Before professional sports were more or less ended by COVID-19, my boyfriend got me into baseball. Even though the real game is coming back for a weird, short season, I haven't been able to get too excited. Having now seen a real major league game, I got a taste for the spectacle of the real thing. Somehow, the irreverent Blaseball, an online, joke-y, facsimile of the sport, is giving me most of what I miss about it.
In Blaseball, you root for teams like the Houston Spies or the Miami Dalé. The games are played out through a text box on the website, all the current matchups going at once. The players all have names, as well as a star rating which serves as their stats. While you read about Dominic Marijuana getting caught stealing third, you'll be able to scroll down to another game where Snyder Briggs is striking out Stu Trololol. Each season is a week long, with games every day on the half hour, and the post-season on Saturday. As fun as it is just to watch (read?) Blaseball, what makes it a dangerous time waster is the betting.
You're not betting real money, thank goodness. You start with a small sum of coins which you can then bet on games, and you also passively earn coins from your favorite team winning--you're asked to select one when you sign up. With your winnings, you can influence your team or future seasons. Each season there are three decrees. With 100 coins you can buy a ticket to vote on one of them, and the winner will be implemented at the end of the season. This season you can either vote to have the top five players of the best team placed on other teams, have the worst team in the league replaced, or to open the Forbidden Book. The last of these is currently winning. You can also vote for blessings, which are randomly granted at the end of the season. The more blessings you vote for, the more likely your team will benefit from them. With my winnings from the most recent set of games, I just voted for the five worst players on the New York Millennials to be placed on different teams—they really blow, so I'm hoping I get this one.
It's less the games that make Blaseball compelling than all the things going on between the games. It's a game about baseball fandom, and the bullshit that goes along with it. As the developers, The Game Band, say when they introduce the game:
This is our gift to you — the fans. We hear your prayers at trade deadlines. We suffer your DH debates. No more. Democracy returns to the national pastime. Each week, you vote to remake the league in your own image. Everything from rules to rosters is in your hands.
Just like with the betting, the stakes are incredibly low, which is why it's so much fun to tinker with this game. Digging into the minutia is even more fun. Yesterday when I was wasting time waiting for my take out to arrive, I read the logs for a game between the Millennials and the Flowers. Dominic Marijuana, despite having an excellent name, could not get on a base to save his life. Just like a real game, I attached my hopes and dreams to individual players in small moments of drama. Each time Marijuana was up to bat I'd cross my fingers, despite knowing he's not a real guy. Now I'm also crossing my fingers that at the season's end he'll be placed on another team.
People who like sports love to pretend that their investment can affect the outcomes of games. In Blaseball, it can and will. Blaseball is more about the meta-game that every sports fan plays outside of the actual games; a game of hypotheticals, a mental rearranging of players and circumstances. As much as I want the real drama of sports back—whenever that will happen—it's also engrossing to be able to take fate into my own hands, even a little bit.
I know that my boyfriend and I will be invested in the weird, truncated baseball that will soon take place in real life. I also know that I'll try to keep up with Blaseball, at least to see if my blessings have removed Dominic Marijuana from my team. I hate his incompetent ass, but he's also there to be hated. As it says in the gospel of Blaseball: "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."