The Game Haus

Speedrunning: Can it be considered an esport?


Whether it’s the debut of the Overwatch League, or the upcoming EVO Japan, this month has delivered a great amount of content to any fan of esports and competitive gaming. And yet, for me, the most special event this January is none other than Awesome Games Done Quick 2018.

At AGDQ 2017, audiences gave a standing ovation to the $2.2 million USD donated to the Prevent Cancer Foundation, a record high for the organization. Image: Games Done Quick via Twitter

Games Done Quick is an organization that holds two main events each year. Awesome Games Done Quick (AGDQ) is held in January and Summer Games Done Quick (SGDQ) is held in July. Both events are entire weeks where speedrunners play through games at exceptional speeds, in addition to speedrunning races and sometimes glitch and/or speedrunning trick showcases. These events also serve as charity events that support the Prevent Cancer Foundation. As of writing, AGDQ 2018 has currently raised over $1.1 million USD.

So why talk about AGDQ of all things when so much is going on in esports? Simply put, speedrunning has been gaining more and more traction over the past couple years, especially thanks to large events such as AGDQ. Speedrunning showcases players’ skill and dedication to their games. Moreover, speedruns see the emergence of a faithful and passionate community that comes together to talk about and play a game that that community loves. Therefore, are speedruns any different from esports? And to add on to that, can speedrunning be considered as an esport in itself? Let’s talk about it.

The Skill of Speedrunning

A large part of why events such as AGDQ are so successful is for the great display of spectacle it provides to audiences. It’s cathartic to see games that are intended to be hours long be beaten in a matter of minutes. There is an ostensible level of skill and dedication required to speed run games effectively.

Like with esports, speedrunning requires the player to attain a great understanding of a game’s mechanics. However, there is a big difference between esport athletes and speedrunners in how they incorporate their knowledge about the game they’re playing. Esport athletes use their knowledge and understanding of a game’s mechanics to outplay other players, whereas speedrunners use their knowledge of a game’s mechanics to strategize what they can and cannot use to their advantage to complete a game as fast as possible.

Speedrunners and esports athletes both pour hours of their lives into learning more about the games that they passionately admire (or sometimes despise). The level of dedication required to perform well in esports and in speedruns is one of the most identifiable characteristics of both. However, there is another aspect that both esports and speedruns have in common.

The speedrunning community and its similarities to esports communities

Games Done Quick events find themselves on the front page of Twitch, and is among the most watched content on the site. Speedruns include donation incentives, raffles and rewards, constantly encouraging donations. Image: YouTube

Perhaps the largest similarity between esports and speedruns is that they both live and die by their communities. Each esport is perhaps entirely defined by the community surrounding the game itself. Super Smash Bros., Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive are three significantly different kinds of games and esports, and the communities for each game reflect this. Each of those games’ communities have their distinct qualities, and these qualities determine the general atmosphere of the competitive scene for each game. All esports communities find commonality through bringing people that love a certain game together, in which people can bounce off ideas and share their love for the respective game that they devote large chunks of their life towards.

Speedruns are almost identical to esports, in this regard. Like with esports communities, speedrun communities bring people that have a passion for a certain game together. This shared passion for an individual game gives rise to both camaraderie and competition to be present in any game’s community, just as is the case with esports’ communities. Moreover, esports and speedrunning communities share a consequence of their presence. Both esports and speedruns allow for games to remain in the public eye for longer than they may have otherwise. For instance, Super Metroid, a game with one of the most prevalent speedrunning communities, has become immortalized due to the game being the host of many speedruns in the game’s twenty-four years of existence. Similarly, a game being an esport, such as Super Smash Bros. Melee for instance, helps give that game a longer lifespan than it may have had otherwise.

“So what?”

The reason I bring up these commonalities between esports and speedruns is that there are certainly more similarities between the two than most people realize. Both demand for video games to be played in a very specific way, and both entertain audiences far and wide. Additionally, both are growing and becoming more well-known at a similar pace. Knowing this, I pose a question: should we consider speedruns as a particular kind of esport?

Games Done Quick events often feature races, allowing for exciting competitions. One of AGDQ 2018’s events was a four-way race in Yoshi’s Island for the SNES. Image: Twitch

There is certainly a sense of competitiveness in the realm of speedruns. On top of many speedrunners trying to claim the world record of a game for their own, many speedrunners also do races against each other, as has been showcased multiple times in AGDQ’s eight-year history.

Moreover, speedruns provide spectacle to its audience, much like esports provide spectacle to its audience. While I understand that the two are certainly different entities, the amount of similarities between them is staggering. Considering speedrunning as an esport, however, results in stretching the definition of what an esport is. While I don’t feel that speedrunning should necessarily be considered as an esport in itself, the similarities between esports and speedruns should be more well-known to more people. Moreover, the communities of esports and speedruns could possibly intertwine and interact with one another.

I would consider speedruns to be a supplement of esports-like content. Speedruns are similar to esports, but ultimately have their own identity that’s quite separate from esports. Nevertheless, speedruns should be in the minds of any esports fan if they find themselves wanting content that is similar, yet still different from esports. For the sake of comparison, I would consider the relationship between speedruns and esports to be like the relationship between baseball and home run derby’s – they’re two separate entities that provide different experiences to audiences, but are linked by their similar aspects.

What are your thoughts?

Since 2010, Games Done Quick has raised over $12 million across seventeen different marathons. Speedruns certainly aren’t going anywhere. And neither are esports. Both speedruns and esports provide experiences that are exciting and engaging to viewers, and they are both growing quite quickly. Do you feel that these two entities should be talked about together more? Or do you feel that they are too different from each other to be grouped together? As always, join the conversation and let us know what you think!



Featured image courtesy of Games Done Quick.

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1 comment

Speedrunning is an esport. It’s just a niche one – January 14, 2020 at 11:56 am

[…] not the first to ask or answer that question. Derek Heuer over at The Game Haus wrote, “Speedruns are similar to esports, but ultimately have their own identity that’s quite […]


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