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Speedrunning: Does it Fit in the World of Esports?


Speedrunning: Does it Fit in the World of Esports?

Friday, November 29, 2019

Gamers can compete in just about anything. It was inevitable that ‘I bet I can beat this game faster than you’ became a widespread phenomenon. Speedrunning, trying to beat a game or level quicker than anyone else can, is like a virtual footrace. Players all over the world try to hold official records for being the fastest, sparking a competition like no other. There is money to be made if you have the skills. However, some don’t consider this style of play to be a part of the esports scene. Should it actually be considered an Esport or is it in a category all its own? Read further to find out:

  • What is speedrunning, really?
  • What’s happening in the speedrunning scene
  • Should Speedrunning be considered an Esport?
a split screen showing a super mario run on the left and a room full of people sitting behind a speedrurner on the right
A Speedrun of Super Mario 64, photo courtesy The Pioneer

A Different Kind of Professional Gaming

Speedrunning involves a lot more than just being the fastest. It’s about saving every possible second in an almost obsessive way to beat the timer. Esports players spend hours every day practicing their game. The dubbed ‘speedrunners’ put in the same amount of time, just doing it a little differently. Speedrunners hone their speed skills at the controls to eliminate mistakes. They search for every turn, every gap, any way to bump down their times. This sometimes involves finding a glitch in the game. Glitches are small errors in the software that aren’t actually supposed to be there, but speedrunners can exploit to make them faster. For example, if you pull a certain jump against a certain wall in Super Mario Bros. you can force Mario through the wall he's not supposed to go through, thus saving time. Call that Cheating? Perhaps, but it takes skill to pull off tricks successfully.

Pretty much any game is open to speedrunning. Games as far back as Nintendo’s first console to as recent as Playstation 4 releases are being played. If there is a way to beat it faster, speedrunners will find it no matter how long it takes. Although it is competitive, most speedrunners aren’t greedy. There are websites dedicated to sharing tips on where to find glitches, how to save time at certain points, etc. Speedrunning has grown into a community of fans and players all over the world. What’s more, anyone can start as world records are available to view online.

Of course, none of this is only going on behind locked doors. It’s common for speedrunners to stream their attempts at shattering records. Not all of them are successful, but they have a record of their progress as they improve. Live competitions have also been around for awhile, offering a place for hype and real connections. Often they race each other as well as the clock. The pressure is on with people watching, so speedrunners need a cool head. What began as a small pocket of players has gained a lot more attention over the past few years.

games done quick logo
Games Done Quick logo, courtesy SA Gamer

Speedrunning Today: Streaming, Charity, and Innovation

Speedrunning has grown to be more officially recognized today. Games Done Quick is a speedrunning organization that holds events a few times a year to raise money for different charities. They report to have raised over twenty-two million dollars over the years for charities such as the Prevent Cancer Foundation. On average, their attendance records are in the thousands.That doesn’t include the Twitch viewership that reaches over one hundred thousand regularly. Clearly speedrunning has found an audience. It’s also great that they’ve found a way to do some good for people.

There’s more going on aside from GDQ. Smaller tournaments where players race one another for the fastest time at a certain game are popping up everywhere. They may not be smashing world records, but they still create the same competitive atmosphere and a good time for everybody. As mentioned above, many have found a career in streaming their speedrun practice and attempts on Twitch and the like. You can find the struggles and even a lot of success stories of dedicated players. Popular speedrunners are making a name for themselves similarly to how official esports competitors are.

People have also taken the challenge to the extreme with added gimmicks. Blindfolded speedrunning may sound impossible, but skilled gamers have found a way to do it. They train vigorously, memorizing audio cues from the game and timing down to perfection. It takes true dedication with countless hours in front of the same game to even have a chance at success. Some of them can even do it live, as featured at some GDQ events. There’s nothing quite like watching someone make it all the way through Mike Tyson’s Punch Out as fast as they can with their eyes covered.

Spectators react to the fast-paced action of a speedrun
One wrong move can end a speedrun, photo courtesy Prevent Cancer Foundation

So should Speedrunning be an Esport or Not?

There has been a lot of speculation about whether speedrunning should become a full fledged part of esports. Valid arguments exist on either side of the conversation, so looking at both offers a bigger picture and a possible conclusion.

A lot of the elements of esports already exist within speedrunning. There is an appeal to it that makes people want to watch, and an already existing large audience base. Speedrunning would gain even more followers if it hit the mainstream esports view. The competitive nature of it, like an esports match, is there as well with an added element of competing against a timer along with other players. Plus, speedrunning already has established names that would draw attention similarly to renowned esports players and teams. New players would be hungry to make their mark as well. There’s already a structure for setting up tournaments, and room for more official aspects like commentary and analysis of play. The potential is certainly there for speedrunning.

Speedrunning as an esport could also add a lot to the metaphorical table. Putting it in the mainstream would get a lot more people interested in trying it out, meaning it could potentially become an integral part of the esports industry. The uniqueness of speedrunning could add an extra spice that would get people interested who wouldn’t have been before. Maybe they didn’t care to watch a match of Counter Strike but two players attempting to beat Super Mario 64 in under an hour gets them watching. Here’s also where speedrunning can open the floodgates for all the games that don’t work as competitive otherwise.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of things that say speedrunning as an esport is not such a great idea. One of the big ones is how games are played. Developers, specifically big developers like Nintendo, like to see their games promoted in esports, but would likely not like to see their games picked apart by speedrunners. ‘Breaking the game’ to get the glitches to work is common, but it’s exploiting something that shouldn’t be there. It’s basically putting a spotlight on the mistakes of developers, something they wouldn’t exactly want. This could also scare off potential sponsors for tournaments. No money means no league.

There’s also no guarantee that something amazing will happen in every speedrun. An attempt at breaking a world record would end in failure most of the time. Plenty of excitement can come out of races, but sometimes players could mess up a glitch or have not-so-hot of a run. Since every second counts, one slip up could ruin the entire attempt. Even players racing against each other could be affected. If one guy misses a jump, the other could go miles ahead, removing any tension about who is going to win. Not to mention the parts of the game or the glitches that rely on randomness to pull off. If the player doesn’t ‘get lucky’, the move could fail and cost the run. It wouldn’t be great for a huge live audience expecting maximum entertainment to watch a player hopelessly try to catch up for over an hour.

Another thing that could be an issue is the amount of speedrunners competing. Some of the more prominent are good at speedrunning multiple games, but this still leaves a narrow pocket of choices. It would be difficult to create competitions for specific games because the amount of players skilled enough for a good matchup is very small. The esports world has thousands of people focusing on playing even one game. While there are a lot of committed speedrunners out there, would it even be possible to gather enough professionals qualified at one game to compete? It’s hard to say. New players joining would help, but relying entirely on that would be extremely risky.

So all in all, it doesn’t seem like speedrunning is ready to become an official esport just yet. There’s a lot of kinks that would need to be worked through for it to succeed in the industry along with a lot more mainstream attention. Some have experimented with smaller money-making esports tournaments, which is a start. It will take some time and effort to figure out how to take speedrunning to the big time. For now, there is plenty going on in the speedrunning scene by itself.

True potential exists, so one day we may see speedrunners chasing glory alongside their fellow competitive gamers. One day.

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Friday, November 29, 2019




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