Video games are great. If you disagree with that statement I would advise you to continue reading as by the end of it you might understand facets of them that you never knew existed. If you have already stopped reading, shame.
The Skynet LAN is a twice-yearly event that I get super excited for! I’m not an avid gamer and even though I refer to these weekends as my ‘gaming holidays’ I don’t even game much once I’m there because it’s so much fun wandering around talking rubbish to people I’ve known for years but only see at these events – which is an interesting concept given that I only know most of them by their gamer tags rather than their actual names.
People who aren’t me actually go there to play the games and enrol in tournaments which is what the event is primarily about. They start on a Friday night and finish on Sunday afternoon and before the weekend you have a chance to sign up to any tournaments that take your fancy on the Skynet website. Regular tournament games include CS:GO, Rocket League, Left 4 Dead (Halloween) and Quake. There is always a mystery game that sometimes requires a team, you won’t find out what the game is until it’s about to happen but you don’t have to have it prior to going because you can obtain it there.
For the July LAN the tournaments included Rocket League, Star Wars (Jedi Knights?), Portal 2 and Quake. I’m pleased to announce at this point that the team I was in for Rocket League came 4th in the finals, which might not sound like much but they had ME on the team so that’s pretty darn great.
If you’re not familiar with what a LAN event is it’s basically a group of people in a single place / venue who link up their computers to each other and game with each other as opposed to over the internet, hence LAN (local area network). LAN events have existed for years, going right back to BNC networking. My first experience of it was with Age of Empires before graduating to Battle Field 2 which saw the creation of our own little LAN group in Cwmbran, when the venue we used was sold off a few of us joined onto Efragz a LAN host who we discovered in Newport Uni one weekend. We then attended their events until they went into hiatus and now it seems we all trek up to Brecon twice a year to Skynet.
This particular event is often populated by around 80/100 people including active gamers, spectators and the admin team who put it all together. It’s operated as a not-for-profit group and relies heavily on sponsorship from gaming / PC related businesses to offer prizes and goodies during the tournaments. The level of organisation required for this event is over 9000 and something I always appreciate when I spot how neatly they’ve run all the cables across the venue.
The July event was the last LAN before the implementation of Brexit and so it was ceased as an opportunity for gamers from all over the world who have played online with some of the admin team to come along and take part. It was a sight to behold as flags from the Netherlands, Germany, America, France and other flags that I did not recognise were hung from the balconies to re-enforce the positive inclusion and absolute universalness of video games. ‘F*ck your politics we just want to frag’ was the inadvertent slogan of the weekend and it really high-lighted the ludicrousness of the current global situation.
But, as the slogan stipulates…. games is what it’s about!
As you wander down the aisles between setups there’s a lot to take in often starting with the huge assortment of rigs that have been brought in. Some are painstakingly unique works of art that look like something from the future. Others are more simplistic and practical for carrying around ranging from laptops to bespoke tiny PC cases. Some are literally piles of wires in a box that look like they shouldn’t work, like Moby’s for example.
It’s interesting to see how committed to comfort people are, some bring their own chairs and fans (we took fans this year!) some construct elaborate gaming areas with joysticks connected to seats, virtual reality systems configured around them and the all-important USB cup holder!
The basic requirements if you’re ever thinking of going to one of these events would be; A computer gaming device (PC or laptop and if it’s a PC remember all your cables and peripherals), your headset, a sleeping bag, some junk food and an extension lead.
It sounds like a lot but it isn’t, the building Skynet uses has a giant loading door / area at the back making it very easy to bring your equipment in, there are carry-monkeys (like Moby for instance) who will assist you and make sure everything is setup correctly.
In fact, the admin team are kick-ass awesome. If there is ever an issue BOOM they are there… network not working BAM they’ll be there, game won’t work BOCK they are there, Moby’s car needs to be completely wrapped up in industrial plastic WHAM it is done. They are an incredibly helpful group of people… it’s not a case of them saying ‘it’s setup now you’re on your own’ they literally never rest.
Regular announcements across the weekend from established LAN compere ‘Pope’ will keep you informed on upcoming tournaments, where you can go for breakfast (including special offers) as well as who needs to move their car or remove all of the plastic from it.
There were a few streamers I noticed this weekend, most of my video game experience is through streamers because they’re better than me at all games. I caught up briefly with Cathfawr a streamer from Wales and you can check out her stream by pressing THIS.
On Friday they held the traditional pub quiz held in the bar of the theatre, it involves everyone although I don’t know why given that ‘our’ team wins every time because we are amazing (and Mayo). Similarly I don’t know why Vitamin chooses to host the quiz given that he opens him
self up for world’s of comedic abuse and every two seconds he utters ‘shut up!’ ineffectively into the microphone. That being said, we certainly wouldn’t want it any other way.
The remainder of Friday night is pretty much free to settle in, maybe practice for a tournament or create one of your own. Looking around you’ll see a group of people heavily involved in a game like League of Legends, Overwatch or Red Alert playing against a group of people on the other side of the room. There’s a cluster of committed Europa (why?!) players and I was introduced by the LAN-mums to the wonders of 7 Days to Die a sort of cross between Rust and Minecraft that allows you to construct enormous bespoke bases. They offered me a tour of their server (with zombies deactivated) and showed me the immense structures, defences and bunkers that they had put together. This shows a different avenue of gaming again, an artistic element where design, colour schemes and in the case of one of their bases symmetry comes into play. They weren’t playing the game as it was meant to be played (build a base fight off zombies) but rather using it as an endless canvas of creation, working together to obtain the right materials to see their vision created.
It’s exciting to see how people can apply a different thought process to a game and actually play it in a different way to how its intended. I was enjoying building houses on Rust but when I returned they had always been raided and destroyed and I had little interest in the combat element of the game, now I have been invited into 7 Days to Die as a safe haven to unleash the designer in me – obviously not the design of the game as the title stipulates but as it’s possible why not?
Saturday saw the start of the tournaments, particularly Rocket League. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s giant football with speedy cars and you whizz around an arena in a 3v3 5 minute long game and try and score as many goals as you can. It’s incredibly fun and addictive and requires communication with your team in order to do well. When playing online I seldom have the headset and so games descend into chaos but when you’re actively playing in a prize winning tournament with people who’ve invested over 1000 hours of gameplay (I’ll get you one day Meklon!) you really have to pull together. It surprised me that during the heats the team I was in won 9 out of 12 games. Although in the final final on Sunday we managed zero! But it’s the taking part that counts am I right? and it was super fun.
Saturday is also a good opportunity to wander out and get some fresh air and abuse from the sun. I never adjust to the fact that we’re staying in a theatre and it still shocks me to this day when I walk into the lobby in my slippers, all sleep deprived and rough and there’s dozens of people in and around the theatre, buying tickets, eating ice-cream, renting boats and being tourists. You get used to the curious stares of the muggles and if you don’t you can just take sanctuary in the venue with the fellow gamers.
All in all it was another top event, particularly as I got to meet a photographer who imparted upon me much wisdom regarding taking photos (any
Shonk reader will know I’m awful at taking photos!) you can check out their work here – in fact, I spoke to a few folk about photographer and learnt alot. I was even referred to a shop in Brecon that still sold film and I took a trip up there on Saturday which was immensely helpful.
That’s a key word that applies to this event as well helpful. I’ve mentioned how much the admins will do to ensure that your weekend goes without a hitch but helpfulness is not limited to them. There’s always someone there who experiences computer problems of some sort, whether it’s physical hardware or software and when that happens a literal swarm of enthusiasts will descend upon their equipment and they won’t leave until it has been remedied. If your power supply stops working someone will have a spare, I’ve seen people manifest spare motherboards out of thin air or even offer to ‘nip home’ to pick something up if it means no one is left behind.
The LAN is made up of some of the most supportive, friendly and helpful people I know which is why it’s always such a pleasure to go and catch up with them and see what they’ve been up to between events, and by doing this you can easily see that most negative stigmas around video games and gamers are just bollocks. The idea that gamers are lazy soon becomes apparently false when you realise how much time and money someone needs to invest in the equipment and software required to even play video games. The idea that they’re socially inept individuals who need a screen to communicate is fabricated lunacy… like I said before most of my time is spent talking to people I don’t see that often, not because we are absorbed in games all year around but because we all have lives, we all have jobs, some have families to operate like regular normal people – that’s why this event is so important, because it puts likeminded people with a common interest in a room and everything after that becomes organic. Each time we go we learn something new about everyone there, they’ve become an extended family of delightful, diverse and far from boring people, with Moby functioning as the brow beaten weird cousin.
It’s an incredibly well organised event full of friendly and awesome people happy to game, chat and help you anyway they can. There are a couple of HTC owners there who more often than not are happy to show you the ropes if you want to experience VR. You can read about my experience of VR with an article I wrote for the Welsh Gaming Network.
Maybe we’ll see you there!