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Some of the most iconic sports are getting a modern twist with NerfBall. Hailing from the Hasbro brand, the game acts as a combination of paintball, basketball and lacrosse, tasking players with rushing down a field populated with blockers and wielding a Nerf Pro Stryfe X in the hopes of tagging out opposing players while moving the Vortex ball to a basket.
Hasbro has big plans for NerfBall, beginning with an exhibition match at IMG Academy in Florida between two teams comprised of NIL athletes from colleges and high schools across the country. Next year will also see the opening of a Nerf Action Xperience location at New Jersey’s Garden State Plaza in which the public will be suited with the hit-detection suits and blasters to play the game themselves.
Related: Every New NERF Product Showcased by Hasbro at SDCC 2023
In honor of the Battle in the Bubble world premiere of the game, Screen Rant took part in a roundtable interview with Team VELOCITY coach and popular Nerf modder Luke Goodman and his team, Hannah White, Lyric Swann, Meechie Johnson, Mitchell Pehlke and Dontavious Hall to discuss NerfBall, how their various backgrounds influenced their play, and the sport’s potential future.
Team VELOCITY Talks NerfBall & Battle in the Bubble
Brian Jones (PopCulture.com): So Luke, how’s your team feeling heading into today?
Luke Goodman: Really strong. It’s an interesting game, because there’s a lot of learning curve, so we learned a lot yesterday. I think we’ve got a winning strategy, we’ve got a really strong talent here, and I think that variety of skills is gonna mesh really well today on the field.
Cass Anderson (BroBible): What did you learn in practice?
Luke Goodman: Communication is the biggest one. The game is really that you need to know what’s going on, you have to know where the ball is, you have to know where your opponents are, and you got to keep track of your team members, too. It’s a lot of moving parts at once, and at first, we kind of ran out there and just did whatever, and you learn really quickly that doesn’t work. You have to have a little more of a plan, a little more strategy, and take opportunity when you get it. The game is really about momentum, and when you get a player down, or two players down, on the opponent’s team, you’ve got this 10 or 15-second window to just hit it hard, and just push, push, push. If you wait, if you lag, if you don’t communicate, it doesn’t work.
Chris Kline (FanSided): Maya, I’ll come to you, my sister’s actually starting D1 softball this year, so I have a special appreciation for that sport. You’re the only person here from that world, specifically, with that skill set. How do you feel like that translates to this game?
Maya Brady: So far, I would just say in the strategy aspect, like a lot of what we do in softball is strategizing against whether it’s another opponent as a whole, or pitchers, or different hitters, and how we’re going to get them out, and how we’re going to succeed against them. So I would say probably just the strategizing part, and then I would say the aggression aspects. We’ve talked about playing aggressive, or playing more defense, but I think that at the end of the day, it’s kind of like risking it just a little bit. You have to have just a little risk, and in softball, we kind of capitalize on that, too.
Screen Rant: Luke, I’ll come back to you. You’re known for some of your Nerf modding back in the day, what is it like for you shifting from doing that to now coaching a team of up-and-coming professional athletes for this game?
Luke Goodman: First, the most impressive thing is the athleticism is just on another level. The Nerf community and that people I play with normally are not — I tend to be one of the more fit people on the whole. It’s a huge range that we’ve gotten to play, but no, we’ve got these athletes here, who are incredible. We started with such a high bar from the beginning, because I’m the one getting tired before they all get tired, I’m a few years older here. [Chuckles] So that’s the biggest shift, and then they bring different insights in gameplay, and cooperation, and teamwork. But the game feels like a much more polished, evolved version of what we’ve been doing for 10 years on our own in games that we’ve made up. Our games always struggled, because they didn’t have a clear objective, and they’re not real fun to watch, and they kind of devolve into just two people hiding behind two bunkers and peeking out repeatedly. This is like a whole other level, especially with these athletes.
Brian Jones (PopCulture.com): This one’s just for the basketball players, what are your thoughts on the actual ball, and the net that you play in? Do you think it’s easier to score, or a little bit harder?
Lyric Swann: I feel like we do have an advantage shooting the ball and everything. It is a little bit heavier than a basketball, so that’s something we do have adjust to. But yeah, it is nice having that background, especially because this is bigger than a normal size net, so it gives us some free way with our form and everything.
Hannah White: Yeah, I would say I wasn’t expecting how heavy it was at first, when I first grabbed it, and the grip’s really different, obviously, because there’s little divots where you can put your hands and stuff. So, you have to be able to maneuver where to put your hands to shoot when you’re shooting, or passing it, or whatever. It’s not as good of a grip, like you can’t just throw it someone and catch it the same way as a basketball. But other than that, once you get it down, and figure out how much [power you need] with the ball to shoot it.
Meechie Johnson: Yeah, I came in late yesterday, so I haven’t got to touch the ball yet, but I would assume what they said is what it will be… so we’ll go for it and see how it’ll be.
Cass Anderson (BroBible): How’s the speed compared to lacrosse? What do you bring in as the only lacrosse player here?
Mitchell Pehlke: I’d just say the agility aspect. I think lacrosse, especially the position I play, midfield, it’s a lot of cutting, it’s a lot of spread-stop, spread-stop. I think bringing that aspect is huge, and I think on the other side, I come from an Italian household, very vocal, so I feel like I’m bringing the voice to the team. Communication, I think, is very key for this one, I think it’s gonna be the thing that lets us take it home.
Cass Anderson (BroBible): Are you guys working on any sort of codes and call signs, or is it like a chaos, keep it simple/stupid approach, are you going to try and throw the other team off by not letting them know what you’re saying?
Luke Goodman: We’ve got a few ideas. Generally, it’s pretty verbal, because we all haven’t played together as a team for very long, of course. So, I think the score will fall to that, where everything goes to verbal or hand signals on the other team doesn’t go, or doesn’t have. But on the whole, even if we’re verbal, which is really we’ve got to make a push, or to be more aggressive, the team knows we’re coming, they know we’re coming when they’re down two or three people. That’s the next logical step, so it really becomes the most important thing is that timing, we just gotta hit it when the opportunity presents itself.
Chris Kline: You’ve been around Nerf in general for a long time, but pretty much everyone here is new or relatively new to this sport. What has stood out to you guys during the team-building process that you guys have gone through? What do you think makes you stand out, do you think you guys have any special elements that are gonna make you maybe emerge victorious?
Mitchell Pehlke: Yeah, I hopped on the first Zoom and first met Luke Goodman, he’s a Nerf legend. He’s a legend in the Nerf space, so I felt in great hands there, he’s a guy that knows the sport inside and out, and just hopping on the Zoom and meeting everybody else, I felt we were in good hands.
Maya Brady: Something I think we might have an advantage over today to take the win is that we’re I feel like we’re a pretty logical group. We’ve come up with a lot of strategies and stuff. Having some small talk with the other team, they’re just winging it, they don’t have any plays or anything. But I feel like us thinking about the game in a certain way will help us.
Donatavious Hill: I will say one thing I learned about the game yesterday, it doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re gonna get tired. So even if you had six LeBron James on your team, you could still lose to a team of old age if they have a strategy. That’s the main thing.
Luke Goodman: So my skill I bring here, and I tried to teach them as much as possible, is more of the shooting strategy, the bunkering strategy, how to handle a blaster, how to handle the magazines. I think that’s one big advantage we have over Donald’s team, and I’m excited to see how those two match today, but I have a strong feeling we’re gonna take it home.
Cass Anderson (BroBible): You say, LeBron, that’s interesting. What’s the perfect build of an athlete for this? Because he’s too big, right?
Mitchell Pehlke: It’d be like an Isaiah Thomas, shifty, small. I think, as Luke said, one of the first things is the smaller you are, the better it is, because you’re less of a target.
Screen Rant: So I actually wanted to come back to your point, Mitchell, about having a voice on this team. You are all from various different sports, various different colleges and various different grade levels. I’m curious what that’s like for you all finding a way to gel as a team being at different levels, ages, grades and sports?
Mitchell Pehlke: I think from our perspective, none of us looked at it from age perspective. We’re all Division One athletes, and I think that’s just the title we ran with. I feel like athletes are athletes and the will to win for all of us is huge. I could just tell the sense of connection on that first Zoom, like I mentioned, and like I said, we’re all D1 athletes chasing national championships in our sport, it’s the same thing here in NerfBall.
Brian Jones (PopCulture.com): I think one of the aspects, and I asked the other team this, is the respawning. You could be one or two players down, taking advantage of that, respawning is a part of the gaming community. So, along with having all these sports, the gaming community gaming is also added into this game. So what are you guys thoughts on being eliminated, but being able to come back into the game?
Meechie Johnson: It kind of reminds me of Warzone, Call of Duty: Warzone. Respawn low, like when I get hit, I’m coming back trying take 10 people out. That’s kind of how I feel about it.
Cass Anderson (BroBible): Do you think this game would translate well to its own video game in the future?
Meechie Johnson: I do. With the way you can shoot, and he was talking earlier, you could have the ball in your hand and the blaster in the other hand, that sounds fun right there, being able to shoot somebody, throw it to your teammate.
Cass Anderson (BroBible): If you guys win later, will you demand to be in the first game?
Lyric Swann: Yeah, I feel like to go with video games, because we only get like 60 darts per quarter, so like in a video game, you can get a power up, so maybe you have 15 seconds of unlimited ammo, or something.
Hannah White: Star Power.
Mitchell Pehlke: I think it translates well, obviously the big video games are 2K and Call of Duty. You kind of put them together, it’s not like a sport like lacrosse that’s tried to be a game, and just never worked out.
Chris Kline (PopCulture.com): We can start with Luke and then maybe go to the rest of the team. You guys have talked a lot about strategy, obviously you feel like you have an advantage there over Donald’s team? Have you guys assigned specific roles, analyzed specific skill sets relative to where they fit into this game?
Luke Goodman: Yeah, definitely. So, individual roles are ideally as close to the game are tailored to skill sets. Our faster players are definitely gonna be the ones that are up front scoring along with our basketball players that can actually get the ball in. I’m pretty much worthless when it comes to throwing the ball in, but I’m very good at shooting the blaster, so I’m much better as an escort and support along the way. Really, there’s a lot of rotation in that too, because you just can’t keep being the person that’s aggressive every single round, so we’ll kind of rotate through people, so different people are going for the ball versus supporting and just getting eliminations. It’s such a two-sided sport, because you’ve got the ball, but you’ve also got the eliminations and both are really important, so you got to balance how those play out on the field, and how you’re actually getting your score count up. Yesterday, we got a lot of attempts on goal, and I think we’re going to push some of that today, along with some plays to kind of hold on to some points via tags as well.
Screen Rant: Now, Donald brought this up frequently when we talked to him, which is about introducing this to the next generation and about carrying on the legacy of Nerf and Hasbro in a unique new way. I’m curious what that’s like for all of you younger athletes not just being able to do that, but also in a sense being the face of it for the world premiere?
Dontavious Hill: I’ll speak on it, so when I was a kid, I played with Nerf blasters, so being able to play today in a sport that’s going to premiere to the world is pretty cool.
Mitchell Pehlke: Yeah, I think from my perspective, like hearing how Luke and his guys play it back west. It’s very different, it’s not really like an organization or league to kind of get involved with this stuff. And I think NerfBall can be a real thing and put on leagues, and games, and have a championship. I think that’s gonna be really cool to say we’re all the first people to be a part of that, it’s all really cool to say.
Meechie Johnson: Yeah, I say back where I’m from, a lot of people would be outside, playing with Nerf blasters and stuff like that growing up. My little cousins all watch YouTube and be watching Nerf blasters and stuff, so to be a part of this, and being able to tell them about it, means a lot.
Lyric Swann: Yeah, I’m so happy to be here. It’s sort of surreal being one of the first people to experience this, and yeah, just the same as them, just having that childhood, and being part of this, it’s a really good experience.
Maya Brady: I grew up in an all-girls household, so I never played with Nerf blasters personally, but I am the oldest cousin of like 10, and I have a bunch of like little boy cousins, and they all watch YouTube and stuff like that. They all have blasters at home, so I guess just being a part of the first, even though I was never directly impacted by it, I think just them seeing their oldest cousin do it would be super cool. They could look up to me in a different way, but yeah, kind of like they said, it’s just a really cool opportunity.
Hannah White: Family bragging rights. [Chuckles]
Luke Goodman: Nerf blasters came out when I was a kid. I was in second grade when the Sharpshooter came out, and I remember when a friend of mine got that blaster, and I’ve played with blasters my entire life. It’s a big core part of my childhood, so being here is just unreal. I think taking this to the next level is just awesome, and that’s not even to mention that I’ve spent the last 10 years in this hobby, and just kind of obsessed and immersed in all things involving playing with Nerf.
Hannah White: So for me, I have four little siblings, so I grew up with Nerf blasters, but I also still have them in my house. So, it’s kind of cool to see this in person, and see everyone playing, and how it’s not just something in your house where you’re playing around the corner with your siblings, but it’s a real event where everyone’s competing and going after it. There’s so many more components to it, and I think it’s really an amazing opportunity that we get to be here to partake in.
Cass Anderson (BroBible): What did you guys think of the suit versus what you wear in your normal sport?
Lyric Swann: Oh my gosh, it is hot in that suit. [Laughs] It’s hot in Florida in general, but yesterday, we had on just a t-shirt and some shorts, and we were sweating. So, I know in the suit, it’s going to be pretty hot, so we’ve got to be able to pace ourselves, not to exert extra energy because of that.
Luke Goodman: For me, when I heard that they were gonna have the suits, I was like, “Nah, you’re not,” I literally was like, “That’s not possible.” Because most of the tech that I have read about, the patents I’ve seen, it’s all about the darts having something in them, which makes them cost too much, which means it’s not scalable and can’t be a sport, because you can’t spend $1 a dart and have that continue. The suits look amazing, and taking that bias out, and the deed for referees or for judges to call little foam darts bouncing off of you is game changing, because that’s basically where all the problems in a competitive Nerf game start is, “I got you!” “No you didn’t!” [Chuckles] This eliminates that, you just have cold proof that you’ve been tagged, so I think they look really, really cool, and I can’t wait to get out there and play the real game with them on.
Maya Brady: In softball, we’re covered head to toe, and I feel like that is unique compared to the other sports, so I’m kind of used to playing in Tucson, Arizona with an Under Armour on, full socks, sliders. I guess I’m used to it, but when I put that suit on yesterday, it was honestly another level, I was like, “This is hot,” so I guess I can relate, but it is very different.
Brian Jones (PopCulture.com): Do the suits fit okay? Because Donald was talking about how it didn’t fit on couple of his athletes.
Luke Goodman: Oh we got lucky. [Laughs]
Hannah White: I had a little bit of issues with mine. I was talking to Jess [Gardner], she did too. We’re kind of similar builds, and I think my calves are almost too big for the small, but then the small fit my waist. So, we’ve had to move out to medium, and then they pinned to my waist, but it’s all good.
Maya Brady: I feel like it’s really cool how our suits are custom-made. I don’t think they took our calf measurements. [Laughs] But they took all of our other measurements, which is high level, I think.
Screen Rant: So, in putting on those suits and feeling how heavier they were, how hot they are, did you immediately start coming up with different strategies than you may have already had in mind from just practicing the game on the field?
Luke Goodman: The biggest thing for me was you have to come from playing like, say, with your family, or friends, or other community events, you have to remember that your head is not a target, your hands aren’t a target, your feet aren’t a target. You are only out when those plates get hit, when you’re lighting up, and that means that you have to almost untrain some bad behavior that you would have learned playing with your family or whatever.
Dontavious Hill: One thing I thought was like the most uncovered part is the back of your legs, so I was thinking if you’re running, or you feel like you’re gonna be shot, it’ll make it harder to hit you.
Chris Kline (FanSided): Going to you again, Dontavious, we talked to Mitchell about being from lacrosse, Maya from softball, these kinds of unique sports. You’re the only track and field person here, how do you think your particular skill set athletic profile fits in this game?
Dontavious Hill: I’m a high jumper, so it is an individual sport, but I have played football, basketball, soccer and baseball, everything growing up, and also played with Nerf a lot when I was a kid, so this sport, my skill set translates just because of my lifelong sport experience.
Lyric Swann: You were talking about roles earlier, and I feel like his sport with high jump has really helped us with getting the game ball, because I’m the shortest one here, that’s not my role. It took me at least like five seconds to get the ball up there, so that’s definitely an advantage for us.
Cass Anderson (BroBible): Did you guys have any prep coming into this? Like watching paintball videos on YouTube, or anything of that nature?
Mitchell Pehlke: I didn’t, but we all got the blaster beforehand. We could shoot in the house and everything like that, but no, I didn’t have any prep.
Hannah White: My blast didn’t have the battery, you [Luke] fixed it for me, so I didn’t do any prep before. I just kind of jumped in here blind, but we’re good now.
Lyric Swann: For my prep, I went to the arena, the basketball court arena, and you know how they have like dummies [that have] the hands that are up, and stuff like that. So, I was going around them and practicing.
Screen Rant: You had your very own shooting range!
Lyric Swann: Yeah, I custom-made it, and then my teammates were there running around and stuff.
Meechie Johnson: There was a Walmart nearby, and they had some [of the blasters], so me and my teammates went and kind of did the same thing. We went our locker room, turned the lights off, we just were playing around.
Screen Rant: Some of you have actually talked about growing up with Nerf blasters, and as someone who did myself, this was actually my first experience with a motorized battery on a Nerf blaster. Had any of you had prior experience with this kind of blaster, and what was it like hearing that motor rev up, and also kind of practicing to find the right methodology of using it?
Dontavious Hill: So, I kind of have some experience with one that’s automatic. They had one when I was like 11 or 12, it was like a big artillery one, and they had like a 100-round drum on it. That was my first experience with something that was automatic. The thing was, it was so big that having one that’s small, they can have like a rev automatic is so much different running around with it.
Maya Brady: I like the rev, it gives you sort of an adrenaline rush, and it’s really cool to have the rev up, because it has so much power behind it. The first time I shot it, I was like, “I didn’t know it was gonna go that fast, and that far.” It’s pretty incredible to have a toy do something like that.
Hannah White: I think it’s the sound, too, it’s kind of intimidating.
Luke Goodman: For me, the rev, I mean, the original Stryfe is what got me back into Nerf as an adult. I played with the rev trigger on the Strike about 10 years ago, and it was like, “This is not my childhood Nerf blaster.” What we’re playing here at the event is the next level, it shoots over twice as fast, and it revs up quicker, and it’s really reliable. It’s quite a beast of a blaster, and perfectly suited to use one-handed while holding the ball.
Screen Rant: Have any of you actually been tagged yet by a dart?
Hannah White: Everyone looks at me, because for some reason, every time I’ve been tagged, you would see it all over my body. Because we had shorts on yesterday, I had red circles down my leg, so I couldn’t even say, “No, I didn’t get hit,” your leg is red, with red dots. So like, I had them all over my arm, you could probably still see it, I still have bruises on my leg, I bruise so easily. But yeah, I’m the one that you can definitely tell every time to get it
Screen Rant: How did the feeling compare to what you thought?
Hannah White: It honestly hurt, like it didn’t feel good. After a while, you just kind of didn’t really notice it anymore, because the adrenaline was rushing, but when you’re sitting there, and you look down, and you’re like, “Oh, I remember that feeling.”
Lyric Swann: Yeah, those face and neck hits stung a little bit
Maya Brady: It was like when you get hit in the nose, and you’re eyes water. I was like, “I’m not crying, I swear.” It was a shock. But honestly, I’ve played paintball for that hurts. It wasn’t like that. One time I was playing paintball, and I got hit on my finger, I thought my finger fell off. I was like, “Oh, that hurt a lot.” But it’s not like that, it’s a lot less painful than that.
Hannah White: And to be fair, the penalties will be called.
Hasbro, Inc., a leading toy and game company, today launched NERFBALL, the NERF brand’s first-ever official sport in its 50+ years of history, by releasing the full gameplay video of the NERFBALL – Battle in the Bubble exhibition game. Since 1969 when the iconic brand was first introduced to the world with the original NERF ball, dozens of iterations of NERF have been created across consumer products categories from sports items to blasters and much more. What started with a simple NERF foam ball more than 50 years ago comes full circle through the cutting-edge competitive sport, NERFBALL.
Now, fans can watch NERFBALL’s exciting and heart-pounding combination of paintball-style play with the speed and agility of basketball, all combined with buzzer beating shots and unbelievable highlight moments that took place at the first NERFBALL tournament on September 22, 2023, at the IMG Academy in Florida. Donald Driver, one of football’s all-time leading receivers, dance competition champion and best-selling author, captained a stacked team of talented athletes including Isaiah Elohim, Jada Williams, Jessica Gardner, Kiyan Anthony, Sofia Chepenik and Trace Young. In opposition, “Out of Darts” (AKA Luke Goodman) brought his love for NERF and expertise on blaster fun to his advantage with his team of athletes including Dontavious Hill, Hannah White, Lyric Swann, Maya Brady, Meechie Johnson and Mitchell Pehlke.
The first official NERFBALL game comprised of four, 4-minute quarters, where the two powerhouse teams engaged in a heated competition in hopes of coming out on top. Athletes were each assigned a position – Defender, Midfielder and Runner – and used an official NERF PRO LEAGUE ball, NERF PRO STRYFE X blaster and NERF PRO darts to score points through either shooting the ball through the net or dart hits detected through the player’s uniform via flexible pads incorporating XO-NANO technology, allowing for real-time tracking. With persistence, strategy, organized plays, athleticism and incredible teamwork, the winners showcased exactly what it takes to be a NERFBALL champion.
Check out our other NerfBall interviews here:
Hasbro is set to announce further NerfBall plans for 2024.