gaming mice with a gazillion updates per second for the most pixel accurate cursors and with an outrageous amount of buttons. They use keyboards with special spring loaded keys and game controllers with more sensitive buttons, extra paddles and precise ergonomics to maximize the speed at which they can give commands
And that’s not to mention the actual computers themselves.
“There is little difference between ‘gaming’ and ‘LAN’ PCs anymore,” Rodriques said, explaining that in the past, add-in cards or special configurations were required for networking and participating.
“Now, just about all of that is either built into the motherboard or the software being used. Most LAN PCs today are just gaming PCs brought from home.”
The highest echelon of PC gamers build machines that are $3,000-plus and truck them around to LAN parties.
Picture this: a player sits down in his ergonomically made leather chair and pulls his mouse and keyboard close. He looks at three monitors arranged like vanity mirrors, running at refresh rates faster than televisions.
Players often turn on computers with processors that have 4 or 6 or 8 cores, overclocked to run faster than normal.
These machines have two or four graphics cards running together, maybe multiple hard drives in a RAID array for improved speed, the quickest and most expensive of RAM, and all sorts of high-end networking cards, motherboards and liquid cooling systems.
With such horsepower, the games are running at ridiculous speeds, and the participants know they are playing a game in the best possible way they can, getting every advantage for their match. At the very least, these players know they’re not falling behind the other participants with souped-up rigs.
At LAN parties, players show off their gear as much as they show off their playing skills.
“Being able to build something so you can stand out from the sea of black boxes, express your individuality and show off your skills is a major reason to mod your PC,” said Rodriques. “Of course, that’s with the knowledge that the PC still has to be able to run the games and applications you need it to.”
For some PC gamers at these huge tournament events, they aren’t showing off the power of the PC they have built, but the uniqueness or creativity. These modders want to show they have the smallest PC that will run a given game (like a NUC or a mini-tower), or the most colorful machine (with lights or graffiti), or the most invisible machine (inside a box on the wall), or the geekiest computer (done up as a prop from their favorite game, show, or film).
They compete in these events with not only their hands, but with their discerning eyes and particular tastes.
“For gaming PCs, I get excited when I see something new: Some new way to do wiring, or new techniques using CNC/Lasers to cut panels or making something that wasn’t a PC into a PC,” said Rodriques. He says watching modding evolve demonstrates the passion of gamers.
“It’s that self-expression that is one of the reasons I continue to see a great future for gaming desktops. There’s always something new to see.”