LAN gaming is a scene which has been on a slow and inevitable decline since the introduction of cheaply available broadband services and, while gamers are still occasionally willing to go through with all the rigmarole of setting up small LAN games in each others' basements, the day of the commercial LAN centre is generally accepted to be over. Just as video killed the radio star, broadband Internet has slowly sucked the life out of LAN gaming.
Which is a bit of a shame.
LAN gaming was the first experience many of bit-tech’s readers will have had of gaming as a social experience – whether it was on Doom, Quake or, as in my case, Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight. LAN gaming turned small, singleplayer games and laggy, complicated multiplayer matches into a new type of gaming where like-minded gamers could come together to verbally abuse each other as they severed heads from torsos and tele-fragged each other into non-existence.
Back then, when multi-player came to life as a social and competitive event, it didn’t really matter that most of the time you were sitting on a broken office chair salvaged off a nearby skip in a grotty, back-street cafe. It didn’t matter that there were owl turds littering the floor or that it you’d broken your back carrying a PC all the way from home only to find you didn’t have enough network cables to join up.
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All that mattered back then was the experience of being able to play against a real human being and being able to see the look of astonishment on their face as you slaughtered them with Force Grip for the hundredth time that day, before leaping over the massive CRT monitor and yelling that the day of their reckoning had come.
With broadband however, proximity was no longer a part of the equation and the Internet was finally fast enough for gamers to play without lag as a major concern, using facilities like TeamSpeak to hurl abuse around virtually. Commercial LAN centres, which had often relied on a repeat customers in an already niche audience, were unable to compete and the charm of being able to use Jedi powers from a nest of owl droppings wore off very quickly.
Gamers quickly showed that the environment was a major concern for them and started to game competitively from the comfort of their own homes. Even the small LAN centres run at University Student Unions were closed down and forced out as broadband became cheap enough even for students to use.
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So, when an invitation landed on my virtual desktop to attend the opening for the new Omega Sektor LAN centre in Birmingham, I was a little sceptical about the whole thing. Could LAN gaming survive in modern day Europe after its inevitable, ungraceful exit? Could the venue prove to be attractive enough that it would attract gamers out of their homes and across the nation? More importantly, could I win the Guitar Hero II tournament which was going on and claim the £500 cash prize in the name of bit-tech.net?
The answer to the last question is a clear no. I can’t even ride a bike, so the chances of being able to out-guitar some of the other journalists on the scene were non-existent. The other questions held more hope of success though, so I packed my bags and nipped up to Birmingham for the day to see if Omega Sektor and its huge list of sponsors would be able to woo and seduce me out of my living room for a touch of Jedi Knight LAN action.