Online gaming wasn’t always as easy as connecting a PS4 to Wi-Fi. In the early days, dial-up was the norm, and being able to play online with a decent connection was a hope, not a given. Thus, LAN (local area network) parties were born, where players would bring their desktop PCs and bulky monitors to a single location, connect to a router, and spend hours blasting one another to bloody giblets in Doom multiplayer or crawling through Diablo’s dungeon.
In 1996, a group of gamers at the IRC #quake chatroom decided to meet at a nearby hotel and play the games of Garland developer id Software, famed makers of first-person shooters like Wolfenstein 3D, the aforementioned Doom, and Quake. The event was dubbed QuakeCon. Decades later, as broadband and reduced latency have made online gaming easier, LAN parties have fallen by the wayside. QuakeCon, however, continues to thrive, averaging more than 10,000 attendees a year, more than 3,000 of whom bring their own computers to use. The convention, held this past weekend at Grapevine’s Gaylord Texan, acts as a showcase for sponsors id Software, parent company Zenimax, and their major upcoming games, but players still come to see fellow gamers who have become like friends and family.
Well, that and showing off their PCs. The Bring Your Own Computer area, where thousands set up, is the heart of QuakeCon, beating in darkness Thursday through Sunday. Lit by glowing signs and banners from different groups marking their territory with names like “Waifus 4 Laifu” and “False Reality,” with screen after screen blazing light, the BYOC felt like a reverse Las Vegas, where every player is a winner and every machine pays out. Quake Champions dominated the sessions, as well as matches of Fortnite, Monster Hunter World, and dozens of other games. Nearly as attention-grabbing were the modded PC cases, some adorned with neon lights, others custom-made to look like everything from hamster cages to the robotic Bastion from Overwatch.
Attendees come from across the country to play, and others from even farther just to volunteer. Connor Jenkins, who works the BYOC’s help desk and first attended QuakeCon when he was 14, said he came this year from Japan – that’s where he’s stationed in the U.S. Navy.
Alex Meswarb, a volunteer since ’07, said, “It’s like a family reunion with thousands of people.”
Some families even start at QuakeCon. Another volunteer, Lauren Cooper, said, “I asked to go with my husband, then fiancé, in 2010, and fell in love with it. We invited QuakeCon people to our wedding!” This attitude was apparent in a Friday panel discussion, where the con’s directors recounted its history and answered questions. As Lilly Pyle, director of organized play, said, “All of us know quite a few people who met and proposed at QuakeCon.”
A helpful person from the audience added with a shout, “The problem is, the odds are good, but the goods are odd!,” making the audience bust out laughing.
That sense of community extended to the panels. In Texas-Made Games, panelists talked about how people from across the country, like id Software studio director Tim Willits (a Minnesota native) and Arkane Studio’s lead level designer Karen Segars (an Alabaman), ended up in the Lone Star State, which is now the second largest in game-development behind California. “There’s nicer people in Texas,” Willits said. “That helps.”
A more serious panel, Talk Saves Lives, hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Sarah Allen and professional game streamer Miss Kyliee, discussed suicide prevention, using streaming to raise money for suicide awareness, and how gaming brings people together and can heal by providing both escapism for mental health and a community to open up to. As Miss Kyliee experienced during a recent fundraising stream, “People just started sharing stories and talking about what they’d been through and about their friends and family.”
The games did occupy much of the attention, with an exhibit hall full of demos for upcoming games, $175,000 in prizes for tournaments of Elder Scrolls Legends and Quake Champions, and rooms full of electrified fans previewing new footage of Doom Eternal and Fallout 76. Yet at QuakeCon, the games are just how people celebrate one another.