By Eric Koeppel:
I felt like I was on the set of some futuristic science fiction movie when I entered the Great Hall of the Memorial Student Center on the afternoon of Saturday, Feb. 8. A sea of glowing multicolored screens, cables running every which way and excited University of Wisconsin–Stout students sitting at rows of collapsible tables flooded the MSC’s largest venue. This was People’s Organization of Network Gaming’s “Forever A LAN,” the organization’s third and final LAN party of the school year.
It was 4 p.m. when I arrived—exactly 24 hours after the LAN party had begun. As with previous PONG LAN events, it was 48 hours of non-stop gaming from 4 p.m. Friday to 4 p.m. Sunday. There were plenty of game enthusiasts who were eager to express their passion for these LAN events; among them was Andy Uchytil, a fifth year Game Design and Development student.
“For the past five years I’ve been coming to these events,” Uchytil said, “and I’ll tell you one thing, they’ve gotten a lot bigger since they first started.
“There are people who like to bring their TVs and their consoles with them. Some people like to bring their desk tops and other people like to just bring their laptops,” he said. “It’s a great time either way.”
“According to Org Sync, between the first week of school and our first meeting we gained over a hundred members,” said PONG Promoter Hannah Smithson. “We were actually able to hold a LAN party last semester with 300 spots and we almost filled all of them.”
“An immense amount of work definitely goes into it,” Smithson continued, “especially with picking out the dates. We have the Great Hall for 48 hours at a time and it is a particular challenge due to rapid growth. We have to keep in mind power and Internet availability and we have to fill the 48 hours with a lot of different events to keep people here.”
Smithson’s main job for PONG is to promote their LAN parties.
“In the past it has just been a position where we create the posters and put them around campus, but I use some of my connections as a campus tour guide to directly recruit incoming freshmen,” Smithson said.
Among the freshmen at this LAN was Ben Malone, a Game Design and Development student who has been to all three LANs this school year.
“I was here last night until around 2 a.m. and I came back here today at 1 p.m.,” said Malone. “I know people who are staying up the whole time, but I think they’re a little crazy. I couldn’t do that.”
Malone’s go-to LAN party game is League of Legends, a multiplayer battle arena game that often gets quite competitive. The previous night he was participating in one of the many tournaments PONG had set up for the LAN and his team made it to the semifinals.
“For League of Legends tournaments you have a team of five people, so we will all just play together and practice before the tournament,” Malone said. “The tournaments vary, but League of Legends is the biggest one, so they have brackets for all of the teams. When each team plays each other, they do best of three games. Each game takes about 40 minutes on average.”
For every LAN, PONG puts together a set of prizes to give away to tournament champions.
“This time we are giving away games, a horse mask and glass goblets that were engraved with the PONG logo,” said Smithson.
But not every LAN participant is there to compete, said Jonathan Nelson, a senior in the Applied Mathematics and Computer Science program.
“It really depends on the game and the group of people who enjoy the game; each one is different,” Nelson said. “We actually have both a casual and a really competitive Super Smash Bros. tournament. They have two of those because there are some people who are really good at Smash Bros. and play really competitively, but there are those who aren’t as competitive.”
There were many ways that the LAN participants said they prepare for these events, but by far the most popular response was to make sure that you have nothing going on during those 48 hours.
“To prepare for a LAN, I first get my homework load done,” Nelson laughed. “That’s step one. Step two is to basically try to get my schedule so I can be here as much as I want. Sometimes that doesn’t work out though, so I have to improvise.”
“Once or twice I’ve done it where I pretty much spend all of Friday night and Saturday here and then take a 6-hour nap Saturday night and finish the last 8 hours of the LAN.”
For some participants, like Smithson who is a double major in Apparel Design and Business Administration, it becomes a balancing act between schoolwork and gaming.
“Today has been my homework day,” Smithon said, “but I just started to play World of Warcraft. I started at the beginning of winter break, so it’s fun to get into a new game like that with a lot of friends. It’s not something that I would necessarily play on my own, but the feeling of comradery and working together for this common goal with a bunch of friends really makes it a whole new kind of experience.”
“The main thing is you are with a bunch of people who share a common interest,” Uchytil added. “It is a lot more satisfactory to be able to play with a group of people that you can physically see. You get more human interaction.”
For more information on PONG visit pong.uwstout.edu or attend one of their meetings, which are held every other Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Maplewood room in the MSC.