On a roll: the 2020 Marble League

Who knew marbles could be so much fun International Marble Sport Committee

Getting your sports fix . . . virtually

There’s been a dearth of spectator sports to enjoy this summer, but the grandstands and stadiums haven’t all been empty – no, some of them have been full of marbles.

Jelle’s Marble Runs, a YouTube channel run by two brothers from the Netherlands, has been running marble competitions of all sorts since 2013: Marbula 1 (the marble version of Formula 1), the Marblelypmics and, this summer, the Marble League. 

In these videos, teams of marbles compete in various events (everything from the five-metre sprint, to block pushing, to triathlon), vying for gold as the action is commentated by the brilliant Greg Woods. 

When watching a Marble League event, it’s easy to forget that these fierce competitors are, well, just marbles. The crowd cheers and sports team colours (and a bit of fantastic stop-motion animation really makes it look like they’re waving their signs), voicing their support for their favourite competitors. Woods’ commentary is feisty and on-point, adding a layer of verisimilitude and drama to the events. 

The Marble League is structured somewhat similarly to the real-world Olympics [editor’s note: hopefully without the doping ], with a dazzling opening ceremony and regular updates on the overall medals and points standings, so those of us who are missing Tokyo this year can get a bit of our summer competition fix from these 16 teams. And there are even real stakes for these inanimate objects. In a completely unforeseen and genuinely great turn of events, the late-night comedy show Last Week Tonight is sponsoring the games this year, donating $5000 to various food banks in the name of each event’s winning team.  

It’s hard to explain why the Marble League is so great without just showing it to you, but if you had tuned in to Sunday’s event, the Black Hole Funnel, you would have seen groups of marbles racing through a giant funnel. Two competitors from each marble team participated in the race, and the winning marbles were the ones that lasted the longest before dropping through. This was a fast-paced event, with marbles jostling for position in the lower part of the funnel, anticipation building as the time stretched out. Would anyone manage to hang on for over 30 seconds? Would a wide angle of attack at the start be an advantage once the speed picked up? These may not be human athletes, but it’s all too easy to get invested in their progress. I started watching the Marble League as a casual viewer this year, and now I’m a die-hard O’Rangers fan. 

For my money, the best part of the Marble League isn’t the ever-increasing production values (which are, admittedly, quite impressive) or the creative team names, or the exciting events and nail-biting photo finishes. What I love most is the earnestness with which the whole thing is produced. From the track designs to the commentary to the committed (marble and non-marble) fanbase, the Marble League is a brilliant celebration of humans doing weird, wonderful, amazing things and hard-committing to them just because we can. 

The next Marble League event, the five-metre relay, takes place today (Aug. 6) – so be sure to tune in for a marble-ous show!

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