Gary Kirby, managing director of events company and Razerbus provider Fragers, explains how to set up your own local area network (LAN) for live gaming, whether you’re a school, university, have hired a hall or just want to get a group of friends round your house to play some games…
What is a LAN party?
A LAN (local area network) party or gathering is where people get together and connect a series of computers to one another to play games on them simultaneously.
LAN parties, which were around before the rise of online gaming, allow players to take part in multiplayer games across their own private connection. For this reason, and with the rise of esports and live gaming tournaments, LANs have continued to appeal to gamers.
Large BYOC (bring your own computer) LAN events like Multiplay Insomnia allow thousands of players to gather from across the country to meet up with online friends, guildmates, teammates and gaming clan members to play together or take part in tournaments.
But what about smaller-scale LANs, such as those for around ten people? How can you run your own for a group of friends, or a school or university club, for example? We’ve enlisted the help of Fragers MD Gary Kirby to explain.
What you’ll need
- A router or hub/switch
- A PC or console for each person you want to participate (with its own keyboard, mouse, four-socket extension cable and headset or speakers
- A network card or wireless card/USB dongle on each PC (depending on whether you want a wired or wireless connection respectively)
- Ethernet cables to connect each PC to the hub (only if you want a wired connection)
- An internet connection (as most games have online features nowadays)
- The game you want to play installed on each PC
- Mic/projector/speakers (optional – use these only if you want to broadcast the matches live)
- Loads of snacks and drinks (but don’t forget to eat healthily!)
The first thing to decide when running a LAN is how many people there will be and which game(s) you’ll be playing.
The next step is to decide whether you want to link the computers up with wires (an ethernet cable running from each computer to the hub), or to go fully wireless.
This guide assumes you’re using a home router, which is giving you an internal IP address, managing your network and connecting you to the internet, and it has a firewall, protecting you from other PCs from the outside world.
Should you choose a wired or wireless connection?
Fragers MD Gary Kirby explains: “Wireless is fine if you’re in a clean environment for wireless signals – useful if you all have gaming laptops or PCs that have a wireless USB dongle. It’s definitely the easiest option. Most people these days tend to have wireless internet at home, so systems can all earily connect to the same wireless connection.
“If you have a wireless network, you are already connected together for gaming. The big thing that’s an issue for any game and network is your firewall. If you’re looking to host your own server, you’ll need to set up an exception in the firewall or turn it off.
” If you’re playing over the internet, or using servers based online, that’s fine. If you’re looking to host your own local server, a lot of games will allow LAN connections – CSGO is brilliant for that.
” If you’re playing over the internet, you may get slower pings, lags and delays than if you connect PCs with wires. With a wireless connection, you want each computer to have 1MB to 2MB really for a decent ping. For example, if there are 10 PCs, you need a decent 10MB connection to get a good low ping server.”
Gary says: “This method is slightly more complicated and will require extra hardware, but will give you the best connection.
“You’ll need some sort of router or hub – this is basically a network switch you can physically connect each PC to, which will either talk to your internet router to spread the internet throughout all the PCs, or it could be the router itself. You’ll also require network cards or physical network capability on every single PC, and the network (ethernet) cables themselves.”
What to look for in a hub
There are different types of hubs – a basic hub (aka network hub or ‘dumb hub’!), a switched hub (more expensive but best directs traffic more efficiently) and a managed hub (which allow for more advanced options).
Gary advises: “For best performance, you’ll want a 1Gigabit switch – for a 10-PC LAN you want the cheapest solution, ideally. When it comes to 10 PCs, a basic hub will do the job just fine.”
A hub is typically a better option over a standard router, as a home router will usually only have four ports) while a hub can have much more, for example 24.
Obviously, when looking for a hub, you’ll want to make sure its number of ports is the same as (or more than) the number of players you want to take part.
“If you want a 10-PC LAN, you’ll probably want a 12-port hub to start with,” Gary advises. “There are three speeds – 10, 100 and 1,000. If you’re really on a budget, you can get an eight-port hub for less than £10. But price can vary.
“The good thing about smaller, cheaper hubs is that if you have more people turn up than expected, you can just plug a second eight-port hub into your router. So you have two hubs connected to it, and double the available ports to connect to computers. This is what is known as data-chaining.”
Selecting and connecting cables
“There are two main types of cables,” Gary explains. “A CAT 5E will do a Gigabit connection fine but won’t go faster in the future. Or there’s a CAT6, which will cope with any modern speed – it’s more of a future-proofed cable.
“CAT7 goes up to ten gigabit. As long as they’re RJ45, they’ll be fine. You’ll want as many of those cables as you have computers, and one going from the hub to the router.”
You simply connect one end of an ethernet cable to your computer’s network port, and the other end to your hub or router. When switched on, that computer will automatically join the hub.
Some ultra thin laptops won’t have ethernet ports, so you always can buy an adaptor like this for it.
Once your computers are hooked up to the hub, you’ll now need to access a server in the game you want to play.
There are two types of servers – online servers (which already exist in the game or are private) and local servers. Local servers are more complicated – it’s essentially a program running on a single computer that lists the rules and options for a specific game.
“There are places you can rent servers,” Gary states. “You can rent a CSGO server for example, which gives you a password for you and your friends to access.”
Some games – like League of Legends – have their own dedicated servers that host matches. League of Legends is also online-only. Other games may differ greatly and have the possibility to be played offline in LAN-mode.
Then there’s dedicated servers.
“A dedicated server allows a relatively low spec PC to access it,” Gary says. “A lot of universities have their own dedicated servers. It’s the next level and can get complicated.”
Gary says that Fragers uses its own local servers for big on-stage tournaments.
This article serves as a basic guide – so you’ll need to look for info elsewhere for more information on setting up your own dedicated server. There’s a good guide from PC Gamer on dedicated servers here.
Example: Connecting Minecraft to a PC LAN
Once your computers are connected to the hub and switched on, select ‘new game’, hit escape, select ‘open world to LAN’, then it shows it on the network.
Then the other PCs can see this in the game – under the LAN section in ‘join multiplayer’.
What about other games?
Every game is different. It’s worth searching for a specific term online, for example ‘League of Legends LAN’ or ‘Dota 2 LAN’ to discover more information on specific games you want to play.
What about console LANs?
“Consoles can be more complicated,” Gary says. “You have to system link the consoles together and sometimes that needs an online account. It’s game dependant.
“For example, with Call of Duty Black Ops 3, you can host a LAN game on a PS4 from the in-game menu. All the other PS4s on the network can join, find a local game hosting and connect to it.
“When you host a game on Halo, for example, one console hosts, via System Link. When hosting a game, it will ask you if you want to go local split screen, online or system link. So for a lot of games it’s simple, you’ll host the game. For a LAN you pick system link.
“If a game doesn’t have a LAN connection, like Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, you have to do it online so you need a good internet connection. Minecraft on console will let you do split-screen, not LAN.”
What if the game is not working properly?
“If you’re hosting locally on a LAN, always check your firewall,” Gary explains.
“If you can’t see each other in some of the games, one of the first things to do is check your firewall rules. Create exceptions in your firewalls. Windows 10 and 7 are quite clever, they will add exceptions for you.
“You can turn a firewall off, but be careful if you’re doing this, as you’re turning off a key safety feature.”
Power and safety
When connecting several PCs together in the same room, you’ll want to be mindful of health and safety.
Usually each PC will want to have its own four-socket extension cable (for the monitor, PC and any other accessories). Gary advises using a surge protector and avoiding connecting more than two PCs into one wall socket at a time.
“Each PC should have a socket of its own,” he says. “Power all depends on how powerful your machines are and what they require to run.
“For larger LAN parties with 20 or 30 PCs, you’ve got to know your stuff with power distribution.”
It’s something to be mindful of ahead of arranging a LAN party.
“If you’re want to have a LAN and broadcast it at the same time, things can get complicated,” Gary states.
“Usually you’ll have two casters, one observing the game and the other one commentating. For this, just connect a HDMI cable from the computer that’s observing to a projector.
“Or, using a DisplayPort cable, you can connect TVs to the PC. Then you need to right click on your desktop, click display properties, and normally it shows you what monitors you have. On the dropdown menu it says ‘duplicate my desktop’. Select this, and then that way, if you have a TV plugged into the computer, it will show on the TV what the person is seeing on their monitor. This is ideal for broadcasting.
“You can also use a HDMI splitter for one in, many out… this lets you output to several monitors at once.”
What about PA and sound?
“For PA, you can connect the audio output headphone jack on the back of your PC to a set of speakers or a simple PA. Then you’ve got a little setup,” Gary says.
“The challenge comes if you want to use a microphone. The basic option is to plug a mic into a PC and use software to arrange the levels.
“You can also make the caster’s PC stream online. Then you can broadcast your tournament online via a streaming platform like Twitch. If you don’t have an observer, you could get one PC to join the match in spectator mode, and broadcast that PC out.”
Other things to consider
When running an esports tournament, you’ll want to think about how you promote it, who you’re targeting including demographics, age groups and more. Think about how you want to reach them – through social media, video or promotional posts or articles for example.
You’ll also want to think about prizes. Do you want prize pools? Or will you give away merchandise or trophies? You may need to bring some sponsors on board to help. There’s a funding guide for esports organisations here which may be of help.
How and where will you stream the tournament(s). Where is your event located? Should you charge for tickets? Check out this esports event manager career profile for some of the other things you might want to consider.
If all else fails
If you’re wanting to organise a larger LAN and need assistance, give Fragers a shout.
Fragers offers a range of products and services to consumers and businesses. It can create and run bespoke, promotional events, and offer its fleet of GamerBus vehicles for hire, for birthday parties and other get-togethers.
Fragers managing director Gary Kirby started the business in 2013. He has a background in science and business, having worked in book publishing and supply chain logistics.
Fragers has helped with Minecraft conventions, various Comic Cons, CSGO and Riot League of Legends tournaments, Multiplay Insomnias and some Dreamhacks.
Special thanks to Gary for the information in this article.