I Love LANs, I Hate LANs, I Love LANs

I Love LANs, I Hate LANs, I Love LANs
Image: Alex Walker

I still remember when the idea that gaming was antisocial was an accepted argument. “Go outside nerds,” was the common style of refrain you’d hear on a school playground. It’s the kind of argument that still gets trotted out today from those with little experience of gaming, and even less appreciation for the complexity of games and communities that form around them.

There was always an easy counter to the argument, too: local area network parties, commonly referred to as LANs. At first, it seems like the most bizarre kind of party, people lugging heavy equipment somewhere so they can stare into their CRT monitors while sitting next to other humans.

But for me, LANs were always incredibly social. It was like the gaming equivalent of a race day for motorheads, and I was reminded of that fact just this past weekend.

That was always the largest drawcard, beyond the downloading, trash talking, lightning fast networks and the copious amounts of energy drinks. It was the ability to hang out with people, talk to names and faces I often only saw online, people I would have never ordinarily met or stayed in touch with otherwise.

I was reminded of this the last time I went to the house of an old friend, someone who used to run monthly LANs in the local hall.

LANs are often as much a place for tinkering and repairs as they are gaming

There wasn’t a good representation of the wider gender skew in gaming, but that’s always been the case with LANs. And this community event wasn’t a fantastic representation of the average age of gamers either. Most were nearing 40, if not past that point.

You’d be able to tell it was an older crowd just by looking at the playlist. Call of Duty 2. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. A zombies mod for Call of Duty 4. V8 Supercars 3. Ancient titles by today’s standards.

For others they’re classics. Games that supported network play without having to authenticate online first.

On a regular day some people might have been playing World of Tanks. Others might have been enjoying Counter-Strike. Some might have been giving War Thunder or DayZ a run.

But brought together under the same roof, we all combined to race lawnmowers around Laguna Seca instead.

I love LANs.

The potential for damaging your equipment mid-transit isn’t as great a worry as it once was, thanks to the rise of mini-ITX builds and more powerful laptops

The picture above showcases the less glamorous part of the LAN experience. Arduous unplugging, carrying, transportation, more carrying, cabling, power management. And Coke and coffee, if you’re in someone’s house or a town hall somewhere. If you’re at a major venue, like the Rosehill Racecourse or something like IEM Sydney/Melbourne, energy drinks. Maybe even an overpriced flat white or three.

And that’s not to mention the prep work. If you’re going to a small event where the internet connection is minimal or non-existent, you have to allow for time the night before to install and patch anything you might want to play.

Older games not running through Steam? You’ll probably have to download the game, install the updates and any extra mods.

Because, trust me, you don’t want to be doing that on the day. There’s nothing worse than having to ask — or be asked — if someone’s got a copy of That Game That Still Isn’t Being Sold On Steam For Some Reason to share over the network.

“What are we playing,” someone asked on the weekend.

“We’re playing The Game Where You Install The Game,” the host shouted.

It’s a comment that could apply to any LAN event. If you’re not attending for a specific competition, getting everyone into the same server can be an exercise in frustration.

And then, as often happens with gamers, there are those conversations about new games that devolve into disappointment. “What have you been playing lately,” someone might ask. Oh, I’ve got such-and-such game, it’s great fun and we should play it together, I’ll suggest.

And then I’ll go to load the game up, forgetting that it needs a consistent online connection to authenticate. Which forces me to tether my computer to my phone. Except mobile reception is dodgy depending on where you’re sitting. Or Steam Offline mode doesn’t work properly because you forgot to go offline when you were connected to the internet the night before.

I tried to show one of my oldest friends, a mate from primary school, the Jackbox games the other day. I thought they’d be great — people didn’t have to install anything on their own computers. They could use their phones as a controller. And everyone attending had a wicked, dark sense of humour.

I fired up the game and got to the loading screen of Fibbage XL. And then I looked at my phone: no mobile reception.

I hate LANs.

LAN’s are often a great place to discover indies and other titles you would have never played

But the fury will never replace the many, many memories I have of LANs. And they’ll never replace the great conversations.

The local LAN not far from where I lived used to be like that. It was a monthly affair, but I remember month after month just spending hours talking to people, not playing anything. It was more of a reunion than a gaming event.

I still remember one Sydney Gamers League (SGL) event because of a conversation. It happened on IRC, about a week before the event. It was one with one of the older veterans of the Sydney Counter-Strike scene, someone who was known for being a bit hot-headed.

If I showed my face at SGL, I was going to get my head caved in. He was pretty emphatic about that.

My friends and I laughed it off. Nobody had been actually bashed at SGL for years. There was an urban legend about someone’s tyres being slashed, but that supposedly happened well outside the venue. We were safe.

So safe that we sat down next to the abusive bloke and his four teammates. We actually ran into them in the lower bracket, and — hilariously, at their request — drafted a vertical banner into service to prevent any screencheating.

It wouldn’t have mattered. We flogged them 16-5. For good measure, the player who abused me then stood with others and watched our progress afterwards, where we eventually lost in the lower bracket final.

“Well played,” he told me later, as I chuckled inside thinking about the text conversation a week prior.

I love LANs.

Image credit: MaqLAN/Community of Gamers Facebook

It’s late at night, almost 11:00 PM. The last of the older folk are gathering their bits and bobs, packing up their cases after several laps of Bathurst, Laguna Seca and various other courses I can’t remember.

Other times it’s destruction derby-style tournaments in FlatOut 2, or exhaustive battles in Call of Duty 4. Sometimes it’s just people sitting around watching movies while they finish off the rest of their pizza.

There are so many games left unplayed. So much time spent with computers sitting there, drawing power. So many memories still to catch up on. So many things left to discover.

But walking down the street with an old friend or catching up with a face I haven’t seen, I realise it doesn’t matter. Dealing with the arseholes who went to SGL and started downloading torrents. That guy who thinks it’s funny to kick out a power cord mid-tournament when he’s losing. That one person who feels it’s OK to scream across a hall playing free-for-all Counter-Strike.

They don’t matter. The frustrations don’t matter.

“Next LAN in April,” the host in the weekend asked to everyone present.

“Sure thing,” I said immediately. Because I love LANs.

This story originally appeared in February 2016.


      • Went to one in February a few years back at Sydney Uni… would have been about 35-40 degrees all day, almost 200 people, no air con, so there were a few big industrial fans dragged out of a storage closet and set at the back of the room… fat lot of good that did, lemme tell you!

  • I love LAN’s – seeing as most of my circle are in our 30’s or late 20’s and have family commitments, LANs offer a great chance to catch up and reminisce about the glory days. Notably it’s more coffee than Jack and Coke now though but the laughs and competitiveness are still there.

    • I find the drinking type of LANs are usually relegated now to maybe a night at a mate’s place where we do couch co-op games. If you’re playing games like the Jackbox packs, Crawl, Divekick, Mario Kart etc it’s better suited for that.

  • A mate and I used to regularly go to a pc lan place in Chatswood and play from 8pm – 12am for $10

    some great memories, few dicey ones too, got my diablo 2 stuff pinched because i had a stupid password (3 letters) and the dude next to me peeked at my keyboard

    Got threatened by a gang member once for shit talking in CS, guy pushed me off my chair and got kicked out, he waited out the front of the place for 2 hours and once we finally left the place he wanted to punch on (with his 6 mates waiting in the wings) somehow we talked our way out of that one.

    Good times!

  • I used to go to MPU/SGL/SOGC events pretty regularly, but recently haven’t been to one in about 18 months.

    Having said that I’m heading to the MPU/eeleague event on March 19 in Sydney. I can throw in a link if it’s not against rules? (I have no connection to the event, just a keen participant.)

  • My lanning spans about 20yrs now which is kinda scary, it started with 2 pc’s and a serial cable which isn’t exactly a lan but it was what we had and it was enough to play doom and duke3d in the same room as a friend. From there upgraded to BNC so we could get 3 or 4 PC’s hooked up and then of course on to ethernet. I’ve done many house lans and many big events, I used to help run some up until about 10yrs ago.

    I still go to some of the bigger lans every once in a while but it’s a completely different crowd of people that go these days, so what was once very social thing for me to go to is not so much anymore. I tend to stick to smaller house lans with a group of people I know though even that doesn’t really happen too often because of other priorities.

    One thing I don’t miss is lugging a 21″ CRT to a LAN 🙂

    • LED/LCD monitors revolutionized LANs, I only have 10 years of Lanning under my belt but soon invested the $650AUD for a 19inch LCD screen not long after i started.

    • I downgraded from a 21″ CRT to a 14″ LCD back when the LCD was still nearly $800. Made the lans easier but goddamn did the graphics quality suck.

  • I loved reading this but just had to make one small observation. I have had to justify (just as desperately) to my LAN-having mates how much work and effort goes into a fun and raucous evening of so-called ‘casual’ (I have hated that term with a passion ever since it was coined) gaming at a social gathering. Only last month I organised a night full of Mario Kart, karaoke games and Just Dance.

    Similarly, I wandered into a Games Workshop once on a weekend and while it was full of games in progress and a lot of people obviously enjoying themselves, it was a harrowing experience for a novice.

    I walked straight to the counter and asked the staff some questions and it was like a commoner being dragged in front of King Joffrey. Rude, know-it-all, bravado, gated-off. Any interest I had in that stuff was quickly snuffed out.

    I was there ostensibly to look at gift ideas for a friend but geez, very unfriendly and off-putting. A real shame.

  • I’ve never been to a LAN proper at all, not being a PC gamer. But for a good few years a group of friends would cart all our consoles to a local church/community centre basement and spent all day playing games (or sitting around watching a couple of others play games while trying to decide what to play ok come on lets do something OTHER than Smash for once) and eating junk food, banging out a few tunes on the instruments upstairs, etc. Oh and a round of trivia. Trivia was always fun. Especially reading out the “hilarious” answers at the end, usually all contributed by one guy.

    Man I miss those, why’d everyone have to go and get lives for 😛

  • For the love of the LAN!
    LAN parties / events have died due to the internet 🙁 this makes me sad panda.
    I remember back in the day there was a public LAN almost once a fortnight.

    The games I played, the people I met, the food I consumed, the data I leached all crammed into a 24 hour smash fest where you walked in human but walked out something completely different.
    All my good friends were either met at LANs or met because of LANs.

    • In Victoria – this is still the case! Between now and end of May, there are a heap running:

      [Wangaratta, VIC] RandLAN – March 12
      [Sydney, NSW] eLeague – March 19
      [South East Melbourne, VIC] LAN-slide – April 2-3
      [East Melbourne, VIC] Switch LAN – April 2
      [East Melbourne, VIC] Cobra LAN – April 9-10
      [East Melbourne, VIC] Indie LAN (new LAN) – April
      [Warrnambool, VIC] LAN of the Damned – April 23-24
      [Sale, VIC] GippsLAN – May 27-29

      And they are just the ones that we know about…

  • Used to be on the organising committe for ivLAN which ran out of the University of Newcastle Computer Gamers Society in the early to mid-2000s.

    Three days of gaming (Friday-Sunday) was a marathon. Most people flaked out towards Saturday afternoon. A few warriors kept going, fueled by the free postmix Coke supplied by the union.

    By the Sunday afternoon, there was certainly a distinguishable stench in the air. But when you have 150+ people (mostly guys) crammed into a space for a full weekend, that’s bound to happen.

    I always wondered the amount of power that use used up over the weekend, especially the amount of CRT monitors that people had set up.

      • Now I want to go back to the old days of playing Div 2 CTF with those DvS blokes.

        Weirdos aside, still the most fun I’ve ever had in gaming. Christ, what a game.

    • Long live ivLAN!

      I remember being up all night running the UT tourneys because nobody else would do it, and we’d always be so far behind schedule that the only time we had to run them was roughly between midnight and 5am.

  • I love LANs. Shame on modern games removing LAN play.
    Heaven would probably be a LAN where everyone will play your favourite games and there’d never be any installation woes.

  • I love LANs, but only if it’s inside a walk-in freezer.

    +10 computers can turn a lovely 26 to a scorching 45

  • I love Lans!

    My group of friends still make an effort to lan every fortnight, even if the games we play are “online only”

  • Most of the larger LAN’s around Australia have solved the internet problem now days. At RFLAN in Perth we hold regular events that sell out 720 people, and we have a nice fat 10gbit connection to the net, it really is completely seamless, you actually have a better experience playing LoL and other online games at the lan than you do at home due to the nature of the connection we have (we get consistently 10-20ms lower pings at the event than even NBN at home). And if you forgotten to download a game before you came? No problem, if it’s on steam you can often download it at over 100-200mbps to your PC while everyone else is doing whatever, and no one will notice.

    I remember the days before we had this connection and it was hard, a lot of engineering time went into caching solutions and filtering out certain applications, but thankfully that is all a thing of the past.

    We have had a few people fly interstate just to attend RFLAN and they agree it is well worth it to do every now and again.

  • LAN parties have really changed. Not just CRT’s / Big Cases to LCD’s / Mini-ITX builds and capable gaming laptops through the same period, but also in the way games are portrayed. In the 1990’s, LANs were the *only* feasible way to play multiplayer games (outside of split screens). Quake, RA, GTA, Doom, UT1999 etc… they were the highlights of any event. Stretch into the first half of the 2000’s as HDD capacity increased, general PC builds lasted more than 5 minutes and internet speeds started to evolve in CBD areas, there was a gradual file-sharing increase. That was evident – a lot of people who used to be around to play various CD-swapping games were now sharing their ‘open source operating systems’, ‘public domain videos’ and ‘freeware games’.

    There were a lot of long-standing LAN parties wrapping up. Reins weren’t being handed over, they just finished. The most notable piece was in the latter half of the 2000’s. Big LANs started shrinking, fortnightly become monthly became quarterly. Friday to Sunday become Saturday to Sunday. With Steam come massive problems. “Offline Mode” and TF2 updates *shudder*… especially the night before when most would pack their PCs up gave LAN coordinators an absolute headache. Plan a TF2 competition and tell people to update the night before usually meant a Saturday morning patch that unfortunately one or two people would get. As 3G started to roll out with abysmal data caps, we would burn through $100’s trying to get TF2 patched, or worse – try your luck at making a Steam Backup of the newest version and you got to play ‘lets see what game we can install before midnight tonight’. In the LAN parties I was involved with, we tried to keep to the old school games… those that didn’t care about patching cycles. But people wanted CS:S and they wanted TF2. They wanted to play their ranked BF2 and apart from CoD 2 and CoD 4, 2009-2011 was the period where gaming really died. I remember going to Respawn events to find absolutely no one playing any games at all. The only internet was to allow OzFortress to play their tournament.

    2011-2012 saw a lot of improvements with Steam and reliability of patches. But so did our internet connections. Venues increasingly getting ADSL2+, 3G becoming a little more affordable for those who didn’t have access, they all in one way or another helped bring back Steam.

    But roll on 2013 and LAN parties have resurged and growing as big (if not bigger) than they were before. But not in the same light as the casual night of blowing each other to bits. There’s a little bit of that going on, but more than ever it’s the e-Sports titles, major sponsorship from gaming peripheral manufacturers and far better internet than ever before that have enabled Steam to not be an issue, online servers to not be a barrier and events are far more structured than they ever have been. It’s come at a cost though – the ‘new generation’ of regular LAN goers have far higher expectations than I ever had. Gamers no longer stick around for a four hour, 64 player random game if they lose their double elimination tournament (as a coordinator at LAN-slide, this is actually saddening to see this occur – but at the end of the day, it’s up to the player(s) to make their decision), everything is far more serious. It’s not bad by any means – the events are remarkably fun. They’re just a different kind of fun. The kind where there are some pretty awesome games around and the competitive nature in everyone sees some real spectular play(s) [Rocket League is taking this by storm!]. It’s just not the same. Everything is prized, everyone wants something (well, most people anyway). The gender ratio is probably around 8:1 now for LAN-slide (better than the near 100-200:1 in early days), so is the general smell. Even in hot conditions, I don’t remember an event that you had to leave the venue gasping for air.

    If you’re happy to evolve with the way new / modern LAN parties run, there are plenty around in Melbourne at least. I’ve posted a reply above for Vic LAN parties – and they’re just the ones that we know are running events in the next two months.

  • That game where you wait to install the game was 99% of LANs with my friends due to an “alpha” personality type that has gaming ADD. By the time everyone is installed and ready to go, he’d want to play something else.

    The last LAN I went to devolved into games of Beer Pong & Wii U games while the PCs went untouched. This was frustrating for someone like me who hates all the unplugging and plugging my PC needs at home. So while everyone played Beer Pong, I fired up Street Fighter games on my PC with my fight stick and played alone.

  • My first LAN’s didn’t have a LAN. We were hooking up 2 PC’s with null modem cables and playing Descent in 95. Moving to BNC was a trip (gotta remember to have those terminators at the ends of the cables) aand finally to UTP where we are today. For me, games were reinvented when we started to LAN. The C64/Amiga 500 will always hold a place in my heart, but they can’t compare to the feeling of playing against a live player.

    • My friends and I did something similar. I think we started with Doom though, Descent came later. By that time we actually had pretty decent infrastructure (a side effect of at least three of us working in IT) so we had a proper switch and network by the time Descent was around.

      Still had problems every damned time though. Inevitably someone’s PC just wouldn’t connect to the network. One week it’d be a faulty cable, the next week a NIC, then the switch would have dropped a port, then it’d be a software problem and so on…

  • @alexwalker it was good to see you, and everyone else. You are looking very well, must be that wholesome city living 😉

    Most were nearing 40, if not past that point.
    They are a bunch of old farts, aren’t they

    “Next LAN in April,” the host in the weekend asked to everyone present. “Sure thing,” I said immediately. Because I love LANs.
    Fantastic, I’ll be there for sure. I’m especially glad you posted this, since our esteemed host can’t seem to work out how to reply to steam messages!

    Oh, and you owe me a kettle plug 😉

      • Sorry, the 😉 was meant to convey that it wasn’t an actual concern- I have probably hundreds of kettle plugs, don’t actually need it back

        • Thanks for the wonderful story Dippa @alexwalker Old Farts! What Old Farts?? Lee says “No soup for you!” Don’t forget those kettle plugs.

  • For others they’re classics. Games that supported network play without having to authenticate online first.

    I think this was a huge part of LANs popularity dying out (or at least stalling around 14 years ago). We used to LAN with friends (anywhere from 4-20 people) at someone’s house regularly when every game was installable without the net. Back in the days of BF1942, Counterstrike and Quake and the *early* Need for Speed games (and even before that). And a couple of us would go to the sporadic QGL lans where there were literally hundreds of gamers.

    But once Steam came out and other games started to follow the internet authentication route it became more difficult to LAN because of shitty internet. I know we struggled on for a couple years but gave up after a while because none of the new games were playable and everyone was tired of BF42 and CS. So we’d all sit and home and play online.

    It’s kinda ironic that now 10 or more years later it’s come back around. Now the internet for many of us is really fast and stable so it’s actually possible to gather at a persons house to LAN even though we’re still playing over the internet.

    Now the only problem is everyone is 40, has kids and no time to do it 🙁

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