As pointed out by a recent viral tweet, Subway Surfers, a mobile endless runner, has skyrocketed past Minecraft and Super Mario 64 to become the world’s most popular speedrun. On speedrun.com, it holds the number one spot in every major category: Most Active, Most Players, and Most Runs.
It’s not a narrow victory by any means, especially when it comes to active users. At the time of writing, Subway Surfers has about 17,950 active players. That’s almost 38 times as many active users as Super Mario 64, which is currently in second place. Meanwhile, Subway Surfers’ total player count is over 26,000. That’s more than twice as much as Minecraft: Java Edition.
As an American, this is extremely surprising, but if you’re from Brazil, it might not be. A massive portion of the runs are from accounts with a Brazilian flag next to them. Out of the top 200 runners in the No Coins (No Hoverboard/Keys) category, an astounding 64 percent are Brazilian accounts, and 26 percent have no nationality listed, meaning the number of Brazil-based runners is likely even higher.
There are a few major questions raised by this development. For starters, it’s an endless runner: how does someone even complete a Subway Surfers speedrun? The most popular category is “No Coins,” where players try to go as far as possible without collecting a single coin. Because the best times are the longest, the category doesn’t really fit the traditional definition of a speedrun, but that clearly hasn’t lessened the game’s popularity. Still, there are plenty of other categories that do feel more standard, like 100 Coins, 38x multiplier, and All Power-ups.
Another big question is how this all started. Like most internet trends, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact origin, but there are a few likely causes. TikTok is one: a recent trend has users posting text-to-speech audio clips of Reddit threads over Subway Surfers gameplay. Combine that with a viral trend of recreating the gameplay over an a capella cover of the game’s opening music with a few big hits from the official Subway Surfers account, and it’s no wonder the Subway Surfers hashtag currently has over 25 billion views.
There’s also a Brazil-specific TikTok trend where people have been speedrunning the game to get the country represented on the leaderboards. A few TikToks from user lexakt_ show the beginnings of the challenge from last December, with a series of updates that continued to April. Lexa encouraged their followers to play the game and get on the leaderboards, and by the April update, Brazil had claimed most of the top spots. It’s unclear if this video started the trend, but given the millions of views and the fact that it was made so many months ago, it feels like a safe assumption to say they definitely contributed.
TikTok aside, Subway Surfers has been an incredibly popular game for years now. In 2019, it was announced as the most downloaded mobile game of the last decade with over 2.7 billion downloads. It’s free to play on any mobile device and incredibly child-friendly, so anyone old enough to play the game could theoretically submit a run. The runs themselves are also very short — No coin runs are usually completed in four minutes, and even the best players have only just begun to crack the six minute mark.
Despite investigating, we can’t say with absolute certainty why or how Subway Surfers has grown so large in the speedrunning community. It’s possible the game just blew up, but it’s also possible some Brazil-specific details are eluding me as an American. Regardless, it’s incredibly impressive to see a mobile game take the number one spot so decisively.
(Special thanks to Fernanda Prates for the Portuguese translations. You can hear more of her on Fanbyte’s movie podcast You Love to See It).