The Anthology of Awesome Games Done Quick
Published on February 3, 2019
Story and Photo by Keir Chapman
Rockville, MD — Approximately 2,000 gaming enthusiasts have packed the conference center of the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel in Rockville, Maryland for Awesome Games Done Quick (AGDQ) 2019. The event is a staple of the speed running community. Like any good success story, however, AGDQ comes from humble beginnings.
We Could Do Better
In 2009, there were two main charity gaming marathons: Desert Bus for Hope and TheSpeedGamers. Despite having speed in the name, TheSpeedGamers’ marathon did not include speed running at all. This gave Michael Uyama, AGDQ’s co-founder, an idea.
“The fact that TheSpeedGamers didn’t speed run, actually really angered a lot of us,” Uyama said. “As a result, we thought we could do better.”
The central hub for speed running at the time was Speed Demos Archive. There, gamers could post times for various speed runs and talk to one another in a forum. This is where the idea for Games Done Quick (GDQ) was born.
When the idea of a speed running charity marathon was floated, members of the forum posted any game they could think of to be featured. Uyama, in search of focus, narrowed the event to classic games. Thus, the first ever GDQ event was dubbed, Classic Games Done Quick (CGDQ).
“The name was a nod to the classic games we were playing,” Uyama said, “and a nod to the old Quake Done Quick videos that Speed Demos Archive was known for.”
Location, Location, Location
With the name and games settled, a date and location were all that were left to find. The former was easy; January 1, 2010, at 6 p.m. The latter appeared to be a no-brainer as well. The Music and Gaming Festival (MAGFest) was taking place at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia, during that time and seemed like the perfect place to host CGDQ.
MAGFest agreed to let CGDQ set up in their main gaming room. All Uyama had to pay was $100 for use of one of the many wireless modems MAGFest had purchased.
But problems became apparent the day before CGDQ was set to begin, when Uyama and other members of GDQ arrived for check-in. Uyama was told that the wireless modems weren’t working because the provider had been bought out. The advice MAGFest staff gave was to try to get the hotel’s wireless internet to work. Uyama soon learned, however, that the hotel’s internet would not be suitable for streaming.
“I didn’t want people to panic, so I withheld this information for as long as possible,” Uyama said. “In the end, it was pointless because there was a very obvious truth, which was that we could not stream.”
Started From the Bottom
Success was looking increasingly out of reach, but then an alternative location revealed itself. Uyama’s mother lived just 10 minutes away and, if he paid for half of a bed and breakfast for his mother to stay in, Uyama could have the basement for the 50-hour marathon. After a test of the stream, the internet proved up to the task, and the GDQ members mobilized.
The marathon got underway three hours late, after lugging equipment and gamers from MAGFest to the basement. As Twitch had yet to be founded, CGDQ was streamed through Ustream, which offered its fair share of obstacles.
“We peaked at 1,500 viewers, but there was a problem,” Uyama said. “Ustream started messing up at this point, and it started booting people from the stream.”
Despite the streaming service’s halving the online audience, CGDQ was able to double its initial $5,000 goal. The marathon raised more than $10,500 for the foreign aid charity, CARE. Despite all the troubles, the group quickly began talking about the next event.
“It was such an elated and ecstatic feeling after the event was successful,” Uyama said. “We were like, ‘That was fun, let’s do it again.’”
Steady, Sustainable Growth
The next year, the event was rebranded as AGDQ, and took place in the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Matt Merkle, the Director of Operations for AGDQ, began getting involved in 2012. According to him, the event began to grow very naturally. Merkle credits GDQ for helping speed running grow as a whole.
“As we got more viewers, people realized what speed running was,” Merkle said. “They got interested and joined in the community and wanted to speed run themselves.”
Merkle said that GDQ has been able to sustain its growth despite not investing in large advertisement campaigns. Chip “Breakdown” Vogel, one of GDQ’s founding members, claimed that AGDQ 2014 was the last small marathon, drawing in around 400 people. This is also the first time the event raised $1 million, causing an explosion in attendance.
The large number of attendees has not come without backlash. According to Uyama, many longtime fans of AGDQ have felt the event is getting too big, almost like a convention. The critiques aren’t unfounded. The many side events, including an arcade room, panels, and smaller tournaments separate from the main room, can be seen as a distraction from the main reason why the event is held. Uyama doesn’t feel as though this is a problem.
“In a sense, it was always a convention,” Uyama said. “It was just a very, very small convention.”
To combat the controversy surrounding the size, the GDQ staff strives to maintain the casual feel that defined the first CGDQ. This includes placing a couch behind the person who is running a game. On the couch sits a panel of commentators picked by the gamer. This has become a major characteristic of the event.
According to Merkle, the North Bethesda Marriott is a holdover as the GDQ staff searches for a larger facility that can accommodate the ever-growing crowd. Both Merkle and Uyama said they are striving for slow, sustainable growth, that will allow the event to maintain the spirit it has had since the beginning.
A method Merkle has found effective in introducing more people to speed running is their original program, GDQ HOTFIX, which airs on twitch.tv/gamesdonequick. The show highlights major events and developments in the speed running community.
“That has been really key to try and get more people in the general public aware of speed running,” Merkle said. “That’s obviously been a big driver for growth.”
From Uyama’s mother’s basement, to packing hotels with thousands of people, AGDQ has surpassed every one of Uyama’s original goals. Aside from a fun and casual vibe, GDQ has been defined by its ability to overcome any obstacle it has faced.
“We beat all the odds and made a huge event out of one that looked pretty much destined to fail,” Uyama said of CGDQ. “We completely crushed our expectation