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Mobilising The Cult of Blaseball

Video games and sports always had a complicated relationship. Year after year, franchises like FIFA and Madden are among the best-selling titles on the market, but they are regularly written off as niche offerings, or worse: cash grabs. There are many reasons for this, one of which is almost certainly the redundancy of releasing what amounts to nearly the same game every year. Regardless of the reasons, it’s still rare to find a title with the ability to draw in players who aren’t already fans of the sport.

A big part of Blaseball’s appeal is how it has become a hotbed of creativity. The most obvious reason for this is the aura of mystery that surrounds the game. Evocative enough to spark curiosity, but still awash in ambiguity, it gives fans a huge blank canvas to colour with their own ideas. Art, stories, and songs have sprung up around the game, but just as important are the smaller fan creations—the kind that are easy to miss at first glance, but form the basis of a bustling community.

From team cheers to player nicknames, such creations bring Blaseball’s randomly generated games to life more vibrantly than the simulation can on its own. Just try to not feel a rush of team spirit while cheering along with dozens of other fans in a call and response of “Whose kicks?”, “Our kicks!” after Velasquez “Twofer” Alstott hits a double. Blaseball’s sense of camaraderie also has close parallels with traditional sports fandom. The same sense of community has always pushed fans to engage with what might seem like dull minutia to outsiders. When hundreds of people are rooting for a team to succeed, things like developing a promising young player or hammering out the details of an offseason roster shuffle can become riveting.

Setting the community a-blase

It’s testament to just how exciting Blaseball can be then, that it maintains such a committed audience while also being almost impossible to fully comprehend. To wit: hitting home runs off of certain pitchers subtracts runs from your team’s score, a team with a 10-10 record might actually have 12 wins, and there are several mechanics by which characters can spontaneously disappear.

Though the game has always been a little hard to grasp, Blaseball’s most recent seasons, known collectively as The Expansion Era, took that to new extremes. This wasn’t an accident on the part of Blaseball’s developer, The Game Band. In a recent interview with VentureBeat, the studio’s founder and creative director, Sam Rosenthal commented that with the Era, they “wanted to tell a story of expansion and excess, the potential harm that comes from slapping new system upon new system onto something built to be unfair—the story of who benefits from that confusion and challenge.” And though adding these complexities may have been a conscious choice, it also felt like the behaviour of a studio that’s criticising shortcomings which have been a part of their own game from the beginning.

Whipping up an app-etite

Big changes are on the way for Blaseball though, as The Game Band are preparing for the launch of the game’s mobile app. While this move alone could grant the game a far wider reach—thus making it far more accessible than before—the mechanics will also be shaken up. While this isn’t uncommon for a game that introduces rule changes on a weekly basis, this time there’s a different goal in mind. Rosenthal says that for the mobile release, they will be “looking a lot more toward what we can subtract.” More than just smoothing out the user experience, the Blaseball experience itself could become less obtuse and convoluted. Elements from secret bases to incinerations have always been part of the game’s charm, but eventually the sheer volume of layers—and the rate at which they’re added—can become overwhelming to any but the most dedicated fans.

There’s also a chance The Game Band could overcome one of Blaseball’s biggest hurdles: that many of the game’s best aspects exist entirely outside of the simulation itself. In a statement on Medium, Rosenthal said they hope “to better support the endless creativity shown by the community and to honor all the contributions they’ve made to the game.” This could open the door for more people to get to the heart of Blaseball, such as in cheering along with other fans, engaging with lore, checking detailed up-to-date stats, or participating in events.

The Game Band is aiming to make Blaseball more accessible to a broad audience. If they succeed, they can also provide a glimpse into the spirit of traditional sports fandom. After all, Blaseball is just doing what sports have done for centuries: give people a reason to gather together and build a community that’s mysterious, galvanic, and wildly creative.