By Robert Blood
[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and Justin Agrell, aka quadcricket, founding administrator of the Prescott PC Gamers Group. Find out more about PPCGG’s monthly LAN parties at PPCGG.Com or vis Facebook. The monthly fee is $10.]
When and why did you form the Prescott PC Gamers Group?
We started on Feb. 15, 2014. That’s when I started the group, which used to be hosted at Game On in Prescott, back when it was there. A little after that, we made it official. The idea is for local PC gamers to have a place to meet up and talk. It’s not just a LAN party; it’s a community. We’re active on Facebook and have forums online, too. … I moved here from Florida in 2007, and I used to help administer a LAN party there. I missed the community and there wasn’t a LAN party scene here except in Phoenix. So, if no one else is going to do it, you’ve got to do it yourself. I figured, let’s see if there’s any interest whatsoever and let’s see what happens. I started spreading the word and got a few people together. It was small, but nice, and it kept going and grew from a party to a community. Some of the members on site aren’t even in Prescott anymore; they still use it to keep in touch, though.
Can you give us the cliff notes version of what, exactly, goes on at a LAN party?
So, LAN stands for “local area network,” and there are a couple of different kinds of LAN parties. Some of them are annual competitions, like the QuakeCon in Texas, with huge counties. We’re not a community of professionals like that, though. We don’t really have a fixed list of games, either. If someone suggests a game, we’ll most likely try it out. We’ve got a lot of flexibility and we like to have a good time. This isn’t about money or going pro or being elite. I only mention that because there are a lot of people who might be interested who never come for fear that it’s going to be too competitive and serious. That couldn’t be further form the truth. Our participants run the gamut. At the younger side, one regular just turned 15. We’ve got another one who’s turning 60. We just want to play games. We don’t play much from the e-sports scene, with the exception of “Rocket League.” We’re there to have a good time and we ask people to come with an open mind and try new things. If you’re there just to play one game, it’s probably not going to work. We’ve got to mix it up.
What’s the genre of most of the games at the monthly event?
We play co-op, people vs. people, and sometimes people vs. A.I. One of the more popular games is “Killing Floor” (KillingFloorTheGame.Com) which is an example of people vs. A.I. An example of people vs. people, is “Rocket League,” which is like soccer with cars, and that’s all of us against each other trying to get the ball into the net. … We list the games on our website. This month we’re playing “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” the original “Killing Floor,” “Rocket League,” “Tribes 2,” and “ARK: Survival Evolved.” We also have our own Minecraft server. That’s been going for a while now, and a decent amount of members on there don’t even live here any more. There’s one guy who’s a pilot who travels all over and he and his girlfriend meet on the server and play, and that’s how they hang out. … For how popular realtime strategy games are, they haven’t really stuck with our groups. We haven’t gotten into, say Starcraft 2, or the original Starcraft or Warcraft series. I’m not sure why. I enjoy them, but they haven’t really stuck.
What are some of the nuts and bolts for the event?
It’s 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. the first Saturday of the month. We’re usually in the conference room over at Step One Coffee House in Prescott Valley. We’re super grateful to Stepping Stones for hosting us and letting us use the really big room. Before that we were sort of nomadic after Game On got super popular and had to move. Stepping Stones reached out to us about a year ago. We shifted the time more recently. It used to be noon to midnight, but we have gamers come from Phoenix for the LAN party and we have another one who’s just past Paulden. The cover-charge for the event is $10. This goes towards rent, food, and games for the members. One of the other main attractions has been Virtual Reality.
Tell us more about that.
At least three of us have the HTC VIVE headsets, which we use and share. Our LAN party is one of the few places you can try out VR like this. There aren’t so many games for it now, but in April, we’ll be debuting “Star Trek: Bridge Crew.” We’re going to try and make it a Star Trek specific event and there should be no fewer than four VIVEs there. That’ll be the first time we have all four VIVEs there — usually one person doesn’t bring it any given month. … You know, VR is the new era, and you can tell it’s going through some growing pains. It’s very, very new and there are very few games for it, which is why “Star Trek: Bridge Crew” is an especially big deal. There’s an enthusiastic VR market, but it’s not really for the general public yet. The barrier is really high. The gear, alone, is around $800, let alone the rig. The visor is the main reason we all went with the HTC VIVE versus the Oculus. It’s got room-scale movement, about a 15-foot diagonal square you can move around, and the environment changes as you move. With a lot of the current games, you can interact with stuff in the room using the controllers and triggers. It’s a very surreal experience. It’s the future, absolutely, and really the way to go at this point. To have multiplayer and actually see other gamers and interact in the world you want, that’s a dream come true. Once you have the experience, you aren’t ever going back. We’re all just waiting for the solution to moving beyond room scale. They’re still trying to figure that out. And we’re still waiting for more AAA titles to come out. A lot of developers are waiting for the market to become more mature.
As the facilitator, how much of your time is spent on tech-y stuff versus actually relaxing and playing?
You know, it’s gotten better over the years. Early on, it would take two to four hours just to troubleshoot things. Now it’s common for people who’ve never come before to come to the LAN party, plug in, and just start playing. Now, we’ve got super high speed internet and we don’t need to trade discs anymore; everything sort of works now. So I can mostly play and relax, which is wonderful — I don’t have to constantly play the role of administrator. Our group right now settles between five and 10 people every month. I’ve helped with LAN parties that were 60-plus people. So, now, we’ve got about an hour set up time and an hour to break down. When a game doesn’t work, we move on to the next one. We have a core of games we rotate pretty regularly. We’re not married to any given one.
So, if someone’s curious about attending, what kind of person can reasonably drop in and have a good time?
From experience, I’ve found it helps if you’re an actual PC gamer. We’ve had people who were really interested in the idea of coming to a LAN party and playing a game or games. We can sort of make that work, but it really helps if you have your own gaming rig and have a developed Steam library. We have an RSVP system, so you can sign on to the forums or Facebook and let us know if you’re going to come. … I should also mention we have a potluck system for food. We post that on the website, too. The games are posted online every month, so you know what games we’ll play and can own them ahead of time. The $10 a head cover charge helps maintain the equipment that makes this possible and helps pay rent. In some cases we buy games for people. For regulars, it’s not uncommon to be gifted a game if you’re one shy. We try to help gamers have a good time, and it helps to be prepared. … A gamer-specific rig is a niche thing. We’re talking about Alienware, Falcon Northwest, and Voodoo. You have to have discreet graphics to run the cutting-edge games. There are people who’ve joined in with normal hardware and played really scaled down versions of the games, but they’ve all eventually caved in and upgraded to a gaming rig. It’s just what happens. What’s nice is that, since we’re a community, we can all help you build something and price it out to get you going. We have enough geeks to answer any question. Like I’ve said, I want to stress that we’re a community.
Find out more about the Prescott PC Gamers Group and their monthly LAN parties at PPCGG.Com or via Facebook. The monthly fee is $10.
Robert Blood is a Mayer-ish-based freelance writer and ne’er-do-well who’s working on his last book, which, incidentally, will be his first. Contact him at BloodyBobby5@Gmail.Com.
Tags: Alienware, ARK: Survival Evolved, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Falcon Northwest, HTV VIVE, Justin Agrell, Killing Floor, LAN party, PC gaming, PPCGG, Prescott PC Gamers Group, quadcricket, Robert Blood, Rocket League, Star Trek: Bridge Gate, Tribes 2, virtual reality, VIVE, Voodoo