When I heard the news that Bountie Arena, one of Singapore's last few big name LAN shops, was closing down, it struck a nerve.
Sure, the pandemic had taken its toll on a business that relies on people sitting down in gaming chairs for hours, shouting at each other over the mic as they made calls, but I couldn’t help wondering, was I partly at fault for not even actually playing at the place?
After all, I never once considered paying money to rent a PC that wasn’t mine, play on a keyboard that I wasn’t used to, a mouse with all the wrong feels.
I could do it at home, on my custom rig, all tuned to my individual preference. I’m a working adult, with a steady income, able to afford my own space and gear.
But it wasn’t always that way. As a poor student two decades ago, LAN shops were my go-to spots for fragging parties with my buddies, overnighters as we tried to take each other out in Counter-Strike — and trying to convince them to play Dota 5.84c instead (I sucked at First-Person Shooters).
The place to be
I still recall the cold glare of CRT monitors casting a whitish glow on players; the smell of cigarettes in the air. I miss the surly assistant at the counter who would rather focus on the game he was playing than entertain us a second longer (imagine the internet cafe pictured above, but seedier).
He would quickly toss us the numbers for our PCs, before shifting his attention back to his own screen.
These places were fertile ground for our current generation of esports pros, such as Daryl "iceiceice" Koh and Wong "NutZ" Jeng Yih, who met, played, honed their skills, bonded, and teamed up to compete.
There were no such things as online leaderboards — you’d know who was the best player by how many people were watching their screens as they battled it out. Whispering to each other, pointing out the amazing moves they had. It was glorious.
Nowadays, there’s no more watching them dizzyingly move the map camera all over in Starcraft or Warcraft III in real life.
You can still catch the action by viewing their player perspective in games that have this feature, but it isn't as fun as seeing it in real life. For burgeoning esports pros, the opportunities of meeting new friends and rivals face to face, finding if they clicked together, isn't quite there without LAN shops.
Sadly, LAN shops are dead, made redundant by the Singapore government's efficiency in setting up a next-generation national fibre network.
Players no longer need to rely on a LAN shops high speed local area network to get low pings. Online leaderboards, chat rooms, in-game voice chat, player perspective viewing, make scouting a lot easier.
After all, who doesn't want to pick up a 10,000 MMR player for your team — you already know he's better than most of the other players in the scene.
The rise of mobile
But in other countries still working on developing their nationwide networks, LAN shops are still a great place to go to game without having to deal with the crappy internet.
A lot of esport organisations SEA are named after their original LAN shops — Orange, Mineski, to name a few.
These were the places where their original esports teams were groomed and became champions. But with mobile gaming making waves and rapidly growing in SEA, it's likely these LAN shops will soon fall to the wayside, especially if it's easier to break into the mobile esports scene.
After all, It's so much easier to play with your friends. You don't need to get a PC, monitor, keyboard, mouse, headphones, and a router.
Just whip out your very affordable smartphone, make sure you're on a 4G or Wi-Fi network, and you're all set to go. And remember, you don't have to be next to each other to play — you can still game safely and at home, without having to break the law to meet up.
The era of LAN shops has ended in Singapore — there's no denying that.
It's going to be harder to find the next iceiceice, or someone really good at PC games without the LAN shops breeding grounds.
But it's going to be a heck lot easier to discover the next Robert "Oh Deer Bambi" Boon or Stefan "Soul" Chong. Whether these mobile esport idols will inspire the next generation of aspiring esports pros though, remains to be seen.
Maybe someone will come up with a LAN-inspired setting for mobile gamers, and the cycle can start anew.
That will be a sight to see for my jaded esports reporter eyes. But that will have to wait for the current COVID-19 pandemic to become endemic first — and you know what? I hope it happens soon.
Aloysius Low is an ex-CNET editor with more than 15 years of experience. He's really into cats and is currently reviewing products at canbuyornot.com.
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