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Shock Grand Slam: Baseball and Softball Make Esports a New Discipline

18 Dec, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Baseball5, With No Bats or Gloves, an Additional Discipline

The Great American Pastime just got some updates. And one of them is about to raise eyebrows into the upper stratosphere.

The World Baseball Softball Confederation (the sport’s highest international governing body) officially approved two new disciplines of the sport during a recent meeting.

One is esports. That’s right: esports is now an official discipline of baseball and softball.

The news was carried in Inside The Games, which noted that the virtual version of the game will begin to be integrated into the WBSC statutes, which will be put forward for approval by the WBSC Congress in 2022. Additionally, WBSC will need to establish rules and regulations for the governance of ebaseball and esoftball competitions as it prepares to launch its first electronic game in 2021.

WBSC’s version won’t be the first; numerous games are already on the market, with MLB: The Show among the most popular. But the fact that it is considered not just an adjunct, but a discipline of the sport is significant.

"The welcoming of esports into the WBSC family comes at a critical time, considering the fast-evolving digital world in which we live and the ongoing global pandemic," WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari said. "The WBSC looks forward to more progressive innovation in the dynamic and youth-focused space of esports, which will potentially expand the reach of our sport to millions of gamers and fans. Advancing future-oriented initiatives such as online/virtual competitions will support the development of baseball and softball - and all disciplines under them - for many years to come."

The inclusion is bound to be met with some cynicism, particularly among purists who do not recognize esports as “real sports.” And the relationship between the IOC and esports is complicated. In fact, in October, the IOC warned sports not to join the Global Esports Federation (the reason, it said, was because it was not going to recognize any organization as a governing body in the esports sector). And while many sports (including archery, canoeing, karate, modern pentathlon, surfing, taekwondo and tennis) have ignored that announcement, WBSC’s adoption takes the issue one step further.

WBSC’s decision clears the way for competitions such as World Cups in ebaseball and esoftball.

In less earthshaking – but just as important – news, WBSC also recognized Baseball5, also known as street baseball, as an official discipline.

Baseball5, the urban form of the game (also known as street baseball), is played without bats or gloves – and it can be played on any surface that allows the ball to bounce.

Baseball5 is a five-a-side street game that uses a rubber ball. In Baseball5, there is no pitcher. The ‘batter’ bounces the ball and strikes it with a fist or open hand, then heads for first base while the fielding team tries to get him or her out (the same as in regular baseball). Each game is five innings long. There’s a great video of it here.

Baseball5 is played on a smaller ‘field,’ with the distance between bases being 13 meters (a little more than 42 feet), as opposed to the 90 feet in traditional baseball. Baseball5’s edgy, urban vibe is designed to appeal to the youth element sought after by governing bodies worldwide – and particularly by the IOC, which has been seeking to increase engagement in the Olympics among a younger demographic. It is already starting its own social media campaign with the hashtag of #PlayEverwhere.

Another plus: it’s a sport that uses mixed-gender teams.

And with WBSC’s substantial influence behind it, look for it to start showing up more often in America. In fact, as games increasingly return to fields across the U.S., it’s likely the discipline will be heralded as a great way to keep skills sharp in the offseason, and additionally, to bring together families and friends who are in areas where large-scale tournaments aren’t yet allowed.

According to WBSC, the game got off to a fast start in spring of 2018, with 70 countries quickly becoming involved in hosting events.

By late winter of 2020, the qualification process for the WBSC Baseball5 World Cup was on, with Europe embracing it. France won the first-ever Baseball5 European Championship, defeating hosts Lithuania in the final series. Both National Teams qualified for the inaugural Baseball5 World Cup.

Unfortunately, Baseball5, like every other sport (except perhaps professional bull riding) came to a screeching halt shortly thereafter; WBSC has since begun retooling its calendar and is now planning the inaugural Baseball5 World Cup in 2022. Officials are working on bidding documents and hosting manuals, which, when available, will be available on this section of the website.

And while the sport had to be sidelined for a while, WBSC says it will be back, and better than ever.

"I feel an overwhelming sense of pride and joy for what we have achieved," said Fraccari. "Baseball5 has exploded everywhere in popularity, enhancing WBSC’s ability to do good around the world. We are now able to introduce the skills and the values of baseball-softball to young people in new communities we couldn’t reach before. The fast pace, low cost and accessibility of the discipline is its greatest strength. All you need is a ball and a hard-surface."

In addition to being contested in a World Cup, the discipline will be featured at the Dakar 2026 Youth Olympic Games.

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