Thanks to social media, these new sports have become viral hits

Five new, niche sports all but ignored by mainstream sports outlets—online, it's a whole 'nother ball game.

Teqball bahnt sich über Social Media den Weg in den Mainstream. (Foto: Teqball International)
Teqball bahnt sich über Social Media den Weg in den Mainstream. (Foto: Teqball International)

It’s that time of year. New Year’s resolutions guilt-tripping hoards into taking out gym memberships and getting into shape (at least through the end of February). In keeping with the zeitgeist, we’ve put together a lineup of five new and novel sports to get you moving. While you may not be able to try them all out at home on your own, you can scroll, stream and follow along.

Taking child’s play to the next level: World Chase Tag

We all know that before going all out, you need to stretch and warm up. So how about a nice game of tag to get your blood flowing? Sounds good—but not with Christian and Damien Devaux. Since 2012, the brothers have built World Chase Tag (WCT), a professional platform for tag as a competitive sport. Athletes from parkour and ninja warrior, as well as Hollywood stuntmen and women run after each other on a 12x12 meter playing field—called “The Quad”— laden with a host of obstacles. Add a ticking clock and the heart-pounding action is practically guaranteed. Competitors are divided into chasers and evaders, with the former given only 20 seconds to catch the latter. If you’re wondering: evading is easier than chasing with the average catch rate hovering around 30 percent.

What the Devaux brothers have managed to do is literally turn child’s play into a modern professional sporting competition. As such, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find out that Christian was first inspired to create the format after playing tag with his son. Closely linked to the success story is Cary Glotzer, CEO of independent entertainment production company Tupelo Honey. Founded in 1996 and with a portfolio of major past clients, including the NFL, ESPN and MLS among others, invested in World Chase Tag in 2020 together with its parent company Gray Television, taking over production of the sport. TV contracts with NBC and ESPN followed. The professionalized version of tag is gradually seeping into the mainstream

Don't get caught

Another major driver in WCT’s success and growth is social media. The competition has 1.5 million followers on Tiktok, with some videos notching north of 45 million views; in total, the TikTok channel has 30 million likes. On YouTube, top-performing videos have been viewed more than 60 million times. WCT has 1.36 million subscribers and over 300 million video views.

Teqball to feature at the Olympics thanks to Ronaldinho and Beckham?

Take one part each of soccer, table tennis and volleyball, swirl them together with a healthy lug of competition and you have a new sport that’s taking over the world. A major oversimplification, I know, but one that’s not too far off from the truth when it comes to Teqball. What is it? Basically, soccer played on a curved table-tennis table, where players (matches can be played as singles or doubles) have a maximum of three touches—no hands (or arms).

First developed in Hungary in the early 2010s, Teqball is the most-recent claimant to the title of "world's fastest growing sport." It’s not onl established itself around the globe, but there are 150 plus national federations registered with the Fédération Internationale de Teqball (FITEQ), which was founded in Budapest in 2017. Teqball even featured at the European Games in Krakow in 2023 (both Hungary’s men’s and women’s team took home the gold in the doubles competition). Next stop? The Olympic Games? Maybe, but first Bangkok.

After the 2022 Teqball World Championship was held in Nuremberg, FITEQ hosted its sixth World Championship in Bangkok in 2023. Thailand's capital was the first host city outside of Europe—and set records with over 200 athletes from 60 nations. From November 29 to December 3, the World Teqball Championships had 752 social media posts with a cumulative 3.6 million interactions and a total of 180 million impressions.

The game of Teqball is extremely simple: combining elements from established sports and artistic aesthetics and with a very high entertainment factor, the sport is perfect for social media. Another reason the sport’s popularity is exploding: prominent backing from sporting royalty.

Lionel Messi and Neymar post frequently about the sport to their 496 million and 218 million respective followers on Instagram —same goes for ex-professionals David Beckham and Ronaldinho. For Gaucho’s part, he even took part in the most recent World Cup in Bangkok. Former women’s start, too, are backing the sport, with the likes of recently retired US national team star player Carli Lloyd and her 1.1 million followers on Instagram promoting Teqball.

The brainchild of former Hungarian footballer Gábor Borsányi, he and his three co-founders have also helped drive the sports popularity by equipping clubs across the continent with a table. Clubs from Paris Saint-Germain to RB Leipzig use Teqball not only as a way to break up the monotony of training, but also as a social media content generator with "Teqball Challenges."

The hype surrounding Teqball is real: Tiktok videos with the hashtag #teqball now have over a billion views—which provides enormous visibility to sponsor logos of already well-known brands. At the World Cup in Bangkok, for example, Snickers was a leading partner, while at a Teqball tournament held in Qingdao, China in the summer of 2023, Warsteiner featured prominently. The corresponding video sequence alone has over 3.3 million views on Tiktok and the Reel on Instagram has almost 2.9 likes.

If you wanna fine tune your chops at home, the Teqball board (table) can be yours in your favorite soccer club’s colors. Cheap, however, it is not. The Bayern Munich version available in the club’s official fanshop will set you back €1999.

Hobby Horsing – keeping step with Tiktok

Hobby horsing has long since achieved what World Chase Tag and Teqball have yet to accomplish: the comparatively young sport from Finland has gained traction in the global mainstream and has featured prominently on major German broadcasters.

Whether in Google searches, in various TV reports or on social media: hobby horsing is booming. On Tiktok, videos with the corresponding hashtag already have over a billion views. If you have no clue what the sport is all about: kids and youths take hobby horses and perform all manner of gymnastic activities—at varying degrees of dificulty. While many use self-made hobby horses, you can easily shell out 1000 euro dollars for one.

Balloon World Cup – Corona the impetus for success

Now back to balls. Well, sort of. Balloons. Competitive ballooning can trace its origins back to the pandemic. American siblings Antonio, Diego and Isabel Arredondo played keep-ups with a balloon at home. If you never played soccer, the point of keep-ups (or keepie uppie or kick-ups) is to keep the ball or balloon in the air and not let it touch the ground. Balloon keep-ups has the added element of intnetionally trying to knock it out of reach of your opponent.

"Eventually, we started arguing about whether or not the balloon had touched the ground. So we started recording videos in slow motion to see if it did or not. That slowly ballooned into the idea that we could also post these videos on Tiktok," Antonio Arredondo will tell the news agency Reuters shortly afterwards. After all, the Arredondo siblings' balloon battles go viral and routinely net millions of views on Tiktok.

Spanish star streamer Ibai Llanos and his friend and business partner Gerard Piqué also caught wind of the hype. A joking post on X (Twitter at the time) soon turned serious: "I want to buy the rights and organize a world championship," said Ibai Llanos to get the ball rolling. Piqué's response: "50,000 retweets and we'll do it on October 14." The inevitable happened: in October 2021, the Catalan city of Tarragona hosted the first Balloon World Cup, in which 32 teams of 'balloon athletes' from all over the world took part. In the final, Francesco De La Cruz from Chile defeated Jan Spieß from Germany 6:2.

On Twitch, 600,000 viewers tuned into the final on Twitch, while Ibai Llanos' YouTube stream has been viewed over 2.5 million times to date. And videos with the hashtag #BalloonWorldCup now have over 82 million views on Tiktok.

For partners, the Balloon World Cup offers an unconventional environment within the sporting context to position themselves. As such, it's no surprise that well-known brands decided to advertise in the field of play and even actively promote their products as partners. While the amateur athletes run and leap after the balloon, they have to pass around a Volkswagen, a slot machine branded by Doritos chips and an oversized sleeve of Mentos. Partners such as Cupra, G-Shock, Orbit, Pepsi Max and Samsung promoted the start of the second and, so far, the last edition of the Balloon World Cup in 2022. There are worse sponsor line-ups.

Battle Bots, the digital renaissance of the robot fights

If that's all a bit too much activity for you to kick the year off, there's a low-movement, yet competitive and pretty viral alternative.

We're talking about Battle Bots—competitions that combine the latest robot technology with a modern staging of sporting events. In Battle Bots, bot inventors compete against each other with their technical masterpieces to paralyze their opponent's machine.

There’s no one on earth that’s gonna watch that mess! Oh, yes there is:

  • The hashtag #BattleBots has over three billion views on Tiktok, with some individual videos on the official Tiktok account netting over 180 million views.
  • The Battle Bots YouTube account has 1.56 million subscribers. The videos published there have already been viewed over 268 million times.
  • Battle Bots has over 15 million followers on Instagram (3.4 million), Facebook (4.2 million) and Tiktok (7.8 million).

Truth be told, Battle Bots are anything but new. Various robot competitions, all of which have robot godfather Marc Thorpe to thank (Thorpe passed away in November 2023), were popular long before Tiktok, Instagram and YouTube. Launched as a TV show at the end of the 1990s, the early battle bots years repeatedly featured well-known celebrities from series such as Baywatch or sports competitions such as the NFL as commentators. Meanwhile, bot inventors over the years have included well-known names such as Michael Loren Mauldin (founder of the Lycos search engine), Will Wright (game designer of Sim City and The Sims) and former NASA astronaut Dan Barry. Thanks to clever editing coupled with entertaining video content, Battle Bots are back and booming.

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Scott Peterson
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