The essence of a gaming festival
These sorts of events are growing like mad in popularity and scope, and EverLAN is a prototypical example of the unique combination of elements that coalesce to make them happen. Andrew “Everman” Soeldner and his team of volunteer staffers have worked tirelessly on evenings and weekends to pull together all the arrangements, a real grass-roots effort by some true-blue gamers. At the same time, big-name corporate sponsors have hopped on board by the truckload to support the event. The list of sponsors includes a long list of PC gaming hardware companies, including title sponsor ATI, plus AMD, Abit, Chenbro, Kingston, Plantronics, CTX, and Belkin. Mountain Dew and LoveSac, the maker of oversized bean bags, also sponsor the event.
Inside the Colorado Springs expo center, a massive facility that was formerly a home improvement warehouse store, hundreds of casual gamers fork over 35 bucks for a spot in the BYOC (bring your own computer) area that dominates EverLAN floor space. The glow of cold cathode-generated light emanates from an army of modded PCs here, as gamers hunch at their PCs with headsets providing immersion. Many of them compete in tournaments in games like Battlefield Vietnam, UT2004, and Warcraft III, where first-place prizes are typically ATI Radeon graphics cards or AMD Athlon 64 processors kicked in by the major sponsors.
Meanwhile, a handful of the nation’s elite professional gaming teams compete in the Counter-Strike National Invitational Tournament for a shot at cash prizes. The first-place team will take home $10,000, while second, third, and fourth will walk away with $5,000, $2,000, and $1,000, respectively. These teams are far from casual about gaming. They practice for hours and hours each week, and the elite teams are sponsored by multiple PC hardware companies, which help foot the bill for the teams’ travel and expenses.
The major tournament matches take place in a designated area separate from the BYOC floor and situated on its own network segment. This area is stocked with eight rows of identically configured gaming PCs, decked out, of course, with ATI Radeon X800 graphics cards and AMD Athlon 64 processors. Fans of the pro gaming tourney watch the matches at their computers in the BYOC floor, on large projector screens in the lounge area, or online via the Internet.
Beyond the BYOC
In between the BYOC and tourney areas is the network operations center (NOC). The NOC sits on a raised platform where EverLAN staffers run the show. Many of them have brought in their own personal PCs to act as servers for their game of choice, so the game admin expertise here is decidedly home-grown. The NOC is also the central hub of the massive EverLAN network, with the central concentrator switches and routers to shuffle traffic between the internal network segments and out to the Internet. As the hours roll on, EverLAN staffers announce wave after wave of informal tournaments, new server types, giveaways, and updates.
On either side of the NOC, activities abound. In the LoveSac lounge, folks are splayed about on massive bean bags watching the tournaments in X-box games Soul Calibur II and Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow. First prize in each: a five-foot-wide LoveSac to call your own.
Across the way, the sponsor area is populated by booths from the event’s major sponsors. Abit is showcasing its latest motherboards, while Kingston pimps its high-performance HyperX memory inside of a glowing plexiglass PC. ATI shows off the Radeon X800 nestled into a very slick custom-modded Shuttle XPC.
..and more activities
Meanwhile, case maker Chenbro takes another route, sponsoring its own factory gaming team. Team Chenbro members play in the Battlefield Vietnam tourney and hang out in the BYOC area, gaming on systems built inside the latest Chenbro chassis. A few of those systems are encased in Chenbro’s new Gaming Bomb 2 case, an all-new aluminum enclosure designed with input from members of the Team Chenbro.
Between tournaments, Abit gives a seminar on overclocking, offering tips to gamers and introducing some to the concept for the first time. (Reps from AMD and ATI attend, but do not officially condone the practice.)
Amid all the gaming tournaments, a few offbeat contests are planned, like a jalapeno-eating contest. The winner downs a large can of jalapenos in a matter of seconds, claiming a Radeon 9800 XT for his trouble. EverLAN’s traditional Mountain Dew-drinking contest is wracked by controversy this year, as the perennial winner, a gamer whose nick isoddly enoughMountain Dew, just edges out a strong challenger. The challenger, however, barely spills a drop of the sticky green stuff, while the champ is wearing a good portion of his. And the challenger holds his down longer. All told, both contestants consume 84 ounces of Mountain Dew on their way to glory.
Between games, folks in the BYOC take advantage of the fast network for a little file-swapping action. Elsewhere, a gamer couple takes the ultimate plunge, getting married at EverLAN.
For the better part of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, EverLAN rolls on like this, nonstop. The various activities produce a constant, dull roar inside the cavernous building. A couple of local vendors bring in 17″ monitors for rental (weekend rate: $40), while GeeKWearZ.com hawks T-shirts, plus mouse pads, LAN cables, and computer toolkitsvital bits for those who forgot to pack that one essential item. A cafe inside the expo center sells sustenance: $2 hot dogs and various caffeinated beverages. Some folks leave for naps in nearby hotel rooms, while others crash wherever they can, inside their cars or with pillows on the concrete floor.
Case modding action
For a hardware guy like myself, one of the highlights of EverLAN was case modding contest. Chenbro sponsored this one, chipping in a number of its own cases as prizes for the winners. Here’s a look at a few of my favorites.
The tire mod was easily the biggest attention grabber among the entries.
This beast is a dual Athlon MP 2600+ rig with an Radeon 9700 graphics card, an Iwill mobo, and Serial ATA RAID 5inside a Goodyear Wrangler radial. The two guys who put this thing together did it in only three days leading up to the show.
This incredible “pyramid” mod houses a Celeron system, believe it or not.
This puppy is built inside a frame, as you can see. It sports a Pentium 4, Abit IC7-MAX3 mobo, and water cooling.
My picture turned out fuzzy, but the mod itself is sharp. The characters and the line art are actually cut into the case.
When all was said and done, the makers of the tire mod walked away with the grand prize package, anchored by a one-of-a-kind special edition Chenbro Gaming Bomb case painted Lamborghini Yellow. That’s Dan and David, the winners, flanked by Chenbro representatives. The prize package also contained the rest of the schwag you see in the picture above, including a blue Xpider II case, a carrying harness, and a Razer Viper gaming mouse. Second place went to Aeon and Poo for the Pyramid mod.
Making it happen
Pulling off an event like EverLAN requires a massive amount of coordination. The size and scope of a 500-person LAN party presents some daunting technical challenges, and the potential for disaster is real, as the CyberX games fiasco proved. The EverLAN staff managed it well, though, drawing on its experience with past events. Although this was the sixth EverLAN in three years, this one was nearly twice the size of the previous event and bigger than anything they’d done before.
The staff started Wednesday before the party with cabling and setup. The network itself required over 7000 feet of Cat 5 cable strung inside the expo center, with small switches placed regularly throughout the BYOC. All told, they estimated the number of 100Mbps switched Ethernet ports at about 500. The LAN itself has only three segments: one for the BYOC, one for the invitational tournament, and one for the sponsors. A big Cisco router sent traffic between the segments. Generally, the network ran well, although Gigabit uplinks from the switches might have been helpful at times to keep lag to a minimum.
Adelphia Internet provided a healthy 40Mbps of ‘net access for EverLAN via a pool of four specially configured cable modems, each providing 10Mbps of upstream and downstream bandwidth. Web surfing was surprisingly snappy the handful of times I tried it from inside the BYOC.
The LAN is a tough challenge, but power may be even harder. The BYOC area was powered to the tune of 1600 amps, and the rest of the areas got another 200 amps, for a total of 1800 amps feeding the event. Fortunately, the expo center’s past life as a Homebase store meant that the building was already wired for tremendous power loads.
Making an environment hospitable for gaming is a little different than your average expo, though. In order to cut down on glare and heat, the organizers taped black coverings over what had to be between 10 and 20 skylights above the EverLAN floor.
And those are just some of the logistical issues. Officers from the Colorado Springs Police Department were on hand round the clock to keep the order and make sure no one tried to pilfer PCs from the BYOC. The tournament matches had to be arranged and brackets maintained, and a whole host of other little details had to work out just right in order for the event to succeed. All told, the EverLAN staff did an excellent job keeping things going, based on what I experienced.
Don’t tell me PC gaming is dead. Or even hurting. Events like EverLAN are proof that PC gamers are a unique breed of folks, seriously committed to serious fun. If you’re into multiplayer gaming, you really should attend one of these things and see what it’s all about. Several similar events are still in the works this summer, including the granddaddy of them all, Quakecon 2004 in Dallas. Several of us from the TR staff are planning to attend.
After that, we may be talking about this year’s EverLAN winter event. By then, we may be looking at both DOOM 3 and Half-Life 2 tourneys and gaming. Sleep, of course, will be optional.