Inside Stardew Valley's ‘esports’ tournament cup

by Robin Mosley

No one is accustomed to thinking about Stardew Valley as an esport. In fact, most people would argue that Stardew Valley could never be an esport. And while some publications rallied behind the suggestion that Stardew Valley is an esport after this tournament, both Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone, the creator of Stardew Valley, and Zach “UnsurpassbleZ” Hartman said live that they wouldn’t claim it to be one.

Although the jury is still out on Stardew’s “esport” debut, on Sept. 4, ConcernedApe and the UnsurpassbleZ held the first ever Stardew Valley Tournament Cup on Twitch for a $40,000 prize. Four teams across the world -- Pierree’s Cherries, Krobus’ Crocuses, Pam’s Yams and Sandy’s Candies went head-to-head to figure out who would win, and Sandy’s Candies came out on top.

When speaking with two players on the winning team -- Kayla “Lilsimsie” Sims and Sonya “Fuzzireno” H., each gave insight into how the tournament went and what the future of esports-like tournaments could be for so-called “chill” games we all know and love.

Lilsimsie and Fuzzireno are both known for games other than Stardew Valley. Lilsimsie, as evident from her name, is a Sims gamer and plays what she says are “cozy” games. Fuzzireno is a variety streamer who is mostly known for shooters like Rainbow Six Siege. Unlike Fuzzireno, Lilsimsie had her first shot at a Stardew Valley tournament during the first Stardew Valley Twitch Rivals tournament in 2019.

“I couldn’t wrap my head around how a game like Stardew Valley could be an esport, especially since at the time I was such a casual player. I didn't even realize there was a speedrunning community for Stardew, so it was really fun to get to experience that,” Lilsimsie said in an email.

This tournament was a first for Fuzzireno who says she’s a fan of Lilsimsie and The Haboo who both were on Sandy’s Candies. She realized Stardew could be run in a competitive format after she was introduced to the speedrunning aspect of it about a month into playing the game.

“I found out that there were so many ways that you could speedrun this game, whether you just make it to Level 50 of the mine or completing the community center in one go, I thought it was kind of interesting to do that,” Fuzzireno said.

What’s clear is that both players are fans of The Haboo, the mastermind behind the strategy of the team. As a well-known speedrunner, he currently holds the title of the fastest player to complete the community center at 2 hours, 31 mins. So it seems the team was set up for success, but before being crowned the champions, it took a bit of work.

“So the day that UnsurpassableZ made that video announcing this Stardew Valley Cup and also ConcernedApe tweeting about it, that's when we found out about everything,” Fuzzireno said. “We were [then] brought into the Discord, which we were all told about our teams and the information prior to the event.”

Before even making it to the Discord, Fuzzireno suggests the way individual players were chosen was through a callout by UnsurpassableZ and those who answered and could participate were given the chance to be in the tournament. Although it’s unclear how UnsurpassbleZ determined the individual groups, placing individuals on specific teams definitely wasn’t random, because “[UnsurpassbleZ] made an effort to put a couple speedrunners and a couple more casual players (like me) on each team to try to split it up fairly,” Lilsimsie said.

Similar to traditional esports teams, Sandy’s Candies and the rest of the groups practiced and came up with strategies. Obviously the difference between esports teams for other games and for this event is just that -- it was a one-time opportunity. However, that didn’t diminish the work that went into developing synergy.

They practiced every night for the week and half leading up to the event. Most of that time in the early stages of practice were spent on “running through the mines to get an idea of how long it would take us and how well we worked together so we could build the rest of our strategy off of it, Lilsimsie said.

“I think we all really clicked right away,” Lilsimsie said. “It helps that everyone was really passionate about the event, so we had a lot to talk about and a lot to work on together.”

From what I could gather, the strategy was to plan out each day “to the very last minute, and we had built in a lot of the major point earners towards the very end of the event,” Lilsimsie said. Even though this strategy led to the team’s eventual victory, everyone was scattered across the world. Fuzzireno is based in Australia and said “it was really hard to put our schedules together. I know I'm not the only one because other teams had people from all across the globe. But I tried to work with my team and my team worked with me.”

The Haboo asked everyone on the team “what is your skill level? And what can't you do?” Fuzzireno said. From there they practiced, but things changed constantly to accommodate everyone’s skill level and talents. When the tournament began, it was definitely a bit slow, but the game picked up in the middle of the four-hour tournament. Viewership hovered around 5,000 to 6,000, and each team was given time to shine on the main channel with UnsurpassableZ and ConcernedApe.

There were some stipulations in place. All teams had to be on the beach farm -- for those who don’t know, the beach farm doesn’t allow for sprinklers, which makes watering crops more time intensive. There were over 100 challenges, and some of them included ship 100 of one type of crop, talk to Lewis while wearing his pants and finish the bulletin board. After Sandy’s Candies were crowned, UnsurpassableZ suggested holding another tournament to which ConcernedApe said he’d like to join. When this will happen no one knows, but I asked both Lilsimsie and Fuzzireno what they’d like to see in the future.

Fuzzireno doesn’t see Stardew Valley as an esport because “it can’t book out arenas,” but she would love to see it continue because there is an amazing community behind it. Lilsimsie agrees.

“I think it has a lot of potential and this is just the beginning,” Lilsimsie said. “I hope Twitch might get involved in the future to organize something bigger -- possibly with front-page promotion to make sure more people can see just how cool Stardew Valley can be. Most people have probably never imagined playing Stardew Valley in this way, and I think they would love to see it.”

Lead photo credit: ConcernedApe

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