In 2010, Mike Uyama invited several skilled gamers to his mother’s basement. They were there to raise money for charity by speedrunning, a hobby that involves completing games as quickly as possible. Named Classic Games Done Quick, the gathering raised £8283 in donations and kicked off 13 years of fundraising marathons – but would never fit in a basement again.
Fast-forward to 2023, and Games Done Quick (GDQ) is now one of the biggest gaming events around. Its flagship marathons – Awesome Games Done Quick and Summer Games Done Quick – have drawn in millions of viewers over the years. Under Uyama’s leadership, £36.6million has been raised for the likes of Prevent Cancer Foundation and Doctors Without Borders.
Yet in January, Uyama was ready to move on. “After experiencing the pandemic for years and being incredibly cautious around COVID, the stress and strain caught up to me last year,” he tells NME. “There was also the fact that I had been doing this for 13 years and I was thinking about doing something new with my life.”
The plan was to hand leadership over to director of operations Matt Merkle, who has worked with GDQ since 2013. Uyama’s exit was announced in January, and with Awesome Games Done Quick (ADGQ) set to take place later that month, Uyama was ready to pass the torch.
But with days to go before AGDQ 2023 kicked off, Merkle was hospitalised due to a leg infection. By the next day, he was unconscious and receiving treatment for sepsis. Uyama realised it was serious when he received a call from Merkle’s grandmother, rather than Merkle himself. “She was telling me the doctors weren’t expecting him to make it through the night,” Uyama recalls. “I asked her kind of dumbly what I could do, and she said, ‘pray’.”
Thankfully, Merkle regained consciousness and began a long road to recovery. He was able to speak to Uyama during AGDQ 2023, and shared that he would be hospitalised for “at least” another month. Uyama suspected that was a conservative estimate.
By the time AGDQ finished, Uyama faced a dilemma. Summer Games Done Quick, GDQ’s joint flagship event with AGDQ, was just four months away. Planning needed to start “immediately”, and there was “no contingency plan” for if Merkle needed more time to recover. “I realised if I didn’t stick around, GDQ would have very likely fallen apart,” Uyama says.
Forced to choose between finally starting something new after 13 years, or putting those plans on hold to keep GDQ alive, Uyama chose to stay. “I wanted to do right by everyone,” he says. “The first thing I did after the [AGDQ] finale was reassure people I would be here for the foreseeable future.”
Though the decision has changed his own plans for the future, Uyama has a “revived interest” in the speedrunning event. While he was feeling “burned out” in January, his relationship with GDQ has since changed for the better. “I’ve made my peace with sticking around,” he explains. “I’m in a very different place mentally now than I was pre-AGDQ 2023.”
Looking ahead, Uyama is optimistic. Next year’s AGDQ has already been announced, and will run between January 21-24 at Pittsburgh’s Wyndham Hotel and Resorts. For in-person events like AGDQ and SGDQ, Uyama says the fundraiser will still “accommodate some online runs, but we’d like to emphasise the onsite presence more by accepting more in-person runs”. Elsewhere, discussions to create another charity speedrunning event are underway.
“We are considering an online event for an LGBT+ cause, as we have a lot of speedrunners who are in the community,” says Uyama. “The event is in the earliest planning stages though, so nothing is confirmed.”
“We’ll be changing and expanding slowly but surely, and not all at once,” he adds, pointing to financial setbacks ranging from COVID-19 to the cancellation of AGDQ 2023’s in-person event.
While Matt Merkle’s recovery continues, he has since been released from hospital and shares Uyama’s optimism for GDQ’s future. Though he acknowledges his condition has “adjusted” plans, he tells NME it has also “moved forward some things that were previously going to take longer,” such as an upcoming website redesign and new hires for its Twitch stream ‘Hotfix‘.
“We’re going to take care to ensure that the company’s foundation is stable and secure regardless of how things progress with my health,” he adds.
As for Uyama, he’ll be staying at GDQ indefinitely, though he’s keen to eventually travel the world. For now, he has one thing on his mind: creating a “solid future” for the speedrunning event he created.
“GDQ is more than an event for a lot of people, it’s a community and home for them,” he explains. “I don’t know if I’ll stick around forever, but I’m motivated to make sure things are in a good place before I consider leaving or participating in a reduced capacity.”
Awesome Games Done Quick 2024 runs from January 14-21. Check out Games Done Quick’s website for more information on attending, watching it from home, or participating as a speedrunner.