This production area is what makes Awesome Games Done Quick 2020 run smoothly. An annual event that raises money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation, AGDQ is a seven-day livestream event that showcases dozens of players, known as speedrunners, attempting to beat video games as quickly as possible. Speedrunning requires perfect timing and twitch reflexes; understanding how to break the game is just as important as knowing how to play it flawlessly. Whereas most casual players measure gameplay in hours, in speedrunning, aided by intimate knowledge of a game’s inner workings, shaving a second off of a record time is a remarkable feat.
Games Done Quick, the company that organizes Awesome Games Done Quick and Summer Games Done Quick, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. AGDQ 2020 is GDQ’s biggest event in terms of venue and attendees, and it’s taking place in a brand-new city and venue, the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando, to boot. That adds another layer of challenges for the people charged with keeping the production running and remedying any issues that arise.
AGDQ 2020 ran for a grand total of 168 hours, but those in charge of organizing the event know how to tackle the challenges a finicky livestream event can create.
“It’s all about preparation,” says Kasumi Yogi, Event Manager for GDQ. “The first thing we do [in a new place] is look up where the computer parts store is and make note of it, because we already know that we’re going to go there.”
Anyone that has tried to stream — on any sort of level — knows that anything and everything can go wrong in an instant. Games Done Quick events have multiple cameras set up for different scenes, at least four TVs streaming the game that the current runner (or runners) are playing, and microphones for the runners, commentators and hosts. Add to that all of the games the runners will play, and the consoles they’re playing on — some of which could generously be described as ancient — and it becomes clear there is so much that could go wrong during ADGQ.
“Most point of failures, we have an alternative method,” Aharon Turpie, the head of Tech at GDQ, says. “That way, if there’s an issue, especially in the middle of a run, we have the option to quickly fall to the backup.”
“We have spare cords, we have spare TVs, we have spare consoles. We really try to have backups for everything,” Yogi says. “We basically have an entire computer store in the back.”
The speedruns themselves require bespoke tech modifications. Some games play differently on different hardware, impacting run times. Other times, runners may need to use unusual peripherals or need special setups for donation incentives to the charity fundraising drive. For some of the more niche games, sometimes the setup is a struggle in itself.
One of the most difficult challenges the Games Done Quick tech team faced, Turpie says, was a four-player race in Tetris: The Grand Masters. Unlike most Tetris titles, The Grand Masters games are arcade titles that require special boards to work. The runners provided their own SuperGuns, which are homemade devices built to run arcade boards that typically need a cabinet to work. But since the SuperGuns were built by the runners themselves, they were all different, and all had different problems the tech team had to diagnose and overcome. After about 50 minutes of tweaking and testing, though, all the technical kinks were worked out and a very impressive race ensued.
But each new problem and each new crazy speedrunning setup is a learning experience for Turpie and GDQ’s tech team. “We’ve been building up this repository of information of things that can go wrong,” Turpie explains. “We know to look out for these things, we know how to deal with them, we know how to fix them.”
Interest in attending events like Awesome Games Done Quick and Summer Games Done Quick has grown over the years. So besides the show itself, one of the biggest challenges GDQ staff faces is upscaling their venues.
This year, AGDQ moved to a new state, drifting south from its Virginia and Maryland locations of years past and landing in Orlando, Florida.
“The decision was made for us,” Matt Merkle, Director of Operations for GDQ, says. “We did not want to go into downtown D.C., as prices would just skyrocket. But we want to make sure we pick an airport that’s easy to get to from international flights, which eliminates a huge number of options.”
When the first ever Games Done Quick event was broadcast in 2010, only 10 people were in attendance. Now, the events boast almost 2,800 attendees and AGDQ brings in a constant 100k viewer count on Twitch, which swells up to nearly 200k viewers on the final days. To speedrunners, AGDQ is the largest stage to showcase their skills, and their events are the biggest speedrunning events in the entire community.
Despite all of GDQ’s growth, and despite the thousands of attendees that came to Awesome Games Done Quick 2020, speedrunning is still a very niche part of the wider video game community. It stands to reason that a broader gaming event may raise more money, but to Merkle, hosting a speedrunning event is what makes Games Done Quick special.
“We’re going to speedrun because that’s what it’s been since the very beginning,” said Merkle. “That’s what we’re all passionate about, that’s what we enjoy.”
In the end, AGDQ 2020 raised $3.13 million, breaking all of the event’s previous records. But Awesome Games Done Quick is ultimately more than a charity stream, and more than just a speedrunning event: It has the vibe of a week-long get-together for friends that may not see each other otherwise. This shows in the organization of the venue, which featured an arcade to play rare titles, as well as huge areas for attendees to play board games and video games. Even as GDQ grows in size and popularity, it has foregone the feeling of a structured conference and in favor of a kind of video game vacation.
At AGDQ 2020, this was felt most acutely inside the ballroom. The energy of the crowd is always high, and exudes positivity. Attendees cheer on runners when something doesn’t go as planned just as much as they cheer for big donations.
During a big push to hit $2.3 million in donations on Saturday, the crowd was buzzing with excitement, starting a chant to get Twitch viewers to donate and counting down each thousand raised. When the ticker hit $2.3 million, the room erupted. And all systems were running as they should, just as Yogi, Turpie and the GDQ team intended.
Elizabeth Henges is a freelance reporter who mainly focuses on the video game industry. Her work has been featured on Kotaku, IGN, and EGM. You can follow her on Twitter @gaiages.