Let's Act Natural...How LANs Create a Community

If you're a Stout student, or if you've ever spent some time at our school, then you're most likely familiar with the People's Organization of Network Gaming and their famous LAN events. There's nothing like them. It's such an integral part of the UW Stout experience, and everyone should have the opportunity to take it in. 

What is a LAN?

If you were to ask the two most terrified members of Her Campus, we would say it's the pure chaos that keeps us awake at night. If you were to ask somebody casually involved in the gaming community, they might compare it to Coachella in its own way. If you were ahead of the game and asked somebody studying computer science or networking, they'd correctly tell you that LAN stands for "Local Area Network" and there's something to do with an Ethernet cable that brings everything together. But we're not focusing on that today; we're talking about the 48 hour LAN party event that makes people lose their collective minds like clockwork every month here at UW Stout. 

What a LAN Looks Like

LANs are insane, from every perspective. They're incredibly loud, indescribably dark, and amongst the pure chaos is a team of 11 executives keeping it altogether for 48 hours. Why does the People's Organization of Network Gaming run these events for 48 hours? For a slew of reasons, one major reason being that it justifies the experience of putting it all together. With the way that UW Stout is laid out, it's quite the awkward and time-consuming trek to lug heavy gaming equipment from Stout's northern sector of campus to the center hub of the Memorial Student Center. Years ago, LANS would last just 24 hours, until a snowstorm hit amidst an ongoing LAN, which resulted in administration giving PONG permission to extend the infamous event. Ever since they got a taste of what the event looks like at 48 hours, nobody wants to go back. And this also helps in managing the event, as explained by PONG's wonderful Event Coordinator Christina Miller. With so many tournaments, games, and events going on during a LAN, having 48 hours to play around with gives the opportunity to spread things out and mitigate the mayhem.

With the extensive promoting that PONG does leading up to a LAN it's not hard to see why they'd want to keep it spread out. A quick glance at their event schedule and you can see games like "Meme Jeopardy" and "Dollar Chug", tournaments with Overwatch, and Halo, and activities with Minecraft take up just a portion of the first day. PONG could probably put on a week-long LAN with the same level of success if you gave them the opportunity. But let's not give them any ideas because the caffeine induced yelling at a LAN is almost inhuman. 

There is always an event going on, even if it is 1am and people are in sleeping bags under their gaming station. 48 hours in, and you might be surprised realizing that 60-70% of people are still sticking around for the prize drawings, anxiously awaiting to hear if they’ve won a Nintendo Switch. You probably wouldn’t be surprised at how much supervision is involved in the LAN process, as it is somebody’s job to check in every 30 minutes to make sure nothing is on fire. It’s deservedly chaotic.  

MotherLAN

The infamous meme-filled LAN event from last November. If you're not familiar with PONG, or LANs, or gamers, or anything else that is the chaotic gaming community, you'd be in the right to be wondering "Why Russia?". The November before, PONG fully embraced dad joke culture, and threw a Father's themed LAN. And how do you follow-up a FatherLAN? A MotherLAN of course! Noting some possible sensitivities to an event surrounding Communism, PONG President Matt Gunderson talked to the Director of the Memorial Student Center, Darrin Witucki, to get any necessary permission. None was needed because nobody cared except for the very hyped members of PONG. Why were they so hyped to put on an event celebrating the ideals of Karl Marx? According to Christina, dedicated gamers are "memers at heart" and there are no memes quite like Mother Russia. 

Having the opportunity to experience the MotherLAN, we saw this theme represented everywhere. There were cutouts of Karl Marx spread throughout the event space, decorated meal tickets, and even Communinism-esque tournaments with a "Gulags and Goblins" DnD. Unfortunately, for those looking forward to seeing Stalin or Rasputin represented - they were left disappointed. Especially if you spent the week-of hyping yourself up with that Rasputin song from Just Dance

The MotherLAN garnered extremely strong positive reception in feedback in the days following the event. It was one of PONG's highest rated LANs to date. Throughout the years, PONG has seen the most success when more dedication is given to following a theme, and the hype is real when it comes to memes about Communism. This was especially exciting for Matt and Christina, as they had overseen more and more attention given to theming the LANs in the last few years. 

One of the reasons that the MotherLAN was as successful as it was comes from it's time in the year. According to our PONG experts, November is usually the prime time for PONG excellence, especially this year with 6 first time executive board members. And every event since the MotherLAN has only become more successful because of the hard work and dedication that each member brings. At the end of the day, it's a lot of commitment being an active PONG member, and thankfully they all seem to like each other. Or they at least are able to mitigate that pesky diffusion of responsibility enough to get along. 

Planning a LAN

LANs are some of the biggest events you can attend at Stout; and that is no accident. Planning a LAN and executing those plans is serious business. Very simply put, it's "a lot of work". Details of the event start being put together months in advance, and sometimes that planning starts while the previous LAN is still happening. One of the first things that has to be figured out for a LAN is managing the budget, which comes down to about $650 per event. This budget is mostly comprised of payment for the Memorial Student Center Event Technology Crew, as well as for the Building Managers that are always monitoring the 48-hour event. Then comes in the needs of the Sponsorship Liaison, who works with brands like DiscordSesonoic, and even a professional Esports team. Using a Sponsorship Deck, the Sponsorship Liaison is able to secure brand partners that help with equipment and products for their prize drawings. Something else that's very important in keeping PONG operating at their level is the hard work done by their Promoter, who makes the event posters, schedules, and other necessary graphics. Since PONG is funded for competition prizes through the Stout Student Association, their full-scale promotion happens almost a full month before the LAN. Due to the nature of skills-based prizes, prior approval from Vice Chancellor Phil Lyons is needed before the products can be purchased. Having all their ducks in a row with posters and graphics greatly aids in that approval process. 

Once that's all sorted out, it's time for all the additional leg work through various offices in the Memorial Student Center. Executives work with reservations to mitigate any changes with setting up the event. A few years ago, a huge change was spearheaded by Matt in utilizing the Great Hall's stage for the first time. As nervous as everyone was about implementing this change, it was eventually lauded as a setup improvement that even Christina approves of. Small, incremental changes have been made with each LAN, demonstrating that everything can be improved upon. Matt is such a chaotic force when it comes to changing reservation details that he's adapted to signing off emails as the reservation team's "greatest fan". From there, Christina works with other MSC departments to coordinate on-campus parking, confirming schedule details for staff, and handling the necessary liability paperwork. 

The PONG Of It All

So... what is this organization at the heart of the operation? The People's Organization of Network Gaming is one of the largest student organizations at Stout and is one of the oldest at approximately 19 years. It's hard to believe that such a massive organization with such strong ties to the campus environment actually started in a dorm basement like the rest our Stout organizations. And what separates PONG from the number of other gaming organizations at Stout is the LANs themselves. Because while other organizations have casual game nights and small competitions, PONG is solely committed to bringing everyone together through LANs. They may call themselves a one trick pony, but it isn't every day that Table Top Gaming has the opportunity to collaborate with Blue Devil Smash in a way that makes sense for their respective environments. PONG is the gaming organization that everyone knows, and they handle that responsibility in a very effective and professional way. It is through PONG and their collaborating organizations that gamers at Stout can truly experience a "little bit of everything". ​

Executive Functions 

How does PONG do something like this? Most organizations are lucky to have a few dozen people at events, and LANs consistently have over 250. And how do they have the capacity to continually to do events of this size throughout each semester? Events of this quality? It's simple; PONG has a team of 11 extremely dedicated executives. There may be no other student organization in existence that has such a high caliber of executive training, transition, and support. PONG places so much value in transitioning their team for success that the transition process actually starts between a semester and two years in advance of taking a position. Executives also take team building very seriously, especially in the days and weeks leading up to a LAN. They participate in round table discussion meetings, hammering out even the smallest of details into consideration. These discussion meetings are a key component of event success, and representatives from collaborating organizations are invited to take part in the process. This is because connecting effectively is how PONG continues to be successful LAN after LAN. 

PONG participates in collaborations with other organizations whether they like it or not as there is officer overlap throughout the executive board with other organizations at Stout. It is actually rare to see a PONG executive who doesn't also serve in a leadership capacity within another organization. Even though PONG is a recreational gaming organization, their members' leadership skills really drive the organization’s success.

Something else that drives PONG’s success is the dedication that’s required of every executive member. Managing a 48-hour event is a huge responsibility that’s divided up in supervisory shifts, shifts that very much range in popularity. These shifts usually come down to staying up until 6am or having to get up to start supervising at 6am. At a LAN you can usually figure which executives started at 6am by how dead inside they look. With being an executive in PONG there are a lot of trade-offs. On one hand, you get the experience of working with gamers at their prime and being part of someone’s favorite college experiences. On the other, you get the consistency of the dreaded LAN hangover that apparently wreaks havoc on your life until the next LAN comes around and starts the cycle all over again. Serving as a PONG executive is a huge responsibility, and their commitment to bringing these events to the Stout community is unparalleled.  

LAN Value

A LAN is first and foremost, a community where there is something for everyone. This is a really good opportunity to forget about the stress of school (if you don’t forget to do your homework). It’s the ability to forget about the stress of everything and just enjoy yourself over those 48 hours. If you're a gamer that doesn’t participate in LANs, you could spend the weekend playing the same games in your dorm by yourself. At an event like this you can come and be social with people. You can make friends, try new games, and have a fulfilling experience with the potential to win cool prizes. 

LANs can be whatever you want them to be. It's an environment like nothing else.  For those struggling with their mental health, there’s the opportunity to connect with people at LANs in a non-threatening space. This is because it’s easy to have fun, try new things, and meet cool people. Even introverts get caught up in the excitement of a LAN and get distracted with the social aspect.

These events are such an integral part of going to Stout that some people go to Stout just for the LANs. It’s a niche within a niche that people enjoy being a part of. And once people participate in one, they get hooked. At least 30% of attendees are alumni, and some even fly in for the big day. You don’t even need to be a gamer to have a good time at a LAN. Some people go to LANs just to hang out with people, because one of the biggest draws is the social aspect of the event. There's nothing like it, and we're lucky to have an organization as dedicated as the People's Organization of Network Gaming to making it happen.