After Hours

Behind the scenes at the World Series of Video Games

It's summer! And you know what that means: The World Series of Video Games (WSVG), this time kicking off its U.S. run in Louisville, KY, home to our very own TechRepublic. This year, just like last year, WSVG has teamed up with LANWAR, Inc. and its annual MillionManLan gaming event for a mega frag-fest like no other in America.

This was the sixth annual MillionManLan and the second annual WSVG. Including all the quarterly events LANWAR, Inc. hosts each year, this was its 34th consecutive event and its 5th 1,000+ gamer event. LANWAR has come a long way over the years, evolving from a small event with just a few dozen young people to a huge event with a demographic ranging from the very young all the way up to senior citizens.

Last month in Louisville, Troy Schwartz and his crack team of technical experts and organizers put on an event that appeals to a wide range of people and encourages attendees to enjoy the social atmosphere around them as much as they enjoy pumping some virtual baddies full of lead. This year, I got a chance to sit down with one of those technical experts that help make the "Bring your own computer" (BYOC) portion of the WSVG events happen. John-Michael Bassett, known as Zeke at the events, is the lead technical staff member when it comes to infrastructure and network security. He was kind enough to answer all the questions I had for him and helped shed some light on how an event of this magnitude is executed.

Here's what John-Michael had to say.

Q: Tell me a little about your role on the LANWAR/MML staff. A: Let's start with my role at LANWAR. I'm part of the Network Administration team. There are four or five of us involved with that stuff. We are responsible for everything from establishing the requirements for a particular event to what games will be supported over the Internet and ultimately delivering on those requirements. We, of course, plan the network and floor layout and how the network will be laid out. Q: How long have you been a staff member? A: I've been on staff since MillionManLan 2, so that's four years. Q: Approximately, how many staff members are there? A: We're up to about 20 full-time staff members. Q: Wow! That's a lot of people. Are they compensated in any way? A: LANWAR staff is totally volunteer. Q: I know you are a LANWAR/MML superhero by night. What does your mild-mannered alter ego do for a living? A: Actually, that is how I got started with LANWAR. Troy and I work together at United Parcel Service in IT management. Q: So Troy recruited you. Were you a gamer before? Are you a gamer now? A: Gamer before, gamer after. I'm a GenXer man! Q: Okay, let's talk about what services LANWAR, Inc. provides to WSVG. Tell me about what you guys bring to the table. A: Our role in the World Series is that we bring the party to the LAN party. LANWAR has always been a LAN party. You bring your computer, and you play some games. What we bring above and beyond that is a social aspect. Many people come just for the atmosphere. Q: So you guys run the BYOC for all of the WSVG events? A: Only the events that actually have BYOC elements. Last year, there were only two events that had BYOC events within them: Louisville and Dallas. This year, we have here, Dallas; at one point, Orlando was on the radar, but that was scrubbed. There may be a third one added at some point this year. That's still up in the air though. Q: So when is the Dallas event? A: July 5th through the 8th, so only a couple of weeks away. Even as we were tearing down the Louisville event, we were already talking about what we needed to do to prepare for the Dallas event. Q: Does the WSVG bring any technical staff? How do you like working with them? A: They do have technical staff to run the tournaments and their smaller network. For the most part, we don't work together much, but if they are having any sort of problems, we are quick to jump in and help. It's a partnership, and we are happy to help them in any way that we can and gladly accept it in return. Q: There are loads of computer and network equipment needed to put on an event like this — servers, switches, cabling, etc. Does this equipment travel with the team, or do you contract that out at each location? A: The hardware that was used for the tournament arena is on loan from Intel and makes the rounds to all the events. The equipment that we use to run the BYOC event belongs to LANWAR, Inc., and we take that to each event as well. The cables are replaced every year for the MillionManLan event and then used for all of the events up until the next MillionManLan. Q: How long does it take to set up the network and run the cables? A: With the new cabling solutions we've implemented in the past couple of years, we can set up the network and run the cables in about two hours. This year, we tore down the entire BYOC event in 51 minutes. Q: Wow! That's amazing. You set up a 1,000+ user network in just two hours? How many people are involved in setup and teardown? A: That really depends on who shows up. We encourage volunteers to show up early to help set up and stay late to help tear down, but we usually have a lot of help. Q: Because this is a gaming event, does LANWAR, Inc. have any game servers that it manages, or is that all left to the user base? A: Yes, we have a couple dozen servers that we use to host games as requested or needed. We take requests from gamers throughout the event and put up game servers as they are needed. These servers are also used for any LANWAR/MML-specific tournaments. Q: Is there wireless access available at the event? A: Well, I'm a bit of a wired snob, so I don't push for wireless access. We do supply it for the WSVG events, however, because of the media presence. They need wireless access to do their jobs, so we provide a cloud in the WSVG area. Q: What type of security measures do you take to ensure that the event runs smoothly? A: Well, we lock down all of the outbound ports except those needed to support the games that are played over the Internet like World of Warcraft and Web browsing. At MML3, the Sasser virus came out the day of our event, and somehow it got in and brought the event to a standstill until we could get a patch available to everyone. Since then, we've kept everything locked down pretty tight. Q: It's no secret that an event like this has dozens of user-built servers and hundreds of gaming computers coming through the door. You have no control over what illegal content is on those machines and may be distributed. What measures do you take to prevent this? A: The short answer is nothing. Legislation that is in place right now holds the ISP — in this case, LANWAR, Inc. — responsible for any illegal content that is on their network if they make any efforts to prevent illegal file sharing. Essentially saying that if you tried to get rid of it and didn't, you didn't try hard enough. The only thing we could do is block ports for services that are commonly used to share files. This wouldn't work, however, because it's very simple to change the port for an FTP server to the same port Counterstrike or Quake uses. Q: Looking back at this event, what are some of the lessons learned from this event? A: This event actually went very smoothly. We've learned a ton over the years and can prevent a lot of the problems that we've had in the past. I can't really think of any major problems. The only real problem was we had to adjust the outbound bandwidth for World of Warcraft to solve some latency issues that were happening. We finally fixed that around 3 P.M. on Friday.

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I have to thank John-Michael for sitting down with me. As a long-time attendee of these events, it's nice to get a feel for what it's like to plan and execute. These guys work very hard and do so out of their love for the gaming community and for the LANWAR/MML/WSVG franchise. MML 2007 was a smashing success event, and I can't wait until next year.

If you're interested in seeing some pictures from the event, check out TechRepublic's WSVG image gallery.

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