Stardew Valley is a masterclass in relaxing gaming. It quickly found an audience and has now spread to pretty much every gaming device. You inherit a farm and casually spend your days getting back in touch with nature. It’s mindfulness through gaming. The kind of game you can spend 12 hours a day playing to hide away from that awful unfriendly outside world. The exact opposite of the high-tension, adrenaline based fare that you usually associate with Esports. However, there is now competitive Stardew Valley and it’s actually a lot more fun than it sounds.
A small community of Stardew devotees has been brought into wider focus with a Twitch rivals event focusing specifically on the game. This event featured a prize pool of $35,000. No small sum for a casual game about farming and romancing that handsome lad who works in the supermarket. The competitive Stardew Valley experience might be different from the normal game or most people’s experience with it, but it’s just as charming and off-beat.
Competitive Stardew Valley Confuses Twitch
The Twitch chat for the Rivals event summed up the confusion of your average player over this sub-culture. Some choice comments from yesterday’s coverage are “Pure stress”, “This Guy isn’t that good at Stardew.”, “What’s the challenge?”, “Where do you find info on the challenge?”, “What are they trying to do?”, and “What is this?”.
Outside of confused spectators, there was an awful lot of people getting into the spirit of things. Rooting passionately for a player to hit their farming goals! It was a bizarre, but charming experience. Much like this celebration of wholesome streamers, it’s a welcome one.
Competitive Stardew Valley can be confusing. At its core it’s similar to a speedrun of the game. The teams in the Twitch Rivals event competed to see who could accomplish certain in-game goals the quickest. This really goes against the usual patience and one-day-at-a-time approach to Stardew. Instead of relaxing and gradually progressing as you settle into the community, there is a ticking clock. You need to go faster, breath heavier, shout instead of talk, basically become a ball of farming-induced tension. It’s a niche and someone has to fill it.
The multiplayer patch is what has made competitive Stardew Valley a reality. Teams of four race around the village completing as many goals as possible, without stopping to savoir the small beautiful moments that Stardew offers its players. Competitive Stardew Valley is stress incarnate, amplified since its taking place with the same calm visuals and music. It’s an injection of tension in something that you usually find refreshing. Like a drill sergeant screaming “BE MINDFUL” at you while you try to meditate.
It’s Still Stardew
Esports are now big business. Competitive Stardew Valley is a tiny example, but it’s a fun reminder that anything can become an Esport if fans try hard enough. Some of the categories that teams compete for are uniquely Stardew. For one challenge, the teams must make the best farm. The objective best farm. The captain of each team gives the stream and other captains a tour of their beautiful farm at the end of the event. Then, each captain and the Twitch viewing audience vote for the best farm. Putting one of the prizes up to how quaint you’ve made your surroundings is a nice twist.
What makes competitive Stardew Valley work? There’s little going for it in terms of gameplay mechanics. It’s hardly the Esport-by-numbers that is Apex Legends. Instead, competitive Stardew Valley primarily exists in the same novelty space that speed runs do. It’s a competition based entirely around deconstructing a game and using this knowledge to play it in a way opposite to its design.
Relaxation Must Be Productive
Do viewers want to play games that way? Probably not. However, it’s still entertaining to watch. It’s a deconstruction of the mechanics of the game to enable the quickest performance of the goals, irrelevant of the intention of the game.
Competitive Stardew Valley demonstrates the capacity to get entertainment from min-maxing literally any game. Kind of like meditation that’s branded as a way of being more productive, competitive Stardew Valley takes something relaxing and makes it focus on achieving things.
Those who have settled down with in-game spouses and kids might not be about to reset their farm to practice speed-runs to the bottom of the mine, but competitive Stardew Valley is a fascinating demonstration of player’s passion for farm life.