Monday, February 6, 2012

Is This The Run??? Why Speedrunning Has Gone E-Sports...

If you asked me the question about e-sports and speedrunning years back, I thought you would be crazy. E-sports has become a term that has compiled a mixed bag of reactions in certain gaming communities in recent months, but we are five weeks into 2012 and other games that you don't expect have risen to that status besides the ones we're used to now like your Starcrafts, League of Legends, and Street Fighters. A recent rise of popularity in speedrunning has become one of the hot new things in the world of gaming streams. There was Speed Demos Archive's big marathon for the Prevent Cancer Foundation where they raised over 150,000 dollars by speedrunning games old and new. Speedrun races are the future of speedrunning in general filled with moments that scream e-sports. All of this makes you wonder has speedrunning really gone e-sports? The answer is yes and there is so much potential on how it can be taken to another level.

A big part of speedrunning's popular stretch lately has to do with one man's hunt for "the run" in Super Mario 64. Siglemic is arguably the most popular runner now in terms of stream numbers since he claimed the 120 star world record a month or two ago. For numerous weeks so far this year, he has been attempting to claim the 70 star world record from Nero (a Japanese SM64 player), but many resets and close playthroughs have been preventing him so far. Yet, hundreds of viewers and even in the low thousands at times are intrigued and have been watching him try to get the run done hence why "Is This The Run?" meme has been making the rounds in gaming streams. The big question with speedrunning streams is why would you watch someone beat a game so fast every day? At first you may be like that is boring why I would watch that? Then you have to question the amount of time, skill, and practice runners devoted to a particular game that once perfection is being put together, it is the most amazing thing you'll see especially to games you loved back in the day. Its finally time that amount of devotion to a game such as Mario 64 besides your other e-sports games get the limelight and maybe even some money thrown into it.

Watch live video from Siglemic on
Last weekend's big 120 star speedrun race between Siglemic and Nero in Mario 64 was a big indication that speedrunning has become e-sports. It was heavily advertised on TwitchTV, the premier gaming stream website and even though it was at a late time of 11 pm PST, over 8,000 viewers wanted to see arguably the two best runners of the game go at it (it was the #1 game to watch on Twitch Saturday night over Starcraft 2). That is as many people as watching a weekly Starcraft 2 stream and even a fighting game major. The skill is unparrallel for a normal player at the game as they make jumps that seem impossible possible and use some glitches that are allowed in a format like this. There was even a 70 star race that went down to the wire after the advertised 120 star one as a bonus too. What I mean by down the wire is that it was an one second victory and it is one of the more intense and dramatic showdowns I have seen in a while in any gaming stream. Basically it was as e-sports as it gets as people had their favorite players to root for like any other gaming tournament. With such promotion for a big race like that, imagine if you throw in bonus money into the equation. As I led to earlier, it is time to see runners get paid for their successes and victories in races other than ads on their streams. I could see Twitch throwing in bonus winnings to a race and all of a sudden you will see sponsorships from other companies too. The one big thing that is holding back such sponsorships from happening is the publisher/developer of the game themselves with Nintendo being the main example here for the two most popular speedrunning games now Mario 64 and the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I just don't see them getting involved into the pot seeing their games get exploited and glitched up heavily in a popular setting. There are big glitches in these games as it is not so bad in Mario 64, but Zelda OOT is a different beast when players go out of the map floating around in space to get where they want to. There have been exceptions where Nintendo acknowledged speedrunning which was the Mario 25th anniversary event at their store in New York City as popular 2D Mario speedrunner AndrewG played the original Super Mario Bros. in front of Shigeru Miyamoto.

SpeedRunsLive has also become a factor in all of this now getting players to race more easily and on a timely manner. Their big moment so far to me is a big 70-man race in Ocarina of Time last month where that many players competed for a specific goal that is not just to beat the game the fastest. It was a specific goal in the Forest Temple where you had to beat the main Poe with the Iron Boots and Giant Knife equipped at all times. Twists like these put a great spin to speedrun races if you're tired of a normal run through the game. The stream was great showing promise switching between other players' streams from time to time while having great commentary by Cosmo and Jiano, two extraordinarily good OOT players, explaining what the players are doing and the certain strategies they use for those new to the scene. This race (starts at 2:04:00 below) was also filled with memorable moments that also went down to the wire because it was a close one. It was a great race to see which routes paid off for certain players as well. These races are another reason that speedrunning has in e-sports especially with the potential if money gets thrown in for multiple man events.

Watch live video from Cosmo-OoT on
Speedrunning in e-sports has a bright future ahead especially with the way it has been going this early into the year. It actually gives way more variety of games to watch now on Twitch besides the current top games as older games can get the spotlight every now and then, which was the case with Mario 64 last weekend and Zelda OOT last month during Speed Demos Archive's big marathon. Marquee and advertised races will play a big role in speedrunning's future, but regular streams are better numbers as the days go by. There are some issues that might prevent this from a bigger thing, but it is still a young concept in the world of gaming streams that will be improved on. I hope the players will eventually get rewarded the right way especially with the amount of time they spend on these games, which is as much as any other major competitive game out there today. Whether you love or hate the term e-sports, this is just another stepping stone of it becoming bigger than we ever thought it could be.

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