Videogamers come together in Castle Shannon for 24 hours of competition


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For these weekend videogame warriors, it was 24 hours of intense competition, somewhere amid empty pizza boxes and discarded Red Bull cans.

It would have been cool to go beyond 24 hours, but by 7:30 Sunday morning, event coordinator Nic Parenti laughed and said that wasn't going to ever happen, "because I need sleep."

Mr. Parenti, 22, a clinical engineer from Belle Vernon, had been up and running since 8 a.m. Saturday, but looked remarkably refreshed, given the circumstances.

There have been myriad bingo games, wedding receptions, quilt shows, woodcarving exhibits and what-all at the Castle Shannon Volunteer Fire Department Hall, but the annual Pittsburgh LAN Coalition "Iron Storm" tournament transcends the usual definition for "social gathering."

LAN stands for Local Area Network. LAN parties are networked get-togethers of videogame enthusiasts who bring their own equipment to engage in multiplayer games. There are often team as well as individual tournaments.

It's also a chance for gamers to meet face-to-face with others they might have played with online.

"Sometimes, you're pleasantly surprised; it's a cool experience," said Monroeville's Jason Frank, 22, a student at Penn State University.

Like many of the guys -- and it's almost always a guy thing -- who run gaming tournaments, Mr. Frank began entering local LAN events as a player and got sucked into joining PittCo as management.

There are LAN events throughout the world, some drawing upward of 10,000 entrants. The PittCo LAN has been held for 11 years now, last weekend with a more cozy field of 139 paid gamers.

"We have some middle-school kids, some 30- or 40-year olds," said Mr. Frank, adding that most are 20-somethings.

It's understood that standard fare at such events is takeout pizza, soda and energy drinks, which would have explained the little pyramids of Red Bull cans and Bawls Guarana bottles scattered throughout the hall.

Stepping into the building from bright sunshine created an otherworldly sensation. The overhead fluorescents were turned off, the better to bask in the concentrated glow of dozens of video screens.

By Sunday morning, most of the serious gaming was over, but a couple of teams gathered at the far end of the hall to engage in a first-person shoot-'em-up.

About 20 feet away, a few guys were sacked out on the floor, sleeping under a pile of blankets.

The tournament organizers included lists of hotels in the information packets, but many, including North Allegheny High School senior Chris Barlow, chose to sleep in their cars.

"Just maybe two hours," Mr. Barlow said, smiling.

It's a tradition for PittCo to break up long stretches of videogaming with intense but silly competitions in say, "Rock, Paper, Scissors" or "Simon Says."

Saturday around 10 p.m., a large-scale game of musical chairs was staged and, because this was a hall full of tech-savvy people, of course they videotaped it.

Mr. Barlow, esteemed champion of this year's musical chairs melee -- he also won the proverbial crown in 2007 -- got to watch the whole thing over again Sunday morning on a large projection screen.

He came away with a $200 computer case; computer-related components and accessories are standard awards at LAN tournaments. Each contestant paid $25 to preregister, $35 at the door.

Clearly, no one was getting rich off this.

LAN tournaments are widely advertised on college campuses, and a surprising number of small events are held throughout the area on any given weekend.

Rec0il is a local organization heavily involved in gaming. It will sponsor a Halo 3 tournament beginning this Saturday afternoon at the Duquesne Annex Volunteer Fire Company No. 2 in West Mifflin.

Leo Agafonov, a junior firefighter, is trying to schedule interesting events for the fire hall.

"Rec0il gaming is sponsoring it," he said, adding that 10, 22-inch TVs and 10 Xbox 360s will be among the equipment donated for use at the event.

"We've hosted two already, and they went very well," said Mr. Agafonov, who said he expects 30 or 40 gamers to attend.

Interested players can go to www.rec0ilgaming.com for more information.

As the PittCo event wound down, Mr. Frank looked around the fire hall and said it might take an hour or two to clean up and pack up. Then it was back to University Park ... "after a brief nap."


Maria Sciullo can be reached at msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.


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