September 7, 2020

How LAN parties have changed

The moment you monetize something, it changes. 

Once upon a time, most people couldn’t make a single cent gaming, so we gamed purely for the love of it. LAN parties were the pinnacle of that. You’d pack your gear and drag your CRT monitor across a parking lot so you could play the original Age of Empires with your buddies. LAN parties were 72-hour benders of filesharing, gaming, and drinking Monster until you started vibrating.

Then the police discovered the filesharing and put an end to the popularity of LANs for a while.

When the scene returned, it was strapped to the back of competitive esports. Teams began competing for greater and greater prize pools, some of them sponsored by big-name tech companies. And over the years, the number of professional teams increased until you could divide a room in half; teams on one side, casuals on the other.

All of a sudden, the formula of the standard LAN party began to include a production stage, casters, livestreams, and scene-boosting projects like the RIV4L Lan Tour. 

In reality, it’s like running two events under one roof. The casual gamers are huddled around their PCs playing whatever they want, laughing over a beer, and sleeping on a blowup mattress— if they sleep at all. Part of the appeal is the raw adventure, the lawless, hedonistic feeling of letting go of life for three straight days. No one to tell them when to sleep, what to do. No pressure.

But the pro teams feel differently. 

For them, there’s prize money on the line. Each LAN party is one of a limited number of chances to prove that they’re the best in the region. Because of the ecosystem in the Benelux, prize money is a large contributor to a player’s personal income, even if they get paid a monthly salary. And perhaps most nerve-wracking of all, too many losses in a split might mean getting replaced with a new roster. Everything is on the line. So they buckle down, sleep in hotels, and play at the top of their game. Any fun they have is an added bonus

Ever wonder why LANs are half-empty Saturday night? You bought a weekend ticket, after all.

Even the number of nights pro teams attend is about time and money. Teams that are knocked out of the competition could stay and have fun, but every bender means a recovery period afterwards. Needing to recover could cost you a scrim or an actual match on Monday. No chance at the prize pool? Go home, rest up, go next. Always forward, eyes on the goal. 

As esports and gaming continue to evolve, the LAN scene will change with it. It’s hard to anticipate what that’s going to look like, and if the core tenants of these events will stay the same. We hope so. Because no matter what our goals— as teams or as casuals— there’s one thing that always brings us back. 

The shared love of gaming.