Sports is in a strange place right now. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, especially in the United States, organized sports events seem like a distant dream.
In the meantime, we've had various attempts at reopening sports, and they've had pretty varying levels of success, especially for baseball fans. While one league struggles to manage its problems though, another sports league has risen: fully virtual, absolutely surreal, and fairly brilliant. Folks, let's talk about Blaseball.
What Even Is Blaseball?
Excellent question. Blaseball is essentially fantasy baseball, at least on the surface. After creating an account on the site, you'll be greeted with the option of selecting your team from a number of fake-but-accurate city-based teams. You could cheer on the Seattle Garages, the Kansas City Breath Mints, or the Canada Moist Talkers.
Then you're given an allotment of coins and told to start placing bets. Each match can be bet on, with winnings based on likelihood to win and a quick-glance lineup and rotation card giving you an idea of who each team is fielding. If my beloved Houston Spies are putting a low-star player like Oliver Notarobot out there, I'm going to think twice before taking the underdog.
Here's the first part that's curious: you don't actually watch any baseball. At least, not in the traditional sense. When matches go live, they essentially become ESPN scroll-like feeds of the action. Each pitch and play chugs along at an even-keel pace in a text box. There are no little avatars running bases or anything; this is baseball in its purest, distilled form.
For those who just want to watch a few dingers get blasted over the outfield fence, it may not sate you at first. Blaseball has an innate appeal to number-junkies and theory-crafters more than anything else. It shares more in common with Twitch apps like Final Fantasy Tactics Battleground or SaltyBet, or even the Jelle's Marble Runs that have become so popular. Watching the tiny game logs update in real time seems banal, until it becomes absolutely engrossing.
Coins Rule Everything Around Me
So you bet on matches, get some earnings, and have some steady income due to getting some coins every time your team of choice wins. You've built up a nice nest egg. What's next?
Well, here's where the "absurd" part starts to seep into Blaseball. The general atmosphere of Blaseball seems unassuming, but suspiciously so. It's only once you start delving into the Shop and the Election, reading the scrolling ticker at the top, and paying attention to the matches and outcomes that it starts to reveal more about itself.
Coins can be spent on some basic upgrades, like increasing the amount of coins you get for each match your team wins or boosting the amount you can wager on a game. Players can also buy a Vote, which will let them participate in a voting process on multiple Decrees.
These Decrees range from the wild, like relegating a team or making it take four strikes to strike out batters on the lowest lineups in the league, to the surreal. Maybe instead of changing the rules of Blaseball, you can open the Book, or vote for a thing simply called "Peanuts."
No one but Blaseball's mysterious designers, and the ominous Blaseball Commissioner (who is good and just) know what these contain. In the first season, players—including myself—voted to open the Book, and we were met with an SCP Foundation-like page of redacted text.
Blaseball's meta-game is a player-driven fiction, where the gamblers of the league are also using the coins earned from games to drive where its future is headed. It's like a cooperative exercise in fiction, and those who have been participating in the deeper aspects of Blaseball are buying in.
On the official Blaseball Discord, players share theories and lore. Sometimes it's about forbidden knowledge and indecipherable runes, and other times, it's about a rogue umpire and the incineration of the Miami Dalé's pitcher.
It goes even deeper when you head over to the burgeoning Blaseball wiki and uncover even more info. While the surface level is pure baseball, Blaseball gets more and more bizarre the more layers you peel back.
Why is everyone so into Blaseball? Well, the aforementioned implosion of real-life baseball could be one explanation. But it's also something that really rewards those who buy in. It's fun to get really into just how absurd the experience is, that you're rooting for the Charleston Shoe Thieves to upset a top team and booing when Matteo Prestige strikes out, all the while theorizing whether this is some purgatorial baseball league taken place in a deep ring of the underworld. It fosters a communal embrace of the absurd, leading to nights where massive chain tweets inexplicably fill your feed and you just go with it.
Of course, all that is just there if you choose to look for it. Blaseball can also just be a fun way to pass the time, watching every so often to see how teams are doing and placing wagers, cheering when Comfort Septemberish hits one out of the park.
In a time when real sports is a big question mark though, why not embrace the chaos? Blaseball embraces just how absurd sports can get, and I'm sure there's many more oddities to come.