The official Stardew Valley Cup was held on September 4th and it turned the relaxing farming sim into a surprisingly tense eSport tournament. The cup had a prize pool of over $40,000 and was hosted by streamer UnsurpassableZ and Stardew's creator Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone on Twitch.
The event saw four teams race to complete around 100 challenges in the time limit. These challenges included trivial tasks like naming a chicken after Barone, alongside time-sinks like completing the Community Center that would earn the team more points.
Stardew Valley is known for its calming atmosphere as it encourages players to unwind, farm and befriend (or seduce) the various characters of the Valley. However, this cup highlighted that even Stardew Valley can be turned into a sweaty competition.
At first, I thought Barone was joking when he began talking about “high-level” strategies that the teams were using. I thought animation cancelling was only a technique used in competitive shooters and fighting games, like Halo 2's animation cancel for reloads. But it’s also a time-saving tactic employed by Stardew Valley speedrunners.
Barone explained that he included “a combination of keys that stopped the player character from doing what they were doing for debug purposes” and that he “forgot” to take it out for the final build. The obscure combination was later discovered by speedrunners and was used to fly through farming in this weekend’s tournament. Animation cancelling also comes with a level of risk, unlike other competitive games. For example, if players cancelled a watering animation too soon, they would also cancel the function and the crops would remain un-watered, leading to wasted time.
The hosts also elaborated on a bunch of other strategies that the teams were using, such as having a “dedicated fisher”, skipping days to make crops grow faster and something called “clay farming” (another hidden exploit that allows players to find clay by digging in a certain pattern).
All four teams also used the most recent Beach Farm layout, introduced in last year’s 1.5 update. This layout gave the teams easy access to fishing water and Barone joked that players just didn’t like the “mustard yellow” colour of the ground in other maps.
Team Sandy’s Candies were victorious with 661 points, winning the top prize of $28,000. Pierree’s Cherries came in second with 597 points after being in the lead just before the finale. I've embedded the stream below but be warned - it's long!
Although Stardew Valley clearly has a lot of potential for strategic teamwork and high-level play, Barone strongly expressed that “this doesn’t necessarily mean Stardew Valley is now an esport.” For now, it seems this tournament was just a fun event for the fans.
Near the end of the four-hour livestream Barone also shared some details on his plans for the future. When asked if Stardew Valley would receive new marriage candidates, Barone replied that it would be “just a tonne of work”.
“I’m not saying there’s going to be another Stardew Valley Update. Right now, I am focused on my next game. So, we’ll see.”
If you've never played Stardew Valley, it'll be available at no extra cost on Xbox Game Pass this autumn. It's a favourite here at the RPS treehouse, and it's one of our 20 Best Management Games to play in 2021.