The miserable weather hasn't prevented hundreds of wide-eyed video game enthusiasts from lining up outside Manukau's TelstraClear Pacific Events Centre this afternoon, as xLAN 2008 officially begins.

Gameplanet took a stroll around the complex with Anthony Baikie, xLAN Director, earlier this morning and we're pleased to report that this year's event is by far the biggest in scope and certainly the best in design. The Pacific centre appears to be the perfect location for a gaming event of this size, and has ample facilities for the eight hundred or so expected gamers.

Over fourteen kilometres of network cable has been strung throughout the event, and with over a million dollars worth of computer equipment expected to be on-site by tomorrow, xLAN is the largest New Zealand gaming event on the 2008 calendar.

The top gamers from New Zealand's qualifier have the chance to compete in the World Cyber Games tournament where more than 1.5 million gamers from 74 countries compete to win approximately NZ$3.6 million in prize money.

"The World Cyber Games Qualifier this weekend will be a unique spectacle," said Susan Baikie, xLAN Managing Director, "with the very best of cyber-gaming on display in a highly charged environment, game demonstrations and trials available, along with the legendary Food Eating Competition. We expect up to 10,000 spectators at this great three day event.

"The winners from the New Zealand World Cyber Games will compete against twelve other Asia Pacific countries in Singapore this August, and have a chance to compete in Cologne, Germany in November where the world's best gamers will be squaring off for the Grand Final of the World Cyber Games."

Gamers this weekend will be competing on Counter-Strike 1.6 (PC), WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne (PC), FIFA 2008 (PC), DOTA All-Stars (PC), Guitar Hero (Xbox 360), Virtua Fighter 5 (Xbox 360) and Halo 3 (Xbox 360).

Exhibition matches will be played in Team Fortress 2 (PC), Call of Duty 4 (PC), SpamTin Memorial Trophy Counter-Strike: Source (PC), "Act and Dress like a rock star on Guitar Hero 3" (Xbox 360), and the PC World Case Modding Competition. More than $100,000 worth of prizes provided by a host of kiwi sponsors are up for grabs.

Some may look at this sort of event and consider video gaming a niche industry, with hosts of dedicated nerds pouring over expensive electronics and talking in gibberish. Sure, there are a few like this, but as the xLAN crew are quick to point out, the demand for eSports content is growing globally at a huge rate. Worldwide, more than NZ$51.5 billion was spent on video games last year alone.

In New Zealand, more than $100 million was spent.

Events like these are proof that video games and video gaming is now mainstream, and will only continue to grow and evolve in the future.

If you're keen to check out xLAN but haven't registered, head on down to the TelstraClear Pacific Events Centre anyway. Between 2pm and 8pm on Friday, 9am to 8pm Saturday and 9am to 3pm Sunday it's free if you just want to spectate. A full list of the competitions and times can be found here, and for more information check out the official site.

We'll be bringing you more coverage as soon as the competitions get underway, so stay tuned!