A Place to Hang and Game
the efforts to sustain a permanent LAN gaming location in Eau Claire
Back in 1996, when the now-legendary first-person shooter Quake was released, LAN gaming was an entirely new concept. “I had always played the single-player stuff,” says Greg Deustchlander, former co-owner of Chaos Gaming Center, “and then my friend told me about this great multiplayer. And I was like ‘Well, how do you do it?’ ” After a quick crash course in IP addresses and computer networking, Greg and his friend joined into one of Quake’s multiplayer servers and started kicking each others’ butts. “He’d find me and I’d tell him to jump, and he’d jump. And that’s so cool because back then you never saw anything like that. And I’d be like ‘Shoot me with a rocket’ and he’d shoot me and I’d shoot him back.” Greg and his friend played until the sun came up, and Greg hit upon an idea that would change the next 14 years of his life. “I told him ‘Dude, this is so much fun. There’s gotta be people who would love to do this but know nothing about it.’ ”
This led to the formation of Game Domain, Greg’s first computer gaming center, in the former London Square Mall. The concept was simple. He would set up top-of-the-line computers, and people would rent out those computers for gaming. Stocked with four computers, which cost a total of about $6,000, the center grew a small following, but the idea of computer gaming, and charging for it, was so new that it just didn’t take off.
“The four computers were not very busy,” says Greg. “Everybody that came in, I had to tell them about it, which was a lot of work. I’d spend a half hour telling them what it was, and they’d say ‘Oh yeah, I’ll have to check that out.’ And then nothing.” So, after two years, Game Domain folded, but the desire to open a center where people could come together and play computer games stuck with Greg.
We were the hangout for PC gamers. It's like somebody going to a bar. You can drink at home, but you miss that whole social thing. It's that personal, being right next to somebody, shoving them thing, where people can see your facial expressions.
So when, some years later, a couple of Greg’s computer repair co-workers wanted to open their own computer repair store, Greg pitched them his idea. “I’m like, ‘Guys I do that all day long. The last thing I want to do right now is open up a computer repair store. But I did have a business I really enjoyed that I’d be interested in redoing if I had a couple of partners.’ ”
And thus in 2004, after a brief brainstorming session, Chaos Computers and Internet Gaming Center was born. Chaos opened on Clairemont Avenue with five computers, a small used game section, and a focus on computer repair as well as gaming. “Again, I bought all the high-end computers for gaming,” says Greg. “These are computers you can’t play at your parents’ house. So we’ve got $400 video cards. We put in the best mousepads, keyboards, mice. When you walk in you’ve got a nice, comfy chair, a nice desk. We wanted players to have the best so that they’d want to game there.”
And, it turned out, gamers did want to game there. “Within a year,” says Greg, “I didn’t have to explain anything to anyone.” The player base grew, the focus on computer repair started to fade, and the store started to gain hours. Eventually, the number of computers went up from 5 to 15, and the store was able to hire employees. “At that point, we were sitting with a bunch of money in savings and (besides our normal gaming) we’d throw a big LAN every three months or so,” says Greg.
Unfortunately, that’s when circumstances began to turn. The economy started to slow, next-gen console systems started to bring a higher game experience into living rooms, and, worst of all, the construction on Clairemont made it so that no one could get to the store.
“The year we picked to upgrade was the worst year we could have picked to do it,” says Greg.
Greg and his partners thought about re-tooling and re-launching Chaos as the Nomad Game Center, but then they learned that they were losing their employees and their lease. “After all this stuff,” says Greg, “we said, ‘Well, what do we think about just liquidating and closing it up?’ ” And so in August of 2010, Greg and his partners reluctantly closed the doors. But, of course, that doesn’t mean Greg’s completely done.
“I’ve got four locations set up (here upstairs in my house) for people to game on now,” says Greg. “And we can have seven in here without having to do any work. We’ll get 10 to 12 people up here for bigger parties, and that’s really all I wanted at my store, was a place for my friends to hang out.”
The social aspect, says Greg, is the thing that made Chaos what it was during the time it was open, and what makes LAN gaming a whole different experience from normal online gaming. “We were the hangout for PC gamers. It’s like somebody going to a bar. You can drink at home, but you miss that whole social thing. It’s that personal, being right next to somebody, shoving them thing, where people can see your facial expressions. We’d have events where we’d stream in game conventions, and people would just hang out and talk about games and that’s what was really fun about it.”