While pro sports are getting back underway (Go Flyers!), Philadelphia already has a team that’s won two championships this year — and they did it with a three-headed dog for a catcher, a third baseman who’s actually seven gnomes in a single uniform, and a starting pitcher who “was cloned from a Cretaceous Period trombone preserved in amber found in a Peruvian mine.”
Philadelphia, meet your Philly Pies.
The Pies — who play for their “flans” in Tastykake Stadium (aka “The Oven”) under the direction of Coach Hoagie Schuylkill — are the first back-to-back champions of Internet League Blaseball, which is a weeks-old “absurdist, player-driven, corruptible, online game of baseball,” according to creators Sam Rosenthal, Joel Clark, and Stephen Bell of The Game Band, a Los Angeles-based video game studio. The team answered questions via email from The Inquirer.
Games among the 20 teams in the league, like the Canada Moist Talkers and the Breckenridge Jazz Hands, are simulated on the hour every hour by a program that writes out every play as it happens on a game log on the score board (”Kennedy Cena hits a Single!”).
Each regular season starts on Monday and ends Friday, with the postseason on Saturday. The Pies won the first two seasons, making them not only the first team to win Blaseball but also the first team to win back-to-back championships. But last season (i.e., last week) the Pies just couldn’t slice it and they were beaten out in the semifinals by the Hades Tigers.
In a Dungeons & Dragons-like twist to the game, it’s the Blaseball fans who choose a team to support and then create the lore surrounding that team and its players using Discord (a group-chatting platform), Blaseball Wikipedia fan pages, and social media.
“The key difference between Blaseball and baseball is player participation. Gambling is allowed and encouraged. Players will earn and lose virtual Blaseball currency by placing bets on games, and they’ll cash in earnings to make changes to the league,” Rosenthal said. “The teams, the players on the team, the rosters, and even the rules of the game can be changed by the community.”
Rosenthal said he was spending a lot of time on Zoom calls during quarantine with friends who didn’t play video games but did want to play “pretty low-fidelity browser versions of board and folk games.” The comfort those provided made him want to create a game to bring people together in 2020. Initially, he thought of a gambling game with a horse-racing theme, but the team decided the idea was better suited for baseball.
“Joel and I both genuinely love the sport and missed the stories it added to our daily conversations,” he said. “As for the name, Joel just said it and we all thought it was hilarious, so it stuck.”
But within the lore of Blaseball, nobody actually knows when the game was created — or by whom. Rosenthal, Clark, and Bell, who are collectively referred to within the game as “The Game Band,” claim they just found Blaseball one day when they turned on their computers (although it materialized online around July 20).
“We just built the website so that we could all watch the league together,” Bell said. “As for ‘lore,’ the Blaseball Gods work in mysterious ways. It’s like we’re all deciphering their will together each season.”
When asked why Philadelphia’s team was named the Pies and not the Cheesesteaks, Rosenthal said: “We don’t know. They were already there when we found Blaseball.”
Whatever the reason, the Philly flans have taken the name and created epic accompanying lore, like naming the stadium after our beloved Tastykakes and naming the coach after a regional delicacy (hoagie) and a local river (Schuylkill).
The words above the entrance gate to Tastykake Stadium read “Crust the Process” and if a flan becomes unruly during a game, they may be thrown in the stadium’s jail, which is known as “The Pie-nitentiary,” according to the Pies’ Blaseball Wiki page.
The Philly Pies players include men, women, and people who identify as nonbinary, like shortstop Spears Taylor, who is “rated the second most anti-capitalistic player in the league due to a history of throwing literal spears at capitalists.”
Bob Dylan is even one of our pitchers, though he goes by Bright Zimmerman on the field.
The Philly Pies Twitter account is run by an unidentified flan from Pennsylvania who, in direct message conversations on Twitter with The Inquirer said, “the worm in their ear tells them what to tweet.”
According to that flan, there are more than 7,000 people in the Blaseball Discord app (up from 4,300 last week), 272 of whom are Pies fans. The fans on that platform (who account for some but not all of those who play the game) chat about the action and create team lore while they watch the games play out.
“It’s hard to know just how many Pies fans are actually in the Philly region, but I know it’s not exclusively people from the Philly area, and not just people from outside of it,” the administrator of the Pies Twitter account said.
The administrator of another Twitter account, @blaseballcomms, claims to be the commissioner of the Internet Blaseball League. In direct message conversations, he would only identify himself as “The Commissioner” or “Commissioner Parker.”
When asked how he got his job, Parker said he applied for an internship with The Game Band.
“I thought I was just going to do social media or something, but then they said I could be commissioner,” he said. “It’s been kinda overwhelming, but it also rules.”
Parker said his duties include representing the shield of Blaseball, making announcements (like siestas or when players die), answering fans’ questions, and promoting seasonal sponsors.
Sometimes, he offers guidance. Like at the end of season one when fans had the opportunity to vote to open the “Forbidden Book” of Blaseball and he told them not to “because it was clearly labeled.”
“But they did, and then there was an eclipse and I think the umpires might be wizards now and a Hellmouth swallowed Moab,” he said.
Parker described the Philly Pies as a team that stays in the middle of the pack during the regular season but then gets “hot when it matters.” In the inaugural season they captured the last spot in the playoffs then went undefeated to take the title, he said. They went nearly undefeated in the second post-season as well.
“The Philly Pies are winners,” Parker said.
“People fear the Pies,” he said.
Bell said “the realest part” of this fake game is the community, “the rituals and chants and team personalities that the fans have created.”
The game has become so popular that after Saturday’s championship, the creators announced it would go on hiatus for a week or two so they could update the program and fix some bugs.
“This is way, way bigger than we expected,” The Game Band wrote in a message on the Blaseball site. “Your creativity continues to fuel and inspire us.”
If there’s a game emblematic of 2020 — where nothing makes sense and virtually anything seems possible — then Blaseball is it. In a time when everything seems out of our control, Blaseball gives its fans the power to write their teams’ stories. And those stories get weird. Quick.