With the schedule for GamesDoneQuick (GDQ)’s summer event being published this week alongside the European Speedrunner Assembly (ESA) opening their summer games submissions, I felt it the perfect time to share some advice on what the games selection crews will be looking for.
I’ve been working on numerous games selection teams around the world for almost four years now and evaluating thousands of submissions each year gives me a lot of insight into what works and what doesn’t. Let’s take a dive into the world of speedrun marathons, and see what exactly I’m looking for when somebody submits to ESA.
Where To Look?
Speedrunning marathons appear very daunting at first. I remember physically shaking due to nerves before my first run at a live event, knowing that I had to prove myself to thousands of onlookers. Many casual fans of speedrunning believe that the marathon titans such as ESA & GDQ are the only places you can go to showcase your skills. This isn’t true, and as I am writing this article there are dozens of smaller marathons waiting for runners to show what they can do. The easiest place to look is on Oengus’ main page which will show all public marathons currently accepting submissions. Here you can also view a description of the marathon, their goals and what they wish to showcase whether it be dedicated to a specific genre or category of speedruns.
You might ask yourself what the point is of submitting to smaller marathons when all the fame and glory is elsewhere. The simple answer is experience. Smaller marathons can be a great stepping stone in order to dip your feet into the notion of performing in front of a crowd. There is a lot of pressure to do well in the larger marathons, as the standards are usually much higher. Gaining experience by assisting other events can give you both a unique perspective of testing the waters for yourself and also allow a games selector to see that you’ve done a showcase before in a pressuring environment and thrived in the process. Don’t rule out a marathon because of the location, as currently, most events are solely online so this is a perfect time to expand your horizons beyond your continent and perform all around the world!
What To Submit?
You should always put your best foot forward when it comes to events, that much is obvious. What isn’t obvious however is the specifics on what a games selection team will be looking for. It of course varies depending on the event, but most rules will apply to most marathons you will see around:
Run Length: If you submit a five-hour run, that is five or more other runners who won’t be able to showcase their shorter speedruns. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t submit longer titles, but you need to evaluate whether you can carry that whole five hours and make every minute worth sitting down for. If you submit an extremely long game, you might also need to be more flexible with potentially playing at a less popular hour due to the fact that prime time for Europe and North America will usually not showcase longer runs.
Runner Skill: In order to pull off a solid marathon run, you need to be confident in your abilities to perform well without the usual factor of being able to reset should things go south. This is what separates most players, as the best marathon runners will have a backup plan for absolutely everything and be prepared for the worst.
Entertainment Value: A huge misconception is that a marathon run is at all similar to a personal best attempt on your own stream. This is absolutely not the case, and while skill is definitely still a factor, how entertaining you are is far more important. Some of the best marathon runs of all time have been a complete trainwreck in terms of execution, that’s what makes them entertaining to watch. You don’t need to have the world record in your game, what’s important is that you can keep the crowd entertained regardless of what is happening on screen. Note: Event organizers will love you if you record a dedicated run with marathon-like commentary, rather than submitting your personal best time!
Commentary Quality: This trickles down from entertainment value, but commentary is specifically important. You will need to be talking actively during your showcase, as 99% of people watching will have never seen this speedrun before. You will need to explain how the glitches work, why you’re doing certain things, the reasoning behind the decisions you are making. Dedicated commentators are also great as it is extremely difficult to play at a high level while also explaining everything under the pressure of the environment. It doesn’t matter who is doing it, but someone needs to keep the conversation going. If your submission has no commentary, your chances of getting accepted are astronomically lower than if you submit a commentated run!
Rules & Regulations
It’s important to check the guidelines for any marathon you plan to submit to and make sure your submission matches their standards to the best of your ability. As before, it varies but if you follow these steps it is hard to go far wrong:
Stream Quality: As we are experiencing events going solely online, you will be streaming using your own equipment from home. This means you will need to output a certain quality video feed that can be broadcasted to the masses. ESA requires a minimum stream bitrate of 2.5Mbit (2500), but each marathon will likely have their own number to follow depending on the game’s resolution and aspect ratio. If you’re unsure, just ask!
Facecam: Some marathons might require you to use a facecam for the entirety of your run. If you don’t own one, there are easy ways to turn your mobile phone into a facecam that will save you needing to spend a lot of money on a good quality one that you don’t plan on using again.
Races: If you are submitting a race, it is best practice to bring along a dedicated commentator for the ride. This is because runner commentary can be quite fragmented when they are competing against another player, and the audience would prefer to hear both sides of what’s going on. A dedicated commentator also means that the runners can concentrate on their run without the bonus stress of being entertaining. You should also check if there is a maximum number of participants allowed to race, as some events will not allow more than two participants to compete at any one time.
The Submission Process
There’s a lot of information to go over during the submission process, as the games selectors need to know some background information about yourself and your submission. Remember that the selectors might have never played nor seen your game, so do your best to use Layman’s terms where possible:
Availability: Here you can specify exactly when you will be available to run. In general, you should include the times you’re available to start and finish, rather than just the times you can start your run. For example, if you get home from school at 4 p.m. and have football practice at 8 p.m., write your availability as something like 4:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.. Do not submit your availability as a wishlist of popular time slots! We need to know when you are available, and shortening those hours will just decrease the chances of you being accepted.
Your Links: Here you can fill in your personal information (Discord/Twitch/Twitter/etc.) as well as site links to your speedrun.com profile and the leaderboards for the games you are submitting. Don’t worry if your game doesn’t have an official leaderboard on speedrun.com, you can submit other websites or even a spreadsheet if that’s what your community uses.
Donation Incentives / Bid Wars: These are a way for you to include a little spice in your submission, and are usually used to raise funds for charities. An incentive is something you can do once a certain goal is met. For example, you could complete a bonus level, or show off a cool glitch. A bid war is slightly different, as it is a list of options viewers can choose at home to influence your run. A great example is the language choice of the game or an outfit for your character that somebody could donate for (remember to include all the options in the field)!
Estimate: This is an estimate of how long you expect the run to take, start to finish. This should be a time that you can complete your run while accommodating for any potential failures you’d expect in a no reset attempt. There’s no right or wrong answer here, but a good general guideline is a 10-minute buffer for every hour of gameplay involved. The only true way to see what would work for you is to do some practice runs and see what times you get. Also please remember that you are not racing to beat your estimate, you are supposed to match it. Do not submit an extremely lenient estimate just so you can look good in front of the crowd, and on the other side of the coin don’t feel like you’ve failed if you go over your estimate. It is much better to go two minutes over than ten minutes under!
Game & Category Descriptions: This is your chance to tell the game selectors why your submission is worth showing to the world. Include a brief summary of the game, what it’s about and why it’s interesting to you. Also include some specifics about the category you’ve submitted, be sure to write about cool glitches and mechanics you use in the run! To reiterate, the people evaluating your submission may know nothing about the game so it is very important to justify your submission while keeping it concise and to the point.
The Waiting Game
The reality is that unfortunately most runs submitted to marathons are rejected. However, this doesn’t mean you should give up and never submit again. It’s similar to a job-hunting process, game selectors get hundreds if not thousands of submissions and usually have to cut at least 90% of the content they receive. I cannot speak for every scheduler out there, but if someone were to ask for feedback surrounding their submission I would happily give them some pointers if they missed the mark somewhere, or simply let them know that we had to cut the run due to time constraints. It is very rare that a submission is automatically declined without being evaluated, so it is best to not take it personally and instead use that as motivation to succeed the next time!