Long-running Auckland LAN party Ping Zero celebrated its 50th at the North Shore Events Centre last weekend. It attracted players from across the country, including some as far afield as Dunedin, Christchurch, Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay, Otaki, and Wellington. There was even a player over from Australia at the Logitech-sponsored event.
"It's a bit of an up yours to the Aucklanders that are like, 'Oh, it's a bit hard, sixty bucks', you know?" says Ping Zero founder Conrad 'Major Havoc' Ware with a laugh. "There are people committing days and days of travel just to come up."
An age restriction change from R18 to R16 saw about a dozen under-18 gamers attend, but "they behaved themselves", says Ware. "We still have a lot of guys that have been coming to the event for 15 years, and what's cool is that some of their sons are now coming," Ware adds. "There's a father and son combo. It's really cool."
Ping Zero has been running since 2002, and building it up from its humble beginnings has been a passion project for founder Ware. "It was very difficult – it was a long run – but we did it!" says Ware of the 50th event. He praises Ping Zero's many volunteers, who assist with setting up the gargantuan LAN and packing it all down after a weekend of action and in some cases, little sleep. "I think the country is ready for gaming events, it's just really difficult to secure a decent venue," he says.
The nature of the LAN beast has changed substantially since its beginnings, with Ware stating that it is transitioning from a LAN party to a gaming event. "The next Ping Zero might be something different," he says. "We've had to slowly transform, and move with the times. We're the largest LAN in New Zealand currently, and we've been doing it for 15 years. So it's hard to keep all the old hats happen – the guys that come to an event and drink and basically play the odd game. We've definitely moved away from that to focus on tournaments and actually gaming."
Ping Zero 50 was smaller than Ping Zero 49 (which intrepid reporter Andi Garnett covered here), but still attracted 200 gamers (170 on PC, 30 on console), and did a number of new things that will shape future Ping Zero affairs. Most notably, for the first time, a staged tournament was held on the Sunday – one spectators could watch for free at the venue, or via a Facebook live stream.
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CS:GO and Dota 2 tournaments were played on stage and Ware reckons they were a special thing. "Probably seeing the stage setup, as a culmination of 50 events – a full-on grandstand with a stage – for me that was probably the highlight," he says.
And even after 50 events, there are still surprises and things to learn. There were no hiccups with internet and power this time, but Ware regrets running an event in February as it meant "two months of hard graft over Christmas". Next time he's keen to have an interview booth for competitors, and is also adamant there should be shoutcasters calling the action. He had two lined up for 50, but they dropped out at the last minute. Even so, the stage had 10 screens showcasing the action, and "but at the end of the day everyone had a great time". "Everything just worked really, really well," he says.
Dota 2 final: GG241 versus G4
When two of the top Dota teams in the country signed up, everyone else avoided the competition – a rare thing for Ping Zero. As Ware says: "Dota is our bread and butter." This means in future the Dota competition will be split into Amateur (spot prizes) and Pro ("big cash") divisions, with the winners of the Amateur section graduating to the Pro the following LAN.
A best of seven that went to seven games, the Dota 2 final was a nail-biter, with GG214 (complete with an Aussie ringer) eventually coming out on top, taking home NZ$300.
"The only reason GG214 won is the won an early team fight, so G4 had to turtle and go defensive," says Ware. "The problem was that GG214 had Alchemist, who just farms up a storm. G4 couldn't out-farm Alchemist."
CS:GO final: Dominators versus Build That Wall
Another final that stretched to its maximum – this time three maps – CS:GO was extremely close, with Build That Wall edging out Dominators 2–1 to take the NZ$1000 prize.
"The final map was 14–8 to BTW, but Dominators started getting on a roll," says Ware. "But BTW figured out that Dominators weren't as strong on B and they came away with it. That's frustrating for Dominators – they always seem to just get pipped. But you've gotta remember BTW have Sean "Gratisfaction" Kaiwai, probably the greatest Australasian player. The best in Australia and New Zealand. He can get three kills in a round, which is absolutely devastating."
Ware says despite the result, Dominators were probably the stronger team. "It was a real close game that could have swung either way, but I think Gratisfaction was pretty much the key to BTW winning."
No Pants came out on top after five rounds to claim the NZ$500 prize.
Street Fighter V final:
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