Press Start to Play: Speedrunning maintains unity, inclusivity in gaming community

This week’s column is going to be a little different.

Yes, it’s still grounded in recent news. But unlike previous articles, I won’t be criticizing anything too much or issuing any warnings. Rather, I’ll be talking about a section of esports that holds a special place in my heart: speedruns.

For those who are not aware, speedruns are when someone tries to complete a game as fast as possible. 

It’s that simple. 

Of course, there are some other details to take into consideration, such as how much of the game you must have completed before finishing it, whether glitches can be used, what version you play in, etc. But the core idea is a simple one, and maybe that is one of the reasons it has persisted for so long, being “founded” as a sport back in the early 90s with the video game “Doom.” 

Or maybe just because it’s so much fun.

As Matt Harris from the UK Speedrunning Marathon, an organization dedicated to holding speedrunning tournaments for charity, puts it: “There’s the element of the world record — it’s easy to understand why people would want to see something done at a speed that has never been done before. Why do people get excited about someone running 100 meters really quickly? It’s the same with speedrunning — only now in the form of completing a video game really quickly.”

The same can be said about how “Minecraft” speedruns have recently become popular. Of course, that likely has something to do with the resurgence in popularity of the game itself in the past few years. But I would bet it’s also because the game is fairly easy to get into. 

With a relatively low barrier of entry, anyone can try to beat it fast and be somewhat successful (as long as they know what to look for). This means that even if you’ve never beaten the game before, you can feel as if you’re going fast, which makes you have fun, thus making you want to keep optimizing your time. As you can see, it’s particularly easy to create a positive feedback loop. After all, if you’re having fun, you’re less likely to quit, going deeper into the world of speedrunning. 

And what a world that is.

Unlike many other sectors of the esports world, speedrunners barely gain any money from tournaments, earning their income from streaming themselves practicing. This is because the tournaments are usually held to raise money for charity, with organizations such as Games Done Quick raising a total of $28,511,640.60 throughout all its years of existence. Taking into consideration all other similar organizations, it’s impressive just how much this sector has contributed to society. 

There are various possible theories as to why the speedrunning community took a more altruistic turn. In my opinion, it has something to do with its universality. Like I said earlier, speedrunning is relatively easy to understand. While it may take years of dedication to find the best possible route, it is easy to have fun as an amateur.

This accessibility leads various people from all different backgrounds to become interested in the sport and, by communicating with one another either through the internet or in real life, help keep the original sense of community in gaming intact. And when your sport attracts such an honest, plural community, it’s only natural that you hope to uphold it. 

With such an earnest demonstration of community engagement, the speedrunning tournaments beg the question: Why aren’t other sectors doing the same?

I know, I know. I said I wouldn’t criticize anything too much. But can you really blame me? Since speedrunners cannot rely on tournament prizes, I’d be surprised if even a few of them managed to live off of their skills. And yet, they still hold tournaments where all earnings go to charity. So how come the most popular sectors of the esports industry rarely dedicate even a portion of their earnings to similar organizations?

If, as I argued before, the esports industry is supposed to relish the sense of community present in amateur gaming, then it needs to follow the speedrunning tournaments’ example and actively contribute to the maintenance of community, even if that means lowering profit somewhat.

Of course, I’d never argue for all tournaments to be non-profit. All I ask is for every tournament to take a look at its profit and make a decision over how much they can donate. But they should donate something. 

This is a common discussion in every sport. But thanks to speedrunning tournaments’ commitment to preserving the community, it’s especially pertinent in esports. Games Done Quick and other organizations like it show that even in a highly competitive and professional scenario, there is still space for social engagement and awareness, even if that comes only through financial support. With a success story like this one so widely known, it’s honestly surprising that the general industry hasn’t made donating a habit. 

And while I can’t say for sure how much Valve has profited from its “Dota 2” championships, one look at the prize pool of recent years shows that if they’re willing to spend this much money, they are certainly making a lot back. I could talk about how companies should have already implemented these changes, but none of that is productive. 

As the old saying goes: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” 

Guilherme Guerreiro is a sophomore writing about esports. His column, “Press Start to Play,” ran every other Wednesday.