It’s the last weekend in November and more than 10,000 computer-mad gamers invade the Swedish city of Jönköping to join the world’s largest LAN party, DreamHack Winter.
When the lights go out on opening day and thousands of screens light up the main hall, DreamHack shows its true colors as a computing spectacular with few equals. Photo: Mikael Fritzon/Scanpix
DreamHack started life in the town of Malung in south-western Sweden back in 1994 when classmates Kenny Eklund and Martin Öjes held a LAN (local area network) party for 40 friends in the local high-school cafeteria.
From school cafeteria to world record
Since November 2007 — when adjudicators from Guinness recorded 10,544 unique computers and 11,060 paying participants — DreamHack holds the Guinness world record for the largest LAN party. It’s a long way from the little get-together 14 years ago.
Sixten Exström first attended DreamHack as a 14-year-old in 2005. He says: “I went the first time with a group of friends. There were about 10 of us who travelled to Jönköping from Stockholm.”
Now a 17-year-old high-school student, he is looking forward to heading back again next summer. “It is quite impressive when you see so many thousands of people all in one hall. The atmosphere is very cool and there is always something going on if you are not playing yourself.”
While at the event he admits to spending about 16 hours a day at his computer playing World of Warcraft. “My advice to anyone going to DreamHack is to eat proper food instead of chips. The army was selling a good stir-fry at its field kitchen last time.”
The digital generation’s Woodstock
A LAN party involves players getting together with their computers and playing computer games on the same local network. But that description does no justice to DreamHack. Over the years it has evolved into a gaming, computing and multimedia extravaganza. While the Counter-Strike 1.6 tournament is the main event, there are also competitions in graphic design, as well as in video and music production.
For the Summer 2008 DreamHack, Marvel, members from Hellacopters and Dregen managed to steal the attention of the DreamHack crowd and give them something besides gaming victories to cheer for. Photo: Elov/DreamHackPhoto
Visitors can also check out the latest games, gadgets and equipment, or simply soak up the atmosphere. There are also panel discussions, over-clocking competitions, and an air display by the Swedish Air Force for those looking to get a taste of fresh air.
Fredrik Nyström, press officer for DreamHack, sees the event as more than just a bunch of gaming kids meeting for a weekend. “DreamHack is a statement of the Digital Generation, the Woodstock of today, but without the mud and the drugs. The most important factor is that we take our visitors seriously and try to provide them with experiences that match their interests.”
DreamHack Winter 2007 had a turnover of SEK 15 million (USD 1,875,000). On top of the gamers perched in front of their machines, doing battle, completing tasks or building empires, the gaming and computer fair also attracted about 13,000 visitors, there to watch the action in the main hall, illuminated by the light of thousands of computer screens.
Party favors at DreamHack include desktops, kilometers of wiring, an occasional laptop and water. Photo: Mikael Fritzon/Scanpix
The eSport tournament is the highlight for Nyström. “One of my finest moments was the grand final of the WGT Counter-Strike 1.6 tournament at DreamHack Winter 2007. DreamArena was totally full and over 1000 people chanted for their favorite team.”
High-school student Philip Ramsvik attended DreamHack for the first time in July. For him, it was mostly about soaking up the atmosphere. “After the first day of just gaming, I was very tired so I spent the rest of the weekend watching YouTube and mailing and chatting to my mates. I survived on pizza and cola.”
Play first, rest later
If the participants at DreamHack Winter 2008 get tired of playing and need a break from the intensity of the main hall, one place they can go to cool off is the activity and relaxation area run by the Gnesta youth center. Gnesta is a small town just south of Stockholm, and Micke Karlsson, head of the youth center, came up the idea of setting up a stand at DreamHack.
It's not all about Counter-Strike 1.6. Almost all games fit the atmosphere of DreamHack. Wii or traditional table tennis to up the circulation, perhaps? Photo: Rikard Karlsson
“We started hearing a few years ago about kids going off to this event in Jönköping, and I became curious. A couple of us went along the following year just to see what it was all about. Now we have been at DreamHack with our kids four years in a row.”
The youth center stand gives gamers a chance to relax or do something away from the gaming halls. For those who have not had enough competing, there will be table-tennis and pool competitions.
Karlsson says: “It’s such an amazing event. You have thousands of youngsters getting together to do something together without any alcohol or drugs. And at four o’clock in the afternoon on the opening day, when they turn the lights out to start the event, the noise of the cheers from all the kids hits you like a wave. It is incredible.”
Have you been to a LAN party? To DreamHack? Leave a comment.
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Nicholas Claude is a communications consultant and freelance writer living in Stockholm. He played his first online game five years ago and has seen no significant improvement in his skills since then.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
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