The last serious LAN Party I attended was i5, a four day festival of gaming that took place in the roomy halls of the superb Newbury Racecourse buildings last summer. It seemed fitting that my return visit should be a year later to the day.
Although a large number of die hards had arrived on the Friday morning, my clan (Eat Electric Death) and I decided to slink by on the Saturday, just in time for the Counter-Strike tournament. We arrived in good spirits despite some eventful car journeys, and set ourselves up in the confines of the Concourse Lounge. This huge hall was where we ended up last year, although this time we were a stone's throw from the bar rather than five feet away. Blast. Still, we settled in and laid down the smack (and of course our computers). One of our chief complaints last time around was the huge skylight, which made it impossible to see anything on our monitors during the day. This time some hapless Multiplay employee appeared to have crawled along the roof and spread tarpaulin over the offending light source, which was effective enough. Our row was under a balcony anyway, so we had good basement-like conditions for our game stations. The first item on the agenda was the Counter-Strike tournament. Unfortunately organisation here wasn't quite as impressive as the logistics of seating 850 people throughout the venue. Our two teams, clearly named EED1 and EED2, both ended up in the same starting group, along with H&D and ECSF, two pretty serious clans. The game admins were a bit lacking too; apparently most of the admin staff were pre-teens, but we managed to find one who was at least competent enough to start our games in the end.
The tournament ran smoothly in the group stages at least, although there were a couple of controversies, including the disqualification of H&D for bunny-hopping. This had been banned from the entire competition, which is A Good Thing™, but unfortunately this hadn't stopped a lot of people from going overboard with it on the public servers. Eventually ECSF won our group and EED1 came second after an entertaining inter-clan battle on Inferno. The rules here dictated that EED1 would have to compete in a play-off to decide their fate as one of the best second placers. Bizarrely though, the admins decided to choose the play-off winners with a drinking competition. It was all in the spirit of good fun, but this decision was later refuted by most of the clan leaders and EED1 faced a couple of extremely good younger clans in the play-offs and took a bruising. The competition continued apace, but as we've learnt in the past, spectating on Counter-Strike matches is distinctly boring. One thing that we found throughout the weekend though was that there was always a game to play, or a tournament to compete in. We quickly moved on to Rocket Arena 3 and other games. After several weeks of coordination we were ready for virtually anything, including the Aliens Versus Predator and Serious Sam co-operative games which lasted through the night and into the next day.
Another highlight of the weekend was the Blueyonder-sponsored Quake 3 duel tournament. This was the big money spinner, with a prize purse of £2,500 and a grand prize of £1,500. The big favourite was UNR and UK Quake 3 team member Blokey, and he never looked like losing it. He breezed through the early rounds, eventually seizing victory on the final day and walking away with a cool cheque for his weekend's work. After some insane clan gaming though, we had a few problems to contend with. Firstly, the public servers were abundant but sparsely occupied, despite the 850 players in attendance. One or two servers were constantly packed, but there weren't very many reasonably sized Counter-Strike games, and both of the big servers were infested with bunny-hoppers. Let's be clear, bunny-hopping is a bug and it should be fixed. The difficulty is that the Counter-Strike developers apparently can't or won't fix it, preferring to add more weapons to the already largely redundant armoury and introduce some more maps. Ideally we would have liked to have seen this policed on the public as well as the tournament servers. In fact, EED actually paid £20 to have our own server hosted in Multiplay's co-lo so we could at least stamp out the bunny-hopping for ourselves. If one thing is worse than bunny-hopping though, it's Team Killing. This was something nobody understood. Why on earth would you pay £70 to come to a LAN Party just to spoil other people's enjoyment? This was completely unacceptable to me as a gamer, and I would have appreciated some heavy-handed action from the large number of Multiplay staffers on hand to put a stop to it.
Another issue was sanitation and refreshments. The bar was of course delightful, albeit somewhat pricey, but the toilets were absolutely disgusting and completely unsuitable for a four day LAN Party. The showers were nice, but of course nobody used them. Needless to say the women's toilets were fine - after a couple of days of bravery I just gave up and used them. There were about 10 women to the whole event, I'm sure they didn't mind. The other half of the hygiene issue was the food. Not only was it rather expensive, but we watched the race course's staff tossing it about with their bare hands (which was a bad enough message in itself). Since the event, one of my clanmates has reported food poisoning. I'm hoping that I'll survive, but I do feel a little queasy. Beyond that though, the only issues were attendee-related and not staff or venue. In fact, kudos to the Multiplay staff for giving us such an entertaining weekend. There were very few problems - the power and networking never went down - and they even organised drinking races and other merriment. It was a great atmosphere, and I won't hesitate to recommend them to my friends in the future. That said, there were definitely issues that still require solving, many of which I highlighted a year ago as well. LAN parties are tremendous fun, but perhaps they still need a bit of nurturing and common sense.