What Is Blaseball? Developers Answer as Game Enters New Era
About once every week or two, someone tags me in a Discord channel or on Twitter because someone, somewhere has asked the question: “What is Blaseball?”
There are many answers to this question, ranging from the very simple to the Charlie-from-Always-Sunny-explaining-Pepe-Silvia complex. I imagine I’m getting tagged in these things because multiple times a week, I yell something on Twitter about how cool my favorite Blaseball team (the Kansas City Breath Mints, who are having a…difficult season) is.
One way to answer is to try and tell the story of what’s happened in Blaseball so far is through an “official, league-sanctioned recap of the major events of The Discipline Era in the first ever Blaseball Roundup, Presented by the Internet League Blaseball Broadcasting Committee, a subsidiary of Internet League Blaseball.” Thankfully, we have one of those for you:
But perhaps a better explanation for the total Blaseball novice is this succinct outline from one of the members of developer The Game Band, Sam Rosenthal:
“Blaseball is an absurdist hard take on fantasy baseball,” he says in an interview with IGN. “It’s kind of like fantasy baseball, [but] with more fantasy [and] tabletop role playing game dynamics. You are placing fake bets on fake teams that play 24 hours a day. And you’re earning coins by placing these bets. And you’re using that currency to buy a bunch of different things.
“But one of the main things that you buy are votes, which can be used every single week in our election. And we have different things up for vote that can change the course of the league and your team forever. So every single week, community organizers figure out where they want to take the game next. And that’s really the core fun part about Blaseball — no individual choice makes a big difference. But collectively, the fans coming together, it can completely change the entire way the story unfolds.”
Okay, but, what IS Blaseball? Like really?
To expand on Rosenthal’s explanation, Blaseball is a primarily-text based, massively multiplayer baseball management game played in your PC browser and is, for the most part, being played at all times. It’s entirely free and all the money is fake; you just sign up, pick a team, and get betting. A “season” lasts a week and consists of 99 games played on the hour, every hour, Monday through Friday, with eight teams advancing to the post-season on Saturday and a winner being crowned at the end of that. On Sunday, votes are tallied, consequences meted out, and new rules ranging in absurdity from adding a fifth base to redistributing the best players from the best teams are established before a new season begins again on Monday. Fans engage, as Rosenthal said, through bets and votes, but also by picking a favorite team — such as the Canada Moist Talkers, the Chicago Firefighters, the New York Millennials, the Ohio Worms, or you know, the Breath Mints! — and cheering them on, as well as voting each week on buffs like arm cannons and extra limbs to help them out.
Blaseball began in the summer of last year and went through eleven seasons in 2020, broken up by occasional “siestas”, where play was paused so The Game Band could catch up with development as the game’s popularity grew. If you’re totally unaware of Blaseball, the above might just sound charmingly strange, but things get weird along the way. Over the course of those eleven seasons, a story unfolded: forbidden knowledge was accessed, players were incinerated by rogue umpires, the dead were revived, and all of Blaseball banded together to fight against a giant peanut god that threatened to destroy everything. The fans and players won, and Blaseball took a longer hiatus signalling the end of “The Discipline Era.”
But now, as Blaseball transitions into a new Era, The Game Band wants to address a pressing issue: Though Blaseball is, at its core, pretty simple — just betting on fake sports games and voting on new sports rules — the lore and fan communities around the game have grown to be so sprawling and involved that anyone curiously peeking into the fandom might be immediately put off by how much seems to be required to understand Blaseball at all.
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“So much seems to have happened in Blaseball, but at the same time it’s very much a ‘live in the present’ type of game,” Rosenthal says. “And you can jump in at any time and pick a team to follow their story. It’s very much like, if you have any experience getting into a new sport for the first time, there is so much history. Like, the Los Angeles Dodgers, right? You don’t need to know what happened in 1986 [with that team] to be able to enjoy what’s happening today with the Dodgers.”
Stephen Bell, another one of The Game Band, adds, “What do people maybe need to know, to jump into the new era from what happened before? Basically, there was a baseball league, and then the fans voted to open the Forbidden Book. And then, like 11 seasons later, they killed God. There’s stuff in between, but that’s where we’ve left off.”
A New Era
Now, Blaseball is back for The Expansion Era, and concluded Season 12 last week (congratulations to our champs: the Hades Tigers). The Expansion Era has brought with it a number of new features, including a Feed on the site to help fans keep up with what’s happening on their team — wins, losses (more losses if you’re, sigh, a Breath Mints fan), roster changes, players disappearing to Elsewhere, incinerations, that kind of thing. Before, much of this information was only available after it immediately happened by checking the game’s community Discord server or various dedicated Twitter accounts.
The Game Band still encourages fans who like what Blaseball has to offer to check out the official Discord, especially if they want to participate in the cultural event of Blaseball beyond simply betting and randomly voting. Every team has its own channels in the server, where fans congregate to help push certain votes, which ultimately results in collective action shaping Blaseball’s narrative. To give a recent example, at the end of the last Season, the Kansas City Breath Mints collectively voted to buff our beloved batter Pudge Nakamoto. We then also inexplicably voted to kick him off our team in the same election. Community voting, however well-planned, is sometimes imperfect. Like with any sport, disappointment, too, is part of the joy of being a fan.
As another example, at the end of Season 11 fans voted on three Decrees that were enacted: Eat the Forbidden Book, Deface the Forbidden Book, and Close the Forbidden Book. Fans didn’t know what the implications of those votes were at the time, but The Game Band tells me they had new features in mind for every possible voting choice on the table. The fans picking those three resulted in the addition of concessions, Wills (basically another way to vote to influence your team each week), and the construction of stadiums for each team — an exciting endeavor that we’re voting on currently without knowing what consequences voting on Prefab options like “Rodeo” or “Boreal” or “Twede” will bring.
“We treated that election like a writing prompt for this upcoming era,” says The Game Band’s Joel Clark. “That’s what we’ve been working with for the past few months.”
“I described it to someone the other day as, we have built a bunch of toys to play with,” he continues. “And so while we have a lot of things planned out, we’ve planned out that possibility space, we may not know when things are going to go or when things are going to happen. Whether or not we’re going to use a certain system or not, that sort of stuff will be improvisational. And we’ll see what the community runs with. And we will bring out and play with our toys when the time is right.”
Blaseball producer Felix Kramer adds, “Blaseball’s like a cake. We have all the ingredients on the table. The fans are putting it in. And it might not be edible at the end!”
Baseball, at our Mercy
Participating in Blaseball’s community elements is how a lot of the game’s lore is created and established, with entire channels, Twitter accounts standing in for Blaseball players, and wikis dedicated to speculation, character development, and more. The Game Band wants to emphasize that at the core, Blaseball is very simple — only the things that happen on the site are “canon.” But they are happy to encourage fan-made content and headcanons.
For example, Breath Mints pitcher Winnie Hess is a horse — this is nowhere on the website, but most fans have accepted it as true. Or there’s the lore that now-retired Breath Mints star Boyfriend Monreal is simultaneously the boyfriend of every fan of the Breath Mints that wants them to be their boyfriend, including me. Every team has their own, and it’s all part of the Blaseball experience.
“A core pillar of Blaseball is that everyone is allowed to have their own headcanon,” Kramer says. “The community definitely gravitates towards certain representations in terms of like, [current Mexico City Wild Wings batter] Jessica Telephone is [a certain] type of person. And as Blaseball continues there are more facts that are canon, so the possibility space is infinite, but it at least hones in a little bit and guides everybody in their thinking. But a huge pillar is there is no canon in terms of the lore. We want it to be open, we want people to be able to write their own.”
The Game Band has largely operated with a light touch, as the game itself only includes very simple info. Player names (admittedly mostly ridiculous ones like Quack Enjoyable, Rodriguez Internet, or recently-incinerated Hotbox Sato, rest in violence), stats (batting, baserunning, pitching, defense, peanut allergy, coffee style, vibe pregame ritual, soulscream, etc), and obviously the outcome of games are all readily available. But beyond that, everything is open to interpretation. Occasionally, The Game Band will canonize something fan-made, such as when Jessica Telephone was officially equipped with her fan-imagined bat, The Dial Tone. But these moments are rare.
“You still need people to buy into the collective stuff that’s happening on this site,” Bell says. “So I will say that, from a narrative perspective, we do sometimes have to grab the wheel again a little bit and just either remind people of what the game is, or be explicit about certain things, you know, we still are hoping that you’re like reading what’s on this site? Because as it continues to get bigger and bigger and bigger, you want it to at least make sense to people that are coming in.”
The Game Band is a very, very small team — only a handful of people. And Blaseball is a completely free game, funded largely by Patreon and weekly sponsors. It started, originally, just as a fun side project for the studio after its previous Apple Arcade title, Where Cards Fall. So when its popularity exploded last year, The Game Band says keeping up with both the technical and content demands became a challenge.
But with the Expansion Era, Blaseball and The Game Band are prioritizing sustainability, both for themselves and the fans. On the technical side, this means making sure the site doesn’t crash when everyone shows up to watch a critical game, or improving the mobile experience (producer Felix Kramer says they will probably not be doing any improvements for the single person watching Blaseball in their PS4 browser).
Another way The Game Band is prioritizing sustainability is by implementing scheduled “on” and “off” seasons — Blaseball play will now run for three weeks, or seasons, on, followed by two weeks off with no play happening. Clark says the slightly less frantic pace following the game’s extended siesta over the holidays will result in a game that’s “a little bit less raw,” but still with the same chaotic, energetic voice as before.
Blaseball has already seen far more success than The Game Band initially intended for its small, goofy side project. Aside from just the number of people cheering on teams each season, Blaseball has spawned my new favorite band, international punk group The Garages (named after the Blaseball team The Seattle Garages). They’ve put out 14 albums in 2020 alone, all on Bandcamp and Spotify and played on loop infinitely in my living room all day. It’s also inspired a lot of charity work, including an unofficial fan-run artist collective producing Blaseball merchandise with proceeds going to charity, and a weekly fan-run effort to let a handful of teams each week highlight and promote charities local and important to them.
The Game Band attributes this success to a number of factors. Clark suggests the communal nature of the game, especially given its launch during a global pandemic and a time of general chaos around the world, had something to do with it. Bell offers that Blaseball was built around the idea of sports fans wanting to have more agency, and that many people appreciated it as a celebration of being able to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges by rallying everyone together.
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Rosenthal attributes some of Blaseball’s success to its authentic voice, saying the team made the game out of love rather than to siphon money off of people, and thinks fans can sense and appreciate that.
“We hope it’ll reach new people too,” he says. “The last thing that we want is for Blaseball to feel like this impenetrable thing, where if you were there at the beginning, you’re there, but nobody else is welcome. That’s not our goal. We want this to be something that if you’re moderately curious about what it’s about, there’s a place for you in it.”
Blaseball is currently being played now in Season 13 of The Expansion Era, and it shows no sign of becoming normal anytime soon. Most recently, The Baltimore Crabs tried to build a stadium (the Crabitat) which caused a wave of flooding and accelerated construction on every other team’s ballparks. A giant squid that played a big role last Era got promoted to Food and Beverage Director and added “wet pretzels” to the concessions menu. The Kansas City Breath Mints are playing terribly, but they’re still a great team to support, if you’re looking for one. The late season’s when we really come alive, anyway.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.