Stories

Gravball


Gravball is a rather ancient Minmatar sport. It was originally designed by the Brutor thousands of years ago as a game for young men to learn teamwork, bravery, and tactics. The original game looks very little like the modern grav ball of today. Old paintings and stories from the Brutor describe a game where injuries (even deaths) were common, and hurting your opponent was a goal. The rules were less codified and players ran around the field, rarely passing the ball (called a grav, named after a fruit it resembled), mainly relying on brute strength to win.

The game evolved considerably before even the Amarr arrived on Pator. By the time the Amarr did come, the Minmatar people considered gravball among their most popular sports. There were several leagues, with the largest and most successful league competing for the Haysid Cup each year. The Minmatar game was similar, but not identical, to the current rules, still emphasizing strength over skill and flash.

When the Amarr enslaved the Minmatar, these leagues were abolished. The Haysid Cup, constructed of valuable gold and jewels, was taken by an Amarrian Holder and stored in his private vaults for generations. For centuries, there would be no organized gravball leagues.

However, some Minmatar carried on the traditions even in slavery. Many Holders stamped it out immediately, viewing it as heretical and dangerous. Some, however, saw the benefits in letting their slaves play. Slaves who regularly played gravball were less aggressive, in better shape, and were generally more productive for it. Of course, the Holders couldn’t let their slaves get injured playing it, so they enforced rule changes to ensure that injuries were minimized.

Players could only be tackled when they carried the ball. Unlimited forward passing was legalized. The ball was made larger (about the size of a grapefruit) and softer, so it was easier to grip and catch. Play was stopped whenever a player was tackled. Penalties were codified and enforced closely.

In time, some of these slave teams became quite good. Holders started to enjoy watching the games, liking the sport of it. Amarr children, who grew up watching the slaves play, started forming their own teams and playing against each other. On one planet, the Holders began to have their slave teams play against each other. They formed a six team “league” with the team with the best record at the end of the year having bragging rights and winning a variety of prizes (usually a contingent of slaves from the other teams).

Soon, this trend began to spread to other planets. Extremely good gravball playing slaves began to earn their freedom once they could no longer play. Some became coaches of slave teams. Others began teaching non-slaves how to play. The game caught on with Amarrian commoners and soon there were amateur leagues spread through the Empire. Many of these amateur leagues were dominated by ex-Minmatar slaves who had grown up on the sport.

The first professional league in the Empire was formed in 22713. Like the first Amarrian league, it had six teams; one owned by each of the Five Heir Houses at the time (Khanid, Kor-Azor, Ardishapur, Sarum, and Kador) and one owned by the up-and-coming Tash-Murkon. Early years were dominated by the Khanid and Sarum teams. The league played every year until the Khanid Rebellion, which kept the league from playing for three years. It finally restarted without the Khanid team. It wasn’t until after Minmatar rebellion that a sixth team was added, when a team from the Ammatar Mandate was allowed to enter the league.

The Khanid didn’t stop playing, however. Several teams began competing, though not to the same level as in the Empire. However, when the Kingdom began their extensive trade with the Caldari State, gravball spread there. Within a hundred years, the MegaCorps each fielded their own teams to compete against the Khanid team.

As part of their rebuilding, the Minmatar brought back gravball. There was a huge debate among the people, some preferring the older, pre-Amarrian rules, but many others saw the benefits of the Amarrian changes. The rules had created a more open game, with less injuries and more exciting play. It was from both the Minmatar and Caldari that the Gallente learned of the game and many started playing there as well.

By 23300, all four Empires had large leagues with billions of fans. The sport is one of the few remaining with team play and physical confrontation between human players, as opposed to Mind Clash (which is one on one and mental rather than physical) and Splitterz (which is robotic). It took an amazing gesture on the part of the Harabi Family, the Holders who had possession of the Haysid Cup, to bring the four leagues together. They returned the Cup to the Minmatar Republic with much fanfare. Later that year, the four major leagues signed a historic contract with each other, where the top teams from each league would compete in a playoffs for the Haysid Cup.

Gravball today is one of the largest sports in the cluster, though it has less overall popularity among capsuleers and well-to-do people than Mind Clash or Splitterz. The vast majority of its fans are common people, who can spend a good portion of their yearly income on attending matches and buying team apparel.

There are currently four leagues, one for each Empire. Each league has 8 teams.
The Amarr Imperial League consists of the Tash-Murkon Titans, the Sarum Rangers, the Kor-Azor Templars, the Kador Saints, the Ardishapur Gold, the Ammatar Servants (a name considered controversial in the Republic and Federation), the Zoar Knights (a team created to even out the leagues owned by Zoar and Sons), and the Mishi Traders (originally an all Ni-Kunni team that was considered the “best” minor league team that was promoted when the four leagues joined together).

The Caldari Premiere League consists of the Kaalakiota Firebirds, the NOH Nighthawks, the Ishukone Hummingbirds (widely reviled as the worst team in all the majors), the Lai Dai Falcons, the Wiyrkomi Phoenixes, the Hyasyoda Raptors, the CBD/SuVee Albatrosses (the only jointly owned team), and the Khanid Royals (sponsored by the Khanid Royal Family).

The Gallente Free League consists of the Luminaire Patriots, the Oursalleret Clash, the Intaki Mystics (which ironically does not currently have any Intaki on the team), the Uphene Liberty, the Lirsautton Cool Refreshing Quafes (a name considered even more controversial than the Ammatar Servants, as pretty much everyone despises them), the Ouperia Radicals (the only publicly owned team in major league gravball), the Doussivitte Revolution, and the Alentene Attack.

The League of Minmatar Tribes consists of the Sebiestor Tinkerers, the Krusual Giants, the Brutor Generals, the Vherokior Harkars (named after a Vherokior legend), the Thukker Nomads, the Starkmanir Freedom (named in memory of the nearly-exterminated Starkmanir tribe), the Pator Warriors, and the Matar Fury.

Despite the teams being broken up by empire, players on each team are not restricted by their race. While the Amarr may prefer Amarrian players on their team, no team has more than 60% of their players one race (amusingly enough that team is the Brutor Generals, who are 60% Gallente and coached by a Caldari).

The four leagues are split into two factions, along traditional political lines. The Caldari and Amarr are considered one “bloc” and the Gallente and Minmatar the other. Each bloc plays each other during the season, which is a 48 game schedule (playing teams in your own division 6 times each [3 home and away games for each team] and the other division 3 times each [with home field advantage alternating yearly between the leagues]). At the end of the season, the top two teams from each league play each other, with the 1 seed from the Caldar/Gallente playing the 2 seed from the Amarr/Minmatar and vice versa. The winners face each other in the bloc championships, and the winner of THOSE games go on to play each other in the Haysid Cup Championship game.

There have been a few notable games in the 47 year history of the Haysid Cup Championship. The first game, played between the Clash and the Titans was won 14-10 by the Titans. The game was mostly boring, with the Titans taking a large lead early, then coasting through the rest of the game (5 of the Clash’s 10 points were scored in the last 5 minutes of the game).

The 23rd Cup game was played between the Ardishapur Gold and the Starkmanir Freedom, which generated a huge amount of publicity because of the names involved. The game was a good, but not spectacular, affair with the Freedom pulling away late to win 17-14. The hype around it was much greater than the actual game, where the players were far removed from the conflict and hatred that had occurred hundreds of years prior.

The “Best Game in Haysid Cup History” is generally acknowledged to be the 19th Cup, between the Luminaire Patriots and the Kaalkiota Firebirds. The game went to overtime and wasn’t won until the 3rd overtime, 26-25 by the Patriots. Conversely, the “Worst Game in Haysid Cup History” is generally acknowledged to be the 17th Cup, which was won 7-3 by the Kador Saints over the Luminaire Patriots (the lowest scoring game in Haysid Cup History, that didn’t see the Patriots score until late in the 3rd period).

Even with the current hostilities sweeping the cluster, the Haysid Cup game is still held. There was some trepidation that the 46th Cup game would be canceled following the Elder Invasion and One Day War. However, the four leagues all agreed that such an act would be foolish. The leagues were rewarded for their spirit of cooperation, as revenue for the past season was the highest in decades.

General Gravball Rules
At its core, Gravball is a simple game. A team of eight players must advance the ball, through carrying and passing it, down field and get it into the opponent’s goal for a score. At the end of regulation, the team with the most points wins the game. In practice, the game is far more nuanced and encompasses a variety of different strategies.

Players
Gravball is played by teams of up to 20 players. During play, each team fields 8 players at a time. The other 12 players are available for substitutions or injury replacements.

No single position is officially defined by the rules of the game. However, in the course of history, several positions have evolved out of rule changes and strategic decisions.

Goal Keeper - The goal keeper is the player who maintains his position inside his team’s goal box. They are the last line of defense to prevent a score. Generally, goal keepers are taller players with good hands, able to quickly react to incoming balls and block or catch them and hand it over to his team mates. Goal keepers aren’t required to be good passers, tacklers, attackers, or runners.

Defenseman - There are usually two defensemen per team, though attacking formations will switch a defenseman out for another forward or winger. Defensemen generally stay back in their own defensive zone, rarely advancing beyond their opponent’s blue line. Obviously, they are intended to be the main line of defense against scoring. Defensemen are typically fast, hard hitters with good tackling and catching skills. They aren’t usually great attackers, runners, or passers, though some are.

Wingers - There are usually two wingers per team as well. They typically position themselves along the sidelines, though the flow of the game may take them anywhere on the field. Wingers are typically fast players with excellent passing skills. When their team has the ball, they are primarily tasked with advancing the ball up the field and getting the ball into the hands of the forwards when scoring opportunities present themselves. Most wingers are also decent to good shooters. On defense, wingers generally try to intercept passes and cover the other team’s wingers.

Center - The center is generally regarded as the most important player on the field. Centers are expected to direct their team during play, setting up plays and organizing defenses. As such, centers are occasionally excused for not having tremendous overall talent. However, centers frequently find most of the offense run through them. They are generally the best runners on their team, able to break through tackles from opposing forwards and wingers with ease. Many are also good to great shooters. Because of their position, they are often the largest players on the field. On defense, centers continue to direct traffic, calling out coverage assignments on the fly and are usually expected to be capable tacklers, usually the best ones beside the defensemen.

Forward - Forwards are the main attackers on offense. They are expected to be good runners as well, able to break through tackles of opposing forwards, wingers, centers, and weaker defensemen. They are almost always the best shooters on the team, usually with strong arms and a quick release. Speed is valued, though quickness is more important as it allows them to get around defenders to get favorable angles to take shots. Forwards rarely go on defense, tending to stay up near the mid line and hoping for a turnover and a quick break. Because of their propensity for scoring, they are generally regarded as the star players on a team, though many more cerebral fans favor centers as the star players.

Equipment
Equipment for gravball is rather minimal, which helps its popularity. A game can be played with as little as a ball and two areas denoted goals. All four major leagues, and most of their minor leagues, all play with standardized equipment.

The field measures 100 meters long by 50 meters wide in size. The center of the field is bifurcated by a mid line, dividing the field into zones. Each team is considered to “control” one zone. Each zone is further divided in half by a blue line. At the ends of each field, a 5 meter by 2 meter box denotes the safety zone. Inside the safety zone, at 3 meters wide by 1 meter deep by 2.5 meters tall, is the goal.

The ball is known as a grav (after a fruit the original ball resembled, though rule changes and technology have made it no longer similar). The grav is a sphere between 38-40 cm in circumference with a soft, springy texture. It must weigh between 550 and 600 grams. When dropped from a height of 2.5 meters, the ball must bounce back between 1.35 to 1.45 meters. It is made out of a solid rubber polymer that is lightweight, easy to grip, has significant bounce, and does not absorb water (though almost all professional gravball games are played indoors).

At all organized levels of play, players are required to wear helmets and some padding. At lower levels, where money is not as available, the helmets and padding are fairly primitive and bulky, though still allowing for decent agility and speed. At higher levels, lightweight impact clothing, with cutting edge technologies, reduce most padding to tight body suits. High tech helmets are usually small forcefield generators that better protect against impacts without obstructing vision or air flow. Many players wear gloves for better grip of the ball, but these are not mandatory. Player uniforms are generally a loose jersey over padding, with a pair of matching shorts.

Referees
The game is refereed by a crew of five officials. The five officials are the Head Referee, two Goal Judges, and two Line Judges. One line judge is assigned to each blue line. They generally watch to ensure players do not violate any line rules and to assist the Head Referee in assessing other penalties that occur around the middle of the field. One goal judge is assigned to each goal. They are responsible for monitoring the number of players in safety zones and assessing safety zone violations. The head referee has final say on any calls made in the game and must watch for fouls of all types and enforce them. The referee is the only official who may disqualify a player from play.

Officials are considered part of the field of play during play. As such, a player may, should he choose, use a referee to screen another player from advancing on him. Passes that hit referees are still live. The officials are expected to attempt to avoid interfering in any plays by either obstructing players or touching balls. The head referee is typically responsible for signaling to other officials so that they can avoid plays they cannot see.

All officials are in constant contact via radio headsets. This allows them to communicate during play and ensure that all rules are carried out to the best of their abilities.

Game play
The object of the game is to score more goals than your opponent within the allotted game time. The game is divided into three 20 minute periods, for a total of 60 minutes of game play. If the game is tied at the end of regulation, the game goes into a single overtime period of 10 minutes. If the game remains tied at the end of overtime, it is considered a draw.

At some levels of play, a game tied at the end of the first overtime goes into a shootout, where five players from each team are given a one-on-one shot at a defended goal. These goals are added to the final score. Should the game remained tied at the end of the shootout, the shootout continues until one side scores a goal and the other side misses.

Major league play uses the overtime and draw system, except for the Gallente Free League, which uses shoot outs during regular season play. In the playoffs, an indefinite number of overtime periods are played until one ends without a tie. The longest game ever played was a playoff game between the Khanid Royals and the Zoar Knights. At the end of regulation, the score was tied 13-13. At the end of the first overtime, it was tied 16-16. At the end of the second, it was tied 18-18. It continued for seven overtimes, going 21-21, 25-25, 26-26, 28-28, and finally ending 29-28 with the Knights never managing to get off a final shot on the goal. In total, the game went 130 minutes.

The longest shootout went 23 rounds between the Mystics and the Radicals. With the score tied 14-14 at the end of the first overtime, each team scored three goals in the shootout. The subsequent shootouts (with each team having the same result by necessity, else the game would have ended) went score, score, score, miss, score, miss, miss, score, score, score, score, score, miss, score, score, miss, miss, score, score, score, miss. The final shootout saw the Mystics’ shooter miss and the Radicals’ shooter score. This gave a final score of 32-31, Radicals.

Scoring occurs whenever a ball enters a goal. Scoring an own-goal is an uncommon occurrence, but has been known to happen on occasion.

Play begins with a tip off at the center of the mid line. The Head Referee tosses the grav into the air and two opposing players (typically the centers) leap to either grab the ball for themselves or (more commonly) tip it to someone on their team. Play then continues unstopped until the grav goes out of bounds, a player is tackled and maintains control of the grav continuously through hitting the ground, a penalty is called, a goal is scored, a time out is called, or the period ends.

Players may pass the grav freely in any direction and to any player. The grav stays live even if it hits the ground. Players on either team may pick the grav up and carry it or pass it as they like. Once a team has advanced the grav past the mid line, they may not retreat to their own zone, pass the ball to a player in their zone, or throw the ball into their own zone. Doing so incurs a Delaying penalty. Similarly, a team may not throw the grav from behind their own blue line across the opponent’s blue line. The penalty for doing so depends on if a team member is in the area of the pass. If one is, the player is called Offsides. If not, the penalty is a Delaying on the throwing player.

A grav that goes out of bounds is awarded to the non-possessing team. Possession of the grav is defined as belonging to the team last last touched it. Thus, if a pass is tipped by the opposing team across the mid line, it is not defined as Delaying. Similarly, if a pass is tipped out of bounds, the passing team will regain possession. The team gains possession of the grav at the point it went out of bounds. One player must then inbounds the grav into the field of play. The inbounding player may not be the first player to touch the inbounded grav. If a player fails to inbound the grav after 15 seconds, he is called for Delaying and the grav is turned over to the opponent (who must similarly inbound from the same point).

Any player who is holding the grav may legally be tackled by the opposing team. A tackle is defined by the rules as “grasping or hitting an opponent and physically forcing him to the ground against his will.” Any players not holding the grav may not be legally tackled by either side. A player inside his own safety zone may not be tackled, regardless if he holds the grav or not. A player who tackles an ineligible player is penalized for Illegal Tackling. A player is expected to make a full effort to attempt to remain untackled, even if he is ineligible to be tackled. Thus if a player lightly bumps or pushes an opponent and the opponent falls, the referee may ignore it if he has determined that the player made no attempt to retain his balance. In practice, players who are physically contacted and fall are almost always considered tackled, regardless of their effort (or lack thereof) to retain their balance. Fans refer to falling from even light bumps as “flopping” and generally denigrate those players as soft. The player carrying the grav is exempt from being called for Illegal Tackling, though if he tackles a player in his safety zone, he will be called for Charging.

A player is considered carrying the grav only after holding it and having both feet on the ground. Thus a player who jumps to catch a pass cannot be tackled until he hits the ground, though one who catches a pass with both feet on the ground may be tackled as soon as the grav touches him.

When a player who is carrying the ball is legally tackled and retains control of the grav all the way through the tackle, the play is blown dead. The player, and the player who tackled him, then face off in a tip off at the spot of the tackle.

Players on either side may block another player by physically engaging with him for up to two seconds. Blocking is legally defined as “physically placing your hands, arms, back, shoulders, and torso against the front of an opponent’s torso to restrict his movement without intent to tackle.” While the intent clause seems to give some leeway for crushing hits, in practice, blocking is generally defined as “soft” contact. Players who take more than one or two steps and lower a shoulder into an opponent and knock him down are usually called for Illegal Tackling. A player may not grasp his opponent’s body or jersey to restrict his movement, doing so is considered Holding. A player who continues to block for longer than two seconds is similarly called for Holding. After a block, a blocked player must be given five steps before he can be blocked again. The initiator of the contact is considered the blocker, the other player is considered the one blocked. A player who attempts to block below the waist or at the back will be called for Illegal Blocking or, if the opponent falls, Illegal Tackling.

The number of players legally allowed inside the safety zone is restricted. A team may have one player inside its own safety zone at all times (this is almost always the goal keeper). A second player may enter his own safety zone for up to five seconds. If he remains inside for longer, he is penalized for Obstruction. A player may enter his opponent’s safety zone for up to five seconds as well, or ten seconds if he possesses the grav. If the player stays longer, he is penalized for a Safety Zone Violation. If three or more players are inside their own safety zone at one time, the third player entering the zone will be immediately penalized for Obstruction. If two or more players enter their opponent’s safety zone at one time, the second player entering the zone will be penalized for a Safety Zone Violation, unless he is the player with the grav, in which case the original player in the zone will be penalized.

Each team is granted five time outs per period. Any player on the field or coach on the sideline may signal for a time out. A player must get the attention of an official to call a time out. A coach may press a button to signal a time out.

Players may only substitute between play. When play is stopped, both teams are allowed as much time as they like to substitute players.

Penalties
Penalties are called whenever a player violates a rule. Upon the calling of a penalty, the play is blown dead as soon as the grav is touched by either team. If the penalty was called on an offensive player, any goals scored before the ball is touched are not counted. A player who is whistled for a penalty is sent to the penalty box for an amount of time depending on the severity of his infraction. The player may be replaced on the field by another player for the duration of his penalty, but he may not reenter the game until his penalty ends and there is another stoppage in play. Leaving the penalty box early is grounds for an ejection from the game.

When a penalty is called, possession of the grav is given to the team not penalized at the nearest out of bounds point. In the rare event of simultaneous penalties on both teams, the grav is returned to midfield for a tip off.

In the rare event that a more than 12 players on one team are in the penalty box/ejected at the same time, the team plays short handed until one of the players leaves the penalty box and play is stopped, allowing him to substitute normally into the game.

Illegal Tackling - A player makes an illegal tackle, as defined above. 2 minutes in the penalty box.

Illegal Blocking - A player makes an illegal block, as defined above. 1 minute in the penalty box.

Holding - A player grabs the jersey or body parts of an opposing player in an effort to impede his movement OR continues a block for longer than 2 seconds. 1 minute in the penalty box.

Obstruction - A player remains in his own safety zone for longer than 5 seconds without reestablishing himself outside of the box OR a player enters his own safety zone while two other players on his team already occupy the safety box. 2 minutes in the penalty box.

Safety Zone Violation - A player remains in his opponent’s safety zone for longer than 5 seconds (10 seconds if the player possesses the grav) without reestablishing himself outside of the box OR a player enters his opponent’s safety zone while a teammate already occupies the box. 1 minute in the penalty box.

Delaying - A player moves the grav, by carrying or passing it, back behind his mid line after the grav was advanced past it OR a player throws the grav from behind his blue line to behind his opponent’s blue line without a team mate across the opponent’s blue line OR a player fails to inbound a ball after 15 seconds. 2 minutes in the penalty box.

Illegal Touching - The player who inbounds the grav is the first player to touch the grav in play. 1 minute in the penalty box.

Offsides - A player throws the grav from behind his blue line to a team mate behind his opponent’s blue line. 1 minute in the penalty box.

Charging - The grav carrier tackles an opponent inside the opponent’s safety zone. 1 minute in the penalty box.

Kicking - A player purposefully kicks the grav with his feet. 1 minute in the penalty box.

Fighting - A player physically attacks another player in a manner that is not a tackle or a block (legal or otherwise). The player guilty of fighting is immediately ejected from the game and another player (chosen by the opposing team) on the offending player’s team serves 5 minutes in the penalty box.

Early Exit - A player leaves the penalty box before his time is up. The player adds 30 seconds to his penalty time. If the player attempts to reenter the field of play, the player serves an additional 5 minutes in the penalty box and may be ejected, depending on the egregiousness of his penalty.

Arguing - A player excessively argues a call with an official. 5 minutes in the penalty box, added on to any penalty minutes the player may have already accumulated. Vicious language or unsportsmanlike conduct during arguing may be grounds for an ejection.

Touching an Official - A player purposefully strikes an official. The player is immediately ejected and another player (chosen by the opposing team) from the offending player’s team serves 10 minutes in the penalty box.

Illegal Time Out - A player or coach tries to signal a time out when the team has no more time outs remaining in the period. If a coach signals the time out, the opposing team gets to select one player to place in the penalty box. 1 minute in the penalty box.

Illegal Substitution - A player attempts to enter the field of play while the play is ongoing OR a team attempts to begin play with extra players on the field. In the latter event, the opposing team selects which players to penalize. 2 minutes in the penalty box.

Miscellaneous Foul - Anything not covered by the rules which, in the discretion of the head referee, constitutes a foul (for example, a player attempts to intentionally damage the grav). The head referee may assess 1 minute, 2 minute, 5 minute, or 10 minute fouls AND/OR player ejection, depending on his own judgment.


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