Two weeks ago our friend and guest blog writer Jeff “eXtine” from eXtelevision had the amazing opportunity to be the Stage Host at England's largest LAN event, Insomnia. Specifically i58. We had him jot down his thoughts on LANs, the event, and what interested him most at the show.
Welcome to England’s Largest LAN, Insomnia
LAN parties are essential to the entire ecosphere of video games and eSports. Whether it's a few friends in a basement, a professional eSports tournament at an arena, or a sparsely lit convention space packed with BYOC tables, there is a certain buzz in the air at these events that is undeniable. When run correctly LANs can create a large economic impact for the venue, the organizers and the participants. More significant than any economic impact, LAN events create massive swells of community involvement by inspiring the next generation of attendees.
The Insomnia LANs have been around longer than Team Fortress 2, which is already quite a long time in gamer years. The i32 and i33 LANs took place around the time of TF2's debut and did feature ~ £2250 tournaments, but the tournament took a back seat for a few years. Starting with a smaller prize pool of £1000 for i38, there was an incrementally successful series of tournaments run at each iSeries leading up to a £5000 prize pool for the teams of Insomnia43, which was won by Epsilon eSports.
The Insomnia LANs are England's biggest LAN and were already drawing European teams over to compete in the Team Fortress 2 tournament. Starting with i39 the American community really started to take notice and dream about competing against the Europeans in person. With the prize pool for the year planned to culminate with England's summer bank holiday and i43, attending that event seemed like an obtainable goal for Complexity Gaming's TF2 squad. Unfortunately, these exciting but distracting prospects in North America never materialized and the team couldn't make arrangements. The experience was inspiring at least. With the encouragement of the global TF2 community, eXtelevision and SalamancerTV led an effort to fund two teams from North America to compete against the Europeans in person. Classic Mixup and Leviathan Gaming took first and second.
In the four years that have followed, every third iSeries LAN during the summer bank holiday has become a bigger deal for the TF2 community and this year was no different. While only one American team at a time has attended every year since i46, Australia has sent a representative to i49, i52, and i58. In this new era of global iSeries, North America has won 3 of of the 5 events with Europe taking 2 and Australia finishing fourth place at best.
This year's event was another amazing success thanks to the support of the Multiplay organization and the hard working community. There were some bumps in the road for sure, but everyone was able to work through things pretty calmly and rationally.
I was honored to be selected early this year to be the Stage Host and Interviewer at i58 but my presence wasn't guaranteed until about 6 weeks before the event. I've done some interviewing before and it's easy to communicate with people while thinking on your feet, but you're only going to get base level interaction if you aren't well prepared. Most of my interviews went really well, but I definitely realized during the midst of my winner's interview that I hadn't spent enough time with Crowns at the LAN or preparing on their individual histories.
On Coaches in Tournaments
I had interviewed the Coach of Crowns, Kaidus, twice, which was an interesting situation. I wasn't aware that Crowns was going to have a full-time coach watching their perspectives and making strategical calls. It's definitely a bit of a first in TF2 although interestingly enough, Valve recently clarified their stance on coaches for their other eSport properties DOTA 2 and CS:GO. While Coaches have been left out of the player booths in DOTA 2 for some time now, it's been traditional for CS:GO coaches to stand over their players shoulders and shout encouragement between rounds. This has evolved into coaches actively calling plays and being much more involved as a passive teammate. Valve issued a statement that for their tournaments they don't want coaches to be In Game Leaders, seeing that as a role that players need to develop for themselves.
Communication is a huge aspect in team eSports but is hard for spectators to perceive. The impact Kaidus had on Crowns was definitely apparent in the confidence they played with and their ability to execute team plays. Kaidus vs b4nny is the Tupac vs Biggie of TF2 Demomen, and as Europe's worshiped Demo-god, Kaidus certainly brings a lot of experience to the table with his communications. Valve's public announcement about how they wanted to limit coaches for CS:GO came after Multiplay finalized their ruleset. This only further chafed the other teams who either couldn't fund a 7th player to attend or hadn't realized the severity of the position early enough to make arrangements with a viable candidate to coach them. Given Valve's current stance, Kaidus's ability to coach his team as an active caller with team-wide perspective will likely be a one off event.
The benefits a coach can impart to their team even without an active in game role are undeniable and more teams will be utilizing them in the future. TF2 is a mental and emotional game. It would help to have a third person perspective during team discussions as well as someone who can calm down the emotions and help people get in a winning state of mind. Froyotech, the North American team at i58, certainly struggled with their team's communication and emotional synergy.
Froyotech takes a nap
In the end, a LAN that was looking like a last hurrah has left everyone gasping for more. It was a phenomenal event featuring fantastic TF2, a slick production, fun people, and an amazing LAN community. Team Fortress 2 has just been a small slice of the Multiplay iSeries LAN, but they've fostered the growth of this tournament and given it healthy support over the years. I hope to see the everyone again “neXt” time!
Jeff eXtine is a frequent guest writer at the Antlion Audio blog and owner of the eXtelevision channel. See more about him and the channel at http://www.extelevision.com/.