By Quentin H. / June 2nd, 2020
When you want to start speedrunning a game you love, and you see someone play a video game as fast as they can on Twitch, faster than you’ve yourself ever played it at home while pulling off insane technically difficult tricks, it can be quite intimidating. JHobz (‘Hobz’) and Keizaron, two accomplished speedrunners and volunteers with Games Done Quick, created a GDQ Hotfix show called The First Step to try to show that anyone can speedrun if they try. Last week, I caught up with both Hobz and Keizaron to talk all about speedrunning, The First Step, and more.
In Part One of a three-part interview, I talk with them about how they got into speedrunning, what The First Step is all about and where the idea for the show came from, and more. Please also check out the link at the bottom of the interview to see Part Two of my interview with the hosts from The First Step!
The First Step streams live every Thursday at 7 PM ET over on Twitch.
This interview has been edited for clarity and content.
Operation Rainfall: My name is Quentin H. with Operation Rainfall, and you two are?
Keizaron: I am Steven Eisner, better known as ‘Keizaron’ on Twitch, Twitter, etc..
Hobz: And I am Jeff Hobson, better known as ‘JHobz’, a speedrunner and staffer at Games Done Quick.
OR: How long have you both been speedrunning games for, and what got you into speedrunning in the first place?
K: I’m going to let you go first Hobz, mine is a little long winded. *laughs*
H: I have been speedrunning since August 2014, I think. Which, to me, still feels like [I’m] new compared to a lot of people in the speedrunning community because some people have been doing this for a really long time. It’s kind of funny, I got into speedrunning because a friend showed me some Ocarina of Time speedruns. As somebody who had never played Ocarina of Time, I thought that that looked like the most boring thing anybody could do, which was to try to play this game over and over again. But it always kind of stuck in the back of my head, and at the time I was playing a lot of League of Legends. One time, late at night, I was just watching Twitch streams and I decided to go look around in the directory for other games that I thought I wanted to watch, because none of the streamers I liked were online.
I stumbled across a Sonic Adventure 2: Battle 180-emblem run and after that I found KINGDOM HEARTS speedruns, which was a game that I played a ton as a kid. I got hooked and the rest is history. I eventually tried it and just kept going.
K: Mine is kind of funny, because I actually didn’t know Twitch existed for a while. This is back in, I want to say 2014, but it could have been 2015. Of all things, and I’ve said this before at a GDQ interview and people thought I was kidding, but I was looking up gangsta rap of all things. And YouTube’s algorithm never makes any sense, so the recommended video that was next up was a Pokémon Crystal speedrun by the speedrunner ‘Werster’, he’s a phenomenal Pokémon speedrunner. He’s one of the leaders of the Pokémon speedrunning community. I saw that he beat the game in three-and-a-half hours. I think his timestamp at the time was three-hours-and-twenty-two minutes. So I watched that, and I was like ‘This is a game I played a ton of as a kid, I wonder if this is something I can get into, and I wonder if I can potentially get a record, and if I could compete?’
At first I was really really lousy at it but that kind of led me to a bunch of other avenues. I got to join a Pokémon speedrunning community, which eventually led me to going to GDQ, which eventually led to basically everything else.
So it was all basically because of gangsta rap.
“I just knew that I wanted to try to do something weekly and also not burn out, which is really easy to do if you’re trying to force yourself to play new games every week and maybe you’re interested in something else.“
OR: You two co-host a Twitch show called The First Step. What is this show about?
H: The First Step is my brainchild. Basically, one of the ways that I love trying out speedrunning new games is by doing what’s called a ‘semi-blind’ race. That’s where you take a game that you’ve played before, let’s use for example, the Crash Bandicoot Insane Trilogy. When that game came out I first played the game solo, and then again with some friends. We just raced it. We didn’t know anything about the speedrun. We didn’t know how to go fast in the game, or do anything else that anyone had found. We just tried our best. We started at the beginning and tried to get to the end as fast as we could.
So that’s kind of what The First Step is all about. It’s about taking a game that we either played once or a ton as a kid, and racing through it. It’s always a game that we haven’t speedrun before. We try to show everybody out there that it can be really easy to get into speedrunning. We get a lot of people who talk to us and say ‘Hey, I like watching speedruns but man, I can never do that myself. I’m not good enough at games.’
And we prove weekly on a consistent basis that we are not good at games. *laughs* And we can still speedrun games.
So that’s the whole idea behind it, to try to get more people who think that there’s this big barrier in speedrunning and show them that there doesn’t necessarily have to be one.
Hobz and Keizaron have co-hosted The First Step together for three seasons so far.
OR: You mentioned a moment ago that you do semi-blind runs, and that you often do this by playing through the game once or twice the week prior to broadcasting on Twitch. Why go with the semi-blind format instead of a totally-blind format like GDQ’s new Hotfix show The Gauntlet?
K: I think with us showing semi-blind stuff, it makes it more relatable to the people that we are trying to reach out to. I know, personally for me, the people that have approached me [and said] ‘I’d love to run this game because I’ve played it a ton as a kid or I’ve played it recently, but it’s too daunting a task to learn the speedrun’, we’re trying to show them ‘Hey, we’ve played the game literally last night and we’re already tackling the speedrun. No studying of current strategies, no hours upon hours of research.’
And I think, at least for me, that’s the beauty of the show- that’s the audience that we’re reaching out for. The people that are this close to being able to speedrun, but just need to get over that mental barrier.
H: I think one of the other things too is that I love doing blind races. We’ve talked about doing one for a shorter game on The First Step. The thing with blind races is that there is this ‘struggle’ of not only trying to figure out how to go fast in the game but also trying to figure out the game at the same time. What is it, how do you move, what do your buttons do?
That is all very fun in it’s own right, but we’re going for something that’s about trying to help people get into speedrunning. We want it to be as low-stress as possible. One of the easiest, and if you talk to any speedrunner, almost all of the speedrunners [say] that the first game that they started with was a game that they played a lot as a kid or an adult and they were like ‘I love this game, I’m just going to play it more.’
I think that’s more conducive to a semi-blind format than a blind one.
OR: You mentioned a moment ago, as well, that the show was your “brainchild”. Where did the concept for The First Step come from, and what was the creation process like to develop the shows’ ultimate format?
H: At the time I was doing another show for GDQ Hotfix called The Sprint, which was a podcast-type show. We would break down world records as a talk show that I did with ‘darkman78’ and ‘Frozentrually’. That show seemed like it was kind of winding down and I wanted to keep doing stuff on Hotfix because it was a lot of fun. I was trying to think of ‘what do I have fun with speedrunning that I could crank out on a pretty consistent basis?’ Because even with The Sprint, we were going bi-weekly with that because it was a lot of work and [took a lot of] time to learn new speedruns, contact guest analysts to break down the world record for us, do a test run through, and everything. It took a lot of time and a lot of effort. And I wanted to do something on a consistent basis, maybe even a weekly basis that I would always have fun with. My mind kept coming back to ‘blind’ races and ‘semi-blind’ races and that’s kind of where it all started to go.
I was trying to think ‘Okay, who can do a ‘semi-blind’ race?’ and I reached out to Keiz. He was definitely my fourth pick, I would never have gone with him otherwise…
H: But yeah, I reached out to Keizaron and asked if it was something that he would be interested in and then it really became collaborative from there. I just had that initial idea and I didn’t necessarily have all of the format down. I just knew that I wanted to try to do something weekly and also not burn out, which is really easy to do if you’re trying to force yourself to play new games every week and maybe you’re interested in something else.
And so Keiz helped a lot with that part too.
K: We had a couple of phone calls with each other and Discord calls with one another, and we started brainstorming stuff. I was immediately already hooked on working on the show because Hobz told me ‘We have a minute, write down anything that comes to mind.’, and I was like ‘Nobody has ever brainstormed with me like that before except myself, so this is great. We’re already on the same wavelength and we haven’t even started yet!’
We had a list of names that we came up with, I think a little under fifty names, and most of them were terrible. Terrible, terrible, terrible. It just sounded really good so we stuck with The First Step. One that I had personally liked that I haven’t told anyone about up until this point in time was ‘The Bar’, as in ‘setting the bar’.
H: Oh yeah!
K: I really liked that one and in the back of my head I was like ‘Why does this sound so familiar and so good?’ It turns out that it was a tag team that already existed in wrestling. So that was already scratched off for me, so I was like ‘The First Step sounds good to me!’
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