The mental of the player is hugely important in any high-performance gaming scenario, from professional esports to smash bros tournaments with friends after school. Speedrunning is no different, as I've discovered in my time running botw over the last 2-ish years. Lose focus or become too frustrated, and you're screwed. I have fallen victim to this extensively during my speedrunning career, and have really only recently started to get better.
I almost always stream to twitch1 when doing speedruns, which I think is an important part of how my mentality works during the run. Although I've been doing it for a long time (since like september of 2020), when streaming I put pressure on myself to have good runs For The Viewers™. Also, it's good practice (and just enjoyable) to continue talking about... something... while you are streaming, even when there isn't anybody obviously in chat to talk to. From the outside, this seems like it would make it a pretty bad environment for speedrunning, and to some extent that's the case. The pressure to deliver good runs is very real, and definitely impacts how I feel during the run, especially when bad things happen. However, somehow, being distracted from the game actually makes it better for me.
I think it's because I don't have the time to dwell on being frustrated and angry with the game and myself if I'm partially focused on conversing with viewers or looking at Discord.2 There's of course a balance there. Somewhere between stewing over a missed trick for 45 minutes (guilty) and not even looking at the screen while playing (also guilty) lies the optimal amount of distraction from the game. I think when it's struck perfectly, when there's an interesting conversation going on in chat or when something takes (part of) my attention off of the game just right, is the most enjoyable time to be speedrunning. Sure, it's nice when the run goes well, but that's just added stress to not screw up, which is exactly what we are trying to avoid here.
Of course, these ideal conditions can't happen all the time, which is where it gets really hard. Obviously running requires enormous amounts of practice and time sunk into the craft, and often with no visible rewards for extremely long periods of time. This gets tiring really, really fast.3 This leads to the real reason I'm writing this: how do you keep your mental in the right place, especially during long, frustrating periods of bad runs?
About a year and a half ago, I was in a place where the slightest mistake would trigger me to reset. Clanked shield an extra time? Reset. Had to set skew twice? Screw this game, reset. These are really miniscule timelosses, and any of those runs, especially where the "mistake" in question was early on, could easily have PB'ed. Learning to persist on runs through those small timelosses took me a really long time, and I'm definitely not done yet. Part of what helps me with that is just not looking at the timer. LiveSplit supports global keybinds, but I inevitably type something in discord and screw it up, so instead I just hide it behind my other windows and I'm miraculously much happier. Maybe the real time was the friends we made along the way. It took me a really long time to get used to not being able to glance over and see just how far behind I was, but in the long run, hiding the timer from my view for most of a run has been enormously beneficial to my speedrunning mental.
The second major component for me is to defy my previously stated rule of continuing to talk while on stream. I find that if I start complaining too much about something that happens in a run, even if I'm just doing it to fill in the silence, I eventually start feeling more than proportionally angry about it. Actually, I only made that realization a few days ago, when I "ragequit" a stream for like the sixth time in 8 days, and then took a second to think about it. I decided to restart my stream, with my mic muted, as an experiment, and lo and behold, even though stupid stuff happened (as always), I wasn't as frustrated as when I could immediately and angrily react verbally. Even in the like two days since I've been consciously thinking about just not complaining heavily about things that happen in a run, I've noticed real mentality improvements, if not speed improvements (sadge).
Finally, doing "no-reset" runs has improved my mentality towards resets. As any runner knows, a true no reset is a cage that you fight against constantly, wishing you could just bail out as the red numbers get bigger and bigger. However, the "low-reset" strategy can be super helpful. As I said earlier, for a long time I would reset runs for the stupidest things ever, which was incredibly frustrating, even if I didn't know at the time that that's what the problem was. Transitioning to resetting significantly less was ridiculously difficult. I not only had to suppress the speed demon railing against the tiniest of suboptimal runs, I now had to fight against muscle memory for returning to the title screen after a failed trick or missed input. Overall though, I think that just forcing myself not to reset so much hugely improved my view of the game and of myself. A reset is a failure, no matter how you frame it, and reducing the frequency of said failures, even without necessarily reducing the frequency of other failures within the run, was really good for my speedrunning self-image. Resetting less also has the advantage of giving you more chances to practice later-game tricks and stuff in a more run-like environment rather than in a practice stream where everything works 100% of the time until you enact it into a real run.
I guess the main way I keep myself from losing performance because of mental is just to keep track of it. While running, I consciously hide the timer, consciously keep calm even when FUCKING BULLSHIT GAME FUCK SHIT, consciously don't complain excessively. It's a lot of work, and I'm nowhere near great at doing it, but just making the effort has helped me a lot, and I think it can help a lot of other runners as well. Even the stubbornest perfectionists (me) can evidently benefit. While these are just my experiences and the specific things that are helping me improve myself and my mentality about speedrunning, I hope they can be helpful to other runners who suffer from the same problems.
https://twitch.tv/LieutenantPeriwinkle follow right now ↩
"Typing in chat while speedrunning is one of the great joys of running." - anonymous ↩
At the time of writing, I've been PB-less in any% since January. JANUARY. ↩