The founder of one of the US' biggest LAN parties on the ultimate custom gaming rig.
While most of the competition at the World Cyber Games took place on the main floor, there were a number of heated matches occurring in the BYOC, or Bring Your Own Computer, room where gaming enthusiasts gathered for a large LAN party. Gamers of all shapes and sizes attended, bringing along computers that were just as varied as the players themselves.
Some of the machines were fairly basic, but others, such as Matt Conwell's custom creation, were as impressive to look at as they were to play.
As the founder of the West Coast's largest LAN party, Conwell doesn't do anything on a small scale. We caught up with him to discuss the motivation behind his massive rig, and what drives an overclocker to push their machine to the limits.
Digit: Why don't we start off with that monster machine you have sitting in the corner. How did that come about? What was the inspiration?
Matt Conwell: I wanted the ultimate system, the "dream machine" if you will. I wanted the best performance for gaming and I wanted something that really caught people's eyes.
Digit: How important was the visual aspect compared to the performance aspect when putting it together?
MC: The visual aspect is almost more important to me than the performance aspect. I spent a lot of time hiding wires, making sure it looks as pretty as it can. It can still get better and it will. I plan to put some mirrors on the bottom so that you can see all around inside it and places you can't currently see.
Digit: In terms of performance, what are some common "warranty voiding tactics" that overclockers use to get the most out of their metal?
MC: Apply more voltage is one warranty-voiding thing. If you put a window inside your hard drive and you cut open your hard drive you void the warranty on your hard drive. Overclocking your video card to the point that I have, you void your warranty on your video card so you're kind of on your own and I'm almost afraid to try any more than where I'm at now because of the cost of the hardware.
Digit: Along those lines, what do you think of the overclocking tools that are coming standard with video cards these days, such as NVidia's overclocking utility? Useful or just marketing hype?
MC: That is actually useful, that's what I am using right now. I have a 6800 Ultra, which is the best card NVidia makes right now. I'm going with a BFG which is NVidia's flagship of overclockability. BFG actually warranties their overclock, which is 25MHz above what is standard, and then I went 50MHz above that. BFGs are great cards for overclocking.
Digit: Just in terms of overclocking in general, is this something that is done just to say "hey, I can do this," or does the performance gain really make a difference when gaming?
MC: For overclockers, I think it's all about bragging rights. There is a program called 3DMark, which will give you a score-based result and that's what it is all about. Who has what number, and my number is in the 4700 range with 3DMark05 whereas some of my friends are only in the 2000 range, so it's all about the bragging rights. Who cares about the gaming at this point? You want to see what you can do with it.
Digit: You're here at the World Cyber Games participating in the "Bring Your Own Computer" LAN event, but you had mentioned earlier that you organize the West Coast's largest LAN party every year. What is that and how did it get started?
MC: PDX Lan got started from a homework project for my Master's degree in business. We were to find a company and actually start one. I never realized that what I started would be this, but we ended up having a 500 person LAN party the first time with over $40,000 in prizes. We've since copied that LAN now two more times and each event we give away about $60,000 in prizes.
Digit: Where is that held? How do you put on something of that magnitude?
MC: It definitely draws on organization skills. I organize the event. I get 40 volunteers and I organize the entire staff to do it. Word of mouth is how we advertise. It's completely grass roots. There is no corporate marketing behind it at all.
Digit: What goes on at one of these events?
MC: Tournaments are generally decided by which games we see as popular. I leverage my marketing degree and I kind of feel out where it is going to end up. Once we do that we have tournaments. We don't do cash prizes - we're one of the only LAN parties that doesn't. We believe in rewarding the general gamer rather than just the best gamers, because there's a lot of us that can't play games worth a darn but we want to be able win prizes too. We do give out graphics cards, high end graphics cards for first place winners.
What else do we do at the event? We consume over 1,400 pizzas, over 1,000 gallons of unlimited soda that I provide to the attendees. We play tug of war, we have pizza eating contests - in fact, did you know someone can eat an entire large pizza in six minutes and two seconds?
We had a Britney Spears lip-sync contest so we had a lot of guys dancing up there like Britney Spears. We had a talent show where you had to wind over the audience in 20 seconds and people would either propose to my wife, which was kind of weird, or there's even one guy who decided to run into a pole, running as fast as he could to win the audience approval. He did win the audience approval and he won a $1,000 processor for it. It's a crazy time. We have duct tape challenges where people duct tape each other together and they have to run around the room.
Digit: Now you've been mentioning a lot of guys. What's the general breakdown of attendance at your events? Do you see a general split of men and women or is it mostly men who attend?
MC: I can say as a matter of fact we had 495 men last time and five females so we're right about one per cent. I think girl gamers will evolve more and more as game companies start giving the girls girl characters to play. Most of the games that we play, you can't be a girl, you have to be a guy. I know my wife, who is a gamer, she flocks to game companies who actually implement girl heroes. Most of them are girlfriends, there is one couple there where the girlfriend is actually the one who got the boyfriend into gaming which is quite a role reversal.
Digit: If anybody wanted to find out about your LAN events where would they go? Do you have a Web site?
MC: Yeah, we have a website called PDXLAN.com and just go ahead and sign up on our forums and talk with a man named Vector.