2018-Nov-07: Rambling on being a good speed marathon citizen

Last weekend I staffed Best of NES 2018. In fact, I was on hand doing some kind of work for approximately half of the total event; I was hosting and re-streaming for a third of it. It was the first time I was doing the actual technical work of re-streaming an event, though for BBG I basically did the same but we used a bot to handle all the heavy lifting. Having to juggle all the nitty-gritty of streaming the event, coupled with how I've done marathons in the past... let's just say I've come to hold opinions on how a runner can help the event run smoothly.

You can consider this a set of tips to make sure your run goes off well, the marathon staff like you, and nothing untoward happens to make you or the event look bad. As always, this is my opinion and if a given marathon's staff tell you to do something different, listen to them. Just like my last write-up on marathon internals, this mainly applies to online marathons, not live ones.

Arrival and setup

Before marathon day, even, ponder if you have bonus contributions in your game, or even bonus runs entirely. You don't have to do anything formal with these things, but keep them in mind. If you finish way under estimate, you may put the marathon so far ahead they ask if you have anything else you can offer to pad time. Be prepared for this and you'll look like a rock star.

Most marathons ask the runner to be present 30 minutes ahead of schedule for setup. This requires keeping a loose eye on the schedule in the day running up to the run. At one point, BoNES was 2.5 hours ahead of schedule and while at that point no runner would ever be expected to be present that far ahead of schedule, it would have saved the staff a ton of worry if a few runners peeked in and said "Hey I notice you're way ahead, should I be getting ready now?". In short, keep an eye on the schedule; if it starts running ahead, try to show up in time for wherever your run falls. If you can't make it, let the marathon staff know so they can prepare filler content. Most marathons also have bonus runs queued up in these circumstances, but they need to know ahead of time they're going to need it.

When you show up for your run, you should have already read any docs the staff sent you; check pinned messages in Discord chats especially. However they want you to configure your streaming software and game, you should have done prior to your scheduled arrival. "Setup" in a marathon sense isn't time for you to configure OBS to the marathon's specifications; it's time to make sure you already have, catch any errors, and do a spot check of how your stream looks. Don't be that person to stress out the setup staff by showing up with your stream misconfigured when you had weeks to read the docs and do it right.

Quick interjection here for something most runners and staff forget about: if you're running a multi-game block, work out with the staff how to handle it. As a host I prefer to let the runner own the entire block, and quickly change the overlay data as they change games. Some marathons want to interject with the host between each game. It depends on the event and you should find out before your runs start.

Also turn off all audio notifications. Sub notifications, Discord notifications, Windows notifications, make sure your phone can't be heard through your mic, everything. Nothing that isn't the game or commentary should be audible on your stream at any time during the run. Every online marathon will ask you to do this, so make sure you do. Some notification suites that act as embedded browser sources in OBS can still emit sound even when disabled, so make sure they're completely muted.

Once the runner prior to you is underway, a member of staff will ping you for setup. This means you should join their setup chat and follow their instructions. This will usually involve going live and letting them check your stream settings and audio balance. When doing an audio test, you typically want to make sure the setup person has three points of reference: your voice, normal game play, and any examples of excessively loud stuff in the game. They're looking to make sure you're audible, the game is audible, and neither of the two will ever blow out the eardrums of the viewers. You can help by talking while playing, and jumping (to the best of your ability) to any loud parts once they say your audio is balanced, so they can hear that too.

The wait and the run

From here, you play the waiting game. You're ready to go, but you don't know how long the runner before you will take. Unless you're absolutely sure you have ten or more minutes before your run, don't go anywhere. If you can watch the marathon live without broadcasting the audio on your stream, do so, so you know when you're coming up. At some point one of the following will happen:

  1. The prior runner will finish
  2. You will be pinged that you are going live soon
  3. You will be asked if you're ready (and you will answer yes of course)

Once any of those happen reset to the title screen and stop talking until you are told you are live. When the staff cut to you, there should be a title screen (or attract/demo/cutscene) and no speech or noise on your mic. It's just one of those things: if you go live in the middle of a sentence, it looks bad. Doubly so if you were in the middle of something inappropriate or embarrassing. For example: one of the runs we cut to in BoNES, the runner was in the middle of telling his commentators to shut up because he was going live soon. They should have shut up minutes before that!

Once told you're live, there's no need to wait to confirm via the stream or such. You've already been live for 5 seconds. Go ahead and start your intro and your run. Do however keep an eye on the setup chat, where any issues will be brought up to you. Don't bother asking the staff if they're ready; they chose to make you live, so they should be ready. If they're managing the timer, give them a countdown from 3 or 5 so they have warning.

From the moment you're live, don't change anything unless the marathon staff explicitly tell you to. They have the ability to re-crop your stream, adjust volume (to a degree), etc. If you see people in chat complaining about something being amiss, let the staff handle it. If they can't, they'll tell you to do something about it. Otherwise don't sweat it. Don't disrupt your run, and don't make their adjustments harder by constantly changing stuff on your side too.

If you want to make the marathon staff very happy, note when you're getting close to the end of your run. I typically say something like "This is the last level" or "We've got about five minutes left in the run". The re-streamer will hear this and know if they'll be ready for the next run on time from it. What you want to avoid is surprising the staff by suddenly finishing the run with no warning, when they're not ready. Also, if the staff are managing the timer, this lets them get ready. You should also warn them that time to stop the timer is coming about 30 seconds before, so the person managing the timer can get their hand on the button.

If you care about your time, run splits yourself. Don't rely on the re-streamer to stop the marathon timer properly. That's just a side-note for you.

The wrap-up and sign-off

So you finished your run. A few quick things here to make the transition smooth:

First, check the setup/live chat with the staff to make sure they haven't asked you to provide filler content. If they have, let them know what you can offer. If you thought about it ahead of time and can pad out some time for them to set up the next runner, you'll be a life saver.

Next, if you have bonus content you really want to show off, you should ask about this before the run. Never spring on the staff "So hey I got this thing I wanna show off" when the run is over. It hooks the viewers into something they may not have time to show, and puts pressure on them to allow it even if they are running behind. Talk to them before the run, or just let it go. Especially in an online marathon, it's super awkward to have a runner ask if they can show off something, then there's a 10 second pause for stream delay, then a 10 second pause for typing a reply, then a short pause while the runner reads the reply. Just don't do it.

Actually for that matter: work out with the marathon staff if they want you to stream closing cutscenes or credits or not, if they're long. If they're short and you finished ahead of estimate, just do it while wrapping up your commentary. If you forget, don't ask the staff over the stream and just wait for their reply. Say something to cue them to let you know like "And we're going to go ahead and watch the credits until the staff are ready to move on", it sounds better.

Unless told not to by marathon staff, feel free to drop a very soft plug for your channel: talk about what you stream and whatnot, but don't go on hard on "follow me please". The line for this is muddy and changes from event to event, so feel the room for how appropriate this kind of plug is.

Also don't take the host's job. It may be cool to hype the next run up, but unless you know the runner personally and want to contribute something only you can, don't. That just leaves the host with nothing to say unless they repeat you. This one isn't a big deal, really, but a few times while hosting I had to laugh at how the prior runner left me with nothing to say because they announced the next three runs for me. It's another "feel the room" thing. Some events may actually ask you to do this; obvious then it's fine. What you can do is plug your next run. If you have a run hours later in the event, feel free to encourage people to turn out for that too.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, give a clean sign-off. Make it very clear you're done, segue back to the host with something like "I'll throw it back over to the host now, thanks for watching" and then shut the heck up. The scariest thing for a re-streamer is to either stream a bunch of dead air or side-conversation not intended to go out over the air, or cut the runner off mid-sentence. The only way to prevent both of these at once is to have a very obvious and clean sign-off. Once you sign off, you're done. Mute your mic so nothing makes it into the stream and gets cut off by the cut-away. Make sure they've cut away from you before you stop streaming, so any credit music and content keeps going til they choose to end it.

Summary

That's all there is to it. Most of these rules boil down to one thing: don't surprise the staff. Anything outside the normal run routine you want to do, make sure they know about before you're live. Tell them what you're going to do, then do it. Finally, trust them to handle things, or to let you know if they need you to do something.

Staffing a marathon is stressful, especially if it has a ton of viewers. Twitch monsters are cruel and will mock the smallest mistake on the part of the staff. Most marathon organizers sweat small quality of stream details, even if you don't think they're a big deal. You don't have to be a straight-laced professional, but don't be that one runner a host remembers as having made them look like an idiot while hosting the event.

Infographic

EDIT: I threw together a crappy infographic (if you can even call it that) of this info. It's pretty tall, so I'm not gonna emebed it here, but you can find it here