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Editorials

An Interview With Kyle Turk: A Gamer For The Community

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By: Stephen Crane

Ever wonder who's on the other side of the screen? Kyle Turk is changing that with The GXL: a LAN group devoted to bringing gamers together. Here's our sit-down to see why!


One of the most fun aspects of gaming has to be the community itself. As we play on Xbox Live or PlayStation Network (when it's up) we have a little bit of a disconnect and never really get to see the people we're playing against. Fortunately there are LAN events to bring us gamers together as a community for a weekend of partying and of gaming.

Just recently I had the great opportunity to interview Kyle Turk, one of the minds behind one of the largest LAN organizations on the East Coast in the United States. He helps organize The GXL, an organization devoted to hosting the best LAN parties around and helping to serve the gaming community. The GXL also helps run the networks at events like PAX East, Digital-Overload and more!

It was a fantastic chance to hear from his perspective why and how the GXL came to be, what one can expect from the GXL and perhaps also provide a bit of insight into what it takes to bring such a large and often disorganized community together.

The GXL is sold out for this weekend’s LAN event which is combined with the Too Many Games Expo, but I'll let you in on a little secret. They just opened up another 50 seats tonight so make sure to get on and prepay if you want to go otherwise you might not get a seat! Also, if you do go make sure to e-mail gxl.doorprize@gmail.com to get entered for the door prize raffle! Tell them Armed Gamer sent you!

First I would like to thank you for taking the time for this interview. How long have you been hosting LAN parties for and what led you to start organizing GXL events?

Well the GXL started back in early 2004 when three gaming groups, the LAN Party GoDS, Xtreme Players and LANSynergy, got together to try and better serve their respective communities with one large gaming event. The GXL has always been about helping serve the player community and a love of gaming. The first LAN was in Febraury 2004 which was our first 256 man LAN and it attracted gamers from all around the New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania area. The GXL has been growing steadily ever since then.

Personally, I joined the ranks as the primary network engineer for their second event which was the 512 [man LAN]. After that event I came on to direct later events.

The GXL has been around for more than seven years now. How have you seen it grow since your first 256 man LAN?

After the first 256 man lan, we immediately decided "Hey, let's do another one several months later." The first one was roughly in February. The second one was later that year in October. That was our biggest event ever. We had a great outpouring of people. We ended up overselling. We were trying to get to 500 and we ended up getting about 700. That was one of the defining moments of the GXL and how we did our LAN parties from there on after.

We did a lot of crazy stuff in the years. And we are definitely known for our ability to have fun and introduce more than just gaming. Since our first event we've added side events that have to do with having fun and getting the community involved in other things than gaming just to get people out of their chairs and relax and have a good time.

We've introduced pro series tournaments. At the beginning we never did pro tournaments We were actually very bad at tournaments. Over the past several years we've developed procedures and capabilities to throw professional tournaments that are viewed to be some of the best on the East Coast as far as LAN parties go. We try to cater to the community and the pro series is for that.

We've also expanded in the area of consoles. We never had consoles. We might have had one console at the first event. Now we have 40+: one of the biggest console sessions that LAN parties have. It's comparable to something you might see at PAX. We do a lot of console tournaments too. We've experimented with all different kinds of things like Rock Band and fun little tournaments like that. We're all about the community and we try to mold ourselves around what everyone wants to do at that point in time.

You've helped run LANs at PAX and will be helping with Digital Overload in late May. What have those experiences been like and how do they differ from running your own LAN?

So over the past two years I have been reaching out to other LAN organizations. The GXL has been spreading out and trying to help out wherever they can in the community. Our primary mission is to spawn more LAN community and build a better LAN community not just for ourselves but for everyone. So not only have we helped with PAX but we've formed a regional coalition of LAN parties over 200 man. We've formed alliances with PITTCO in Pittsburgh and FITES in Harrisburgh. We've also worked alongside Digital Overload for the past couple years whenever they needed assistance. We've worked alongside LPane in Boston and PAX most recently this past March.

Most of the time we're lending people our network and tournament expertise. We have probably the biggest compilation of network switches and CISCO gear and servers for LAN party usage around. We have the expertise to deliver and help other organizations provide a solid network for next to nothing. That's pretty hard to do these days.

As for PAX and Digital Overload, we were contacted by PAX… Pretty much what happened was we did a convention called GameX a couple of years ago. We ran into the guys from PAX. We were out there doing console tournaments and helping Igames with their Alienware arena. We provided the network for them. Some of the guys from PAX ran into me and we talked for a bit. I said if there was anything they needed from us on the East Coast they should let me know.

Fast forward to two years later and I got an e-mail from David Coffman who is one of the project managers for PAX and he asked if we were still interested in helping them out. I said "Yeah, sure". We ended up coming down and partnering alongside the PAX people. We ran the network for the people out of state and the free play area. It was about 600 PCs give or take. We pretty much ran the network there for them. We also provided services for the other facets of networking that was needed at PAX. We had a fun time and they enjoyed having us. From what I understand we might be doing it again next year.

For Digital Overload we've been in contact with them for the past couple months and they want to expand their tournaments. They said to us "Hey, you guys know how to run tournaments. Can you come down and help us out?" We said absolutely. We would love to come down. We are going to go do Digital Overload after our event in May and having a fun time down there.

You guys always have cool sponsors including the occasional indie developer like Cipher Prime. How do you view indie development in terms of gaming today?

We tend to think that we're pretty close with Indie game developers. We're very close friends with some of the guys like Cipher Prime. I've known Will Stallwood and Dan Saint for about six or seven years. Will Stallwood used to be on the staff of the GXL back at the very beginning. They have actually released every single on of their games at one of our events in some form or capacity. When Auditorium was released a couple of years ago they released it and demoed it at our LAN and everyone loved it. That was just a foreshadow for everything that was gonna happen. That game blew up and they had a blast.

We love to be incorporated in things like that. It's gaming at the core. We love to see our buddies prosper. This year's Too Many Games Expo we were working with the TMG people. There's gonna be some indie developers. There's a competition where they try to build the best game. Whoever builds the best game gets awarded a prize. They are gonna be working in conjunction with us. We're gonna give network and stuff like that. We love to be a part of that creative aspect of gaming.

Speaking of sponsors, you have some big names as well like D-Link and CoolerMaster. Is there any good swag or raffle prizes we can expect this year? Do you have any hints for the readers as to what they might be?

As it goes any year we typically see video cards, fans, processors stuff like that. I'm sure we'll see some cases. Looking at the list of sponsors, most of these people make certain things. I wouldn't be surprised if we give away some network cards from certain vendors. Obviously I can't comment on what specifically we're gonna be giving away.

Microcenter is a big sponsor to us and have always delivered tons of stuff. One example would be a LAN party we did about three years ago where they gave us about 15 Logitec G15 to award out. That was a $100 keyboard. We've got a lot of people coming out. I think it's going to be very enjoyable and there are going to be a lot of prizes to give away to everyone.

Every year you host the Ace of Spades tournament. Would you explain that a little? How did you come up with the concept? How do you choose games?

We're always trying to innovate and do different things. We are the first ones to do bobbing for Bawls and events that inspire people to have fun outside of gaming. We were the first ones to build a CoD4 map of our venue. One year we were saying "Let's try to do something that's fun for everybody and gets everybody involved and a part of the action even if they don't know how to play certain games." We decided to make the tournament of tournaments. Whoever wins is the champion of the LAN party. Two years ago I sat down with Devon Miles who is big in Digital-Overload now. We developed the idea of entering the winners of any event, gaming or non at the LAN, into this final tournament which happens on Sunday.

The thing about the tournament is no one knows what they are going to be playing. What we do is take about four to five different games spanning multiple genres and throw them at these people. We would take a first person shooter game, then do an RTS, then do a console game like a shooter, then we would do a Flash or JAVA game like Pong or Doom 3. We want games that aren't necessarily widespread. We start whittling down people in the tournament until we are down to two people. They go head to head. Whoever wins gets an awesome prize. We've given away a Wii, a 40" TV and more cool prizes. I think everybody has fun because nobody knows what they're playing. You can't sit down and be good at one thing. You have to be an overall good gamer. That's what's really cool about that tournament.

I know at one point you had Bikini Beach Babes in one of your tournaments.

That was a really cool segment of that tournament.

What's the most fun or the coolest moment you've experienced while running the GXL? What's the
weirdest?

I think the one that takes the cake: the strangest thing we've ever done… one of them. Back in the 512, one of the sponsors decided to do an event where everyone runs around the building in their underwear. It was called the underwear run or the underwear dash. That has to have been the weirdest thing. What's weirder than that is every year we'll tell people we aren't doing it anymore and every year we would have about ten people tell us "No! We love that one!" I'm like you've got to be kidding me. That event has failed to die simply because of the community.

The coolest stuff tends to happen at Midnight Madness. That's where we do a lot of our non-gaming and side events. One of our notable events is the machine smashes and we give away a case. We once smashed a  MAC monitor… or I should say we tried.  It was one of the most hardened monitors we've ever seen. The shell was never smashed. The acrylic was so hard… and I'm talking about one of the ones shaped like a gum drop. It was impenetrable. We tried so hard. We had a huge sledgehammer and everyone had a go. We managed to dent it but that's about it. We did bobbing for Bawls through Jell-o and the case smashed was holding the jello. It went everywhere. It was crazy. Our last event had a lot of good moments, I think. Everyone had good fun.

What are the biggest challenges when trying to organize something of this magnitude?

The biggest thing we always deal with and try to struggle with is how to communicate and market to the mass audience. How do we get the word out? With an organization that doesn't have a lot of money we break even at every event. We don't have any money. An organization that is running on empty because we are trying to give back to the community so much… we don't have a lot of money to spend on advertising.

We don't have volunteers that have the time or know how to do massive ad campaigns. It takes a lot of energy to market an event like this. That's one of our troubles and one of the things we struggle with. I'm sure it shows a lot of the times. I know people know we have trouble with that because sometimes we don't know too much of what we're doing. We have people who are dedicated and trying to get the word out.

Everything else we've gotten good at. Everything falls into place like the tournaments, the hardware, the venue. That stuff doesn't seem difficult anymore. It used to be a pain to coordinate but it just falls into place now. After so many years it becomes second nature.

This year you've moved to a new location. Is there anything exciting we can expect to see at the Greater Philly Expo Center that we didn't see at the previous LANs?

We've moved at least two hours away from our original location. From the beginning we knew we were probably going to lose some people because of that. Some people used to drive only ten minutes. We've done other events in this venue so we're familiar with its perks and drawbacks.

I think it's going to be better. I've noticed bonuses to doing it at this venue. The cost is down and the infrastructure is better. It's a more sustainable environment. The place we were doing it at before wasn't really designed to do what we were doing. It was a rescue squad. The Greater Philadelphia Expo Center is purpose built to do things like provide massive amounts of power and massive amounts of space… purpose built vending areas and food court. The parking is substantially improved. There are going to be substantial bonuses and perks. We might stay there for a while.

This year's event is also going to have plenty of tabletop gaming as well as consoles. When did you start expanding beyond computers and how do you think that adds to the atmosphere?

We're all about the community. We go where they want to take us. We've had consoles in the past six events. It was pretty big. We've done and tried Magic tournaments and eh they were pretty good. Our client base was more prone to PC gaming. The difference this year is that we are partnering with Too Many Games which does retro and tabletop gaming. It's more that we're going to be a part of that than us actually throwing those events.

Our console section is going to be twice as big as any other event. We are supporting both our LAN party as well as the TMG convention as far as tournaments. In the past we've gone out to other conventions and run console tournament and our setup was not that big. But since we are supporting them and ourselves this time around our plans are that it's going to be bigger.

According to your website there will be some "hot bands" performing throughout the weekend. Do you have any hints about what bands we might see? Is this the first year you've decided to include musical talent?

I don't really know too much about the bands personally. That's a Too Many Games side of the house thing. They always have MAG Fest come up and do a bunch of stuff. DJ Cutman is going to be there. I'm going to be DJing myself and doing a set with Cutman. I'm kind of excited about that. I don't know who else is going to be doing anything but it's probably going to be really cool.

Thank you again for agreeing to do this interview. I look forward to your event!

Thanks a lot! You can hit us up on our website or Facebook page! Feel free to say hi or post a message. We're always there to have fun and if there's anything you think we're not doing that we should be doing, hit me up.

About Stephen Crane

Stephen was hooked by the NES at a very young age and never looked back. He games on a daily basis and is currently trying to climb his way up the ranked ladder on League of Legends! Outside of the video game world he actually likes running and owns a rapidly growing collection of toed shoes. Stephen Crane is the owner of Armed Gamer.

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