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Gamers fight for right to LAN party

SAN JOSE, Calif.--It was Friday night, and like any self-respecting college student, Michael Duarte had his mind on partying.

Instead of kegs and coeds, however, the 19-year-old San Jose, Calif., sophomore's plans revolved around a couple of midrange servers, a bounty of caffeine-loaded drinks and a half a mile or so of Category 5 cable.

Duarte was hosting a LAN party, a growing phenomenon among devoted PC game players who take over private garages or rented hotel ballrooms for no-sleep weekend marathons playing games such as "Return to Castle Wolfenstein" and "Warcraft III."

Although they're still largely grassroots affairs, LAN parties are attracting larger numbers of attendees and even large corporate sponsors, who've learned that success in the $6.35 billion gaming business often revolves around word-of-mouth recommendations from intense hobbyists and select Web sites.

One of the biggest LAN parties in the world happens this weekend with QuakeCon in Mesquite, Texas, home of Id Software, which created the popular "Quake" series of shooter games. Chip companies Advanced Micro Devices, Via Technologies and ATI Technologies are co-sponsoring the event with Id.

"LAN gamers always want the fastest system they can get," said Fred Kohan, chief executive of high-end PC seller Hypersonic PCs, adding that LAN parties have been great for his business. "It's become sort of a show-off party. Each player wants something that says they have the coolest system."

Duarte's recent party, the Silicon Valley Frag Fest, attracted about 50 players to a small office building donated for the weekend. After 20 hours of mostly nonstop gaming, players were noticeably groggy but still loudly cheered spectacular kills.

 

A LAN party is a social event--it's Main Street for geeks. Instead of cruising your hot rod down the main drag, you're taking your GeForce 4 out for a spin.
--Alan Payne, founder, Case Ace
Alan Payne started his Case Ace business, which sells custom carrying harnesses for PCs and other components, two years ago after seeing one too many PCs dropped on the sidewalk en route to a LAN party. He says the business has experienced triple-digit annual growth, due both to the practical and aesthetic appeal of the products.

"We try to make them trendy and stylish as well as useful," he said. "A LAN party is a social event--it's Main Street for geeks. Instead of cruising your hot rod down the main drag, you're taking your GeForce 4 out for a spin."

Most of Case Ace's marketing consists of providing a free GearGrip harness or two for LAN parties to use as prizes.

"We sponsor hundreds of LAN parties every year," he said. "That’s been a great way for us to get word out... Once people see how it works, it's a pretty easy sell."

Entrepreneur Hoby Buppert started selling his energy drink Bawls in 1998, around the same time LAN parties began multiplying, and found a ready market in sleep-averse gamers. The company has two full-time workers who do nothing but arrange sponsorships of LAN parties, and Bawls is the official soft drink of professional gaming group the Cyberathlete Professional League.

"It’s the caffeine," Buppert explained. "Most of the LAN parties generally run from Friday afternoon to Sunday night, and a lot of time the gamers don’t want to sleep. We keep 'em going."

Last modified: August 16, 2002, 4:00 AM PDT
By David Becker
Staff Writer, CNET News.com