On December 27, a group of gamers kicked off a “The Legend of Zelda” marathon in which they would play for 150 consecutive hours to raise money for HelpHOPELive. The Zeldathon fundraiser, named Zeldathon Hope, is broadcast live to an audience of thousands on Twitch, the world’s leading video game streaming platform. By Day 3, Zeldathon Hope had raised over $100,000 for HelpHOPELive. Here’s our interview with the director of Zeldathon, Matthew Moffit.
Where did the idea for Zeldathon come from?
Back in 2009 when I was in high school, I told my friend Zach about a group that was playing video games for charity. We made plans to start our own charity gaming marathon over winter break. We faced overheating laptops and were short-staffedas we tried to broadcast the full 24 hours ourselves. We had a full 4-hour period where the game was idle when we both drifted off. Turns out you need more than two people to run a 24-hour charity marathon – who knew!
We raised a total of $301 from our first marathon. A friend of ours convinced us that hosting another Zeldathon would be a perfect senior project. We got a few more friends to support us this time, bringing the total up to 11 participants. The second Zeldathon raised 11 times more than that first event. For our fifteenth Zeldathon overall, we looked at Charity Navigator’s highest-rated charities. We pursued HelpHOPELive because we wanted to work with a charity that could make a direct impact through donations.
To me, Zelda is just a good game series. It’s all about a hero saving the world and defeating evil. We like to think that we’re working to defeat the evils of the world through our marathon. Zelda is also appropriate for all audiences, which is a plus. We plan to stick to Zelda for our central marathon but add additional games like Mario for smaller marathons.
Is orchestrating Zeldathon your full-time job?
At the moment, I’m a jack of all trades online. YouTube and livestreaming are my biggest sources of income. I was well-known as a Minecraft player for a while, and that produced a fairly substantial income. But you get tired of playing the same game!
Small tips from fans help me pay my bills, which enables me to keep working to make Zeldathon bigger and better. Zeldathons are always 100% for charity and proceeds go directly to the charity without me or anyone else taking a cut, but Zeldathon-branded merchandise and similar projects could help make Zeldathon management a viable full-time career in the future.
We want to do good in the world. If you start to skew off of that central mission – Zelda fans raising money for charity – it becomes less effective and harder to communicate our mission to an audience. First and foremost, we want to do good.
What’s the most challenging part of planning a Zeldathon?
I like to work independently, and it’s hard for me to delegate projects. This marathon has featured more people involved working on different projects than ever before–musicians, artists, developers, web developers–at this point, even when I’m not working on Zeldathon (on that rare occasion), someone else is! I get scared when things are out of my hands, even when other people have different skills that are necessary. The most challenging thing is keeping my cool while keeping tabs on these delegated projects.
Another challenge is that a lot of our success depends on word-of-mouth. We aim to raise $1,000 per hour. If you can’t donate, spread the word to the people who can. Tell 10 people, and if three donate and six spread the word again, we’re already building a huge network of people who may be able to participate and donate.
What keeps you going when the process gets difficult?
For me, it’s about the spirit of these events. It’s amazing that we are all able to come together to do this in the name of a good cause. There are hardcore fans whose dream is just to make it to one Zeldathon in person someday. We’re creating something more than just a marathon – it’s a real community, dedicated to forces of good.
Why do you think people are so willing to get involved?
It all starts with gaming and the strength of that community. When we livestream, just the fact that we’re playing Legend of Zelda is enough to get some fans hooked. Many played the game as a kid, so it’s nostalgic. Then they look at us sitting on the couch and ask, who are these people? Well, they’re certainly charming and entertaining, and they’re willing to do wacky things for charity. You can even read the players’ online profiles and really get to know them. It’s amazing!
I am really proud of everyone who has worked on Zeldathon with me. I always say the last marathon is my favorite of all time, but I am fully dedicated to the idea that Zeldathon Hope WILL be our best event yet.
Is planning and participating in Zeldathons emotionally rewarding?
The entire process is emotional and motivational. On the setup day, we usually have Zelda music playing – orchestral, strings, brass, woodwinds. In the hotel ballroom, you’re hooking up cords and your friends start walking in across the room. It’s 50 of your best friends all in one place, preparing to do something great.
Last marathon, during the Zeldathon Deluxe grand finale, we were handing out awards and at the end we suddenly realized that we had 30 minutes left to cover. We asked for someone from the audience to volunteer to give a speech. One person shyly offered to give their speech, and then one by one, everyone wanted to give their own speech. The speeches got more and more emotional over time, with people telling us how Zeldathon has changed their lives. We’re a Zeldathon family more than anything else, and that in itself is rewarding and emotional.
Aside from watching live on Twitch, how can readers support the cause and get involved?
Zeldathon Hope continues until January 2 live on Twitch. Tune in with us!