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Hanging Out With a Pro Video Game Speedrunner Defending a World Title

Some game streamers become huge celebrities, but thousands more make a modest living in semi-obscurity. My brother is one of the latter, and his day-to-day is pretty stressful.

by Zac Thompson
Dec 4 2016, 4:49pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada

My little brother, Lucas "Bawkbasoup" Thompson, is a professional video game streamer. That means he spends most his day repeating the same mistakes in an effort to achieve some small break in the randomness of a video game.

Thirteen months ago, Lucas made the move from professional chef to full-time streaming and now only relies on income from Twitch, the most popular platform of its kind. Although he categorizes himself as a competitive gamer, Lucas spends most of his time "speed running" video games. If you didn't know by now, that's a full-time job and it's actually exhausting.

I spent an entire day with Lucas to get a full understanding of what it meant to play games as fast as possible for money. He's got a strict schedule where he streams Sunday to Friday from 12 PM to 7 PM with no dinner break. He gets up at 11:30, showers, grabs a quick breakfast and gets to work. Every Thursday he runs six games back-to-back with no breaks, for a total of 11 hours.

20 odd people sit in a chat room waiting for Bawkbasoup to go live, as he sits on the other side and obsessively picks the waiting room music to set the mood. Bawk has a few regulars who show up early and are watching almost every day. It's unclear whether or not they have jobs or just spend a lot of time on Twitch. Either way, these 20 regulars don't miss a stream.

These regulars are some of Bawkbasoup's subscribers. Lucas is a Twitch Partner which means his stream has been selected for monetization. Not everyone gets this privilege. You have to apply and the application process can be long and grueling. Lucas applied 10 times before his fan base was big enough to get accepted. All told, with a small subscriber base of 300-ish people, he makes roughly $2,000 USD a month.

We didn't spend any time in the chat room before jumping into world record attempts on Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Most viewers are there to watch Lucas beat a game as fast as possible without killing a single enemy. It's a strange and highly competitive subset of livestreaming that can be very lucrative for those trying to build a name.

Just a day at the office, really.

I was immediately stunned by Lucas's ability to carry on several conversations in chat and play a ridiculously complicated game. When I asked him how made it look so easy, he shrugged and said "it's just natural." As we were attempting to take the world record, Lucas told me the goal was to stay positive. If he creates a good mood in the chat and interacts with his viewers they'll cheer him on and encourage his success.

He said getting world records in speed running is difficult and incredibly stressful. There's an intense pressure to stay ahead that compels him to stream almost every day. "Let's say I wanted to get a certain record, but in the back of my mind I know that I can't stop playing that game because the guy behind me is going to try and take it," he told VICE. "It's always this struggle: will my audience and my ego be satisfied by being a few seconds behind?"

Over the course of three hours, we reset Resident Evil 3 over 15 times. During the multiple playthroughs there were many times Lucas would be on his personal best pace but would be undone by either by a small mistake or something known as RNG (a fancy speedrunning term for luck). The games Lucas runs all operate on random number generation to decide where enemies go and how many shots they take to kill.

It takes multiple playthroughs to figure out the finite number of permutations in the randomness of the game. Speedrunners achieve this process through separating the game into smaller chunks that they track with over/under times. These are called "splits" they give you a fair view on what sort of pace you're on and how good/bad you're getting fucked by RNG. You don't necessarily need splits but they let you know when you're on world record pace.

Over the 15 playthroughs I can see that you can easily get bad luck with RNG 20 minutes into a game and have to start over. In Resident Evil 3, about five minutes into a playthrough you reach a room with a locker. If there is a magnum inside that locker you have to reset your run, if there's a grenade launcher you keep going. This is just one small example of a particular thing that you cause you to lose time and not be able to optimize your run.

Previous Resident Evil 3 world record holder, DudleyC_ said that over the last year, the Resident Evil 3 Knife Only (you only use the knife as a weapon) world record has changed hands seven times. Over the course of that time only a minute and 30 seconds have been shaved off the complete time.

Dudley said he didn't really care at all when Lucas took the record but he does try to mess with him whenever he gets the chance. Anytime Lucas fumbles on a run, Dudley and his subscribers use one of Dudley's specially-designed "lmao" emotes to taunt him. "I always call him shit at the game and tell him his strategies are garbage but his stream is one of my favorites and I catch him almost every time he broadcasts." Despite this, Dudley's priorities have shifted into other games.

About halfway through the day I ask why people like his stream to get the chat going and they respond by comparing Bawkbasoup to a chill ASMR-inducing Bob Ross figure. (One Redditor called him the best ASMR experience they ever had).

As Lucas continues to play, he's able to explain to me that movement is the most important part of playing games quickly. He did say that it completely depends on the game and If you generalize speedrunning there's he can say as a defining factor. However, in the games he plays if you skim a wall, or move in anything other than a straight line then you lose time. Time is everything in speedrunning.

As we get further in the day, I realize that his viewers come to define the moments in stream more so than Lucas. They've collectively nicknamed certain chokepoints in the game and look forward to reaching them. There's Ron Jeremy's corner, the orgy room, and the sub to BawkBa basement. Every room has a learned behavior from the crowd and they create a certain amount of cheering to get through the difficult moment.

Lucas streams from his bedroom with a powerful gaming PC hooked up to several different game consoles and two monitors (one for chat, and the other for the game). At any given time there is a sea of tangled cords on his floor. He doesn't feel the need to sort them out but assured me I caught him on a bad day. A collection of console controllers litters his desk for easy access as he switches between games. When I ask him about it he says, "I use a different controller for practically every game I play."

By the end of the stream we're speedrunning Silent Hill 3. Bawkbasoup is the current world record holder for the game with a time of 47 minutes and 41 seconds. (The game takes 12 hours to play through for a normal person.) Lucas has reset it 2,896 times for a total playtime of 73 hours (he keeps track), so he knows it a little differently. He tells me this is his favorite game to run.

"Everything has to be so perfect to get a good time. I know that doesn't sound fun but this game looks so good, sounds so good, and the movement is smooth," he said. 'If you don't do well here you have no one to blame but yourself." We completed a couple of playthroughs but finished about a minute off world-record pace.

The previous Silent Hill 3 world record holder, Shunpuk held the record from September 2015 until she lost it to Bawk in April of this year. "A lot of other runners and viewers at the time considered my run to be close to unbeatable, despite the slight bad luck the run had," she told VICE, adding there's a friendly rivalry between them. To her another runner taking her record was just another step in pushing Silent Hill 3 to its limits. She admitted that Lucas and her didn't exactly get along when they met because she didn't take his commitment seriously. Lucas tells me they had some philosophical disagreements on the rules of a speedrun. However, after seeing him run the game for eight hours at a time now even Shunpuk calls herself a fan of Bawk's stream.

After eight hours of gaming, I have to stop, I'm exhausted from sitting in a dark room for way too long without eating. For Lucas, it's all part of the experience. You can't take time for yourself when you're streaming or you lose viewers. In fact, there's never any time to relax. People believe it's easy but competitive streaming is a constant struggle to entertain and push yourself further. Lucas says, "If that seems easy, go pick up your favorite game and attempt to get a half decent time in under a week. Then talk to me."

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