This week, the largest LAN party in North America begins in Dallas, Texas. As gamers, we dream of being among the thousands of like-minded gamers enjoying the four-day marathon. As fellow LAN party organizers, we can only admire what the once thirty-some attendee event has become. A group of our more dedicated community members, known as Team Waffle Train, have had the pleasure of attending the monstrosity more than a few times, and a member from TWT has been kind enough to share his guide to survivng the 96-hours of geekdom.
Written by: Eric 'Cytog' Beavers
Chapter 1: Welcome to the Main Event
In writing this I assume you are a fellow gamer and know what a LAN Party is, otherwise make a quick trip over to Wikipedia to enlighten yourself. My intent is to share my experience with you in hopes that you, the reader, can someday enjoy this as much as I have.
Once a year, in a large hotel located in Dallas, Texas an event is held that has come to be known world wide as QuakeCon. Sponsored by ID Software, the creators of the Doom, Wolfenstein, and Quake series, it is a 4 days nonstop celebration of gaming at its finest. It started out in the 90's as a get together of a few friends via an IRC chat group. Since then it has grown into an event that numbers in the thousands all run by volunteers. In terms of events it offers a little bit of everything that each type of gamer can enjoy.
If you consider yourself simply a gaming enthusiast then you will have the time of your life playing on a local area network with typically 3,000 people like yourself. The gaming variety is fantastic and often Id lets attendees in on a freebee of some sort to give everyone something new to try. A trade show style event occurs in close proximity to the BYOC so you can catch a glimpse the latest games and technology. You can even volunteer and be a deeper part of the Convention.
For the Pro Gamers there is a multitude of competition for all tastes. There are thousands of dollars in cash and prizes up for grabs. Traditionally, the most current Id Software games are used. Typically there is a 1v1 death-match event and a 3-5player team event. The first year I attended, the games were Quake 4 and Quake Wars: Enemy Territory.
Sometimes there are even greater surprises in store for those that make the pilgrimage. Even for such a long period of time you will not get to do everything so plan carefully. The event typically runs from Thursday morning to Sunday afternoon in the first or second weekend of August. The BYOC is open 24/3.5 and the trade show typically runs 9am-6pm.
If you consider yourself a gamer, you have to experience this event at least once in your lifetime. Before you go however, pay a visit to quakecon.org, register for a free account, and familiarize yourself with the message boards.
This event is much more enjoyable if you take the time to do a little bit of planning before you go.
First, you need to become aware of the registration date which for the years I went occurred in the February and March time frame. This is an often confusing thing to many folks and messed with me the first time I used it. It works out like this. The lead volunteers announce a date and location for the next QuakeCon. The registration date is usually announced on the message boards beforehand. On that fateful day, usually at a specific time around 9pm EST it unlocks and over the next 2 hours 3,000 seats will be reserved by people that "intend" to go.
On the actual day of the event the first people allowed into the BYOC will be VIPs and Volunteers. As soon as the BYOC is certified as ready (sometimes as early as 9am or as late as 3pm) then the people on the reserved list will be allowed into the event. When the line for the reserved seats completes and if there are any more seats available then people that choose to stand in the First Come, First Serve line will be allowed into the event.
The lines (reserved, FCFS) are considered by some to be a right of passage. They often begin to form on Wednesday and gamers will wait for nearly 12+ hours to be one of the first ones into the event. A few chapters from now you can read my experience facing "the line".
What you do for the remainder of the LAN is up to you. I can say from experience it will be a great deal of fun. If you are feeling impatient a quick search of YouTube will give you some great videos of "quakecon experiences" which give great view to what you may experience.
Chapter 2: For the Love of Money
I can not stress enough the importance of having a budget especially if, like me, you have a long distance to travel in order to get to QuakeCon. I have watched some "kids" make really stupid decisions about money and this event that made life miserable for the offender and anyone that said moronus-maximus comes in contact with. While everyone has his or her own way of doing things, there are some things you need to consider financially when attending this event.
First, think about travel. While I will go further in depth in the Planes, Trains, and Automobiles section, I want to briefly say that it costs money to travel and depending upon distance and your desired level of comfort can become very expensive. If you are driving then consider not only fuel costs, but also the cost of having a vehicle that breaks down towed, or other emergency services. If you fly consider the cost of lost luggage. Do not, and I repeat, DO NOT take that shiney credit card and just go wild like most of your peers have. I typically spend between 300-1200$ on travel.
Next, have enough for a place to stay. A big hotel in a bustling metropolis is not cheap. There are benefits to having friends or family the live locally. Do not think you can do things like sleeping in your car or in vagabond style on the sidewalk because laws of nature and man will make your life a living hell. The BYOC does not typically allow sleeping and you will likely not get any rest if you try to get away with it due to overzealous volunteers/staff, hotel workers, and the crazy guy sitting in the row behind you who has imbibed enough caffeine to kill a small animal. I typically spend around $400 on lodging.
After that, you need to consider that you will need to eat due to that whole being alive conundrum. Food in the big city is typically expensive. You can sometimes catch a ride with someone that drove for a food run but you have to pay attention to the network chats going on at the event to catch these things. For each day I am traveling, I typically spend around $30-$40.
Finally, your beloved personal computer may decide to say "farewell, cruel world" right as you arrive to the event. Be prepared financially to replace a hard drive, processor, video card...heck the whole darn system. I consider this budget item a biggie because computer gaming is such a huge part of the event. Please note that there are people, usually locals, that show up only for the tournaments and the trade show. In my case I have traveled such a long distance that the LAN is very important to me. I usually carry an extra hard drive and on top of that budget an extra 200$ enough to buy me a video card, hard drives, or mobo/processor/ram combo.
"But Cytog", I hear you think, "I don't have that kind of moolah to throw around." Fear not, my fine-feathered friend, there are many folks like you with similar goals. The prices I have quoted up to this point are my "do it alone prices". Four nights at the hotel in a double bed room does cost 480$+ tax but you can legally have 4 people in that room splitting the cost. Likewise many other costs can be split up. You can also save big time by bringing your own food. The quakecon message boards feature a section called share a room/ share a ride. You are at the mercy of who you pick but those that do things ahead of time and not at the last minute will be favored with better people. Use your best judgement.
Chapter 3: I, Computer
Ode to my computer, how I love to game on thee so. To do the BYOC you need a working gaming rig. Since it is out of the scope of this document and technology constantly changes I will not go into the finer details of computer building. I do recommend using available information such as the Steam Hardware Survey and resources such as major gaming gear forums (EVGA, BFG, ATI, NVIDIA, XFX, etc). If you are able to play the most current games on the market without debilitating lag then you should be safe for what QuakeCon will throw at you.
I am the type of gamer that craves variety and I agree that "it is the spice of life" as the saying goes. Thus, I typically have all my favorite multiplayer games installed and patched before the event. It is very important that you do your major downloads and patches before you go because internet may not always be available. One year steam blocked the internet gateway of the the QuakeCon network thus making most steam games unplayable at the event (it was a time when offline mode was difficult to run). While you can find many things you need on the local network a little preparation before the event goes a long way.
When it comes to your computer's other software be sure to have your anti-virus and firewalls up to date. While the playground that is the BYOC is for the most part safe there are lots of computers connected to yours and one little infection can ruin your gaming efforts. Never, I repeat, NEVER reload your operating system or rebuild your machine the week before a LAN party. Not only is it bad luck but usually leads to you spending more time tweaking/troubleshooting rather than gaming.
A few major rules to follow with your computer's security: First, password protect your account and require a password to log into your computer. Whenever you are away from your computer shut it off or log off. I have seen computers left with an open desktop which there are folks that will walk by and quick format your hdd leaving you quite an unfriendly reminder to password protect your accounts. Next, don't share your entire root hard drive. In fact don't use windows based file sharing in the first place. Network admins will have this port blocked. Instead learn to use an open source protocol called "DC++". Finally, don't leave anything that can grow legs sitting at your seat. There is security at the doors and bag checks but if you are leaving that ipod, collectors edition xbox controller, or pro gaming mouse out in the open it may be stolen. If you are not sitting in a group of trusted friends then get to know the people around you.
For moving your stuff I recommend the purchase of LAN bags to make carrying stuff easier. For towers I prefer Thermaltake's Xaser Lan bag. For monitors and LCDs I like CaseAce products. For laptops I simply love the Slappa products. Quakecon is one of the few LANs that do not allow you to bring your own chair (unless you have a very good reason) so my patented chair-puter movement strategy does not work here. You are only allowed one computer at the LAN. As for the hotel, usually a few attendees do something dumb with a luggage cart every year and thus the hotel removes that option for everyone.
Chapter 4: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Getting to QuakeCon can be a challenge. I have done it two ways. The first time I went by car. The second time I went by jet air plane. The hardest thing to deal with is keeping your computer equipment safe and working. As mentioned in the Money section, consider your costs. Since, I live in northeast Ohio it is a long ways to Dallas, pretty close to 1,100 miles one way.
One way to go is by car.
Disadvantages? The first year I attended, I rented a Van and took 4 buddies with me. A week-long van rental is not cheap. It cost me in the neighborhood of 600$ plus another $300 in fuel. These costs could be split to save. Another cost was time. It takes roughly 22 hours to drive that distance, giving time for restroom breaks and food stops. We left on a Wednesday morning and made it to Dallas by 6am the next day. We had to leave Saturday night and got home at 10PM on Sunday. Thus we did not get to maximize the time spent at the party.
Advantages? We had complete control of our computers and personal belongings the entire trip. There was no angry baggage handler to rein down fierce wraith upon our beloved gaming rigs. This peace of mind is well worth the drive. Next, we had transportation while at the event which made going out for food easy.
Another way to go is by air.
Disadvantages include difficulty moving computer gear through air ports. Getting stuck between fat over-talkative passengers for a 3 hour nonstop ride on the plane is unpleasant. Angry airport security and baggage handlers will make your trip a living hell. Travel between the airports and the event. Being trapped at the hotel. Delays...
Advantages include monetary and time costs. I paid a little over $300 for a round trip ticket from Cleveland to Dallas. The total time spent in airports and planes came to just under 4 hours one way which maximize the time I was able to spend at the event.
There are two other ideas that I have thought out. First, one could go by bus. Due to personal taste and horrible past experience, I despise Greyhound and would rather drive. I have heard of groups of gamers in an area chartering a tour company bus. This option may very well prove to be the cheapest way to go in comfort, however it requires a person to take leadership and have good connections in the tourism industry. Second, I found out that one could go by train. In my case the Amtrak station runs through Alliance Ohio to Chicago,Ill. then onward down south towards Oklahoma and Texas. It looked like a round trip ticket would cost about $260 but that it would take almost 2 days of extra travel time. In my case I did not have the vacation time to spend on this option but may try it out someday when I do.
Chapter 5: No Tell Motel
I have gotten to the point in my life that I no longer want to marathon LAN party. Each event I treat as an opportunity and a vacation where I will rest and relax away from life's crazy pace. I typically enjoy the comforts of a nice bed, a warm shower, and a quiet place to get away from all the action from time to time. It has proven to be to my advantage to do what the majority at the event does.
There are people who will try and sleep on the cold hard cement floors of the event, others in their chairs. As I mentioned before it is against the rules and usually they get harassed endlessly by Volunteers/Hotel Staff/"Respect mah ahthoratah" types of people. There are also some from the thinner parts of the gene pool (where all the kids pee) that think they can sleep in their car....in Dallas...in August. If you are asking yourself why this is bad then consider that the QuakeCon FAQ answers the question "Why Dallas?" with the phrase "because the surface of the sun was rented".
The only other rants I have are:
1. Showers and deodorant should be required to enter the BYOC. You have been warned. I will publicly shame violators.
2. Treat the restrooms with TLC. Clogging/breaking a toilet is not cool or funny. The bad actions of a few idiots can cost this great event its location.
During the years I attended, the event was held at the Hilton in downtown Dallas. It was a classy (not by my standards), expensive hotel but satisfied my need to sleep and be clean. A meal would cost you around $20. Rooms fell into the $120 a night range. The 2009 event was held at another location called the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine. I would expect a similar experience at that location.
Most gamers play until 3 to 6am in the morning and sleep until noon. I followed the schedule of playing till 11pm and waking at 7am. EVGA gave away some nice schwag to us early risers (and those who simply skipped sleeping) one of the mornings of the 2007 event. I have heard of NewEgg serving breakfast egg burritos too. As I said, this is usually a vacation for me so I treat my schedule as such.
Chapter 6: Food for Thought
Food is one of the basic human needs. As a gamer you will no doubt gain a healthy dose of unpleasantness throughout the event. One thing I want to point out from staying at the Hilton is that I should have planned food a little better.
Staying at the Hilton gives limited choices. First, most of the restaurants in the hotel serve ritzy $25-50 per person meals. I can stand this maybe once on the whole trip. For the rest of the event I just want something tasty and filling. Unfortunately, the only restaurant close to the Hilton is a Denny's across the street. The remainder of restaurants require an hour long walk or a car to get to.
One thing that would have saved me much grief would have been stopping at a warehouse club place and buying some bulk items for my room. Obviously, I would have only been able to do this when I drove. The year I flew to the event I had a few friends drive down so I caught rides with them for food runs and always ordered more than I could eat for a few extra meals for the next day.
I certainly got to drink a lot of free Bawls energy drink the year I worked as a volunteer.
Chapter 7: Computer Gaming Enthusiasts
What great time to be a gaming enthusiast. You know who you are. You love to build computers. You love to talk about the technology and what the future holds. You love playing games for fun which doesn't have to always include winning. You simply are in your element when you attend a LAN party. I am happy to report that the majority of gamers at QuakeCon are these enthusiasts.
Outside the gamefest that is the BYOC you will have a blast at the trade show. There will be about 15-30 vendors from various companies showing off their products. They will do whatever it takes to get your attention usually in the form of free swag and fun events. I do most of my shopping at these events. If you are a sponsor and I see you there I will likely consider your product or service over your competitor that decided not to show. I think that is why these companies have started moving away from the pro gamer crowd to the enthusiasts. We are spending money on products rather than demanding it as prizes. I first witnessed the Logitech G15 gaming keyboard at Quakecon. To this day I have purchased and owned 2 of them as a direct result of seeing/trying it out at the event.
I have always dreamed of attending the E3 show in LA. In size comparison the QuakeCon show is tiny; however, I usually spend a good couple of hours over the course of the event trying out products, playing new games, and generally watching people make fools out of themselves for free stuff.
I think I had the best time simply meeting and conversing with complete strangers that shared my love of gaming in general. I was able to gain quite a few good ideas for my next build and see how others were faring with devices I was thinking about buying. The only warning I have to offer is that in a group of people this large you will run into those whom you don't like. Don't waste your valuable time arguing with them or listening. Walk away, don't feed the trolls, there is plenty to
enjoy elsewhere at the show.
Chapter 8: For Those About to Compete, We Salute You
From the previous chapter you may think I am not a fan of the professional gamers. While I do think that they are wasting their lives on a profession that provides no benefit to society they are an interesting bunch to observe and play against.
QuakeCon championship tournaments are serious business. The gaming rigs are sponsor/volunteer controlled and all the same. The competitors come from all over the world and the amount of money given away is dramatic. All the big names show up. The tournaments run in a cordoned off area near the trade show. The games are broadcast and commentators give play by play accounts of the matches.
If you are some rude kid that thinks a few nights a week of Counter Strike has you in this league think again. These players you want to beat typically spend 12-14 hours a day playing/training for the game they compete in. I often wonder at what opportunity cost do they live such a life. It shows in the games they play. Many times you will see things, frightening things, you never believed humanly possible in reaction times and precision aiming to a point of making you not want to play that particular game ever again.
For the most part you will not see these players except during tournament times. They tend to avoid the LAN party and leave as soon as they either have money in hand or a loss to disqualify them. I will admit I did come across Jonathan "Fata1ty" Wendel in the BYOC around the time I was helping with tear down. He was playing QuakeLive with a look of seriousness on his face that only explained that he had not won this time.
I love playing against gamers of this level, even if it means losing repeatedly. In the end I become a much better player because I learn from what they do. When I finally do kill them...even if it means killing myself in the process...I get to enjoy a thrilling personal victory that I am sure clowns that do the pie in the face gag experience.
Chapter 9: Volunteers Wanted
QuakeCon is run by an Army of Volunteers. There are crews dedicated to the network including cable runs and crimping. There is the registration team who moves and keeps track of thousands of gamers in a very short period of time. The tournament volunteers run some of the most attended and scrutinized events. Don't forget those that show up before the event to set up all those BYOC seats and the group that sticks around after the madness to clean it all up. This event has been successful year over year because of the efforts of volunteers.
In my first year I did not volunteer out of wanting to focus on gaming only. I did promise myself if I ever returned I would give the volunteer section a try. My second year I put in nearly 36 hours of work as a volunteer. It is my opinion that one should volunteer at QuakeCon even if only for an hour because it will enhance your experience and give you a deeper appreciation of the scope and size of this activity.
Chapter 10: Cytog's Pilgrimage to Quakecon: The Team Waffle Train Collectors Edition
Abstract: A long writeup on my adventures to quakecon...I wrote this after work so I promise you massive spelling errors and grammar fudgies.
Warning: If you can not read this much text, let the microsoft Voice software read it to you...
Let's see now, has it been almost 2 years now that I have been doing the LANOhio thing? What is the draw that makes a person build a gaming performance computer, pack it up, and drive a certain distance just to play some computer games?
I have known about quakecon for about 7-8 years now. It has always eluded me due to distance and my financial resources. My stance was if I ever get the chance, I'll try and make a go of it. I think it was actually around March 2006 that I made the decision to attend this event. At the time however, I just didn't have the motivation to sign up and make the plans. It was that same year that I attended my first MML event and experienced that fun that a large lan party holds. It was June of 2006 when we returned from mml that Heywood and Humanshield started talking to me about the possibility of attending the 06 quakecon event.
Up to that point I had visited the quakecon.org site at least once a week. I already knew that the event was completely booked. With a heavy heart I explained this to my Team Waffletrain buddies, the look of disappointment in their eyes was enough to explain their thoughts. From that point I was determined to go to a quakecon.
I had to prepare myself!
At first, I was thinking that I was all alone in the desire to go while simultaneously being able to afford it. Based on my past experiences, including a road trip to texas when I was 18, I had a pretty good idea what the mental and financial cost would be. I kept an eye on the quakecon website to be sure as to when they would open registration. This turned out to be in March. A short time before march I got the crazy idea to invite others to join me in my journey.
On of the key issues us east coast folks have is the distance. Dallas is about 1,200 miles one way from Canton, Ohio. Basically, you can either drive or fly. Two years ago I took a vacation in Alaska. On the return trip they completely lost my luggage and it took a week before I saw it again. If I would have flown to quakecon I would of allowed the same people to handle my gaming PC. Quality airline services...
I chose the American Road Trip.
In my haste to continue my planning, I opened my vehicle to anyone that wanted to join. Then, I ended up with more than I could fit in my Blazer. Fair enough, I thought, I'll just rent a van and be done with it. Still more folks started asking if they could join me. Going in the order that people had contacted and verified with me, I filled 5 seats in a 7 passenger van. It broke my heart that I couldn't take anyone else as I felt the trip would be the more the merrier. I made my reservations for a room at the Hilton Anatol in April, good move on my part because they sold out for the event.
Halfway between the time we registered and the actual event, I bought a house. Ah home ownership, the American dream, and the joys that go with it such as a $*&% lawn that will not quit growing and that payment book from the bank. For a time I worried that I would not have enough to finance my trip. You see, by purchasing a house, I had gone from live at home rich bachelor to dead broke homeowner bachelor. Another issue that came up is that my team mates began questioning my choice of using a minivan for 5 people, 5 computers, 5 suitcases, and a partridge in a pear tree. I kept saying "We'll make it work"...did I ever tell you that I used to work in sales...and that I have a touch of a gift with bullsh1tting people?
I didn't want to try for a world record...
I told everyone to show up at the one of our favorite local Waffle Houses on the 1st of August. The hidden part was I told them all to be there at 6:30am but really only needed them to be there by 7:15. Humanshield was there at 6:35. Bushwhacker and Heywood arrived at 7:10, and Sedriss arrived at 7:29am. Sedriss was just in time to pay for our breakfast!
As you will notice, Sedriss became the whipping boy of our trip. Every group has to have at least one person to pick on. Ode to our pal Sedriss the little b*tch!
So we headed up to Enterprise Rent a Wreak and picked up our brand new Dodge Caravan with Stow-and-Go seating. The total cost of the van came to about 620$. I can absolutely assure you that putting Heywood and Bushwacker in any vehicle will instantly lower the value of said vehicle exponentially. We drove all the vehicles to DOA's house to perform the marical of packing everything. "We'll make it work". Bushwacker drove the van and gave me a good preview of how he was going to behave the whole trip. He pulled into the driveway with that lovely NO-SMOKING sticker in the window sitting just about 6" from the 3rd cig he had smoked on the way over.
I'm no saint myself. A quick trip to walmart the night before and 20$ got me a roof rack bag. The van had this nice idiot sticker installed on the back window stating "The roof is not structurally engineered to hold cargo". 1. I am an engineer and 2. my bullsheet-o-meter red-lined on that message. So onto the roof I tied my chair and suit case. Well, it took us about 20 minutes...but we pulled it off! All gear and persons fit in the vehicle. Granted the tires looked a little stressed, in the words of Heywood "That green e sticker on the back means we can do anything". I never had a doubt in my mind : P
We left about 9am with about 20 hours of driving ahead of us. My goal for the drive was to get as bad a case of flatulence as I possibly could and entertain myself with sadistic acts. Some of the fuels included Waffle House for breakfast, Taco Hell for lunch, some Pig Cracklin's (pork rinds are the lightweight version of these southern favorites), and I found us a Chinese buffet for dinner. I remember taking a personal health and nutrition course in college...and over the course of 5 days, I broke every rule of healthy eating.
What was the result?
You know what...the oddest thing happened with the gaseous assault I launched against my team mates. Only, Seddy suffered. Apparently, from the driver's seat of the van given the flow of the AC and the way we had packaged everything, my farts would float upward and be pushed across the roof by the air conditioning skipping past the noses of Heywood, Bushwacker, or Humanshield and land directly at Sedriss' face. I found that after the 7th or 8th CHOO CHOO I had the entire system timed and could count it down.
"Tog you dirty . What the H*ll did you eat. That is nasty.
QuakeCon[RIP] 2010 followup
It is with great sadness that I must report that Quakecon 2010 was rather disappointing. This will be short...
The event I loved in 2007 and felt I had mastered as of 2008 is unfortunately little more than a trade show now. If it does become the next E3 then so be it, but a LAN party it is no longer.
I arrived late Thursday in hopes that I would bypass the line. Thanks to a new registration system I got to wait in line for 1.5 hours. I am a patient individual so I dismissed this part and looked forward to the fun of a good LAN.
Once again, the internet was out. It is not necessarily a requirement of mine for a good LAN, but when the top game of this LAN is usually QuakeLive one tends to wonder what is going on.
As I had learned from my 2007 visit, the file sharing ports are usually blocked. But this year, they closed off the alternate method of DC++. This was ordered by ID Software's new masters.
What does a LAN party without file sharing look like?
Picture 2,000+ computers...most of them turned off. The only games being played are a few scant single player games and a few folks so desperate that they resort to sharing games over a usb drive. Most folks divert their time to walking the show or leaving the event to party else where.
All was not lost. Anyone who knows me, knows I have a habit of making the best of things.
Through the ingenuity of my good pal Humanshield, we managed to set up an FTP server, replicating on PORT 80 (the internet port). It worked like a charm and i managed to introduce him to Blur. I am not sure if my little deed went unnoticed because my connectivity to the network only got worse...if you can imagine such a thing.
Thats OK, I and Humanshield had another trick up our mischievous sleeves.
We decided to launch LANOhio's very first Ad Hoc wireless N LAN Party. It was an interesting experiment and we were able to get in a few enjoyable hours of BLUR and Diablo 2.
We went with WPA-2 security and a key of "quakeconsucks".
If you are among the few that have not been to quakecon then here is how you approach it:
Don't take your PC, you would be wasting your time.
Just go for the show and the after party.