I’ve picked up a unique set of hobbies in quarantine. Notably, last fall, I began following the NBA for the first time in my entire life. I chose to support the Brooklyn Nets not from an informed decision on their ability to win games but because when I was in high school, my youth orchestra played before one of their games. The pick was functionally random and not motivated by any knowledge of the players, their history or their chances of winning. Simply put, I had chosen to ride and die for the Nets entirely on vibes. As the season progressed, I found myself becoming increasingly emotionally connected to the team I had chosen solely due to a Trombone II part from 2017. When Kyrie missed games, I was stressed out about our prospects at victory, and when the Nets pulled off a comeback from a 24-point deficit against the Suns, I went insane.
Coming into this experience, I had limited knowledge of basketball beyond the rules of the game. I had no knowledge of any strategy more complex than a pick and roll. Even now, months later, if you were to ask me what the exact role of a center was on the court, I would probably give a subpar answer. The sport itself wasn’t what piqued my interest in the NBA - it was the community and the love of supporting a team.
Enter Blaseball. Blaseball is a 2020 web browser fantasy simulator described by Polygon as “loosely inspired by baseball.” And at first glance, Blaseball shares its structure with both real-world and fantasy baseball. A group of teams compete in a league in a set number of games per season. Pitchers throw a ball, batters hit, and points are scored when runs are completed. Viewers at home can place bets on which players and teams they believe will succeed to earn arbitrary currency relative to their peers. Upon closer inspection, however, the “fantasy” in “fantasy simulator” begins to pop out. The teams range from the Dallas Steaks to the New York Millenials to my personal favorite: the Hades Tigers. Conventional stats such as a player’s ability to bat and pitch are measured, along with other more outlandish pieces of information such as their ruthlessness and their “Shakespearianism” (whatever that means).
Just like real-world baseball, rain can significantly impact the result of a game. Instead of muddier field conditions, however, Blaseball players can be “swept away” by the storm, which leaves them off the team roster for up to twenty-three days until they can make their way back to their field.
Blaseball manages to take the compelling aspects from being a real-world sports fan — supporting teams and players — and use them to drive fantasy narratives about an alternate universe in which the sport of blaseball constitutes society. Fans have used the names, teams, and outcomes to craft full storylines about their favorite teams and players. They’ve ascribed meaning to the meaningless.
Many works on the internet have spun seemingly randomly generated chaos into compelling stories. Twitch Plays Pokémon was a social experiment that began in 2014 where users of the streaming platform Twitch would use chat commands (LEFT, RIGHT, UP, DOWN, A, B, START, and SELECT) to attempt to complete Pokémon Red. Through this experiment, a massive community emerged and formed a debate about democracy and anarchy. Eventually, this evolved into a fully fledged mythos, complete with their very own gods, demons, and origin stories. This pantheon was only constructed by community members after watching the player character wander in circles, accidentally release Pokémon, and eventually complete the game. Since then, Twitch Plays Pokémon has played through the entire franchise and remains a cult classic for internet media. Just like Blaseball, the community was able to turn a simple emulated copy of Pokémon into an epic. In particular, the community of Blaseball can use their accumulated currency to vote for future rules of the game — an example being that the worst four teams in the league were given a fourth strike before batters struck out. The interactivity of the internet has helped create engaging narratives from nothing.
Over the past year, Blaseball has grown an expansive community who have taken to expressing their love for the absurdity in every conceivable way during the internet era. Fans have drawn fanart, written fanfiction, formed bands and released albums, and even opened a merchandise shop that has donated $20,000 to charities and mutual aid funds. Blaseball has used the charm and magic of supporting a team to generate positivity during a time where many felt broken down due to the state of the world around them. I can say with confidence that both Kevin Durant and Jaylen Hotdogfingers (pitcher for the Seattle Garages) have worked to create the adrenaline and enthusiasm that comes with supporting a team. Blaseball is fantasy, sure, but the enthusiasm is very real.
Blaseball can be played at blaseball.com. As of the writing of this article, Blaseball is currently on its 13th season of play.