I stayed up for 34 hours this weekend. It’s longer than I’ve ever stayed up and I’m still recovering. And it was among the best 34 hours of my life.
When I first got the e-mail from Extra Life in 2014 inviting me to the kick-off meeting for a new Ottawa Guild, I really had no idea what to expect. I knew what guilds were and what some of them had done but little beyond that. I certainly never expected to get invited to be on the leadership team and I never in my wildest dreams expected that two years later, I’d be doing an entire, second Extra Life marathon, on the set of the CHEO Telethon, one of Ottawa’s biggest and most cherished charitable events. Not only did that happen but the $72,154 that we helped raise for this fantastic event helped push the telethon to a new record total of $8,013,771 raised and without it, they wouldn’t have cracked the $8,000,000 mark.
This still feels surreal to me.
Doing something with the telethon was always an idea our guild had in our minds but we never actively pursued it. It was our awesome liaison at the CHEO Foundation, Olenka, who came to us with this idea several months ago. We jumped at the prospect but it only really started to coalesce into a real thing a couple of months back. We had no idea how it would go or what the experience would be like but we knew it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. To say everything went better than we could have hoped is I think, an understatement.
A lot of children’s hospitals don’t really support or endorse Extra Life because they still ignorantly see gaming as a dumb kids hobby that makes people fat and wastes time. Not CHEO. They have supported our guild efforts 110% and have seen the incredible things gamers can do when they band together for a good cause. Many charities are struggling to figure out how to get newer generations of people engaged with their causes. The CHEO Telethon is a huge deal in this town but at the same time, many young people don’t watch TV any more. I’m 37 and I haven’t had cable in six years. To get new people in, you’ve got to embrace new and different ideas that appeal to them and CHEO has had the foresight to see why things like Extra Life do exactly that.
The idea was simple: They invited us to do a second 24 hour Extra Life marathon from the set of the Telethon at the EY Centre and they’d make it a big part of the show so that they could help drive awareness of both the event and what they’re doing to bring young people in.
Our guild showed up in spades. We were allowed to bring up to 25 people and got a full complement. Men and women ranging from teenagers up to old fogies like me. Not only that but this event was even harder compared to the normal Extra Life because it ran from 7pm to 7pm as opposed to the normal game day’s 8am to 8am. This meant that many of us had to go through most of a regular day before even starting the marathon and several from the guild were at the EY Centre setting up well hours before things got going. This was an even bigger challenge but we were up for it.
We had a bunch of PCs, several of which had people streaming, a bunch of consoles and then, the Ottawa board gaming community showed up. They brought a mind blowing 60 board games to the event and I was told that was just their “travelling set.” We had all aspects of gaming represented, except for tabletop RPGs and I have a feeling people might be down for that in the future. Our area was this insane jungle of tables, screens and cables and looked like something out of a cyberpunk novel. You walked into that space and within seconds, you unquestionably knew it was made up of hardcore gamers.
The CHEO Telethon is one of the most well organised events I’ve ever seen. I’ve done things at shows this size before and I’m always prepared for everything to be a fight and for having to nag people to get stuff done. Our experience here was the polar opposite of that. We were given a massive space with a bunch of brand new couches donated by The Brick and were promised 30 megabit synchronous fibre Internet to be used for multiplayer gaming and streams, which was not only delivered but was rock solid. They gave us our own coffee, water machine and fridge and we had tons of food delivered throughout the event and free access to the common food area as well. No details were overlooked, nothing was ever a fight and though this was the first time anything like this was ever done, you’d have never known.
The thing that sticks out to me the most though is what they did for us overnight. The CHEO Telethon goes off-air and loops previously recorded footage from 11pm to 9am because few watch or donate overnight as most are asleep. When this happens, the entire set goes dark and as it turns out, almost everyone goes home for a few hours of shut eye. Aside from a couple of people handling overnight logistics, they left us completely alone and to our own devices for 10 hours. The hall was dark but we were allowed to go anywhere we wanted, completely unsupervised. We could have wreaked havoc if we wanted and there was basically no one there to stop us. Of course, we didn’t do that but it was a really striking show of trust. These people didn’t know at all, many of them had never met us before, yet they trusted us implicitly and treated us like we were part of the same group that’s been doing this for years. That’s really something that gives me pause.
A few of us needed to take cat naps on occasion but the vast majority went through the entire 24 hours without a hitch. I don’t have a total for how much we raised during the event but I know it was significant, especially considering the main Extra Life day is months away. My good friend Devon Payette, the 13 year old CHEO Champion from last year was at the event and despite having major chronic illnesses, said he would stay up the whole 24 hours with us and he not only did it but he did so with an energy and gusto most of the rest of us had long since lost by the time things were done. I gave him my old gaming PC when I got a new job recently and he not only spent most of the 24 hours on it, he streamed a bunch too and raised more money than any of us! That kid is a force of nature and an inspiration to everyone. People like him and what CHEO has done for him are why we play.
We had a number of visitors during the show, including the CEOs of both CHEO and the CHEO Foundation, a bunch of local media personalities and other community leaders. Most of them didn’t know or understand Extra Life before but they were all blown away by what they saw and how driven and committed everyone was to it. It was clear that within minutes, we’d reached them and showed them how awesome this is and why we all take it so seriously. Right after the show, a prominent local radio personality hit us up on Facebook and basically said “I didn’t know anything about this before but it’s awesome. If you ever need help promoting or an MC for special events, let me know.” Even if we didn’t raise a dime, these things alone made this worth it.
I talk about my own experiences and how my stream went in the video but I had a great time. My brain barely worked by the end but I played for the whole 24 hours as well and made a big dent into my backlog. I didn’t get as many viewers and donations as I wanted but a bunch of regulars from my YouTube channel showed up and they made it a great time as they always do. My good friend Andrew “KeyMastar” Scrader hung out for most of the stream because he’s insane, as did my buddy Reetin, whose podcast I regularly guest on. I also met a fellow Extra Life CHEO player from North Bay named Orcryst, who is a prominent Twitch streamer. He was a super nice guy and gave me a whole pile of advice on how to grow my streaming presence and maybe also combine it in a unique way with my YouTube efforts. I’m planning to make some big changes based on his advice. That’s something I never saw coming.
We were all barely functional by the end but when they revealed that the telethon had raised a record of over $8,000,000, we all got a massive boost of adrenaline, something that made it a lot easier to pack up our stuff and get home. There was no trouble, no drama and everyone left with a smile on their face, knowing we had done good. There are few greater feelings to have.
In terms of people to thank, there are so many:
- Olenka from CHEO is an incredibly warm and caring lady and one of the most organised people I’ve ever met. Doing this was her idea and without her, I don’t know if it ever would have happened.
- My colleagues on the committee, Richard and Frankie are amazing, inspiring people and it’s an honour to work with them.
- Conor from the guild has always been an amazing help and is willing to bend over backwards for us.
- Kristy and Vicky are newcomers to the guild who offered to take up the challenge of managing social media for us, something the rest of us aren’t great at and didn’t want to do anyway. To say they’ve done an incredible job is a massive understatement and they were the sole reason our social media got so much attention in the week leading up to and during the event.
- Devon and his parents for being so supportive of the guild and allowing Devon to play with us. He sat right in the middle of the whole group and was an incredible inspiration. Kids like him are why we do this and everyone was stronger with him there.
- Laura from Freeman who was an incredible help getting us our Internet connection and making it possible for us to play online and streaming.
- The entire telethon staff for putting so much trust in us and treating us like we were part of the family.
Most of all though, I want to thank everyone who showed up to play. I’d not met a lot of you before and yet we all came together and ran ourselves ragged to raise money for this great cause. You all should be incredibly proud of yourselves. We’re sadly in a time where the media–including the games press that’s supposed to advocate for us–are trying to paint gamers as hateful, selfish and exclusionary, largely to drive easy traffic and ad revenue to their dying web sites. This past weekend, a large, diverse group of us took this hobby we love and in unison, did something completely selfless with it. We showed that when united, gamers can do incredible, virtuous things. The next time the “enthusiast press” says you’re a bad person because you don’t share their politics, think of this and remember what gamers are really about. You all did immense good and you had fun doing it. What can be better in this world?
My girlfriend and I are only children from small families and we decided very early in our relationship that we probably don’t want to have kids. I’ve never really the bond with children that many people, even non-parents, do and it’s sometimes made me sad and frustrated how as my friends have families, that I’m “losing them” to that. Extra Life has given me a special connection to kids and helping them that I never thought I’d have and probably never would have had without this charity in my life. It’s something you can’t really quantify the value of until you experience it. I don’t think I’ll ever be a “kid person” and I still don’t think I want to have any of my own but I get the drive people have for kids more than I had and that enlightenment is something I am so grateful to have had happen.
I say without hyperbole that this past weekend was one of the most rewarding, gratifying experiences I’ve ever had and it’s because of Extra Life and the amazing people in this guild that I got to do it. I’ll remember that forever and it was an honour and a privilege to share this experience with you. You’re all rockstars and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this and to be doing it with all of you.
Let’s do it all again! November work for you?