How two Midwestern speedrunning marathons got their start

by Robin Mosley

Midspring Speedfling 2021 is a speedrunning event that’s taking place online from Thursday through Sunday for Sweet Relief, a charity supporting musicians and music industry workers in need. Speedrunning refers to the act of playing through a game as quickly as possible. Speedrunning events are a huge deal to gamers who are interested in building a following that will in turn bring them sponsorships and visibility on Twitch. But the point of a speedrun marathon is about bringing people together and playing games for a good cause.

Although a speedrunning marathon often looks polished when viewers are watching, there is a lot that goes into the process before it’s broadcast, and the Minnesota-based marathon is no different.

How Midwest Speedfest and Midspring Speedfling started

Twice a year, a team of mostly Minnesotans put on two speedrunning marathons -- Midwest Speedfest in August and Midspring Speedfling in April. Created by Murphy Pyan, aka Seckswrecks, both marathons started as a humble endeavor in 2015 as a way to give visibility and opportunity to talented runners who couldn’t join the Games Done Quick events in its early days, specifically because of the location restriction.

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Although GDQ eventually moved one of their events, Summer Games Done Quick to Minnesota, Pyan’s marathons were the only ones available to runners locally for a while. Pyan just saw it as a way to “have an in-person speedrun meetup without having to travel as far.” So, with a group of people from admin to volunteers, they all worked together to pull off what at the time was “the only other general purpose live event in the United States that wasn’t taking place in a private residence,” Pyan said.

From the start, the Midwest Speedfest and Midspring Speedfling marathons were held in a hotel. How Pyan secured location space with VGM Con and 2D Con just happened on a whim, and connections flourished from there. As Matthew Goblish, aka Gooby, an admin/coordinator tells it, in 2015, the partnership with 2D Con started because there was an event by other organizers that got cancelled.

“They still had the reservation, they couldn’t back out of it,” Goblish said. “And so, we have this hotel space. What do we do with it?”

What they did was put on their first speedrunning event.

Pyan’s memory regarding the venue had more to do with logistics way before the marathon had a guaranteed location space with VGM Con and 2D Con.

“When we were originally planning the event, I started going over all what would be required to actually do this at a hotel in my head and talk[ed] to people who would know these answers,” Pyan said. “This [was] never going to happen unless someone [did] it for us. And thankfully, someone has.”

Image credit: VGM Con / Midwest Speedfest Volunteers

The components of a quality speedrunning marathon

Although both speedrunning marathons are six years strong, to this day, it is still run by a small team of admin and volunteers like it was when it was first started. The marathon is fine-tuned, but it doesn’t mean that it is easy work to pull off.

“I've kind of been thinking about this, [marathons] kind of goes into three different segments.” Goblish said. “There's the first kind of segment … pre-planning, discussion, [and] contemplation where it's you coordinating with people … then you're doing things like reaching out to runners, putting the word out about the events … [and then there’s] the nitty gritty details [like] setting up the computer and having that ready to go, having people trained in so that they can do restreaming.”

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As Midwest Speedfest and Midspring Speedfling continued to grow, more people wanted a chance to showcase their talent. It was only natural that runners would submit their runs, but this meant that Pyan, Goblish and the rest of the team would have to spend time reviewing submissions to ensure each slot was given to the best runner.

“The game submission process is a whole other you know, you open it up for people who want to come and they send in their stuff, it's like an audition or like a mixtape that you'd send in to try to get signed to a record label,” Pyan said. “And this recent event, we had 400 something runs that we graded and watched.”

The admin team gathers all submissions and then divides them among their group. Next, they all grade them, and, finally, they get together to confirm who will participate. With any marathon there has to be a thorough review about which games work the best for the marathon. No matter what there has to be a mixture of games that are fun to watch and different from the norm as well as popular titles that will bring in the money because that is the end goal.

“As much as we like to balance the big popular runs, I think we've always done a good job of finding some things you wouldn't see anywhere else. So that's one thing that's fun to tune in to us for,” Pyan said.

Image credit: VGM Con / Midwest Speedfest Volunteers

What 2020 has been like for their marathons

While 2020 put in-person events in a tailspin, the transition to online wasn’t difficult at all for the team. This year’s marathon like the year before it will be online for all to see. Their last in-person event was in March 2020, but instead of finding online marathons difficult, Pyan’s extensive experience with events since 2013 made the transition easier.

In fact, the move online grew their marathon even more because there was no longer a travel requirement to come to Minnesota, so people from all over the world could participate. Even though online marathons are convenient nowadays, there are people like Goblish who are interested in normalcy. At the moment, there are too many variables up in the air, but there is hope for the return to in-person events.

“It’s hard to say, but it’s definitely starting to look like things can open up and be in-person soon,” Goblish said.

As COVID-19 vaccinations increase more people will gather, but until then, watching the marathon via Twitch is encouraged. Goblish suggests interested viewers come and check it out to see what the marathon is all about.

“This group of people from mostly Minnesota that I've worked with for so many years helped me out when the event kind of ended up being basically me trying to plan it myself,” Pyan said. “I think that at our events’ core is just people playing video games together and having fun. And now it's grown to so much more.”

Lead image credit: VGM Con / Midwest Speedfest Volunteers

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