Jun 14

The Future of Speedrunning and Streaming

Following up a bit on my previous post.

One thing that’s important to clarify that informs a lot of where people fall in the debate on “What comes next” is “What constitutes ‘Square One’?” I define it as “Those streamers have absolutely no skills that are useful in a non-streaming(1) context”. As such, I obviously disagreed with the position that that’s where big-time streamers would be five to ten years from now, which I mentioned in the previous post. Others define it as simply “The streaming money train has pulled away from the station and it’s not coming back”. I’ll admit that’s a possibility in the next several years, although I think it’s far from a certainty.

I will also note that I intentionally didn’t draw a distinction between speedrunners and other streamers in the previous post–besides the fact that people go fluidly back and forth between speedrunning and not ([nosrl] is a tag for a reason), if a large scale streaming crash happens, everyone, speedrunner or not, is going to feel the effects.

A conversation about the future of speedrunning specifically is a conversation worth having (Maybe an “SDA Roundtable” or something like you’d sometimes see leading into GDQs). So let’s go there.

First, I think that speedrunning is probably, if not at its peak in terms of viewership, approaching it–while part of it was a broken tracker not listing all the donations (Those things tend to snowball), AGDQ2015 “only” raised ~55% more than AGDQ2014, the slowest year-on-year growth to date from a percentage standpoint. I also think that certain pillars of speedrunning–Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, etc.–are nearing their theoretical limit. New discoveries are always possible if not inevitable, of course, but that can only last for so long. Plus, the improvement in popular categories in Mario 64 will be limited by that pesky “Having to grab the stars” thing. For the GDQs, I don’t think that will matter too much–it amuses me how the “outside” attitude of Mario 64 in GDQs has gone from “We are going to rain hatred on anyone Not-Siglemic for playing Mario 64 regardless of the actual quality of their run” to “But how can you possibly not have Mario 64 in a GDQ it’s an institution by now!!”–but it will definitely have implications for the larger speedrunning streaming community and its popularity.

So where does speedrunning go in the next several years? I see one of two paths:

The first is what would be the result of the inevitable passage of time–a new generation of runners emerges, with different “nostalgia” reference points than those of the current big-name runners. Instead of Nintendo systems, their love is for the Sony/Microsoft consoles, and the next Narcissa/Siglemic/AdamAK/(Insert Other Mega-Popular Speedrunner Here) in terms of celebrity isn’t known for Mario or Zelda, but for, say, Little Big Planet, Ratchet & Clank, Uncharted, Mass Effect, or another franchise from those systems.

The second possibility is that the community(2) begins to move away from its obsession with World Records and toward a more competitive/race-centered mindset. Those iconic speedrunning games retain their status, but the “best” runners are determined by who consistently gets low times in race/no-reset situations, as opposed to who has the “World Record” (To the extent that these are different). I honestly don’t think this would automatically be a bad thing, though I bet that’s a minority opinion. “Playing through games […] skillfully […]” is part of SDA’s slogan, but adapting to non-optimal RNG and recovering from mistakes to still post a good time is, to my mind, a better indication of skill than resetting a million times waiting for the stars to line up for “THE RUN!”, even if “THE RUN!”‘s time is lower. To some degree, with the increase in races at GDQs, we may be seeing this already, although that’s countered by the fact that Speed Runs Live activity, while still plenty healthy, is down compared to last year.

Regardless, I think that popularity-wise, speedrunning is here to stay, but as a bunch of sub-communities focused around specific games–there won’t be a “monoculture” based around SDA, or even SRL. Whether this stays in the streaming/Youtube realm, or moves on to another medium, I can’t say.

I’m curious as to what everyone else thinks about this, though. Feel free to tweet at me or leave a comment here with your thoughts.

-EE

(1)- I say “non-streaming” instead of “non-Twitch” because, while Twitch are currently the dominant player in the video game streaming world, that could change.

(2)- To the extent that “the community” even still exists today in a cohesive form, and not as a bunch of smaller communities that occasionally get together under one banner.

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