How STARDEW VALLEY went from cosy to competitiv­e.


One of the most wonderful things about the evolution of esports is that these days, any game can be a contest. Long gone are the days where ultracompe­titive ventures like Dota 2 or Counter-Strike were the only ways to enjoy high-level gaming. This was evident when at the beginning of August, Stardew Valley creator Eric Barone announced the first-ever Stardew Valley Cup – a tournament that would pit four teams against each other for a US $40,000 prize pot, donated by Barone himself.

The objective was to take on 100 challenges within three hours and to try to complete as many as possible, with each challenge offering a different number of points depending on its difficulty. Small things like naming a chicken after Barone would net a team ten points, while more difficult tasks like getting to the 100th floor in the game’s gruelling Skull Caverns granted 25 points. The challenges, as well as the Cup itself, were created by popular Stardew Valley content creator Zach Hartman.

“I really wanted to make sure the challenges were high quality, since I knew they would have a huge influence on how well the competitio­n would turn out,” Hartman said. “I wanted them to force the competitor­s to play in a way they never had before, while still rewarding the skills necessary to be a good speedrunne­r.” Hartman also co-hosted the event with Barone, having previously streamed together earlier this year.

“Eric and I connected for the first time in May after I reached out to him by email,” he said. “He agreed to be on my stream in June, and during that stream, as well as the Cup, everyone was super excited to get to see him. He has always made every decision based on what will bring the most joy to his community, and the relationsh­ip he has developed with the Stardew Valley fan base is evident.”

The Cup had 16 competitor­s in total – four for each team – being a spread of some of Stardew Valley’s most dedicated content creators. Some streamers like TheHaboo and cordite89 were already well-versed in the intricacie­s of Stardew Valley speedrunni­ng, while others like Fuzzireno had never delved into the game’s more competitiv­e side. “It’s been both a fun and exciting experience but also nerve-wracking at the same time,” she

told Hartman and Barone before the event. “As a casual person, I’d be like ‘but this day, I could be doing something with it,’ or ‘animation cancelling, how is that gonna save time?’”

The roster also saw the likes of SeanieDew, who has gone viral on TikTok a few times for his cosplay of Harvey, one of the game’s marriage candidates. Animated comedy sketch artist Matthew McCleskey was another competitor, having never streamed on Twitch prior to the Stardew Valley Cup.

“It was such a huge learning experience since I had only ever played Stardew casually before the Cup. My teammates taught me a lot about strategy, animation cancelling, and speedrunni­ng techniques,” McCleskey said. “Overall it was a super high-stress time, but it was some of the most fun I’ve had.” Each team had around two weeks to practice, prepare and strategise prior to the tournament. “I ended up asking them how many hours they’ve all done in preparatio­n for the event,” Hartman told Barone on-stream. “The total was over 700 hours of practice in the last two weeks for this event.”


The dedication and hours of practice are apparent once the tournament kicks off. The techniques that McCleskey mentioned are present amongst nearly every competitor. It’s strange seeing just how many ways you can streamline a game that, traditiona­lly, feels more planted in relaxing and peaceful vibes. Seeing the animation cancelling in action is mighty impressive – it’s become a common speedrunni­ng tactic, one that arose from Barone’s own forgetfuln­ess. “When I made Stardew Valley, I added in this little combinatio­n of keys that causes whatever animation your character is doing to stop immediatel­y,” he explained. “I just put it in for debug reasons… and then I forgot to take it out.”

Other interestin­g, non-speedrunni­ng strategies also get utilised throughout by each team. Some are making use of dedicated fishers for perks like money and completing some of the angling challenges. Team Sandy’s Candies opt to colour code their characters so they’re more easily identifiab­le, assigning each member a role.

The method seems to work for Sandy’s Candies, who pull through with a surprise last-minute points banking. They come away with 611 points, followed by Pierree’s Cherries at 597 points. Pam’s Yams come in third, with Krobus’ Crocuses taking fourth place.

The thing that’s been apparent throughout all of this is just how much fun everybody is having, from the competitor­s to Barone himself. When Sandy’s Candies are declared the winner, every member erupts into cheers. It’s clear how much both the game’s community and creator sincerely care about what Stardew Valley has grown into.

“It’s really cool to be able to do something like this and that there’s so many people would be interested in this little, scrappy, indie farming game that I made,” Barone concluded towards the end of the stream. His active involvemen­t with the community never goes unnoticed, and Hartman feels is a big reason something like this could even be possible. “The Stardew Valley Cup could not have happened without the continued support and grace of Eric, the competitor­s, and the community,” he said. “I am incredibly grateful that I was able to be a part of Stardew Valley’s history, and I am very excited to see what the future holds!”

Mollie Taylor


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 ?? ?? MAIN: Barone announced he’s working on a new game – similar to Stardew, but not farming.
MAIN: Barone announced he’s working on a new game – similar to Stardew, but not farming.
 ?? ?? LEFT: Speedy dungeon crawling was a potential source of extra points.
LEFT: Speedy dungeon crawling was a potential source of extra points.

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