Inventing a sport is hard. The best fictional sports from movies/books/shows/etc. seem to fall into two categories: Either exceedingly clever games you have always wished you could play (and sometimes can!), or senseless, broken dreck that no one could possibly find fun, no matter what a story’s canon would lead you to believe.
Here are the best and worst fictional sports, as selected by SB Nation staff. There are a lot of other options out there, however, and plenty of discussion to be had about what sports even count as “fictional.” Does a sport you can “play” in a video game count? What about, uh, murder-based sports?
Let us know in the comments. Or just yell at us about our decisions. That’s fine, too.
I wanted to consider the board game oeuvre of fictional sports, and considered Cones of Dunshire for the top spot. But Jumanji is it to me for the way it captured my imagination as a kid. Will it inflict untold damage, and potential death, upon you and everyone around for miles? Sure. It may also turn you into a cool monkey boy with a prehensile tail. Just roll the dice, dingus, it’s your turn.
Worst: Star Wars holochess (I guess it’s called Dejarik)
It’s kinda like Magic: The Gathering crossed with chess. The board looks too cramped for much strategy to take place, though. Plus you have to let the Wookiee win.
— Louis Bien
Blernsball is the 30th-century version of baseball, which took place in Futurama (Season 3, episode 16, “A Leela of Her Own”).
The reasoning behind this being the best fictional sport, is that baseball in the future undoubtedly has to be better than baseball in its current form. It’s that simple. Baseball is good now, and assuming they were to actually evolve over nine more centuries, it could be great.
But that’s also a big if.
The objective of Poohsticks (from Winnie-the-Pooh, obv) is to stand over some running water, drop a stick, and see whose stick gets down to the end first.
Go play Fortnite or Call of Duty instead.
— Harry Lyles Jr.
A sport that combines all the fun of basketball with none of the running, jumping, or otherwise-needed athletic traits one needs to typically be good at basketball. Any game you can play with a beer in hand is a good one. Especially if all you have to do to play defense is remind opponents how their sister’s GOING OUT WITH SQUEAK.
Worst (but not really): Bouillabaseball
It’s just baseball with fish parts. I expected better from the ALF writer’s room, but I still stan the Equinox Weenies.
— Christian D’Andrea
Best/Worst: Vampire Baseball
Though I’m loathe to admit I’ve read “Twilight,” I would like to make fun of “Twilight,” so here we are. Basically, in the book, a real treat for our heroine was getting to watch Edward and his vampire family play vampire baseball. Wow, sounds fun, they have superhuman abilities I wonder what their sports will be like?!
Get your hopes down, it’s just regular baseball that’s louder. Because they hit the ball so hard. Great date idea Edward, Bella gets to watch your family game of regular baseball. She doesn’t even get to play. I can’t believe she likes Edward more than Jaco— I mean I don’t care, Twilight’s for children.
— Clara Morris
Best: The Running Man
I’m sure there are some prudes out there saying “but Jaaaames, murder isn’t a sport!” To which I would reply “it is the REALEST sport, even when fictionalized.”
The Running Man is unquestionably one of the greatest action movies of all time, which game us the best fictional sport of all time. It’s professional wrestling, with all its pomp and circumstance mixed American Gladiators with a healthy sprinkling of pure, unadulterated murder.
In case you’re not familiar with the plot, the basic concept is simple: Dangerous convicted felons are given a chance to fight for their freedom in gladiatorial battles against armed, themed enforcers on a dystopian game show. It probably says something about me that I like this so much, but here we are.
Worst: Taking the Stone
This is from the show Farscape and is the dumbest thing of all time. Rather than try to explain in my own words let me just share the entry from Wikipedia, which does a great job detailing how dumb this is.
“The game consists of jumping into a deep well, and chanting while falling. A sonic net at the bottom of the well, sustained by the participants’ voices, cushions their fall. When the youth reach the age of 22 cycles, rather than grow old and be deformed by the planet’s radiation, they stop chanting part way into the leap and die against the rocks. This death is called Taking the Stone.”
Jumping into a well. Maybe killing yourself. Bad sport.
— James Dator
Or, more specifically, the good Dr. Stephen Maturin’s take on cricket. At the beginning of Patrick O’Brian’s The Fortune of War, what can only be described as the hulk of the HMS Leopard drifts into the Indonesian bay of Pulo Batang. The crew, exhausted by their recent ordeal in the Southern Ocean, relaxes with a game of cricket against that of the HMS Cumberland. Or they try to, before Maturin, equipped with a bizarre, home-made bat, makes his appearance on the behalf of the Leopards.
A rapacious grin ran round the Cumberlands: they moved much closer in, crouching, their huge crab-like hands spread wide. The Admiral held the ball to his nose for a long moment, fixing his adversary, and then delivered a lob that hummed as it flew. Stephen watched its course, danced out to take it as it touched the ground, checked its bounce, dribbled the ball towards the astonished cover-point and running still he scooped it into the hollow of his hurley, raced on with twinkling steps to mid-off, there checked his run amidst the silent stark amazement, flicked the ball into his hand, tossed it high, and with a screech drove it straight at Jack’s wicket, shattering the near stump and sending its upper half into a long, graceful trajectory that reached the ground just as the first of La Flèche’s guns, saluting the flag, echoed across the field.
As far as rebukes towards English pretensions go, deliberate or not, it’s pretty hard to beat Dr. Maturin’s efforts. This is cricket as it really ought to be played: nonsensically and with maximum force.
NB: My favourite part of the above passage, incidentally, is the confusion it created amongst O’Brian’s significant American audience over whether Dr. Maturin was any good at cricket or not.
Take a perfectly good magical sport, with three goals, multiple balls, rogue and malevolent magical items designed to hurt you, and flying. The bones of quidditch are close to perfect, giving scope for brilliant tactical and individual play in three dimensions.
And then the Golden Snitch ruins it. There’s absolutely no need for the damn thing. The chasers, beaters and keepers are playing an interesting, well-constructed sport. The seekers, meanwhile, are playing a ridiculous version of hide-and-seek which almost inevitably overrides what everyone else on both teams are trying to achieve.
Not only does the hunt for the Snitch render the actually good part of the sport irrelevant, it also destroys quidditch as a spectator sport. Since the Snitch is so small as to be untrackable, the audience in the stands has no idea what’s going on at any given time, making this a sport that’s both nonsensical and impossible to follow.
Kill the Snitch, and then we’ll talk.
— Graham MacAree
Best: Crunchball 3000
Now I know what you’re all thinking. What the hell is CrunchBall 3000. Well it’s a computer game that has LORE.
The game has elements of rugby, soccer and football and is an excellent time waster at wo— I mean it’s a really underrated way to pass the time.
Worst: Quidditch ... but in real life.
*It’s not really the worst, I just wanted to talk about it.*
Don’t get me wrong, IRL quidditch is fun. I’m just mad that the one time I played, I was the seeker and the snitch could go anywhere. We were in a park and there were no boundaries. I stopped chasing them after three minutes. I have asthma, man. I was off it.
— Kofie Yeboah
When I was a kid in my hometown, there were a few boys on my street who were around the same age as me. In the summer, we would all spend our hard earned pop-bottle deposit returns on buying used baseballs at rummage sales and then use them to play in an open field down the road from our houses. Baseball is actually a very loose term for what we played, especially once the ball was lost or the cover tore off. Then it was a free for all. Little did I know until later in my development that such games as those we played were already mastered by the titular characters in Calvin and Hobbes. Calvinball, you see, is a game with no rules, other than the rules you make up as you go along. No two games are allowed to be the same, and no rules made up on the fly are allowed to be duplicated. Throw on some masks, hit a baseball with a mop and go score some points by running seven times around the sprinkler. Wait! The sprinkler is now the loser zone, so you have to use a croquet mallet to hit a tennis ball over the driveway without it touching any dirt or concrete. If it does, you lose 10 points.
“Other kids’ games are all such a bore!
They’ve gotta have rules and they gotta keep score!
Calvinball is better by far!
It’s never the same! It’s always bizarre!
You don’t need a team or a referee!
You know that it’s great, ‘cause it’s named after me!”
As Calvin opined in the final Calvinball strip when a football game turned into one of the crazy contests, “Sooner or later, all our games turn into Calvinball.”
There really isn’t a better sport out there, real or fictional.
Worst: Star Trek’s parrises squares
Let’s keep this portion short and sweet: They never gave any rules to parrises squares on the show, but it clearly is dumb because there is no way the folks who made Star Trek: The Next Generation were able to come up with a cool sport. That’s probably why they didn’t bother showing viewers much of the game, which is played with an “ion mallet” on a padded playing field.
I know no other details. But it’s is clearly dumber than real-life quidditch, which is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever watched in my entire life.
— Sam Eggleston
Best: Rocket League
Video games are murky territory, and I’m not sure if most of them can be classified as fictional sports. Is Counter-Strike a fictional sport, or a simulation of a military operation? I’m not really sure. But Rocket League is unquestionably a game about a fake sport, and it is by far the best fake sport anyone’s ever invented.
Soccer is the most popular sport ever invented by humans. The coolest iteration of soccer ever invented is from Nike’s 3v3 Secret Tournament ad, which was played in a metal cage. Rocket League iterates on this concept further by replacing the human competitors with freaking rocket powered cars. If it was possible to create Rocket League in real life, it would be the world’s most popular spectator sport.
Worst: Professional wrestling
Oh no, I’ve exposed the business! It’s difficult to classify wrestling as a type of sports or entertainment, hence the term “sports entertainment,” but essentially it’s a TV show about a fake sports league. There’s no non-fixed sport that bears a strong resemblance to pro wrestling, so I think it’s fair to classify pro wrestling as a fictional sport.
Wrestling Twitter, don’t scream at me. I am not here to talk shit about the entertainment you love. I’ve watched thousands of hours of pro wrestling and I love it. But as an actual sport, it’s kind of a mess. There are no published rules, and the referees seem utterly incapable of enforcing the ones that broadcasters tell us about. Competitors are not punished for repeatedly assaulting referees. Any sensible sport would have introduced additional referees or an instant replay system after 100 years of consistent shenanigans, but the major pro wrestling organizations simply refuse. No fictional sport has less competitive integrity.
— Kim McCauley