Speedrunning has been around for decades now, but gamers have given it a recent surge in popularity. Lots of people who aren’t familiar with video games are asking, “What is speedrunning? What’s a speedrun? Why is it so, so popular?” At face value, speedrunning can be summed up quite easily.
This is what speedrunning is:
Speedrunning is the act of beating a video game, or segment of a game, as quickly as possible while adhering to a set of rules which have been established by the game’s individual community. Speedruns makes use of leaderboards to track who holds the fastest times for different categories such as Any%, 100%, and other various rulesets.
But it’s more than that. It’s hard work, practice, grit, consistency, strategy, technique, technical knowledge, risk, luck, community, and passion. There’s a lot more to speedrunning than meets the eye. There’s a reason why it’s dominating the internet, especially streaming sites like Twitch or YouTube.
Speedrunning on the Surface Level
Many people recognize speedrunning as simply beating a game as fast as possible. While this is true, there’s a lot more that goes into it than you may realize. Speedrunners, people who speedrun, put hours upon hours into this hobby.
Some of the most popular games to speedrun are Minecraft, Super Mario 64, Celeste, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Super Mario Odyssey.
And these games are how a lot of people hear about speedrunning. Videos of runners beating Minecraft in under 20 minutes or gamers dominating Super Mario 64 gather millions of views on YouTube. Let us know what introduced you to speedrunning in the comments below!
But how exactly do these people beat these games insanely fast? I mean, it’s likely that you’ve played a few of these games yourself… but it took weeks, maybe months, to beat the game. Speedrunners implement different strategies depending on the category they’re playing.
Every game has different categories, so Super Mario 64 has a few different categories that different runners prefer and practice. Here are some of the most common categories throughout every game:
Any Percent, Glitched
Any percent with glitches is arguably the most popular speedrunning category, typically seen listed as just “Any%”. This is where speedrunners make use of all the game’s glitches and bugs to beat the game. Everything is fair game, here. If a runner wants skip half of the game with a glitch, then they’re free to do so.
There are, of course, some general speedrunning restrictions still applied. For example, in most speedrunning communities, the use of macros, turbo buttons, modified controllers, save states, “ram watching”, hardware manipulation, or tool assistance is not allowed. What this category comes down to is how fast can a human, under normal playing circumstances, can beat a game without any restrictions being placed on the in-game mechanics.
This category is where most of the infamous speedrunning moments come from.
For example, take this legendary Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time speedrun. In a game that usually takes weeks upon weeks to complete, players have managed to beat it in under eight minutes. Just eight.
This picture looks like… well… I don’t really know. It doesn’t look like anything that makes sense or that would even be playable. If you’ve seen this part of the map in Kokiri Forest before, chances are you put your hands on your head in disbelief as you worried about your progress being unfairly lost due to a malfunction in the game. But to speedrunners like Amateseru, this picture looks like complete control of the game and the situation. He knows what he did to get to this point, he knows why he has to be in this spot, he knows what to do next, and he’s even estimating the time he’ll beat the game at this point. Runners have complete mastery of the game they play and juggle so many things in their minds at all times.
So in short, what exactly is Any% in speedrunning?
Any% in speedrunning means beating, or getting to the end credits, of a game as fast as possible without the need for any additional collection, restrictions, requirements, or in-game limitations otherwise. The term any percent literally implies that the speedrun can be completed with any percentage of the game being finished, so long as the end credits are reached. This speedrun category makes use of glitches, out of bounds, wrong warps, arbitrary code execution (ACE), and/or any other mechanics intentionally or unintentionally built into a game.
The concept to Any% is really to see how far a human can push a game. If you’re trying to push a game to its absolute limits, this is the way to go.
However, not everyone wants to be faced with out of bounds, wrong warps, or behind-the-scenes knowledge of the game’s code. Some people want to beat a game as quickly as possible, but within a more familiar landscape.
Any Percent, Glitchless
This category is where runners complete the game as fast as possible without the use of glitches. They’re supposed to play the game ‘as intended’ without any bugs, glitches, or exploits. Of course, it’s still quite not ‘as intended’ because games are typically meant to be played at a casual pace. Additionally, what is established as a “glitch” comes down to a consensus of that game’s speedrunning community.
Just as a disclaimer, speedrun categories aren’t always named quite so broadly. Instead of “glitchless”, the category may be named based on specifically which glitches are, or are not, allowed. For example, you may See Any% No SQ/WW/OoB. This would mean the speedrunner is getting to the credits at any percentage of completion, but they are not allowed to save and quit (SQ), use wrong warps (WW), or go out of bounds (OoB). Many other naming conventions can be used, and it is ultimately up to the community around that specific game which determines it.
These types of speedruns typically take the big picture routes normal players take. Albeit a lot faster and more optimized. For example, you may find that all of the dungeons are still being completed, but sometimes not in exactly the same order. It can definitely be fun to come up with clever ways to get from point A to point B quicker while making use of mechanics you were familiar with on your very first playthrough.
The same game from earlier, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, also has an any percent, glitchless category. The world record run for the glitched category clocked in at 7:09.850 (as of the time this article was published). In the glitchless category, the time is 3:39:47 by dannyb. Imagine playing at peak performance for almost four hours! Both categories require insane skill and dedication.
Yet still, there are some who want a more full experience — some of us are completionists.
The 100% categories are where speedrunners try to achieve everything in a game as fast as possible. For example, collecting all 120 stars in Super Mario 64, like in this run right here. Again, there are both glitched and glitchless categories, along with many options in-between.
Obviously, these runs take a lot longer than the any percent categories. That’s because ‘everything’ in the game has to be accomplished.
This runner – Cheese – was able to keep focus for almost two hours! He currently holds the world record for this game’s 100% category, 120 star, and it is definitely well-earned.
100% in speedrunning is completing a game as fast as possible while following a list of requirements established by the speedrunning community as a full, or 100%, completion. Some games have an in-game completion counter, such as Super Metroid. Other games are less obvious, such as Super Mario 64’s 120 Star. Furthermore, the grounds for 100% completion in a game may be established by the speedrunning community. For example, 100% in Zelda games often includes collecting all items and upgrades, but not requiring dungeon-specific items such as small keys, or compasses. Likewise, map completion is often not included in community-established 100% categories.
Beyond any% and 100%, there are plenty of other category types for speedrunning.
Tool Assisted Speedruns (TAS)
A tool assisted speedrun, also known as a TAS, is a speedrun that takes out the human element and showcases how broken games can truly be. These speedruns are completed using outside tools, not built into the game, such as save states, automation, to execute frame perfect, pixel perfect, and techniques not possible for simple humans. For example, some TAS showcase up and down, or left and right, where two opposite directions are pressed at the same time — a technique not possible on most standard game controllers.
Likewise, TAS could contain several instances of frame perfect mashing. For example, a game that runs at 60 frames per second and has a trick that is optimal when every other frame sees an X input, the TAS can simply code run an X input every other frame. Some TAS aim to beat a game as quickly as possible, while others aim for a comedic or entertaining effect. A prime example of this would be running Flappy Bird in Super Mario World, using only the game’s code, some extra Super Nintendo hardware, and some code to run the exact inputs needed to exploit the game in unthinkable ways.
Some TAS will compete for world records as well. When it comes to tool assisted speedruns, over the course of several hours, world record may end up being only 1 frame (or 1/60th of a second) faster than 2nd place.
You might have noticed that I’ve been bringing world records up a lot. What exactly do they mean to speedrunners?
The Importance of World Records in Speedrunning
The speedrunning community has this amazing culture of self-improvement and respect. Speedrunners often play the game simply because they love the game. They usually want to improve their personal best time (PB). They find it fun to improve their skills and test themselves.
But getting a world record is a very common dream among speedrunners.
To have a world record amongst a community of dedicated, highly-skilled gamers is no easy task. Runners record their times and submit them to Speedrun.com – a speedrunning forum for speedrunners to share their times.
Each game has a group of moderators who are experts at the game. They make rules and monitor each submission to make sure that they’re legit and not breaking any rules.
World record runs are analyzed by the communities as monumental moments in the game’s history. These are the videos that get millions of views online. Speedrunners stream themselves attempting to get world records on Twitch or YouTube to thousands of live viewers.
Why do thousands of people that don’t even speedrun themselves watch others doing it?
Because of the insane grit, passion, and skill behind it.
Speedrunning on a Deeper Level
There is so, so much that goes on behind the scenes of viral videos of world record runs.
As previously mentioned, there’s a lot that goes into speedrunning. Hard work, practice, grit, consistency, strategy, technique, risk, luck, and passion.
Hard Work and Practice
Runners put hundreds or even thousands of hours into their game. In this article from Engadget, it’s reported that Cheese has “clocked more than 5,000 hours of playtime in a single game”. This was from 2017. He’s still playing.
To put that in perspective, that’s 200 days of time. Practice makes perfect, but this is absolutely insane. This level of dedication is something to be admired, even by people who aren’t gamers.
Grit and Consistency
Runners have grit. When they’ve been practicing for years and still don’t have a world record, they don’t stop. They keep going until they get the time they want.
Consistency is super important to runners and it’s a reason why they practice so much. If they nail a tricky part in the game a thousand times, then they got it.
Strategy and Technique
Speedrunnners are super serious about the strategies they implement and their technique. They discuss the best strategies on forums and make sure to announce when they’ve made a breakthrough in the game. Sometimes new breakthrough strategies are revealed through a hype build up video, as we have seen many times in the speedrunning community for GoldenEye 007 for Nintendo 64.
A beautiful thing about the speedrun community is that having a world record is great. But, if someone just simply contributes to lowering the world record, even if it’s not theirs, then they’re proud to have helped.
Forums like Reddit and other gaming sites are hubs to runners discussing their strategies and comparing them to others.
Gamers in the community also have insane timing and precision. Some games require frame perfect inputs. Or making pixel perfect movements in the game. Can you imagine hitting a button in the same fraction of a second consistently!? It’s crazy! Or knowing exactly what pixel to put your character on and doing it multiple times as fast as possible? It can get intense, it can go sideways, or it can be incredibly clutch!
Risk and Luck
Some games have a significant luck factor in their speedrun categories. This definitely doesn’t mean the whole thing is out of the runner’s control, but it’s definitely a factor. In gaming, random aspects of a game are commonly referred to as RNG, or random number generation.
A great example of a speedrun category with RNG would be Minecraft – Random Seed, Glitchless.
Minecraft is a game we’re all familiar with. Players are supposed to collect an assortment of items to reach the End Dimension and defeat a dragon. But every time a game is started, the world that players are put in is completely random. This is the most significant random aspect of the game, but there’s a lot more.
Why would runners dedicate their time to a game where they won’t have control of many key aspects of the game? How would you even run it?
Games like this are when the players need to focus on improvisation and adjustment rather than mastering button inputs or memorizing parts of a game.
Minecraft runners need to think of solutions on the spot and don’t have the luxury of knowing what’s exactly next. A lot of gamers find themselves frustrated by games that have key parts of the game be completely random.
This is opposed to games like Super Mario Bros., where runners know what’s up. They know what to do, how to do it, and exactly when to do it. It’s just a matter of nailing the technique. Luck is still a factor in most speedruns, but it can often be managed, or reacted to, and often doesn’t make or break a run.
As the legendary speedrunner Narcissa Wright once pointed out, when speedrunning a game that requires lots of luck, the top players who get the luckiest are often the ones who have put in the most time. It’s pretty unlikely that someone will fluke their way to the top of a leaderboard without first setting themselves in a position where getting good luck pays off. Skill and dedication are required to make the best use of luck or to even get lucky in the first place.
Sometimes, speedrunning can be more about the speedrunning community than the speedruns themselves. Once you start joining in the speedrun Discord channels, you may want to take part in community events. These community experiences can range from ranomizer races, tournaments, glitch-hunting, and just chatting about the game you all love.
Some of the most fun you’ll ever have in speedrunning will be the time spent with your new friends.
Obviously, these gamers have a lot of passion for speedrunning. There’s definitely something to be admired about how much they love the game they play. The community they foster around a game is beautiful, too.
Nobody would dedicate thousands of hours to a game if they weren’t passionate about it.
So who does dedicate themselves to these games?
The People Who Dedicate Themselves to Speedrunning
Millions of people tune into speedrunning streams or videos. But according to Speedrun.com, only thousands of people actually dedicate themselves to the grind.
Some speedrunners have day jobs, others are lucky enough to employ themselves through streaming.
The runners who work day jobs are just like us. We wake up, go to work, and have families – but once it’s dark and everyone’s off to bed – it’s time to grind. Hours of free time are poured into practicing their game.
YouTubers and Twitch streamers like Dream and Cheese speedrun and make content as a full-time job.
Beyond making a life for themselves in these cases, they can often help the lives of others as well! An awesome part of what speedrunners do is raise money for charity every winter, summer, and other times throughout the year. We mention winter and summer specifically because of the biggest speedrunning events of the year happen during two short weeks on opposite sides of the calendar.
Games Done Quick – Speedrunning for a Cause
Games Done Quick is an organization that has speedrunners fly or travel from all over the world to perform live to a group of people and to an online livestream.
These incredible runners are able to perform amazingly well in front of a live crowd. AGDQ (Awesome Games Done Quick) and SGDQ (Summer Games Done Quick) happen in January and summer every year, respectively.
Viewers are encouraged to donate in order to raise money for charity. In return, runners will name their character something funny or push themselves to do a certain task. Over $25.7 million has been raised for charity under GDQ.
What Can You Learn from Speedrunning?
From the act of speedrunning – nothing much. You’re not going to be applying millisecond movements in your life or using glitches to make things go your way.
But – you can learn so, so much from the people behind it.
Runners teach us to be dedicated, passionate, and to have grit. They don’t give up no matter what, and that’s super admirable.
While we may not be snagging world records or earning money through online streams, we can still achieve our dreams and goals through hard work, practice, patience, and strategy.
This analogy may sound a bit dumb, but it really is true. If a young boy in his bedroom could rise to fame through hours of practice, then we can certainly get that promotion or ace that class.
We can learn to be charitable in our own free time and through our passions.
And learn to dedicate enough time to our crafts to improve.
We can learn to better ourselves.
The speedrunning community is amazing. A friendly, supportive, and passionate community that’s fueled by love. Love for each other, love for their game, love for doing things for the greater good.
Maybe after reading this, you want to try speedrunning. I highly encourage you to do so. I made it sound all deep and grand but it’s honestly a fun hobby, too. Here’s an article that will walk you through starting out.
So pick up your controller, get a timer, turn on your favorite game, and get to it. You won’t regret it!
Adrian is an American writer who loves playing/speedrunning Minecraft, Celeste, browser games, and more. In his free time, he loves to hop on Hypixel and play BedWars.