RyuLAN Tips - How to host a Counter-Strike LAN
NOTE: We will be updating this based on questions/feedback provided as we have time. We hope this to be an exhaustive guide once complete.
This is something we get asked about quite a bit-- how exactly do you run a CS LAN event?
Sometimes the people asking are simply curious, other times they're considering putting one together themselves, and other times they're considering hosting an event for a non-CS game, and want to get down the basics that'll be common to all PC LAN events. Some of the tips below will apply to all events, and others will be much more CS:GO specific.
Start with the right intentions
This may sound like common sense, but it's not as common as you think. If you're really passionate about the game, the community, etc. odds are you'll do a much better job delivering what the game/community wants or needs.
If you're all in it to make a fortune and retire early by hosting a few LANs, you're probably not going to see that come to fruition.
Simply put, "do it for the right reasons". Great advice for hosting a LAN, and great advice for life in general.
Know how many teams/players you're shooting for
This is an important one, especially for CS:GO, as it's a game still in its relative infancy. If you're going to host a LAN for 4 teams, it's much easier and requires a lot less than one for 32-64 teams. So set your goals for the event, and from there you can build out the rest of the items below.
Build a budget (and then stick to it)
At RyuLAN, being financially conservative is what has allowed us to host these events, so we're kind of sticklers on this point. It's crucial that you get this down on paper before you start making announcements or signing hotel or venue contracts. Start out with how much money you'll be able to throw in to the event, and from that, break it into the following sections as they apply to you:
- Room attrition
- Hotel stay
- Meals and travel expenses
- Server equipment
- Network equipment
- Website hosting
- Giveaways and side prizes
- Prize pot
- LAN PCs (if providing)
- Shipping costs (giveaways + LAN equipment)
If you come to realize that there's too much event needed at the end of your money, you may need to increase your entry fees, find some quality sponsorship, or save up a little longer before you go forward with your event.
We DO NOT RECOMMEND YOU GO INTO DEBT HOSTING A LAN EVENT. CASH IS KING.
Get feedback from the players as often as possible
This is something we hold near and dear to our hearts, and a base principal we run our events by. Ask the community for their thoughts/feedback, and wherever possible, deliver what they're asking you for. It's a simple concept that's a little more challenging in execution, but it makes a world of difference. It also builds trust in you/your event.
This is a tough one, and it's important that you know this going in: NO date, and NO location that you choose is going to be perfect and no matter what, some teams/players won't be able to make it, and may even flame the date/location decision. That's just how it goes. Use the above section to make the best decision possible, and try to find a time on a 3 day weekend or during a break from school that's not too close to the holidays.
As for location, it's a battle you'll have to wage. I recommend you look at places closer to you for the first event or two you look to organize. Afterwards, try to find a place that's population-centric over one that's geocentric, but if you can find a spot that's pretty much both, lock it in.
Determine the format
Will it be a Bring-your-own-PC (BYOC) event, or will you have PCs provided? If the latter, are there enough for all the teams to compete at once, or can you break it into group play and have a single group playing on the PCs at once?
You need to know how many PCs you can have provided for tournament play so you can properly schedule the matches and break the teams into groups. For instance, if you have 16 teams, will you have 80 PCs provided (can be very expensive)? The odds are that you wouldn't, but maybe 20 or 40 PCs would be doable. If so, you can break the teams into groups of 4 and leverage Group Play as part of your tournament.
Just keep in mind that if you have 4 groups of 4, and only 1 group can play at a time, that's 3 matches per group at roughly an hour a match-- which would mean at least a 12 hour day for Group Play, not counting the set up / tear down / warm up time.
If it's BYOC, how many PCs will be there and connected? This is important to know to size the power delivery from the venue accurately, as well as to have sufficient network connectivity (if 10 PCs, a single switch will work nicely, if 300, not so much).
BYOC also adds in a few other things to consider, including pre-installed game cheats, unreliable or troublesome hardware, and sometimes players bring their massive CRT monitors. Additionally, transportation to/from the venue becomes that much more of a need, as it's hard to lug a PC and monitor around if the venue is sidewalk accessible with no provided transportation or shuttle service.
Find the right venue
This one doesn't' require too much of an explanation, right? Wrong.
This can be the hardest and most time consuming part of coordinating a LAN event. Based on how many teams/players you're expecting to attend, you'll have a rough idea of the kind of space you need. If the event is pretty sizable (32+ teams), your best bet is going to be to find a convention or conference center, or even a hotel (as we did in CS:S event) with sufficient space.
The other things to consider are:
- A large enough contiguous space for all the teams or groups
- Room layout to fit the teams "down a row" (a set of 5 spaces for the players)
- Sufficient power for all the PCs, network and server equipment
- Room or area for spectators
- A room for shoutcasting or event coverage
- Internet connectivity (bandwidth, capabilities, firewall access)
- Location and proximity to the players, mass transit
- Weather for that time of year in the area
Hotels can be appealing to host the LAN event, and the items above are all still there for consideration. However, there is one item with a hotel that you should be very aware of, as we've seen it bankrupt another event who wasn't aware of how the contracts work.
When you book a meeting space at a hotel, you get a nice discount if it includes room nights (guests spending the night in a room = 1 room night, if they stay for 2, it's 2 room nights, and so on for all of your event goers). What we've seen happen is that someone will book a room block for 100 room nights, but know that they'll only 30-40.
In the contract you're signing, there's an "attrition rate", generally 10-20%, that gives you some wiggle room if you don't book the entire block. But let's say you booked a 100 room night block, you had a 10% attrition rate, and your event only used 50 room nights.
You get 10% of those rooms "back", leaving you with 90. And since 50 room nights were used, there are 40 room nights left over. Well, guess who gets to pay the bill for those rooms? You do!!
Be VERY CAREFUL of this. The hotel isn't "out to get you", but if you aren't aware of this going in, it can be quite painful.
This is one that's not often discussed, but is critically important to the success and stability of the event. In addition to simply having network interfaces available for the players to plug in to, you want to make sure that if they have Internet connectivity, it's sufficient for all the players to be on at once. Beyond that, if you're planning to do any type of GOTV or GOTV relays, you want to be sure you have a public IP address and access to the facilities firewall (or the person who has the access and can make the changes for you) so that you can open out connectivity to the outside world.
Internally, the network should keep all the PCs on the same subnet for speed and efficiency (switching is faster than routing), and latency should be 1ms or less consistently. The game doesn't require much in the way of bandwidth, so while 1Gbps is preferred (and relatively common and inexpensive these days), a 100Mbps network can get the job done. Remember, you plan online with much less than that.
Fortunately, with computer hardware continuing to get better, faster, and cheaper, it doesn't take much in terms of today's hardware to run a high performance, low latency, shot-registering machine of a server for CS:GO. First, you need to have some computer hardware that can be dedicated for use as the server-- and while at our recent RyuLAN event we used a traditional data center class server, it's certainly not required (pending the size of your event). For those who asked, we did not use virtual machines-- not because of any technical reasons, it was just easier given the circumstance of the hardware we had.
If you or your server admin(s) is particularly savvy with Linux, our experience has shown that it's a bit more stable, and since it doesn't cost you a Windows license, it's also less expensive. But if you're not Linux savvy, Windows will still get the job done.
First, start out with THIS GUIDE from Valve to get the game's server components downloaded and installed. Once complete, you can launch the game using the start options like this:
srcds -game csgo -console -usercon +game_type 0 +game_mode 1 +mapgroup mg_bomb_se +map de_dust2_se -tickrate 128
We suggest that you create a shortcut off of the srcds.exe file, and place it on your desktop, then edit the launch options there with the line above. Then fire up the server, jump on it, and test it out. Add some bots (bot_add_t, bot_add_ct) and run around, make sure the server "feels" okay, validate it's updating at 128 tick, and put some load on it. While it's running, use "top" or Windows Task Manager to see what kind of resource consumption it's causing, and you'll have a decent idea of if it will hold up to your events matches or not.
Now one of the major changes on the server side for CS:GO is the configuration-- the layout of the fileS (and the fact there are now many fileS with an S).
We'll try to post up the configuration files we used (or at least the commands we used in the configs) when time allows.
This is another one of those "life lessons" that applies just as much outside of the game and LAN tournaments as it does to the rest of your life, career, and relationships. Communicate CLEARLY AND FREQUENTLY.
If you can communicate out before you run into an issue, everyone will know what to expect and you'll be able to work through it. Here's a good example of how we communicated with the teams for our event. When they arrived, we met them, talked to them for a bit, and let them know the rules. One in particular was the different "halftime" behavior than they'd be accustomed to ESEA-- since we don't have a "ready up" system, once the teams get swapped at halftime it's LIVE. There's no break, no re-warm-up. It goes right back to the action.
We told the teams this when they first sat down, before they even set up. Then we told them again after they had time to get settled in, and warm up. Then we told them again one last time right before we started the match. And we did this for every single team, and for more than just the halftime restart.
Prior to the event, you want to communicate often as well-- which was something we admittedly could have done better on for our most recent event. Provide updates as to the venue, schedule, teams, match schedule, coverage, and try to answer every question you can. It makes a big difference, and also gets you thinking about how to constantly improve.
It's much better to over-communicate than to under-communicate.
Depending on how big the tournament is, the format of the event (BYOC or non-BYOC), and how many days you have on the schedule, you'll have a handful of different options. Our experience has taught us that if you do not guarantee teams a minimum number of matches, they'll be less inclined to attend. No one likes to travel for half a day and spend good money to lose one match and be eliminated.
For this reason, we like to start our tournaments with Group Play, generally with groups of 4 teams. This is the format we chose for RyuLAN 2013. it guarantees all teams a minimum of 3 matches, and a chance to play a team of equal, possible lesser, and greater skill.
Afterwards, we take the best team in each group, or the best TWO teams if the time allows, and move them into a double elimination bracket. If you can't or don't want to do group play, we strongly suggest you do at least a double elimination bracket, and you do the seeding based on a team's standing in league play. Most of the upsets happen in the double elimination bracket, so be prepared.
Having the bracket/group play information updated and letting the teams know how you'll calculate who moves on is important. For example, it's common for a Win in group play to be worth 2 points, and a Tie to be worth 1 (and a loss worth nothing). If a team goes 1-1-1, and another goes 1-2, the team with the Tie would move on.
Side Choice (CS:GO Specifically)
Like a lot of other events, we mostly did knife rounds to determine which team would get to choose their starting side. In one instance, both teams agreed to just flip a coin, and we were okay with it so long as both teams were.
This is a simple thing to figure out, but one that you should know going in so you can have your server admin(s) ready to mp_swapteams 1 and restart the round.
One other thing we did for the knife rounds to help keep things lively-- we spent $400 in cash putting $100 up for grabs for 4 different knife rounds, where the winning team got a cool, crisp $100 bill.
Giveaways are certainly not "required", but theyr'e definitely a "you should have" item. It's important to keep in mind that players will be spending a lot of their time and money to come to your event, knowing it's unlikely they're going to be crowned champions. If you know you'll payout 1st through 3rd with cash, that's 15 players that win.
If you have another 25+ that get nothing, it's kind of a bummer. For RyuLAN 2013, we had enough giveaways and cash prizes to award over 65% of our attendees with something more than they had coming in.
And the giveaways don't have to be crazy high end gear-- they can be $30 mice, or Best Buy gift cards. But people love giveaways, and you should find a way to include them in your event.
Stick to your word
Another "life lesson" applied to hosting a LAN-- if you say you're going to do something, do it. It's simple really, but it's so incredibly rare it's hard to believe. If you say you're going to guarantee something, you better be able to back it. Don't make promises you can't keep.
If you say you'll payout a certain amount of money, bring your checkbook and make sure you've got the cash. This is the one we see happen the most-- the prize pot disappears. Reminds us of the days of a certain LAN in the DC area, where no one was paid, no cash was ever sent, and a PS3 was never raffled. Don't be that guy-- do the right thing.
For RyuLAN 2013, we promised every team would get a minimum of 3 matches, no matter what. When one group didn't show, taking Group Play from 4 teams to 3, we got creative and found a way to move a team on to the next day, and do a best of 3 between the remaining two teams. Not only did all teams get what we promised, they actually got MORE. Under-promise and over deliver.
This is one we really didn't do, but when we heard the suggestion, it just made perfect sense. Once you've decided on the location of your event, do your best to get the word out for any players/teams/interested gamers in the area. Make yourself available to help them with any questions and to help them get set up.
You'd be surprised at how many local gamers would buy the game, play it for a while, and then come to compete on LAN. Not only does it grow your event, it grows the game, the competitive community, and the local business for the venue. Everybody wins! And even if you only get 15-20 local players, that's still 3-4 teams more than you had before. It can add up quickly.
We really wish we had put the word out before the last RyuLAN event, especially since we were so close to a few major colleges. We will be certain to do so for events in the future.
- Learn the roles yourself-
- server config