Awesome Games Done Quick (AGDQ) 2021 Online is right around the corner (Jan 3rd-10th), and is one of the most exciting charity speedrunning events of the year benefitting Prevent Cancer Foundation. Although AGDQ is usually in-person, due to current events, it will take place online, making it the second major GDQ event done virtually; Summer Games Done Quick (SGDQ) 2020 Online being the first, raising money for Doctors Without Borders. The total amount raised during Summer Games Done Quick 2020 Online was 2.3 million, so there is no doubt that AGDQ 2021 online will be similarly successful.
At a glance, the marathon seems fairly simple and straightforward; players speedrun or showcase a video game with a commentator, while a host reads off donations. Sometimes there will be an interview, or an ad break with sponsors, but that is all the audience sees over the week-long duration of these marathons. However, there is so much that occurs behind the scenes that the audience doesn’t get a chance to see or think about. As someone who has served as a GDQ volunteer for six years at this point, I now invite you all to take a trip with me behind the scenes at a Games Done Quick Online event, but first, let’s talk about what speedrunning entails.
A good place to begin discussion about the massive amount of work that goes into these marathons is with what speedrunning consists of, and what runners specifically do to prepare for these marathons. Speedrunning is the process in which a person learns a game, learns tricks such as clips, glitches, and exploits, and then practices to complete the game as quickly as possible. Runners take as long as years to learn games, however, speedrunning is also a collaborative effort. Despite the audience only seeing between one to four runners playing any given game, there is an entire community behind the work that goes into running that game.
The two components that are responsible for the improvement of speedruns are a TAS (or Tool-Assisted Speedrun), where people use various programs to figure out the fastest route as well as tricks that are possible in a game (although at times, tricks have been found that humans cannot complete for various reasons such as failure to mash at the speed of a machine), and community trial-and-error, where community members share and collaborate in their findings to improve the game’s time overall instead of individual times. It is important to note that speedrunning is not so much a competition, but an effort put out by a community to produce the fastest time a human can produce.
Although the submission process to Games Done Quick can be competitive amongst individuals to see who can actually run at the marathon, what the runner is producing is a collaborative effort (in most cases) of many, many years of testing and work.
The next question is one on everyone’s minds at one point or another: who selects the games that go onto the schedule? There is a committee composed of GDQ staff members that has the tall task of figuring out what is going to make the best schedule possible to raise money for charity.
Thousands of games are submitted to each event, but only a few make it as there are only 168 hours in a week, but even then, the hours are reduced further as enough time needs to be left to allocate time for tech setups, interviews, ad breaks, and technical difficulty buffer time. The GDQ games committee roughly takes anywhere between three weeks to a month to select games due to the sheer volume of submissions.
The time window is so big for this process as it takes time to research and analyze which games would be the best fit. Once the games are selected, their job is not over. They must now create the schedule. The schedule involves looking over the availability of the runners, strategic planning as to what games would be more successful at what time slots, and synergy as to the order of games (also known as the creation of blocks- the grouping of games with some sort of similarity).
While the games are being selected, there are other tasks that are simultaneously being completed by other GDQ staff members such as selecting volunteers. For the GDQ online events, the types of volunteers that are needed for the event include tech, hosting, and donation processing. For in-person events, even more volunteers are needed (and volunteer types), but since AGDQ 2021 Online is coming up soon, there will be more of a focus on the volunteers needed for the online events only.
Game selection is not the only process that needs a committee; hosting is also another process that requires a selection committee of sorts. The hosting process begins with prospective hosts making sure they fill in the volunteer form on time. Shortly after the form is filled out, an email is distributed to prospective hosts giving them detailed instructions on how to set up and create an audition video. Then, hosting judges are selected as volunteers (judges cannot submit a hosting audition) to handle over one-hundred auditions.
The hosting audition accurately simulates what it would be like to host at an actual event. The audition videos are roughly eight minutes, which are distributed to an appropriate number of judges. Prospective judges have a rubric to assess auditions off of which include categories (including, but not limited to) such as event awareness and judgment.
The host serves as an additional filter for donations to assess what is appropriate and not appropriate to read on the stream, so it is important that the host is assessed on their ability to decipher what is appropriate in terms of tone, donation comment appropriateness, and always making sure to be aware of the charity and sponsors.
Of course, the host is not the only filter for donation comments. There is an entire branch of volunteering devoted to this cause: donation processing.
Donation processing entirely takes place behind the scenes, and is quite an important task to making sure the content stays appropriate and family friendly. Although a bot can filter out obvious profanities and other foul language, unfortunately, people still try to be sneaky to get inappropriate words and phrases onto the stream. As a result, there must be multiple people who analyze every donation comment to make sure the stream stays as wholesome as possible.
The donation station consists of a GDQ staff member in charge of the station, head donations processors, and donations processors. Head Donations processors are not only responsible for helping and teaching new donation processors, but also communicating with the host in case there are any questions about donation comments or certain donations that the runner may be looking for (a friend or family member who may want to donate during a given run).
Donations processing at any stage is essential to making sure fun and exclusively appropriate comments are only read on the stream, and is the least visible job of the GDQ event. When you hear those comments being read by the host next time you watch the event, be sure to think about donations processing, because it is a laborious volunteering department that deserves praise for all of the hard work throughout the event.
Speaking of other jobs behind the scenes, another invisible job (at least until the stream experiences technical difficulties) is tech itself. Although some of the tasks are different online, tech volunteers are responsible for changing the title of the stream, handling sound mixing (the sound consists of the host, runner, and game during a given run), coordinating with other members of tech to make sure everyone is on the same page, and handling those technical difficulties that can occur for a variety of reasons. Without tech, the stream would not be nearly as organized, and the audience would not have the sound balanced. Tech is essential to making sure the stream itself is as polished of a product as possible.
So much goes on behind the scenes at Games Done Quick events that an entire novel could be written about the positions and how those have evolved and changed over time. Each of these branches of GDQ volunteering have been greatly simplified. If you ever meet a member of GDQ staff or a volunteer, be sure to thank them for their work. It literally takes an entire community full of dedicated and passionate speedrunners, hosts, volunteers, and staff to run such an enormous series of events year after year.
Games Done Quick just celebrated its ten year anniversary at AGDQ 2020, and they are still going strong despite all of the roadblocks caused by current events. With the new year upon us, fans of GDQ should look forward to the future in terms of events, and speedrunning itself.
AGDQ 2021 Online takes place from Jan 3rd-10th 2021. Check out the event on Twitch, and stay updated through Twitter. Miss a run or the event itself? You can check out reruns on YouTube. See you at GDQ online soon!