07-01 Marble League

[Image above] Looking for live sporting events this summer? Marble racing is still taking place! Credit: Jelle’s Marble Runs, YouTube

Normally at this time of year, summer sports would be in full swing. Instead, due to COVID-19, many sports are only now getting hesitantly off the ground, such as Major League Baseball, which announced its regular season is scheduled to begin in late July.

For many sports fans, the absence of live sports during the pandemic has added another level of upheaval to their lives—to them, sports are not just entertainment but a vital connection to community.

To cope, fans are relying on a variety of options, including watching reruns and documentaries or tuning in to broadcasts from countries that are still holding games.

However, there are some sports that haven’t been interrupted at all by the pandemic. Esports of course is one, but the sport I will focus on today is a bit more obscure—competitive marble racing.

Marbles: A game as old as time

Marbles are by no means a new invention. People have played games using small spheres made of stone, clay, and wood for centuries. However, glass marbles—the most popular type of marble today—gained traction in the 1850s with the invention of marble scissors, a small handheld device that helped workers shape molten glass into a marble shape.

Germany cornered the market on glass marbles through the 19th century. However, the supremacy of handmade German marbles ended by 1920 due to WWI-associated import cutoffs and tariffs and the invention of mechanized marble production in Ohio.

Check out how a glass marble is made by hand in the video below.

Credit: Insider video, posted by Yulianariska Andewi; YouTube

Jelle’s Marble Runs: A new kind of live sport

When it comes to modern-day marbles, the marble racing tournament that has received a lot of attention since April is Jelle’s Marble Runs.

Jelle’s Marble Runs is a Netherlands-based YouTube channel created by brothers Jelle and Dion Bakker. They created the original channel in 2006 but relaunched in 2018 after accidentally deleting the original channel.

Jelle’s Marble Runs contains hours of marble racing videos that are scripted to mimic the style of famous sporting events such as the Olympics (Marble League, formally MarbleLympics) and Formula One (Marbula One). The videos are narrated to make it appear as if the racing marbles are not inanimate objects but trained competitors using tactics, training, and psychology to win.

In May 2020, British-American comedian and late-night show host John Oliver announced his show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver would sponsor the Olympic-style Marble League this year. And on June 21, the opening ceremony and first race of the League premiered to more than 20,000 live viewers. (See below for the recording.)

Credit: Jelle’s Marble Runs, YouTube

The League will feature 16 events in total, with one or two videos publishing each week. The second event premiered this past Sunday, and the third event is scheduled for July 3.

If you’re looking for a new live sporting event to watch this Fourth of July weekend, why not try marble racing? With 16 teams competing, you are sure to find one to root for!