Zelda Breath Of The Wild Speedrunning
Image: Nintendo

It’s 1 AM and you have just spent the past 12 hours replaying the same segment of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. In your mind, there is no stopping until perfection is achieved – or the more likely option – you pass out from sleep deprivation. For the next few weeks, you continue to hone your skills, in the hope of reducing the amount of time it takes to complete a full run of the game. Meanwhile, you are in a race with a massive community of like-minded individuals, each with their own strategies and goals in mind. Welcome to the world of speedrunning.

Since its release in 2017, Breath of the Wild has been featured in several speedrun categories, with the most popular being Any%, where players attempt to defeat the final boss and complete the game as quickly as possible. Despite the longevity of the main adventure during a casual playthrough, BOTW can now be beaten in less than 30 minutes, with the world record currently sitting at 24:10 by a runner named Koroks. To understand the work that goes into running this huge game, we spoke with Koroks about that astonishing world record run, and life as a speedrunner.

“I don’t even know how I got to this point to be honest with you,” Koroks — also known as Johnathan — tells us. Although it depends on the game, a speedrun can take years to master, but this speedrunner from New York was able to reduce his first run’s time by a significant amount in a matter of months.

Korok’s WR Run

“I’ve been a big fan of Zelda speedruns for many years now, but I became interested in running Breath of the Wild in November 2021,” he tells us enthusiastically. However, it was another player’s run that really resonated with him. “I remember watching another runner called Player5 achieve his 24:56 time, and that had a huge impact on me.” Player5 is another American speedrunner who is currently just behind Koroks on the leaderboards – they have both been able to secure a time of 24:10, but Koroks was able to seize the top spot by a couple of milliseconds.

The leader boards at the time of writing

“My first run was 1 hour and 58 minutes, but my goal was to eventually get a run to under 30 minutes,” he said. “After a while, the goal post kept on getting shorter and shorter until I eventually got the 24:10. I still can’t believe it, it’s crazy!” During an Any% run, players are required to take advantage of several glitches and traversal techniques that look impossible from a surface level, though speedrunners have been able to develop routes that intentionally utilise some of the game’s more hidden mechanics.

These strategies and mechanics are called “tricks” or “strats”, terms that have since become synonymous within the scene. “For me personally, the tricks looked really interesting and fun – which to me is a big part of my enjoyment of speedrunning.” Breath of the Wild heavily relies on three major techniques, Shield Clipping, BLSS (Bow Lift Smuggling Super Slide), and Shield Surfing. There are more tools that are used throughout runs, though Koroks highlighted these as the most important.

BLSS Explained by Little_L

“BLSS is a big part of the run, as it allows Link to quickly traverse the overworld. It’s the primary form of movement throughout the run and mastering that can take a long time. You can’t let the analogue stick return to its neutral position, otherwise Link will fall and lead to heavy time losses.”

Shield clips were probably the most difficult technique to learn. They’re used a lot in the run to allow Link to clip through walls, but we primarily use them to get into shrines

Obviously, a lot of practice is required to learn these tricks, and depending on your skill level this can take a long time. However, Koroks was able to advance extremely quickly. “I never thought I’d get to the point where I’d achieve a record though,” he admits. “It has been seven months of non-stop playing, and I was surprised at how quickly I was able to optimise my runs.” He acknowledges that his advancement didn’t come without its challenges, though. Some mechanics took a substantial amount of time to learn, but he has since started to understand where improvements can be made.

To get an idea of how these mechanics are used in a speedrun, we asked Koroks to explain what the biggest reset point in the game is — the moment when you may as well throw in the towel if you didn't nail a specific trick.

“I’d say right now the biggest reset point in Any% is at the beginning of the run. It’s very technical and can be a run killer. Essentially, you need to grab a weapon from a nearby Boko Camp and to do that, you need to whistle sprint at a specific time to get said weapon, but sometimes the Boko’s can beat you there.” 'Whistle sprinting' is a mechanic that was discovered earlier on by the Breath of the Wild speedrunning community, a trick that allows the player to negate Link’s stamina consumption while running.

For Koroks personally, a key challenge during his early BOTW speedrunning days was shield clipping, a glitch that allows Link to clip through walls and acts as a massive time save.

Player5’s Run

“Shield clips were probably the most difficult technique to learn. They’re used a lot in the run to allow Link to clip through walls, but we primarily use them to get into shrines. They complement other mechanics in the game, so it was important to master those as soon as possible.”

100% is another popular category in the Breath of the Wild speedrunning community, often lovingly referred to as “hundo-percent”.

In the beginning it was quite easy with the whole running thing being new and exciting. [100%] is all about keeping composure and just keeping your mentality good

Unlike its Any% counterpart, 100% runs demand more intense gameplay strategies, as well as a deep understanding of the game’s world map. We were able to speak to a runner by the name of Johnnyboomr from Belgium, who is currently sitting in 2nd place on the category’s leader boards. We wanted to understand the challenges that come with such a large undertaking, in addition to the hurdles that can negatively impact player morale. At the time of writing, the world record for BOTW's 100% run is 16 hours and 36 minutes by an Austrian runner named Coensi — obviously a massive jump in time compared to the standard Any%.

“In the beginning it was quite easy with the whole running thing being new and exciting,” Johnnyboomr tells us. “This category is all about keeping composure and just keeping your mentality good. For example, if I make a big mistake and lose a lot of time, I just have to accept that and move on and focus on the next thing to do.” Compared to Any% runs, the point where it makes sense to throw in the towel is far less obvious.

However, according to Johnnyboomr, the most challenging part of completing a 100% run is managing your bathroom and water breaks. “We used to only have two breaks, now we have three and it's a bit nicer to manage.” As you’re aiming to fully complete everything in the game, this takes an even higher level of motivation and dedication. Although time losses are possible in Any%, it can be especially heart-breaking 10 hours into its much bigger brother. Koroks also admitted during our conversation that he admires the 100% category and intends to complete a full run of it in the future.

Part 1 of Johnnyboomr’s 100% Run

Speaking of motivation, we asked both runners to explain how they stay focused and driven in their individual runs, and the advice they would give to new runners. “I feel symptoms of burnout now and again, but to be honest – it never really affects me,” Koroks tells us. Enjoying the game is the most important quality of a speedrunner, he says, and if you’re not enjoying the game anymore, it’s probably worth taking a break. “I’ve ensured that I only practice what I need to practice and take breaks whenever I start to feel that burnout.”

For 100% runner Johnnyboomr, it’s a very similar mindset, though perhaps more intense due to the length of these runs. “Keeping your mentality positive throughout the run is very important. It’s very hard to keep going if you’re not feeling up to it.” Regarding new runners, both players say that the Breath of the Wild speedrunning Discord server is easily the best place for learning routes, and that other players tend to be very welcoming to newcomers.

It's clear that speedrunning is a real art — it takes a substantial amount of time to master, and a high level of dedication to improve your personal best. Of course, every game is different, especially from a speedrunner’s perspective, as you often need to think outside of the box to find optimal routes. The BOTW community is close-knit, passionate, and resourceful. There’s no doubting that more incredible feats will be performed in the near future as other speedrunners eye Koroks' world record.

And with the sequel on the horizon next year, there will soon be a whole new game for Zelda speedrunners to break in beautiful ways.

Zelda Breath Of The Wild
Image: Nintendo