You may have seen people online over the past two weeks typing out the word "blaseball," and no, that's not a typo. You might have also seen these same people talking about peanuts or Moist Talkers or somebody named Caligula Lotus. Somehow, all of these things are related.
With the regular U.S. baseball season running into some medical issues, many people are looking for other options to get their sports fix. A lot of fans, even those who have no interest in video games, have been turning to them to fill the void. Even my dad, whose video game knowledge extends to a few racing simulators he played on Windows 95, has been watching iRacing in NASCAR's stead. That's why it's not surprising that even baseball haters can find something to enjoy in the latest sports simulator to hit browsers: Blaseball.
I've had countless people ask me what Blaseball is, and to be honest, it's not so easy to explain. At its most basic level, the game from The Game band is a sports betting simulator that doesn't involve any actual money, so the stakes are low. On a more complicated level, it's an irreverent satire on the concept of sports and the control management has over the lives of players. It might even be building up to the rise of a cosmic horror. There's a lot going on here for an idle browser-based game, which is why it's captured the attention of a lot of people.
The game is currently on hiatus (or an "extended siesta" as the developers called it) to work on some bugs and make the experience better, so in the meantime, why not catch up on what Blaseball is.
What is Blaseball?
As I previously mentioned, Blaseball is, at its foundation, a sports betting simulator. You create a free account, choose a favorite team (mine is the Los Angeles Tacos, but I'm thinking of switching to the New York Millennials or the Kansas City Breath Mints), and then bet on games throughout each season. Each season lasts a week, and games happen every hour (minus times when a team goes into overtime, at which time all games are delayed). Before each round, you place your bets on games across two leagues — the Good and Evil leagues — and then sit back and wait. After the games are over, you reap your winnings.
The bets you place are relatively small — just a handful of coins. Blaseball will show you the odds of a specific team winning a match-up, which can help figure out your chances of success. At the end, you'll get your coins. You also get coins every time your team wins, so you'll earn money even when you're not actively betting.
There aren't animations that show you how the game is going, but you can watch text move across the screen that shows you which players are up to bat, what they hit, and who makes it back to home. You can check the stats of the players on each team, although it's simplified to stars rather than numbers.
It's a simple concept, but it's when you dig deeper that things get interesting.
Voting and whacky team names are where Blaseball gets interesting
Clicking around, one of the first things you'll notice is The Book, which is where Blaseball keeps all of its rules. While it's just readable enough to gauge basic rules, a lot of it is redacted. You'll also see phrases like the "immaterial plane" and a comment about how "splortsmanship" is dead. This will likely be your first sign that Blaseball is more than a straight-forward sim.
Then you'll probably look closely at the team names. On the Good side, you'll see whimsical names like the San Francisco Lovers or the Boston Flowers, but on the Evil end, you have the Hellmouth Sunbeams and the Hades Tigers. We all know the Hellmouth is in Sunnydale, Calif. (thanks, Buffy), but where is Hades exactly? Look even more deeply, and you'll see the players, who have names ranging in normalcy from Kathy Mathews and Randy Denis to Axel Trololol and Peanut Bong.
However, what truly separates Blaseball from baseball (besides the L) is what you can do with your coins once you earn them. Going over to the Shop allows you to "purchase items to enhance your Blaseball experience," and we're not talking about merchandise. You can use 100 coins to buy a vote, which you can spend in the weekly election. Here, you can vote on decrees that change every week. You can vote on changes to gameplay itself, like how much you get from bets, but you can also weigh in on decrees like "Eat the Rich," which redistributes "the funds from the Top 1% of Fans at the end of each Season." In case you're wondering, players did vote this in at the end of Season 3.
After the first season, fans voted to open The Forbidden Book, which ushered in the Discipline Era. The most significant impact this had was the introduction of incinerations (RIP to all the players we lost this way). A couple of weeks ago, people voted to add Peanuts to the game. Still unclear what they do, but the Blaseball Commissioner, who responds to questions frequently on Twitter, says that they are simply peanuts, but you shouldn't eat them.
You can also use coins to buy "blessings" for your favored team, which is then assigned to a random player. Some are theoretically helpful for your team, like allowing you to re-roll the team's worst players, but others are… let's say nonsensical for now.
This system gives players a reason to want to keep earning coins. You obviously need things to spend currency on in a system with currency, but it also allows players to contribute and shape what comes next. Since the decrees and blessings they vote on can have wildly unexpected consequences, it makes the game more exciting.
The Blaseball meta-universe: The next Welcome to Night Vale
What's so appealing about Blaseball beyond the calming, clicky nature of the game itself is the world it's slowly building around the sport. This isn't just a made-up version of baseball; it takes place in an alternate magical universe that seems to fall under the discretion of cosmic horrors. The players go up to bat under the threat of death.
It's unclear at this point what exactly is going on in the world of Blaseball, but something sinister is lurking underneath the surface. This is a world where it can rain peanuts, and a fair-weather flute allows you to change your favorite team (it costs 2,000 coins). You can make thumbs grow on a pitcher's hands or call upon demons to help your team.
You can see a lot of this by browsing the website and paying attention to the step-by-step gameplay, but Blaseball is built up mostly on Twitter where team accounts comment and the Blaseball Commissioner, who is an elevated intern named Prime Minister Parker MacMillan III, announces what's going on behind the scenes.
Other teams have active Twitter accounts that they use to post tweets that are both sinister, threatening, and hilariously serious. Each team has a Twitter, and they all have different vibes and personalities. You can tell that each social media coordinator is unique, and has given a layer of life to each of the teams.
They are Peanuts. They were inevitable. We will deal with them in time.They are Peanuts. They were inevitable. We will deal with them in time.— Hades Tigers Official Fan Club (@HadesBlaseball) August 3, 2020August 3, 2020
We've gotten into our share of Twitter scuffle today but at least there's one thing we can all agree on: if you use a Fairweather Flute to change your team you are a sniveling, mewling coward who deserves to be denied the kind reprieve of death, forever wandering the Ashen VoidWe've gotten into our share of Twitter scuffle today but at least there's one thing we can all agree on: if you use a Fairweather Flute to change your team you are a sniveling, mewling coward who deserves to be denied the kind reprieve of death, forever wandering the Ashen Void— Chicago Firefighters Official Official Account (@ChiBlaseball) August 5, 2020August 5, 2020
Wow, we're at the top of our group! Incredible! pic.twitter.com/cTpn1UcogIWow, we're at the top of our group! Incredible! pic.twitter.com/cTpn1UcogI— The Baltimore Crabs 🦀 blaseball.com (@BlaseballCrabs) August 5, 2020August 5, 2020
But there's something about all of this together that has captured the imaginations of fans. You don't have to go too far to find fanart of players and teams. They range from normal human drawings to detailed, Eldritch horrors with dozens of eyes or tentacles. Since there are next to no visuals in Blaseball, the fans are free to conceive the world of the game for themselves. There are also no visuals to accompany the wild events that occur during each game, so fans have taken to sketching them out, whether in fanart or in graphs that track player and team progress.
The Blaseball website presents just enough information to elevate the game beyond a simple sports betting simulator, but not enough for it to have a set aesthetic. It's masterful at giving players a layer of mystery to the proceedings, thereby prompting a lot of creativity along the way as people seek to fill out missing information. It manages to be straight-forward and surprising, which makes people want to tune in every day, earn coins, and vote.
Blaseball has become so much more than a clicky browser game. It's a game that is shaped by the people playing it. Unlike regular sports, which are energized by fan response but are run by organizations too big to care about them, Blaseball is run nearly entirely by fans. Sure, The Game Band does a lot of the hard work, but fans fill in the gaps that make the world feel more full. This opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a game and shape what it looks like is the key to Blaseball's success, and that'll only become more important as development continues.
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