A Different Kind of Player
The edge of nightlife is at LAN's Edge
The hot twinkling lights urge like little lighthouse beacons. "What the heck is this disco ball doing in the middle of Northcross Mall?" I wonder.
"C'mon in," invites the clean-cut guy with the bright eyes and neatly trimmed Vandyke. "Take a look around." His name tag reads "DayStar." Cautiously, I step inside. Huge TV screens and row upon row of high-end computers sit in eager anticipation of crowds to come. This curious space isn't an arcade, exactly, and not really an Internet cafe. What is it? As my eyes adjust to the dim party lights, I realize what I've stumbled upon.
Omigod. It's a nightclub for geeks.
LAN's Edge opened in the west end of Northcross Mall in October and is the ambitious venture of father-and-son team Kenneth "Masher" and Tom "DayStar" Beauchamp. The "LAN" part of the name refers to a "local area network" -- geek speak for when a bunch of computer nerds string their computers together through a common server, frequently so they can play video games together simultaneously. LANs usually exist as private communities or clubs, but this new place takes the concept leaps further.
"I've been gaming online since 1994. In '99, I got my dad hooked," says the younger Beauchamp. "Over the Internet, you have lag time and other factors, like cheating. We started going to local LAN parties where you hook your own computer into a network, there's no lag, and if you're caught cheating, you're walked out the door."
The men became active in a variety of Austin LAN communities. "We were getting into it so much, and lots of people would say, 'If we had a place to go to on a regular basis, we would be there!'" says Tom.
So, the disco light switched on over the father-and-son team's head like so many tiny light bulbs. "My sales job at the time allowed me to travel, and I got to go to a lot of other game centers around the country," says Tom. Centers exist across the U.S. and the world, in places as surprising as Vidalia, Shelbyville, and Ho Chi Minh City. "So I could see what worked and didn't work, what people enjoyed. We tried to bring all that together and Austinize it." "Austinizing it" included adding a stage with a small P.A. and a cafe of computer geek cuisine (Hot Pockets, chimichangas, Red Bull...), as well as extending hours until 2am.
While there's plenty of room in the 5,000-square-foot space for expansion, the current lineup at LAN's Edge is an impressive 27 high-end computers and four Xbox consoles, each with 50-inch big-screen TVs, all run through a hot T-1 connection. The center of the club is set up for folks to bring in their own rigs and hold their own LAN parties. And please, whatever you do, do not insinuate that they run their LAN off of "hubs." They boast their own Cisco catalyst switches, thank you very much.
Memberships range from $5 (Standard) to $25 (Silver) to $100 (Gold), each with its own level of discounted hourly rates. All times are pre-paid and logged into the central system, so there's no messy bill breaking for quarters and no way to overspend without having cash on hand. It's not unusual to find a father-and-son team duking it out on Starcraft or a mom and three wee ones battling skeleton monsters in Gauntlet: Legacy. For the most part, however, what you will find are dudes.
Dudes, dudes, dudes.
And here's a tip for the ladies: Dudes. Nice, employed, computer-geeky dudes, often of legal age. As far as nightclub concepts go, LAN parties aren't exactly thought of as pickup hot spots. But you gotta admit, they're a lot less depressing than, say, navigating Sixth Street and all the sleazy guys trolling for hookups. The crowd at LAN's Edge seems to be mostly of the high-caliber geek ilk: darned cute dudes for the pickin'.
Your challenge? Simple. To wrest their attention from Diablo II... .
LAN's Edge is now open at Suite 440 at Northcross Mall (2525 W. Anderson). Call 275-0761 for more information.