Tones Balones ended his Splatoon speedrun 14 seconds shy of the world record.
It was his first run for Awesome Games Done Quick. Unlike some of the other runners, Tones is not a well-known Twitch streamer. You won't find his face on a t-shirt. His only directive for the run, he says, was to show up 15 minutes early.
AGDQ may be great for new speedruns, but it teaches us little about the people performing them. We sat down with Tones to chat about his emergence in the speedrunning community and what it's like to be a newcomer.
How many viewers did you think were watching?
I wanna say 80,000.
How did it feel to suddenly be in front of not only the 80,000, but the audience in the marathon room. There were at least 150 people in that room.
It was very comfortable. I don't get stagefright very easily. I've been on stage before. It's not a big problem. I was also very confident for my run; I wasn't worried anything bad would happen.
You're not a superstar "yet." Is that a goal for you?
It's not my number one priority. Obviously, I don't want to be getting a huge head out of nowhere to be like, "I'm getting a sub button one day." If it happens I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing, and hopefully people will start tuning in.
What do you do now besides speedrun?
Besides speedrun, I'm a college student at University of Florida. I'm a physics major. So eventually, when classes are going to start getting very hard, it's going to be difficult to stream, but I make it work. I always make it work.
What have you been speedrunning? Is Splatoon your first run?
Splatoon is my first speedgame, and my only speedgame.
When did you start running it?
July, I think.
When you picked Splatoon up, was your first inclination "I'm going to submit this to AGDQ," or was it for fun?
When I started, the top runners were Vespher, Kaysick and Tricourage. I was just invited to the Skype group and we were all talking, like, "Yo, AGDQ submissions are up. Who's going to submit? It's coming soon." And I was like "I just want a couch spot. I kind of want to go!" I didn't have a very good time at that point. Eventually the other runners started dropping out, and I overtook them by quite a large margin. By the time AGDQ submissions actually came up, I was quite ahead of everyone else, and pretty confident I'd get in.
So AGDQ was never the full goal, this was something on the side that happened to develop.
Exactly. I was planning on going to this GDQ, whether or not I was going to be in the run. The fact that I was able to kick it off and everything was way above my expectations.
"Eventually the other runners started dropping out, and I overtook them by quite a large margin."
What do you feel about the marathon? Is it fun?
It's a great experience. I still have a lot of work to do in meeting people. New [people] will just pass by and be like, "Hey I saw your new Splatoon run ... that's really cool." I want to meet a lot of people here, it's a great venue, and the stream room is really tight. There's a lot of things to do, so I'm happy to be here.
You mentioned your common name would be Tones here. Are you used to an online handle replacing your name?
No. Actually. I guess, technically, yes, because my friends have been calling me Tones since before I was called Tones Balones. So I've been called that for a couple years now. People know me here not by my name, but by Tones Balones. And that's a little weird for me. I've never been in such a scenario where there's so many people that have different names, so it actually gets really hard to learn names because of that. I have to learn one or two names for each person, and I can't even remember one name for a face.
So it feels weird that the online identity takes over the normal identity?
A lot of times, yes. My personality is of course the same, but I'll talk about what I've done on stream and what I've done on Twitter or whatever the heck. A lot of this is so I can spitball conversations, so it's not that big of a deal.
How does it feel to meet a random group of people that you'd talked to before about speedrunning?
Oh right, people that I'd never seen their face, and then all of the sudden they're there in person?
For example, when I met you right now, I had to go "I think that's him."
That's happened a lot, actually. My good friend and other Splatoon runner Kaysin, he just came in this morning and was in the practice room watching me. He said something and I was like, "Who are you bud?" and he started talking a little bit more, and it was like "Oh, that's Kaysin." It's happened with a couple people, but unfortunately I haven't been keeping up with a lot of speedrunners. So there's a lot of people that I should know, but just don't. A lot of people end up passing me by and they'll be a very famous superstar.
"It's quite a treat to go around meeting people..."
At the same time, do you feel like that super stardom is a big thing here?
On one hand yes, they can walk around and be like "I'm pretty important." A lot of people know who they are and that of course carries into their character, but it doesn't change who they are as a person. A lot of times, I'll be talking to someone, and they're the exact same person I expected them to be from watching them stream and seeing how they handle themselves on social media. It's quite a treat to go around meeting people, and having them living up to your expectations.
How did it feel to play single-player Splatoon and go, "I'm going to beat this fast?"
The first time I played through the game it took about four hours. That's usually about four or five hours for anybody who plays through the game. You go through each level slowly, you collect all the orbs, get a couple upgrades along the way. And then the second time I went through it with a focus of starting a speedrun with a timer. Just being able to streamline from point A to point B is a huge difference in playstyle. I finished it in one hour and twenty minutes for my first run. It's a different mindset when you play the game. There's absolutely no way I'd go back to playing Splatoon single-player as a casual game. I can't just go into a level and say, "I'm going to collect those orbs for fun." It's just not something I can do. It completely changes your whole mindset about the game.
Splatoon is a unique game too, with a focus on multiplayer. Did you feel like an oddman out speedrunning it?
Absolutely. I'll have to say a good 98 percent of the Splatoon online community has no idea that Splatoon speedrunning exists, at least before this AGDQ happened. It has been mostly an online shooter, and with good reason. Nintendo's done a great job with it, they're really supporting the scene. They've [released] patches, [put] out DLC, whole bunch of things to keep everybody interested. So I'm not salty at all that a lot of people like the online over the speedrun, so hopefully I can bring a little awareness to it and bring a few more people to our side.
"Just pick a game and start doing some fun stuff."
What's special about Splatoon is that a lot of speedgames are of course just single-player games, there is no online for most of these games. There might be local multiplayer. There's a huge online [Splatoon] community that has the speedrun knowledge, and take it from me, jumping from online [Splatoon] to speedrunning is so easy. All the mechanics are the same. You use the Splattershot, which is the exact same weapon you use in online. So it's not a hard jump at all. I expect to see a lot of new faces running.
What got you into speedrunning Splatoon?
Fun story about that, I actually just didn't like Tower Control as a mode in Splatoon. Tower Control is a ranked mode, and it's an objective-based thing that is very difficult to play as a team, and I was really bad at it to start. So I was losing a lot of games and I was getting really frustrated, so it got to the point where if Tower Control was in rotation, I'm just gonna do a speedrun. That just ended up being the norm, and I just put more and more work into speedrunning. So that's how it started for me
For anyone else, you can really just pick any game and say, "I played that game before." It can be a new game, an old game, N64, it can be whatever you want. Just pick a game and start doing some fun stuff.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. Tones Balones can be found streaming on his Twitch, or online on his Twitter @TonesBalones_. For more of our ongoing coverage of AGDQ 2016, check out our StoryStream.