Friends and Frags – ZLAN2015

Nick Smit drops into ZLAN 2015 to find out what’s at the heart of multiplayer gaming.

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Last weekend saw over 130 people and thousands of dollars in computers gather in UONs Brennan room for the 2015 return of ZLAN. Using a Local Area Network (LAN) to link their systems, attendees were treated to 40 straight hours of gaming for both fun and substantial prizes.

Newcastle University Anime Club (NUAC) put in a tremendous effort to bring the LAN party to gamers – and bring gamers together – so we sat down with NUAC president Paul North to find out what’s at the heart of an event like this. “I think it’s really about people,” Paul said. “You don’t often get a chance to sit there in a room like this with a hundred other people all there to do the same thing.”

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It’s that camaraderie that makes the excruciating planning worth it. From the general considerations of finding a location, organising guests and sorting out food to the technical aspects of power, network cables and server management, hosting a LAN party can be hard work for even twenty people. But the payoff of 130 can be found in the atmosphere, with cheers of victory and the anguish of defeat echoing across the room.

ZLAN’s tournament scene brought back a number of old favourites including League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Hearthstone. The team also added Unreal Tournament into the mix, with the 1999 smash hit bringing us all back to the nostalgic days at the beginning of multiplayer FPS. But what if you don’t have the money for a gaming rig, or simply can’t lug the beast down with you? Paul’s got you covered. “We have consoles down there so even if you can’t afford to bring your own high-quality setup, there’s plenty of stuff to do.”

Titles like Guitar Hero, Street Fighter, Super Smash Brothers and Mario Kart featured, as well as a Pokémon tournament and an arcade cabinet with hundreds of classic titles. Many console games become the battlegrounds for ZLAN’s famous ZTournament, which is a cross-game gauntlet in which every gaming skill can be put to the test. There’s also a slew of other competitions that can run during the event, like the best desktop screen or best PC. You could even win prizes for having the right spare parts, as one heroic saviour did by offering his network card when the server’s seemed to fail. Even though it wasn’t ultimately used, the selflessness and technical assistance was easily worth a sausage sandwich or two.

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But other than the sweet taste of victory (or sausage sandwich), something to take away from ZLAN is that gamers are everywhere and their numbers are growing. The idea that video games are for one type of person, if that were ever true, is becoming less and less convincing when faced with the staggering variety on display at events like ZLAN. Paul embraces the diversity of the community, and encourages anyone who has never played games to give it a shot. With literally hundreds of thousands of games out there, Paul says that the first step is to “just start looking for anything that takes your interest”.

For those who don’t feel like they have anyone to play with, ZLAN is a pretty excellent place to start building your gaming friendships. Outside of that, it can be as simple as continuing to play. “We have a lot of online communities here in Australia. If you just go looking for a server on any game you enjoy, you keep going to the same place, you start recognising people, start talking to them. You find you’re part of the community pretty quickly.”

Images: William Chen, no changes made.

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