Blaseball: The only valid fantasy sport?


Photo credit: Noelle Barrera

illustration by Noelle Barrera

I’ve never really been interested in athletics at all — one of my many accomplishments is not being able to get a basketball through a net (ever!), which I blame on being extremely short instead of having terrible hand-eye coordination. So I was surprised a few weeks ago when I began to care about the Charleston Shoe Thieves and wonder whether Jessica Telephone, a batter who had spontaneously emerged from a payphone and exists as a holographic projection, would be released from a giant peanut shell to participate in Blaseball season 7.

If you’re confused, absolutely none of this is based on real life. The Internet Blaseball League is a parody of fantasy baseball, with similar rules (users can bet in-game currency on 20 teams from different regions of the U.S., and get online updates every week) but a surreal design, as indicated from the website’s intro: “Blaseball is baseball at your mercy. Baseball perfected. Our players are inhuman. They play day and night. Rain or shine. They never grow sick. They never tire.” The teams have names like the New York Millennials and the Kansas City Breath Mints, and in addition to the standard rules of baseball the equally-absurdly-named players must contend with threats like spontaneous incineration, the Blaseball Gods, and the whims of a giant peanut icon which announces in-game progression (and occasionally, its thirst for players’ blood).

I’m still new to the world of “Blaseball,” but part of the appeal seems to come from the collaborative worldbuilding between the players, as emphasized by many video game reviews. As the game unfolds in virtual reality, fans are able to rally behind teams like The Baltimore Crabs and the Philly Pies, and root for them through a series of bizarre obstacles — “when fans voted to open the Forbidden Book at the end of season 1, a tab was added to the site that featured a heavily redacted book of Blaseball rules, but at the same time, a swarm of rogue umpires descended upon the land, incinerating players left and right, marking the beginning of something the game called “the Discipline era” (Polygon 2020). Blaseball participants have created an unofficial “BLASEBALL NEWS NETWORK” and Wikipedia, and there are fan-made Twitters for many of the teams.

The strangest thing about Blaseball may be that it’s not the only dystopic future sport game I’ve played — I’ve been really excited about Jon Bois’ sequel to “17776: What Football Will Look Like In The Future,” which is perhaps even better than Blaseball in ways that I don’t want to spoil, in case anyone reads these columns and wants to play. Why do people online love this genre so much? I think it might be because we’re in an era where the future of real-life sports is increasingly tenuous: the first presidential debate, which I was unlucky enough to watch on Tuesday, featured Donald Trump bragging that he had “brought back the Top Ten” in football, despite the fact that COVID cases are going up in more than half of the states in the U.S. I’ve written before this semester about the need to find creative distractions to deal with quarantine anxiety, and I’m happy to spend winter break after midterms catching up on internet lore and hopefully debating with friends whether Jaylen Hotdogfingers, pitcher of the Seattle Garages and former mayor of both Seattle and Dark-Seattle, can pay off his karmic debt to the Blaseball Gods. The surprising post-apocalyptic worlds of games like “Blaseball” and “17776” give me hope for the future of art, and of sports that can be actually fun.