I can remember a couple months ago talking with some people on Path of Exile about running their two hour races. In particular I was talking to Snuggles about why he preferred to play a Marauder and why I preferred to play a Duelist. His argument for why Marauder was better is it had more and better defensive options to pick up in the early levels. My argument for why Duelist was better is Marauder has more and better defensive options to pick up in the early levels.
Playing a Marauder is safe because you can get some pretty good defensive points at the start. PoE races are hardcore so if you die you're out. Putting a focus on not dying feels like the right thing to do since if you die you get nothing and if you survive at a reasonable level you get a good number of points. But I found by watching some people and by trying it myself that as I kept dropping defensive points I would be drastically increasing my killing speed and wouldn't be guaranteeing death by doing so. I'd die a good chunk of the time but when I didn't die I'd finish high enough to earn big bonus points. Perhaps most importantly if I played it safe I'd be guaranteed of never winning! Enough people are going to go the risky plan that even if 80% of them died off the other 20% would finish way above the safe play.
I've spent a lot of the last few days playing tower defense games while watching speed running streams on my tv. One thing I kept hearing people say during the AGDQ a few weeks ago was that people were playing 'safe' strategies and were for the most part focusing on being entertaining while still being pretty darn fast. Given that I only saw two games not finish (Fire Emblem and one of the four Super Metroid players) and that I had a great time watching I'd say they pulled that off. Super Metroid was run without trying to be safe and they brought in extra people to comment away from the games to let the players focus on racing. I was surprised that someone died in that race at the time but now I'd more surprised that three people finished!
Most of the people streaming on SRL are trying to beat the world record time in their chosen game. Thousands and thousands of runs have gone into some of these games and people are well aware that if they want to beat the best times they're going to need to throw safety out the window. I've been mostly trying to watch people playing Final Fantasy games and I've only seen one ending credits all week. Unfortunately that was right as I'd started tuning in so I got to catch the end of the final boss fight of a FFVIII run which just happened to break the previous world record. Pretty hot! After that has been a constant stream of people trying really risky things and failing over and over. Often while spending the entire time on stream swearing at the games. Especially poor FFIX which is apparently set up so the random encounter chance resets each time you change screens. It's possible to beat the game only getting a total of 5 random encounters if you get lucky enough! As far as I can tell there's no way to manipulate it to happen other than running to the next screen on the shortest path which makes getting a fast time pretty random. So much so that the timing program they use has a thing to input the number of random encounters you get!
Watching people manipulate random number generators is pretty crazy. I watched one guy playing the start of Lufia II and he must have done the first couple dungeons two dozen times. Apparently the RNG in that game is altered by player input so if you walk on a very precise path you can cause combats to work out in exactly the same way such that you exactly kill all the monsters you need to fight. But the guy is trying to go super fast and input a precise path through two dungeons including solving puzzles... He kept failing and rather than accept a time loss he'd just restart. Over and over and over again.
Then there was the guy playing FFVI who loaded a different saved game before his run. He did this over and over again a precise number of times in order to force the Veldt to spawn the right random encounters when he got there in his real game.
I watched one guy playing Pokemon Heart Gold who would reset his 3DS system clock to a specific time before starting each run. He does this because the game has a night/day feature and he needed it to change between the two at an exact point in his run and he knew how much time was going to pass before he needed it to happen.
There's definitely a time and place for playing it safe, and a time and place for playing for first. It depends on what you're trying to accomplish at any given time. So Marauder could well have been the optimal choice for Snuggles while Duelist could have been the optimal choice for me and we were never going to convince the other one to switch. Which is just fine! I think I liked watching people playing it safe more than going for broke, actually. Though that may just be because AGDQ featured the best players of each game, doing things I hadn't seen before, and with extra people chiming in with commentary.