They Just Keep Rolling: Marble Sports

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Marbles? Yes, Marbles.

With the global pandemic necessitating a shutdown of sports involving real people, people began to look elsewhere for competitive action. As a result, marble sports came to the spotlight, although the enthusiasts have been working at it for years now. It's safe, fun, and surprisingly tense given that these are all just little balls of glass rolling around with nothing controlling them but physical forces.

Who to watch?

There are a fair number of marble sports channels out there, but the only one I've continued to watch is Jelle's Marble Runs. They have extremely high production values, from introductory music and graphics, to quality camera work and editing, commentary, and results presentation. They will construct an entire stadium of marble spectators cheering on the competitors, and even theme the events based on the 'host' for it.

One of the best features by far, however, is the commentator: Greg Woods. Woods, an American who only does the video commentary for fun, is every bit as good as any professional you've heard. Possibly even better, because he manages to never break character with respect to treating the marbles as if they were strategizing and acting with intention. He doesn't take it overly seriously nor does he push the joke too far. It ends up being a sort of satire of your typical sports commentators, while also being entertaining and keeping up with the action on-screen.

The marbles are split into teams, set up by color and sometimes weight or material. That actually does seem to lead to enough of a difference that the various teams have developed their own character over time, and as a history of past events build up, there are expectations that surround them, and even a sense of 'behavior' that you could almost believe to be true. Some of this is effected by the editing in the video (each team has its own set of marble 'fans' with distinct cheering noises) and probably some of it is just from the real-life supporters, making it kind of fascinating in how tribes form.

JMR main website
JMR Youtube Channel

What are the events?

The most common ones are straight-up marble races. There is an indoor track set up, and with JMR it's usually set up to look like a Grand Prix circuit, with the occasional odd track feature to give it some character. Recently JMR attracted enough attention that Envision Virgin Racing (a motor racing team) created the 'Marbula E' series, and attached Jack Nicholls, a Formula E commentator, to work alongside Woods, in races involving marbles that represent the real-world teams. A few times they have done outdoor tracks in dirt, though those tend to be more about whether the marbles don't get stuck along the way than about pure racing, and they lack the presentation quality of the other videos due to less usable camera footage.

The other main one is the 'Marble League', an Olympics-style competition in which the teams of marbles participate in various activities loosely based on track-and-field events. They include distance jumping and 'balancing' (rolling along a narrow bar to the end) but also 'head-to-head' events such as releasing the marbles on a platform and seeing which get knocked off first. All of them are gravity or collision-based, so that once the starting gun goes off, the event runs its course. It seems that there are new events being concocted all the time, in part as the sport grows but also since JMR stays with the thematic consistency for each host team. The Marble League even has its own opening and closing ceremonies.

The Marble League is the event currently running (they put out about two videos a week) and this year, it's being sponsored by John Oliver's Last Week Tonight. Oliver's show has been donating to a different charity for each team that wins an individual event, and also put up the money to keep the whole thing going. You can also find compilation videos of the entirety of the events from previous years, along with all the many videos of previous races.

Marble Sports are exciting, drug and exploitation-free, and nobody ends up getting hurt (though sometimes the marbles need to be checked out for damage). Since the videos are edited down, it's even easier to watch than a live sports event, and right now, one of the safest competitions you can watch.

JMR is seriously relaxing, and you're 100% spot on about the play by play guy. The way he threads the line between parody and complementing the action is masterful. I've been trying to find a team to root for, but all the marbles are so pretty and I can't pick. Just gonna have to keep watching and see which one I end up choosing :)

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I'm a fan of Team Momo myself. They have a tendency to do really poorly for a while but sometimes pull off some good showings, usually getting them into the high-mid rankings. So they're not always the underdog, but usually they are making things hard for themselves. The recent Triathlon is one example, and it was also a pretty amazing event overall.

Also momos are delicious (if they're made well).

Yes, it's odd to talk about how the team 'behaves' but it's also kind of fun. People have made bios of the team members at the JMR Wiki, but I've just formed my opinion from watching and occasionally reading Reddit comments. Savage Speeders just seems to be the sort that charges directly at the problem (and often wins, unless it's an event like funnels where lasting longer is the goal). Crazy Cat's Eyes pull off unusual moves to win. The Green Ducks seem to have fanatical fans no matter how well they perform. The Oceanics are the monarchs of heartbreak, especially in the 2019 ML. And Orangers are the top-dog team that is widely popular but also widely hated.

Okay, Mr. Woods described the Oceanics as a team that doesn't do well in water, and the idea of a water-themed team that's good on land and struggles in the water just grabbed me. It's so poetic. I can just imagine their mentalities as they discover strengths they didn't expect and struggle with weaknesses they think they shouldn't have.

Middle of the pack team, but I'm keepin the faith!

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