Pittsburgh LAN Coalition
Pittsburgh's premiere LAN party experience



LAN Parties

April 30, 2012

Iron Storm XIII: State of the LAN

state-of-thelan

Welcome again to another fireside chat with me, Colin “Rhettigan” Dean, president of Pittsburgh LAN Coalition, Inc. I take largely a back seat during the actual event itself, but you may know me as “the picture nazi” or “the guy with the glasses and the hat”.

The State of the LAN address is a post-event retrospective examining many of the aspects of the event. I talk about the things that went well and areas we recognize that we still have room for improvement.

So, without further ado…

Registration and Attendance

From the time registration opened, we could tell this was going to be a large event. Our velocity of registrations was high enough at the start to carry us through to a grand finish, with more that 142 gamers pre-registered. That beat last year’s pre-registration by nine. We truly appreciate those who pre-register, because it helps us gauge our marketing efforts and adjust our budget to suit the number of people we expect.

Our attendees hailed primary from within a four hour drive of Pittsburgh, with a sizable contingent from the New York City area. We had a few Canadians, too. Our farthest attendee came from Houston, TX, with the second farthest coming from the Atlanta, GA area. Our staff member lanman came the farthest, though — he flew in from Colorado!


View Iron Storm XIII Attendees in a larger map

What really gave us a solid boost to our number of attendees was the abnormally high number of walk-ins: 17! We’ve previously had only three or four. We appreciate those who are walk-ins, because a large number of walk-ins shows that our local advertising works well. This year, we focused our flyering to just one or two neighborhoods with a goal of 100% coverage.

Actual check-in went great! We got everyone who showed up for 6 pm doors open checked in within an hour, most within 30 minutes. Our “Baller” VIPs were permitted to jump the line and claim their seat the table with gigabit Ethernet to the core. They also received great T-shirts and some other perks. Keep a look out in the future, because we’re definitely going to offering Baller tickets again at future events.

At the end of the event, we tallied all of the people who showed up for our event, from gamers to sponsors, press, staff, and spectators. Iron Storm XIII is officially Pittsburgh LAN Coalition’s largest event ever with a a total attendance of 186 people. This blows past the record of 167 set in 2008 at Iron Storm 8.

This record attendance shows that the LAN party community –especially in and around Pittsburgh — is not only strong, but growing as more and more gamers discover the awesome experience, knowledge, and pure fun of LAN parties.

Tournaments

Our tournaments ran wonderfully once they started (more regarding the delays in the section covering our Internet problems).

Our headlining tournament became the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament, sponsored by Club Conflict in cooperation with Valve Software, for which we were able to offer beta keys to participants. Nine teams competed for bragging rights and prizes from Club Conflict, a great gaming league based in the Pittsburgh area (but with worldwide appeal!). We tremendously thank Ballistics, Virus, and XGen from Club Conflict for their role in securing this tournament and urge you to check out Club Conflict’s leagues.

Our largest tournament was the Team Fortress 2 tournament, in which 10 teams of 6 — 60 competitors – vied for the title. This tournament was by far the largest single tournament we’ve had in a few years. We have the folks over at natf2 to thank for the major push for this. Although participation in TF2 was dwindling at past events, this resurgence is inspiring. We will most definitely continue to hold TF2 tournaments after a response like this!

We also must certainly thank Antec for its sponsorship of our StarCraft 2 tournament, Kingston for its sponsorship of our League of Legends tournament, S2 Games for its sponsorship of its title Heroes of Newerth, Dark Threads for its CoD:MW3 sponsorship, GameOn Party Planners for Halo:Reach, and Gamers Mobile Party for Mortal Kombat.

Moreover, please take a moment to thank your tournament administrators: BigJ64 (TF2, SSBB), jungleralph (CS:GO, CS:S), Shinary (SC2), saberwolf (HoN), erad1cate (LoL, most of the jackass tournaments), and TheJAEffect, cHip, infinity, and Ace (all of the other console tournaments). If you see these guys in game, on Facebook, on Twitter, or anywhere else, thank them for running the tournament. Running a tournament usually means they don’t get to compete in it, even though it may be their favorite game.

We aim to post the full results of our tournaments this weekend or early next week. I apologize for the delay.

Sponsorship

Since I already touched on sponsors in the tournaments section, I’ll thank the balance of our sponsors now. We worked overtime this year to bring you a host of sponsors, some new and some long-time supporters of Pittco events. Iron Storm XII had 31 sponsors, and we though that was great. Iron Storm XIII had 42 sponsors. That’s 42 businesses believing in and supporting the LAN party community — especially Pittsburgh LAN Coalition — in a demonstrable way.

Here’s a roll call of our IS13 sponsors. Take a quick minute to look over this list and thank these sponsors on Twitter or Facebook for their continued support of our event and the LAN party community. More importantly, we ask you to consider supporting our sponsors with your money next time you’re in the market for the goods or services they sell.

Amped Airsoft
Antec
Arby's Castle Shannon
BAWLS
Boring Pittsburgh
CPU Magazine
Classic Game Room
Club Conflict
Cooler Master
Dark Threads
Das Keyboard
Dust-Off
EndPCNoise.com
Family Video Castle Shannon
Fathead
Fractal Design
FrozenQ
GameOn Party Planners
GameSkulls
Gamers Mobile Party
Gigabyte
Gunnar Optiks
Hive Gaming
In Win
Kingston
Major League Gaming (MLG)
Memetic Tees
Pikimal and Pikigeek
Pittsburgh Technical Institute
Pittsburgh Underground
Qualcomm Atheros Killer NIC
RAIDMAX
Red Bull
Rosewill
S2 Games
Synology
TRENDnet
Thermaltake
ThinkComputers.org
Tt eSPORTS
Velocity Micro
Zotac

If you represent a sponsor not listed here and you want to support Pittco for its future events, shoot an email to sponsorship@pittco.org. We would love to hear from you!

Things we could have done better: Internet

A common challenge that every LAN party faces is keeping up with the increasing demand for Internet-based gaming services as game developers centralize distribution and control of their games. Battle.net, Steam, and others are increasingly needy and games never cease to be bandwidth-hungry. The games that our gamers enjoy rely on these services for at least authentication, but often matchmaking and actual gameplay.

Remember that this is not a problem exclusive to Pittsburgh LAN Coalition events — every LAN party has Internet problems at some point, including big ones like PAX East and MillionManLAN and even large tournaments like MLG and IPL. It’s a challenge to provide connectivity to hundreds of computers; there’s a reason why companies have professional IT staff! The big difference is that we set up ours in a day when companies have weeks or months.

We had hoped that our 35 Mbps fiber connection would be sufficient for these needs with plenty left over for attendees to surf the ‘net during some downtime. We used this same connection at RetroLAN last August and experienced no problems. We were even able to stream the entire event live via our Twitch.tv channel.

However, it’s important to note that RetroLAN was ~35 people and Iron Storm XIII had more than 200 computers accessing the Internet simultaneously. The Internet connectivity problem at Iron Storm XIII was not something which manifested at RetroLAN, despite the very same hardware in use, because it was a problem of scale.

The firehall’s main gateway to the Internet was simply incapable of handling the explosion of Internet traffic. It was not a problem of inadequate traffic shaping or pipe saturation, but of a subpar router simply unable to track all of the outbound connections. Once we were able to access the closet where this router was located and replace it with one of our own, our connection was restored and once again healthy.

In order to reserve available bandwidth for the tournament games which needed it the most, we chose to keep in place our DNS filtering. This paid off — we had a sustained upload of more than 7 Mbps during Saturday afternoon into early Sunday morning and our download throughout was everywhere from 3 Mbps to the full 35 Mbps.

We’ll continue to investigate and employ more advanced traffic shaping. Some of the avenues we’re investigating include dual Internet pipes (one for all game traffic, one for web traffic) and application-level packet analysis on an enterprise-class server. We will from now on ensure that we have full access at all times to all network hardware from the line in from the ‘net to your computer at the LAN.

Looking to the future

Any person present for Iron Storm XIII can tell you that the place was packed during the height of the event on Saturday. There were certainly some seats available — and we’d have certainly welcomed a few more folks to come and game — but the Pittsburgh LAN Coalition is reaching the limits of our favorite Iron Storm venue, the Castle Shannon VFD Memorial Hall.

Moreover, throughout the process of troubleshooting and remedying the Internet connectivity problem, it became increasingly apparent that the Castle Shannon VFD is no longer able to suit our needs. We’ve simply outgrown the Memorial Hall facility, both in terms of physical space and bandwidth requirements for Iron Storm.

We thank the CSVFD for more than seven years of fantastic Iron Storm events. While we may return to the CSFVD Fireman’s Hall, where RetroLAN was held, for our smaller events, we do plan to seek a new, larger venue in order to keep up with our ever-growing community of gamers.

A call for staff

Running a LAN party is a rewarding experience in the end, but it’s a lot of hard work to manage the logistics of getting nearly 200 people into the same room, let alone getting their computers set up and talking to each other! We spend a lot of time talking to sponsors, gamers, past attendees, and lots and lots of other folks to build the most exciting and fun LAN parties we can.

We’re looking for hardworking folks who are willing to sacrifice some if not all of their gaming time at Pittco events to help build a better LAN party. We also need folks who are great with web development, graphic design, marketing, public relations, and anything else that can make Pittco events more awesome for attendees. Working for Pittco is unpaid, but may qualify for internship credit or community service hours. Most of us do it because it’s fun running a successful LAN party that’s working toward national recognition.

If you’re interested in joining our staff, let us know at joinstaff@pittco.org.

Last thanks

This is where I thank each and every one of my staff for their part in making Iron Storm XIII a success. I already listed many of them as tournament admins, but they do so much more than that.

Aalienator and p47r4ck are the guys in charge of running the power cables you may see everywhere under the tables. They also provide us with much needed A/V equipment. Shinary and jungleralph keep our Internet infrastructure up and running, while saberwolf and I, Rhettigan, handle the marketing of the event, writing most of the stuff you read at some point.

erad1cate is in charge of our entertainment and scheduling, and assists jungleralph, who is our main game server guy at the event. DJ Kyle “wildturkey” Turk doubles as both our lead network infrastructure architect and our hilarious, ever-entertaining DJ and announcer. lanman spends his time assisting just about everyone aforementioned, focusing primarily on network stuff with wildturkey.

TheJAEffect and cHip are our console section admins, with the newly inducted staff members infinity and Ace helping out.

TheJAEffect, erad1cate, and saberwolf assist me with soliciting sponsors and coordinating the logistics of getting more than $13,000 worth of prizes to the venue.

We also welcome mattyj and MasterRockstar, our newest staff members. They’ll be helping out where needed, and you can thank them for their initiative in coordinating the PTI computer giveaway!

Although they’ve moved away during the year, Taywin, SovietKitsch, and Synapse continue to contribute to our planning from afar. Stalker was also around, contributing where possible — congratulations to he and his new wife!

BobK and BigJ64 are my fellow Pittco board members — they make sure that we don’t spend too much money and make sure that everyone gets checked-in when they come to our events. They also fill in wherever there is a gap at the event – we three are the late night shift that makes sure the bad guys don’t steal your computer while you’re asleep!

I have one more person to thank. She puts up with me and my computers and helps keep me sane when I see no sanity around me. She knows who she is, and if you do, too, you should thank her for her patience.

Closing

Despite a few hiccups at the beginning of the event, Iron Storm XIII was our best event ever. We’ve set new records in almost every metric we track and raised the bar for ourselves for future events. We look forward to serving the LAN party video gaming community in the future and growing the Pittsburgh LAN Coalition and Iron Storm with you as a part of our community of gamers.

Frag excellently with each other, and game on, dudes.

- Colin “Rhettigan” Dean
President and Sponsor Coordinator
Pittsburgh LAN Coalition

This State of the LAN Address was one of the longest ever, so here’s some statistics to summarize:

  • Attendees: 186  - our largest event ever!
    • Pre-paid gamers: 142
    • Walk-in gamers: 17
    • Sponsor attendees: 11
    • Others: 16
  • Sponsors: 42
  • Total prize value: ~$13,000
  • Concessions
    • Hot dogs sold: 130
    • Cheese sticks sold: 250
    • Milligrams of caffeine sold: 15,437
  • Fun figures
    • Largest individual DC++ share: ~12 TB at the start, ~16 TB by the end
    • More than half a mile of Ethernet cable for more than 75 individual runs
    • Average number of times someone had to say Club Conflict before not say “Club Clonflict”: 4
    • Number of times we rebuilt our DNS server from scratch just to ensure that the Internet problem was not on our side: 4
    • Max Internet throughput during the event when all bandwidth controls were disabled: 35 Mbps (on our 35 Mbps pipe!)
    • Average sustained upload throughput during the event: 7 Mbps (roughly)
    • More than 900 kWh of electricity in ~48 hours (the average house in the US uses ~950 kWh per month)


About the Author

Colin Dean
Colin has been a gamer since the days of Oregon Trail on his mother's Apple ][e. Fast forward to today, and he's primarily a casual PC, Mac, and Linux gamer who enjoys some PS3 gaming occasionally. He's in charge of PLAS, Pittco's next-generation LAN party management software and helms Pittco's sponsorships and social network presence. You can also read his hardware reviews on ThinkComputers.org.




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