YouTube videos of competitive marble racing have gained exponential attention as every other sport has gone into a hiatus because of the global pandemic.
Owing to the worldwide suspension of large-scale sporting events with mass appeal (i.e. Major League Baseball, Olympics etc), in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, only one sport managed to continue operations – YouTube Marble Racing. A viral video featuring marbles racing along an outdoor sand track recently boosted the popularity of the sport. The video from Jelle’s Marble Runs on YouTube had been retweeted by celebrities like Fall Out Boy’s bassist, Pete Wentz. The video now stands at a whopping 36.5 million views.
Dion Bakker, 38, and his brother, Jelle Baker, 37, started their YouTube channel back in 2006, posting videos of marbles rolling down simple tracks. The duo ,soon after, added competitive, racing marbles in a successful attempt to keep their viewers engaged. As an autistic kid, Jelle had been making marbles race with the help of his brother since he was four years old; he liked the colors, movements, and the sounds the marbles made, said his brother, Dion. Referring to the video that went viral on Twitter, Dion said that they had brought in the “competition element” when they first started making marble rallies in sand dunes. Dion further said that the reason people enjoyed these videos can be attributed to the fact that the viewers are taken to “another dimension”. He also said that anything housing a competitive element, “the human brain is just addicted to…”
Now a team of 15 people, JMR has the Bakker brothers in the Netherlands, a composer in Greece, a graphic designer in Belgium, a manager in Germany, and a few others who are in charge of frame-by-frame analyses of the elaborate races. JMR’s commentator, Greg Woods, from Iowa, first came across Jelle’s video in 2016 and was particularly amazed by the starting lineup and the marbles’ names such as “Team Galactic”- for the transparent ones with brown and silver swirls and the “O’rangers”- for the ones which were solid orange in color. “The races provide the same emotional experience as sports with human players,” said Woods. He was contacted by Jelle Bakker after the car racing enthusiast posted a commentary of that run. Since then, Woods has been the channel’s official play-by-play announcer.
Although marble racing’s popularity has grown steadily, Dion acknowledged that the pandemic had been “pretty good” to them. At the start of March, JMR YouTube channel had fewer than 600,000 subscribers whereas presently, it has more than 1.1 million. The month of May saw the sport make its TV debut on network ESPN in the US. The sport also caught the attention of comedian John Oliver on his HBO show Last Week Tonight, which is now sponsoring the Marble League in exchange for appropriately sized billboards places among the events’ 10,000+ marble audience. The 1.1 million fans of Jelle’s Marble Runs also delve into creating the sport’s unusual culture. While the actual tracks and scenes are set by Jelle himself, thousands of fans analyze those sets, share niche memes and form elaborate backstories and the “personal lives” of the marble athletes on the channel’s subreddit.
On occasion, to keep the viewers entertained, and keep their attachment to the marbles alive, Jelle Baker stages moments that mimic human athlete behaviors. Once, a marble from the audience had streaked across the track which led to the delaying of an event and had to be escorted off-premises. Another time, a fight had broken out in the bleachers between rival fans. The marbles’ teams also have home tracks. There are even marble referees along with a stadium full of marble fans. When the races begin, the athlete marbles make their way down a winding track to the soundtrack of a cheering crowd. An all-male acapella group from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, called ‘TimeCheck’ has even recorded customized chants for each team.
Jelle’s Marble Runs earns its profit through sponsorships, partnerships, while evolving constantly to showcase several categories of events.
The Marble Rally – A simple race downhill. The first marble to the bottom wins.
Marbula One – A multi-lap race inspired by the Grand Prix.
Marbula E – A collaboration with British Formula E racing team ‘Envision Virgin Racing’; one of the newer lineups of JMR.
Finally, their main event, the Marble League – formerly supposed to be called “MarbleLympics” (had the official Olympics committee not objected) – is an annual ‘Olympic-style’ production of fifteen individual and team events showcasing events like hurdles, relays and underwater races. Scheduled for June, Marble League 2020 was supposed to run parallel to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Feature Image Via Canva