Recently, someone introduced me to an interesting YouTube channel called Jelle’s Marble Runs. When I asked what it was about, they told me that, basically, it’s a man who creates tracks to race marbles down, and he times it like a real sports event. I was intrigued, but unconvinced. Where’s the excitement? You didn’t build the track, and you are not the one competing, so what’s the fun in that?
In the first five seconds of watching, though, I realized that it’s so much more than that, and I shouldn’t have been so quick to knock it when I hadn’t even tried it. The channel is created by two Dutch brothers, Dion and Jelle Bakker, who dedicate hours upon hours toward modifying and perfecting intricate racetracks, going so far as to create arenas for the marbles to race in, complete with marble audience members. They have set up an array of high-quality cameras to track the marbles as they roll, recording at different angles and even capturing slow-motion instant replays to time each marble — down to the hundredth of a second.
This way, at-home viewers who are rooting for a specific team can confirm with certainty that their team crossed the finish line before the team that their silly roommates were rooting for. The competition can be neck-and-neck more often than not, because the teams become your team, as long as you are interacting with the program as you would with any other sporting event.
Jelle has created 33 teams of marbles, each with their own team name, logo and uniform color, that compete against other teams in thrilling competition. These teams include, but are not limited to: the O’Rangers (whose logo is an orange wearing a cowboy hat), the Hazers and my personal favorite, the Raspberry Racers.
Each team also has fan support, with marbles in the audience that wear corresponding uniform colors and hold little signs that promote different team names and hashtags to get your favorite team trending online. This way, the audience can show their support for their personal favorites. You can even hear them cheering along with the plays made on the track, and some of the always-eager audience members find themselves seated in special, highly-elite VIP sections.
But it goes even further than that! They record highly-animated commentary to play as the athletes perform, personifying each marble as they detail how every single move they make can either hurt them or push them further.
It isn’t all racing, as you might have imagined, considering that there are only so many marble-related activities the average person could think of before getting absolutely consumed by boredom. Jelle’s Marble Run also created an event called MarbleLympics, which includes choreographed opening and closing ceremonies, filmed in stop motion. The ceremonies involve elaborate Rube Goldberg mechanics that trigger what we can only assume are hired marble performers to roll and dance around the competitors.
There is also a ceremonial candle lighting at the games’ beginning, and a defusing as the games come to an end, when a winner sits high on their podium and is awarded a golden trophy. The 16 events of the MarbleLympics include indoor and outdoor activities, water sports, biathlons, surfing competitions, block pushing and so many more entertaining events that you can’t help but choose a team to jump off of your couch for. As long as you’re rooting for the Raspberry Racers.
What is interesting to me (and I saw this more predominantly in the MarbleLympics) is that there is truly consistency between competitors. If the O’Rangers are doing well in a certain event — say, the meter sprint — then they will continue to perform well in that event across multiple recordings. That is the amount of care and detail Jelle’s Marble Runs puts into building each track, making it incredibly exact in terms of final scoring. It really feels like these marbles have spent time training, because the creators have spent so much time constructing each event.
It’s not nearly the same as going home, opening a book and rolling some purple marbles down its spine to create a track; there are no grubby thumbs propelling them and the events are not held on Mom’s dining room table. Instead, the marbles rest against a starting gate that snaps open, sending the athletes onto the track at the exact same time down to the hundredth of a second.
Jelle’s Marble Runs is the YouTube channel you didn’t know you needed this summer, because it’s the YouTube channel you didn’t know could possibly exist. And how could you? Who would have known there is a whole other genre of sports, only being discovered now, thanks to the creativity of two brothers who care so deeply, and with detailed precision, for something that we thought could only stimulate the minds of children? How little did we know.
So if you’re bored this summer, rally up a couple of friends and place your bets! Get excited by the roaring marble spectators and delve into the 16 events of the MarbleLympics. Or just enjoy some of their everyday racing competition videos. You’ll have to try really hard to be disappointed.
Let’s go Raspberry Racers!