Imagine you’re on the last leg of an intense race. Victory is within your grasp, mere yards away, at the finish line. You can practically taste the victory cake awaiting you at the end; it’s right there! But then, out of the corner of your eye, you spot a challenger rushing forward to obliterate your moment of glory. In a moment of sheer terror, you think to yourself, “If I can outrun it to the finish line, I’ll be safe!” But nothing is further from the truth. Doom itself swiftly catches up with you, and mere moments from victory, your hopes are blasted to bits.
Sound familiar? For anyone who’s played Mario Kart, it certainly should. The terrifying blue shell is a win-destroying item, targeting the person in first place and bringing their lead to a halt. The blue shell is frustrating enough in races with friends, so what must it be like it for a speedrunner?
Just recently, that exact scenario happened to expert Mario Kart speedrunner known as “Skilloz”. Skilloz has multiple former and current speedrunning world records, including the fastest time to beat the Star and Flower Cup Grands Prix in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. More recently, he’s been relentlessly trying to break the world record for Star Cup, and almost made it just the other day. He missed the mark by a single second, all because of one blue shell at the very end. You can witness the entire devastating clip below:
In the wake of this unfortunate loss, we reached out to Skilloz to discuss his Mario Kart journey. In the interview, we talked about his various world records, his attempt that was ruined by a blue shell, his time hosting at Summer Games Done Quick, and a few tips he has for new Mario Kart runners.
Skilloz’s fondness for video games began in the early 2000s/late 90s, when he fondly remembers playing games like Donkey Kong 64, the first Pokémon generation, and an obscure third-person shooter Army Men: Sarge’s Heroes 2 (which he currently has a world record in as well). Over the years, he expanded his gaming interests to PC, with games like RuneScape and League of Legends. He never lost his love for Nintendo, though; Skilloz started playing Mario Kart back with 7 on the 3DS, but didn’t fall in love with speedrunning until Mario Kart 8’s port released on Switch in 2017.
“I started when the Deluxe version came out,” Skilloz told Culture of Gaming. “I just wanted to get my name in the leaderboard, and that’s all I did, whether it was a really bad time [or not]. I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I thought!”
That passion drove him to continue pursuing his hobby. He systematically played through each Grand Prix, and relentlessly practiced until he got the world record in each. “This was kind of a personal goal: I wanted to get a world record in Mushroom Cup, and then work my way towards the very last bonus cup.” That goal took him a bit longer than expected, even for the very first cup: “It took me 2300 attempts to get the Mushroom Cup world record. Flower Cup took me a few hundred, and Star Cup I’m upwards of 700 attempts right now.”
After Star Cup, Skilloz intends on getting a world record on every other cup, before he faces his ultimate challenge. “Once I get through each of the cups, my long-term (and probably final) goal is to do the 48-track category.” By that, he means that he’ll eventually go for the world record in speedrunning every single race, back-to-back.
After hundreds of hours and thousands of attempts, Skilloz has squeezed his way into a spot as one of the world’s best Mario-Karters, and by now, he knows quite a bit about the meta-game and community.
Words of Wisdom from an Expert
For single-player games like Super Mario Bros or Ocarina of Time, speedrunning is straight-forward. A speedrunner knows every enemy pattern in World 8-8 or every glitch to get to Ganon’s castle in the shortest time possible. The element of predictability lends itself to fast playthroughs. But Mario Kart doesn’t have that benefit. AI opponents interfere. Items activate at random. When items are on, a blue shell can ruin a runner’s race at any moment, and they’re helpless to stop it. This is exactly what happened to Skilloz on his near-record-breaking race, and he says that there’s only one way to deal with it: “Patience.”
“It’s kind of hard. You know, the blue shell, as terrible as it is, is something that you can prevent, if you get lucky.” The key word here is “luck”, a term Skilloz has become very, very familiar with in his thousands of world-record attempts.
As infamous as the blue shell is, it’s not even the scariest item, according to Skilloz. “The more devastating item I would say is actually the lightning. That’s something you can’t prepare for; you can’t protect yourself, it just happens.”
That lightning plays a bigger role in the world-record attempt than you might think at first. If you pay close attention in that clip of his record attempt, you can barely notice that he’s hit by a lightning shock a few frames after the blue shell attack.
“There’s a couple things going on there.” he iterates, “The lightning doesn’t stop you completely in your tracks; you’ll go a little bit slower, but it doesn’t come to a full stop.” Because the blue shell and lightning strike came in succession, it compounded just enough to make his run a bit too slow. “Had that lightning come just a few frames earlier, who knows if I would have been able to make it to the finish line in record time?
“You need patience. Because, if you don’t have patience, you’re going to get mad at the game, and you’re not going to do well.” Those are words to live by.
The Joy of Random
As frustrating as the random items can be at times, Skilloz wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. “There are two categories [for speedrunning] in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe: items and no items.” By playing with items off, it would eliminate the random element, and leave the results purely up to skill. But that’s not quite what he’s interested in: “As infuriating as it is, to know that you did good, but yet, you also beat all odds; I find that to be a lot more satisfying.”
This random element makes things especially difficult when you consider he only races 200cc. Quick history lesson: Mario Kart 8 for Wii U originally shipped without a 200cc mode at all; it was only tacked on as a free update, months after release. “The tracks are definitely designed for 150cc. 200cc, to a casual player, is very difficult; you’re going way faster than you’re supposed to, and the track’s no different. Your turns are still really sharp, and things are just more chaotic.”
But the thrill of driving above the speed limit is exhilarating, especially when red shells and squids are passing you in the left lane. That’s why Skilloz opts for as much chaos as possible; the challenge, the excitement, and the reward.
Skilloz’s competitor, and the current record holder for Star Cup, is the French-speaking Draco655. Draco streams everything from retro games like Super Mario World and Pokémon, to speed runs of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. At the time of writing, he holds 6 world records on speedrun.com, including Skilloz’s coveted Star Cup. You’d think that with two highly skilled, highly competitive players like this, there would be a bitter rivalry. But nothing could be further from the truth. “We watch each other’s streams all the time. I would give him tips, he would give me tips; it’s a friendly relationship between us.”
Journey to Games Done Quick
Life as a speedrunner can be lonely sometimes. After spending hours and hours running over the same segment, it can be discouraging to not have a fellow speedrunner right next to you, cheering you on to the finish. For many, including Skilloz, they get that sense of community through Twitch streams, Discord servers, and Twitter. Despite that, an absence of a physical community can still be disheartening. That’s where a bi-annual speedrunning event called Games Done Quick came in for Skilloz.
In 2018, Skilloz made the trek from the heart of Canada down to Minnesota for Summer Games Done Quick. While it was only his second time at a GDQ event, he unexpectedly became one of the hosts for the only Mario Kart 8 Deluxe speedrun at the event. A couple other Mario Kart speedrunners approached Skilloz, asking if he would like to help host a 48-track speedrun. He gladly accepted, and helped to host the 1 AM, almost-2-hour stream of MK8D.
For Skilloz, giving expert commentary at an event meant one thing: practice. “[The other speed runners and I] made that agreement that we should practice our commentary. We delegated our tasks, so when it came up to the run, we knew what we were going to say.” Throughout the stream, Skilloz gave plenty of advice for new speedrunners, detailing techniques like item management and optimal drifting. To this day, he recommends that stream as a good starting point for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe beginners.
Games Done Quick is an amazing collaboration of communities, coming together to speedrun their favorite video games. For Skilloz, that sense of community is extremely uplifting. “It’s not often where I can talk to a real person in front of me, to talk about competitive Mario Kart. So, just to have that… it was always special.” The fact that he not only traveled hundreds of miles for that community, but had the expertise to help host an event, speaks volumes of his expertise and passion for Mario Kart.
If You’re Interested…
The Mario Kart speedrunning community is a very friendly one, both to masterclass veterans and newcomers alike. For those interested in getting into Mario Kart speedrunning, Skilloz has a few suggestions:
“I think the first place would be to watch the SGDQ 2018 run that we did. We go through all the basics of all the little techniques we do. You could also join our Discord channel; everyone’s happy to help.”
If the time investment for speedrunning seems too daunting to you, don’t lose hope! Skilloz mentions that speedrunning has always been something he’s done in his spare time. “Yeah, this is just a hobby, for sure. I have a full-time job. I do my own other hobbies and whatnot. I would probably [say I play Mario Kart] around ten hours a week.”
The fact that Skilloz has managed to become one of the best Mario Kart speedrunners on the planet in his free-time speaks to his skill. It should also be encouraging if you’re a beginner – normal people speedrun video games!
Whether you spend a little time or a lot, it still takes an intense level of dedication. Even after his world record attempt was cut short by one second, Skilloz can’t get enough of Mario Kart. And until he gets that world record, you can rest assured that Skilloz will take as many attempts as he needs to. “At the time, I was at about run 600, and I’m already on number 700.”
“So, if anything, it’s made me want to do it more.”
You can find Skilloz in a bunch of places around the web, including YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, and on his profile at speedrun.com. You can also join the Mario Kart 8 Speedrunning Discord to find a dedicated community of speedrunners.
When he’s not busy speedrunning, Skilloz is hard at work at SKL Esports, a Canadian Esports league focused on League of Legends, CS:GO, and Super Smash Bros Ultimate. If you’re interested, you can check out SKL on their website, or on YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and Discord.
For more on speedrunning, Mario Kart, and everything else video games, stay tuned to Culture of Gaming.