The European Speedrunner Assembly (ESA) also known as ESA Marathon, is a week-long bi-annual charity event where runners around the world gather to play games as fast as possible (speedrunning). The games vary from the old classics to brand new hyped-up games with a dash of awful games on obscure platforms. To this date, ESA Marathon has raised a total of over US$440,000 for different charities. This year the winter event raised more than US$47,000 for a Swedish organization, Alzheimer Fonden, which supports academic research on the disease. Past Summer events have also raised funds for the Save the Children charity organization.
The Winter and Summer events have usually been held physically at a hotel in Malmö, Sweden. However, during this unfortunate global pandemic, all events have since been held online. In addition to these bigger physical events, ESA holds other smaller online charity events throughout the year.
The most recent ESA Marathon was the Winter edition held from 12th to 21st of February in 2021. The games run 24 hours a day for the whole week on Twitch. These finely tweaked and wacky runs offer great entertainment. The commentary by the runner or their co-commentator provides insight into the intricate details of the game, performance, and tricks or glitches used. The range of games is diverse – even runs have variety as they can be races, co-ops, randomizers (e.g. randomized item/enemy locations), and ROM-hacks (modified games). This Winter event had about 140 runs on over 20 different platforms! Including but not limited to ZX Spectrum, Philips CD-I, Sega Saturn, PC, SNES, Switch, and PlayStation 5. Run-length also varied between only a few minutes to 20 hours. Games galore!
The marathon games are chosen by the ESA staff, but runners themselves submit the game and categories they wish to showcase on the marathon. Anyone can submit a run for the event, but video proof of the run must also be provided. Runners can also provide additional content or challenges as an incentive for donating to the cause.
By donating to a specific bid, viewers can affect the run in certain ways. For example, naming a game character, have the runner showcase some glitches or show additional content, or have the runner use a blindfold to complete the run. Even a bonus game may be unlocked! Donating is also encouraged by raffle prizes and by reading the donation comments on stream. All donations go straight to the associated charity organization.
These events provide a lot of quality entertainment, lots of laughs, and moments of awe. Charity speedrunning events are certainly one of my favorite game phenomena because of their uplifting atmosphere. These events show that the speedrunner communities are supportive and their goal is to raise money for impactful and beneficial causes. The events often bring people together from around the world, and most of all they bring awareness to different games. In my opinion, these events also help fight the stigma of games as harmful media. Games are often portrayed as violent and as the root cause for violent acts. The players as solitary and antisocial. Watching these events will most likely expand one’s understanding of the multitude and variety of games, gaming, and gamers!
Here are a few of my favorite runs of the week:
– Bee Movie Game by BlackbeltGingaNinja – A buzzing run filled with bee-themed puns.
– The Legend of Zelda: A Link to The Past by Xita and Wiredwicky – A beloved classic modified into a co-op randomizer.
– The Wacky World of Miniature Golf by BigJon – A terrible game but awesome speedrun in its absurdity.
All pictures are screenshots from the marathon event taken by the author.