Streamer GrandPooBear talks speedrunning community, FallMania 4

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Before David Hunt became popular for speedrunning Mario games, he was a fervid snowboarder. Known online as GrandPooBear, Hunt spent months in recovery after a snowboarding accident left him seriously injured. Unable to physically exert himself, Hunt turned to gaming for leisure and slowly developed his ability to pull off complicated maneuvers under pressure. Though always a gamer, Hunt credits his injury with changing the way he plays.

“When I got hurt, it taught me a lot about patience,” Hunt said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I thought I was dead. And a year later, look at this work I put it in. I started to realize that, you know, I shouldn’t be scared of any challenge.”

Hunt found that after his snowboarding accident, unforgivingly difficult games with steeper learning curves greatly appealed to him. When Hunt first began streaming, he played multiplayer zombie apocalypse survival game DayZ, which utilized a “permadeath” feature. Since players could not respawn, failure in DayZ had a greater sense of finality — but while many found this daunting, Hunt welcomed the challenge.

“I loved the whole aspect of, you can play and work your character up for hours and hours,” Hunt explained. “You’ve gained all this stuff and then it’s just like, one bad decision or one bad shot or one anything. It’s over in an instant and you have to start all over.”

Through Twitch, Hunt quickly found a community centered around beating challenging games. Hunt cites biannual speedrunning charity marathon Games Done Quick with introducing him to a new league of gamers. After witnessing such feats as Sinister1’s blindfolded playthrough of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! for the Nintendo Entertainment System and dram55’s sub-25-minute run through an unfairly difficult hacked Mario game known as Kaizo Mario World, Hunt was inspired to reevaluate his own gaming capabilities.

“I thought these games were only played with computers,” Hunt said. “And here’s this guy just playing through this game, slaying it. Just absolutely murdering it. My mind was blown. … I had been speedrunning (Super Mario Bros. 3) up to that point, before (Super Mario Maker) came out. And I was good, not great. But having that focus with dram made me realize, ‘Oh, no, I can be great at Mario 3, I can be great at this game. I can be great at any game, as long as I’m willing to put in the work in.’ ”

With Mario Maker’s 2015 release, player-created maps allowed Hunt’s community to flourish. Players began to develop increasingly difficult, nearly impossible levels, while speedrunners managed to exploit the game and master challenges in ways even the developers couldn’t have possibly imagined. 

The speedrunning community, according to Hunt, is unique because it thrives on a blend of competition and collaboration. “The main goal for … most speedrunners is going to be, ‘Well, let’s see how optimized we can make this game.’ And it takes a village to make a world-record run,” Hunt said. “No world record is just created by one person, all the strats are created by one person, everything’s found by one person. It just doesn’t exist. It’s created by tons of people.”

“At the same time, of course,” he continued, “we want to be the best. We want to be the one that gets the recognition, because the world record holder is the most important one and No. 2 is completely garbage in most viewers’ eyes — despite the fact that No. 2 and No. 1’s skill level is very interchangeable. … That’s how the game goes, you know? And I mean, nobody remembers who the Bulls beat in ’96.”

In addition to speedrunning, Hunt hosts FallMania, a biweekly competition held in obstacle course-themed battle royale game Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. Though not traditionally a competitive game, Hunt deliberately chose Fall Guys to make the tournament more exciting.

“It’s something that people don’t take serious and I want to find people that are taking it serious, the people that are insane about it,” Hunt said. “And I want to put them together in a situation where they can battle it out, not just against each other, but against the randomness of the world — against the 50 other players who don’t even realize they’re involved in a tournament right now — and see what happens.”

“I’m a huge wrestling fan and I think I’m calling this ‘eSports Entertainment,’ to steal a little WWE terminology there,” Hunt added.

The next tournament, FallMania 4: All Stars, will be held Oct. 8 at 4 p.m. on GrandPooBear’s Twitch channel. It will pit the highest performing players from the first three competitions against one another. Though Hunt describes Fall Guys as a “silly party game,” the FallMania’s stakes are real. Winners walk away with $5,000 — and Hunt makes it clear there are no consolation trophies. 

“You win or you get nothing,” Hunt said. “Zero dollars, zero prize.”

Neil Haeems covers video games. Contact him at [email protected].