When he was halfway through Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale, my friend Dan Barclay told me that he really enjoyed the sports angle. He noted the parallels to modern athletics even before the book delved into the Faction Games in Scorpion’s Oasis. This is a fair observation on his part because the Great Games borrow heavily from modern and ancient sports with leagues, sponsors, scandals and even celebrity athletes.
Despite the fact that I don’t really even like hockey, the one true Canadian sport, that much, sports culture fascinates me. To me, the TSN guys, seem to be among the happiest people on earth, spending all of their time immersed in their favourite recreation. I sometimes watch them just to bask in the joy of people who really, really love what they are doing.
The politics of sports also fascinates me. Currently we are limited to politicians trying to piggyback onto the successes of popular sports franchises, or trying to earn a little everyman street cred by showing off their love of their favourite teams. Just check the political oriented twitter feeds and facebook updates every time a popular sporting event takes off. (I’m writing this during the Superbowl) In Bloodlust I take it a step further by having sports and politics linked directly. Just imagine how modern sports would be if political parties could sponsor teams or individual athletes.
Fantasy Sports are certainly nothing new, but the lag behind most other activities in good representations in novels and movies. Here are a few of my personal favourites:
1) Quidditch: J K Rowling’s superb magical sport from the Harry Potter series provides an excellent example: It is played on flying broomsticks, it is rough, the rules are archaic as well as arcane, and it provides plenty of opportunity for intrigue based mishap, characterization through action, and even advancing the plot. The whole thing is brilliantly conceived and I hope more writers follow her example in including fantasy sports in their novels. What stands out, to me, about Quidditch is how, despite being entirely made up the game manages to use the ubiquitous language and culture of real world sport to draw you deeply into a fantasy world and even explain some of the more unfamiliar concepts of that world. Quite ingenious.
2) Bloodbowl: An enduring classic from Games Workshop, the Bloodbowl IP takes high fantasy tropes and turns them into football teams. It is the father of all Fantasy Sports Games, filled with crazy rules and has spawned a host sub-games and imitators. The original version of my Bloodlust game was created when we played a Bloodbowl league in University, but wanted a more casual play style.
3) Blood of Heroes: A post apocalyptic sports movie, Blood of Heroes has all of the standard sports movie tropes plus a healthy dose of brutality. Rutger Hauer plays a washed up exile who takes his team from the wasteland leagues to the vault leagues, essentially. The positions, rules of the sport, player specializations, and co-ed play make this one awesome.
4) Lane Defence Games (DoTA, LoL, HoN) and Starcraft: Competitive computer gaming is an interesting scene, but these games take it to new heights with player streams, huge tournaments with massive prizes, dedicated coverage and analysis, spectator modes, sponsors, and all of the other trappings of professional athletic leagues. If Geek Chic is the beginning of information age culture than these are the seeds of information age sports leagues…
5) The Joust: From classics like Le Morte D’Arthur to the current favorites like A Song of Ice and Fire or the Ryria Revelations, the joust is perhaps the best represented historical sport in writing. It does not take much magic to give a simple joust just a little fantasy twist. Jousting was an fairly dangerous sport and thus makes a great set piece for intrigue. With the addition of wearing a lady’s favours and other symbolic act this simple sport can also spark epic romances and torrid love affairs. The joust is a personal favorite because it is such a well worn historical trope, and it is easy for clever writers to invoke or subvert reader expectations.
Sports can be used in several ways in a Fantasy setting. Here are a few off the top of my head:
1) Action. Sports are another way to provide action sequences in fantasy. The Quidditch scenes in Harry Potter provide great physicality and a sense of danger without direct physical combat, which would have been inappropriate in a protected setting like Hogwarts. They also help build up the action until the real war erupts. The same is true for jousts. Sports can also provide variation in action scenes since the artificial nature of the rules can showcase different physical skills or unusual talents in ways that a duel or battle could not.
2) Character roles: Team sports can set up strong relationships between characters while repeat matches are a great way to create and showcase character rivalries. These logically carry over to the story beyond the sports-field. If a Character wins a great victory while wearing a favour at a sporting event like a joust, it is a great setup for romance elements.
3) Culture: Sports can also be a strong element of cultural world-building, since a culture’s approach to sports can tell us quite a bit about the values and practices of that culture.
4) Magic: Sports can also be used to demonstrate the rules of magic in a Fantasy world. If your mages need to practice their skills it seems only logical that some of them would make games out of this and that these games could evolve into complex sports. These sports provide another way in which the author can showcase magic.
Fantasy sports can provide a little bit extra to even the most detailed of worlds. Bonus points to anyone who can write a little bit about what the Great Gladiatorial Games from Bloodlust demonstrates about the culture and values of the Domains of the Chosen.