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Editorials

For the GXL, Community is the Name of the Game

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The birth of online gaming has done some amazing things for the gaming community. It’s given us MMOs, MOBAs, allowed us to build massive communities around games, and in general it’s awesome. That being said, there’s something to the human element of sitting down next to the person you’re fragging, isn’t there? That sense of being able to walk right up to that person and taunt them, or getting taunted back at, or even just the general sense of competition and camaraderie is missing when players are states or continents away.

The thing is, when we’re continents away and so distanced from each other, it’s hard to build a real community. Sure, communities do arise (World of Warcraft guilds, for example), but that’s not quite the same as meeting someone. How do we add that personal touch to gaming again? Fortunately, that’s where we have events and organizations like The GXL (so named for the three gaming groups that formed it: LAN Party GoDS, Xtreme Players, and LANSynergy) where the gaming community is at the very core. I had the great opportunity to attend this year’s 10th anniversary GXL Universe LAN this past weekend. If you want to see a place where the gaming community is at its best, look no further than this massive LAN.

Early Friday morning the doors opened to the gamers who had been eagerly anticipating the event, heralding a massive influx of computers, monitors, power strips, and energy drinks. That’s not quite where the event started for the weekend, though. Around 9AM that Thursday morning, staff and volunteers descended on the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center to begin setting up for the weekend to follow. Tables needed to be erected, cords needed to be run, and of course the network had to be set up. Adding to the general air of excitement around the event was the fact that the GXL was not only hosting the largest Team Fortress 2 tournament in North America, but also that the tournament and event would be streamed on CEVO and eXtv. The set up was an all-day affair with pressure added on by the fact that some gamers had purchased “premature LANner” tickets that let them through the door late that night. More than a hundred McDonalds double cheeseburgers were purchased for the volunteers and they powered through, opening the doors to the premature lanners. Setup went without a hitch, and the party commenced.

By the end of Friday night, more than 500 gamers had set up their computers and were gaming away. Some played Counter-Strike, others played Left 4 Dead, but the real action was going on at the Team Fortress 2 pro-gaming area where teams from as far as Europe, and with big names like Cloud 9, were competing away and hoping to score a win. The streamers chatted away about the games, showing highlight reels, and a TV was set up so the general attendees could watch. The winner was  FROYOTech for TF2, then on the Counter-Strike tournament, iBUYPOWER won over Cloud9. Of course, that’s not all that was going on.

the-gxl-pro-tournaments

Attendees and spectators at the GXL were able to stand right behind the pro teams and watch them throughout the whole competition.

Non-professional tournaments dominated the weekend, raging from casual games like Wario-Ware or Tetris, to card games like Magic: The Gathering, and even to the games the pros were playing. And yes, at the end of the weekend there was a professionals vs. attendees match. Cloud 9 won. For those who didn’t have blazingly fast PCs, there was a console section set up so everyone could play Super Smash Bros. Guitar Hero 3, or a whole host of other games. At midnight gamers stepped away from the consoles for the real fun of a LAN party: Midnight Madness which had swag, prizes, and more games! The main man behind the GXL, Kyle Turk, MCed and hosted a wings-eating contest, deal or no deal (a man took the $100 when an Nvidia GTX 770 was in the box), and even a frozen underwear race (embarrassing and hilarious at the same time). Thousands of dollars in prizes are raffled off while gamers surround the stage and cheer or chant.

An event this size takes a lot of planning, coordination, but the real glue that holds it together is, in Kyle Turk’s words, “community.” The community provides the energy for the event, tells the coordinators what tournaments to run, and even plays a part in deciding when the LAN will be. If there’s no interest, or if there’s ever a sense of burning out, the event will and has gone on hiatus. According to Turk, above all the event should be fun, and that applies for the staff, the volunteers, and of course the gamers. The gamers at the event thrive on this sense of community. It’s easy to sit down next to someone and ask what they are playing, and the staff often tries to get to know as many of the attendees as possible. On stage, Turk would often share inside jokes with some of the gamers, or call upon them by name. After all the tournaments were said and done and one of the main tournament organizers was on stage announcing the results, several members of the community stepped up on stage to give him a hug for a job well done. When you game together at the GXL, you quickly join the family.

Yet it’s not just about fun. One question Turk asked himself during the 10 years since the first GXL 256-man LAN is whether this is an event just to have fun with the community, or if the GXL is actually in service to the community. The latter is his opinion, and so the organization’s resources aren’t kept under lock and key. Other events have called upon the services of the organization, and Turk doesn’t believe it serves the community well to ever say no. In fact, competition is welcome so the LAN scene can grow and expand. From smaller LAN events to larger ones, like Digital Overload or PAX East, the GXL has helped run and organize BYOC (bring your own computer) events and maintain the networks to help gamers keep gaming.

What a model!

MC Kyle Turk models the prizes for the Tetris high score tournament.

By Sunday morning the event was wrapping up. The large tournaments had finished, the big Midnight Madness event had wrapped up, and you could tell gamers were beginning to feel the fatigue of two (or in some cases three) nights will little sleep, and of course the occasional hangover. Everyone who left, however, had a smile on their faces. Old and new friends exchanged handshakes or hugs before packing their cars up, tables were torn down, and slowly the expo hall was returned to its pre-GXL state.

At the end of the event, I took the time to ask some of the attendees, volunteers, and staff why anyone would attend an event as large as the GXL. It’s loud, sometimes cramped, and chances for sleep are low. Why lug heavy computers across state (or in some cases national) borders when you can just play games against strangers in the comfort of your pajamas at home? Side note: You can totally play in your pajamas as the GXL and no one will judge. The inevitable answer to the question was some variation of “community.” LANs bring people together, and it’s much better to share games with your friends in person, and it’s even better to share them with 500 other strangers who quickly become friends. You end up knowing them by either their gamertags, by their real names, or both. You just talk games, complain loudly about how so few games have LAN capabilities these days, or how large your Steam library is. Above all, you just have fun!

Will there be a GXL next year? Yes – if the community wants it, and if the staff thinks it will be fun. Will it be as big as this year? No one really knows, but at least some of the staff I’ve spoken to see it doing nothing other than growing in the future. No matter what, the GXL’s future will be determined by the community.

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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