July 14th a group of big-hearted gamers will embark on a quest to stream 120 hours of Final Fantasy gameplay to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. TheSpeedGamers are veteran charity game streamers getting their start back in 2008 and having raised over $700,000 for charities like St. Jude, Make-A-Wish, and many more since. Members of TheSpeedGamers took the time to tell us more about their group, what they do, and their big Final Fantasy Marathon event this summer.
TechRaptor: TheSpeedGamers got their start back in 2008. How did the group evolve from streaming to holding charity events and becoming world record holders?
Britt LaRiviere: Back in 2008 we started right off the bat with a gaming charity streaming event. That was our idea on how to do a stream, or a new take on it. My brother and I had seen a guy named Cameron Banga steaming the Zelda series and that's what gave us confidence in the idea. We had been watching a lot of Justin.tv in 2007/2008 (which is now twitch.tv) and we wanted to try out streaming video games because almost no one was doing it. At the time streaming video games was basically non existent. Gaming capture cards were not mainstream. Our first few marathons in fact were done by pointing a webcam at a TV. Back then, this was the norm and it's funny to think about looking back on it. It's been really cool to see steaming take off the way that it has. Our marathons and production have just gone up since then. We always try to iterate new ideas each year to keep our events fresh.
TechRaptor: How are things different today from when you started?
Philip Elder: When I first joined TSG it was 6 people from Texas in a bedroom. Over the years I have been there to see just marathon attendees grow to over 40 people from all over the world, taking over the houses and conference rooms our shows take place in. Our online community has grown and stuck around and it has been an exciting experience watching people grow up with us and around us. Being there for each other when a new person goes off to college or enters the workforce and thinking back to when things first started, and remembering, 'they used to have a goofy cartoon character as their avatar and now they are going to West Point'. Our community is so widespread and friendly that I can go to someplace I've never been, post my location on social media, and friends I've only talked to online or who have watched our streams will come out of the woodwork and meet for lunch. It's awesome and humbling to have been a part of that!
Sam Sherman: TSG has become so much more global than I could have imagined, we have people flying in from all over the world to participate and help out, and that's amazing to me. We've become this huge community full of really interesting people, and seeing them connect not only with us, but with each other, is really cool. Also, more leg space! I'll always have fond memories of sitting in that cramped bedroom with 6 other people, but I can't say I miss it.
TechRaptor: Do TheSpeedGamers primarily stream for charity or do you participate in other speed gaming events?
Britt LaRiviere: We primarily stream for charity. We mainly do just playthroughs of franchises but not necessarily speed runs. Each of our runs vary. We will have a few speed runs sprinkled in throughout our events. It's hard for us to get really good results when it comes to speed runs because many of the games that we play are new to our runners, so our goal is to put out the best run that we can. The quality of the run will vary on the amount of time we have to practice. A few of our runners have also took part in events like AGDQ and other staff also contribute to their events.
Jasef Wisener: Many of our members are also pretty active streamers in their own right, and they stream for viewers throughout the week apart from TSG. We do also hold a lot of community building-type events, such as a Mario Kart night or a Splatoon night, that are intended to help grow our community outside of what we do for charity.
TechRaptor: Tell us about making the Guinness World Record for “Longest Relay of a Japanese RPG”?
Britt LaRiviere: The world record actually kind of just fell into our lap. Going into our 2009 Final Fantasy Marathon we knew we were doing something very unusual, something we had never heard of. We had done gaming marathons in the past but never a series for that long, 168 hours. We ended up raising over $50,000 which blew our minds. It wasn't until a couple of years later when we found out that marathon broke a record. Someone had tweeted at us that they had received the "Guinness Book of World Records for Gaming" for Christmas and that we were in it for the longest relay of a JRPG. Later that day I went up to a book store and found a copy and there we were! It was pretty cool to see.
TechRaptor: Why did you choose Final Fantasy for your marathon event?
Britt LaRiviere: Originally we chose the series because we needed a set of games with a common theme that could fill 168 hours. We thought that Final Fantasy best filled those needs and the group is all pretty big fans of Final Fantasy. Back in 2009 our events really emphasized the "marathon" aspect. So the viewers truly saw grueling drawn out runs of the games. Several of our players played their games for over 20 hours in one sitting. It was pretty insane.
Jasef Wisener: For this year in particular, we wanted to go back to a series that we haven’t touched in a while (our last Final Fantasy marathon was in 2013), and it also felt like the right time to call back to one of our most popular events since TSG’s tenth anniversary is coming up in March 2018.
TechRaptor: How do you prepare for such a long gaming session?
Megan Landrum: As a group, we plan the events as much as we can, but you also have to be prepared for unexpected things to happen. Sometimes the chat really wants to see a certain stunt or a piece of equipment might malfunction. It helps to plan but to also be able to roll with the punches because that is usually when we have the most fun. Most of the games we play are for a long amount of time, or we even have teams to compete against each other. For me, I practiced my game in small segments over and over until I could do it by memory, and then I move to the next part of the game. Eventually, you can play a game for 4-6 hours with little mistakes and it really is pretty cool. We like to make sure the viewers enjoy our gameplay, and sometimes that even means them laughing at our mistakes.
TechRaptor: Do you focus on speed or just endurance during your marathons?
Jasef Wisener: TSG is pretty unique from other groups in that we have a nice mix of both. All of our marathons start from the perspective of “here’s the length that this marathon will be,” and we go from there depending on what the theme of the marathon will be. Speed is (almost) always a factor, but different marathons put the focus on other elements instead. For example, one of our most frequent marathon themes is Pokémon, and we usually do some variation on a “Catch ‘Em All” aspect. Sometimes it’ll be the entire Pokédex in a set amount of time and other times it will be something like completing a “retro Pokédex” by playing just the first two generations of games. We also do more relaxed marathons at times, such as some of our Halloween marathons. In those, we typically give our players a set shift where they play through all or part of a horror game, depending on how long the game is. Our Final Fantasy marathon, though, is absolutely speed-based, and all of our runners have been practicing for months to get their times down. With that said, most of us aren’t world record-caliber speedrunners, so a lot of our runs feel more like everyman speedruns than something that you would see in a record book for time.
TechRaptor: What game have you played the most? How many times?
Jasef Wisener: We try to do a variety of franchises, but we have some staples that we keep going back to because we know they’ll be entertaining for viewers. Our two most frequent themes have been The Legend of Zelda and Pokémon, and variations on those two account for fourteen of the forty marathons that we’ve held (Final Fantasy 2017 will be our forty-first marathon). We also go back to Mario often for events, and this year’s Final Fantasy marathon will be the third time that we’ve done that franchise. We’re always looking for different franchises for events, but we also like to keep doing things that work for both us and the audience. Even when we “repeat” marathons, though, we try to do something new with them or inject some new element that we haven’t seen before.
TechRaptor: What are your favorite Final Fantasy Games?
Joseph Baltes: Every new entry becomes my favorite and every time I replay a game it also becomes my favorite. Right now? Final Fantasy 12. Last year, Final Fantasy 15. The others probably have very different opinions on their favorite. This is a series that appeals to all of us in different ways and each of us find our favorite moments in different places.
Jasef Wisener: We’re such a diverse group that we all probably have different favorites, which is something that definitely helps when planning an event like this.
TechRaptor: Why did you choose to support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with the 2017 Final Fantasy Marathon? How have you gotten involved with various charities in past events?
John Helgeson: St. Jude is one of our favorite charities to raise money for for many reasons. Primarily, we believe in what they stand for and the amount of good they have accomplished. Our main way for getting involved with the various charities we have worked with in the past is usually by having a connection to their beliefs and goals, so St. Jude has been a perfect fit for many of our events.
TechRaptor: Do you think it’s important for gamers to get involved in causes they care about?
Jasef Wisener: I think it’s absolutely important for gamers to get involved in causes they care about. Culture has shifted to the other side of the spectrum in a lot of ways, but oftentimes “gamers” are still seen in some lower regard than other groups, and getting involved in a cause or with a charity can go a long way in showing the good that a person or a group can do with whatever skills or talents that they have. I think that TSG in particular also does a really good job at showing that stereotypes of what makes a “gamer” don’t really exist anymore. Our group, and our extended community as a whole, is made up of people from around the world and from all walks of life, and the only thread that links every single one of us is our love for games and for charity. Our personalities aren’t shaped or defined by games (as a whole), but we’re people with different interests and experiences that are able to come together to do something good.
Rob Ostrout: I think it's important for anyone to get involved in causes they are passionate about. With tools like Twitch and YouTube available today it's easier than ever to get involved and have their voice heard. That being said, for many gaming is used as an escape or a means of competition all very beneficial in their own right. That's why I love gaming so much, there's room for everyone.
TechRaptor: What types of things other than playing Final Fantasy games will be going on during the marathon?
Jasef Wisener: During our marathons, we like to do as much as we can to give the viewers a fun experience. The stream will always have a game running at any given time, and we’ll also have a schedule for commentators to be on-camera and interacting with the chat. Commentators will be doing stunts, engaging with the chat, and whatever it takes to spur donations for St. Jude, and we’ll also have prize raffles, giveaways, and more for viewers to take part in. We’ve had a huge amount of prizes generously donated from around the world (largely handmade items from Etsy vendors), and it’s always a great incentive for viewers if they know they have a chance at winning something physical when they donate their money to a good cause.
Rob Ostrout: Additionally, we’ve got a really cool new interactive experience for viewers this year that’s unique to the Final Fantasy franchise and that will allow them to help their favorite TSG member raise money for St. Jude. It's something we've never done before and we're really excited to showcase it
TechRaptor: How can viewers get involved and support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital during the 2017 Final Fantasy Marathon on July 14th?
John Helgeson: Donations are always appreciated but if you're unable, or you want to do even more to help spreading the word is a huge help. Getting the word out to your friends and family, Facebook, Twitter, any other way can help make the Final Fantasy marathon an amazing event.
Thank you to TheSpeedGamers for taking the time to answer our questions. You can watch their Final Fantasy Marathon supporting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital on July 14th on Twitch.