Portal ball is a sport played at the various magical Schools that exist across Yavhore. It’s a team sport that combines athletic ability and magical talent, and requires teamwork, strategy and trust in one’s friends and teammates. It was created by a group of students at G’Ablyn’s School for Power, who were dissatisfied with their school’s physical education programme and wanted something more stimulating than just running laps. Almost immediately it took off within that School, and quickly spread to other Schools when the School for Power students realized that they needed someone to play against. Now it is played across Yavhore, but mostly in the eleven northern nations, and its popularity is only increasing.
The rules of portal ball are, at their core, not that challenging. A team of fifteen players is split into two groups—runners and openers. The runners’ job is to take to the field and kick, throw or otherwise move the ball or balls past the other team and into the goal area in the centre of the field. The openers’ job is to sit in a booth beside the field and open portals for the balls to move through—each time a ball is caught or kicked, it must travel through a portal before another player on the same team can touch it again. The only time a ball can be touched by multiple players in sequence without travelling through a portal is as a result of defending runners physically intercepting an offensive runner.
“Portal” is a broad term in portal ball that can refer to a series of different magical apparatuses for moving the ball. Sorcerers will open a traditional portal, as will witches and sometimes mages and necromancers, though mages and necromancers are more likely to teleport the ball without the use of a portal. Wizards cannot open portals and typically transform the ball into a representation of one of the five Elements, though such transformations are not allowed to last for a duration of greater than three seconds, the maximum amount of time a ball is allowed to be absent the field.
Whether by portal, or teleportation, or transformation into a flash of fire or a cloud—the ball must be moved between players in order for the runners to score it into the goal area, which is the same for all players. The goal area is guarded by a player from each team called the sentinel, who is the only player allowed to use both magic and athletic ability to prevent the other team’s balls from scoring.
Most large Schools will have several teams of portal ball players—one for each type of magic user and then one co-ed team comprised of the best players from the other teams. Mixed portal ball plays with fourteen players and one ball per team not counting the sentinels, for a total of thirty players handling two balls. The rules for unmixed portal ball are slightly different for each magic user—the number of balls is determined by the number of magical powers one has access to, so sorcerers play with two, witches and necromancers with one, mages with three and wizards with five—as do some of the point requirements, conditions for scoring and the allowed number of active players per team. In no variant is there a standard for how many players can be assigned runner or opener, so this can be decided by the team depending on their own abilities and strategies. The typical distribution is four openers , ten runners and a sentinel, but most of the more successful teams play with some variation of that formula.
Portal ball is typically played either in the nude or in a very small, tight-fitting pouch that keeps the player’s genitals covered and little else except for shoes to prevent injury to the feet. These garments are typically enchanted to avoid damage to the genital area in the event of sudden contact with a ball or another player, and all portal ball players also learn to cast this spell over their groin region regardless of what they choose to wear or not wear during the game. The beginner-level version of this spell can’t completely block force, and so it disperses said force so it is applied over the next minute in a persistent, low, buzzing pressure in the area of impact. Multiple impacts will increase the sensation’s duration and intensity, and it is not unheard-of in portal ball practices for players to aim the ball at each other in such a way for fun. Portal ball is a full-contact sport and a range of tackles and grabs are legal to prevent the other team from accessing the ball, so such precautions are prudent. All Yavhorel athletics are traditionally performed dressed in such a way, but in the case of portal ball, all parties are keen to prevent players from writing glyphs for spells on their skin to give them an unfair advantage. For this reason, it is also traditional for the two competing teams to offer themselves up to inspection for each other as a show of good sportsmanship.
Sportsmanship is very important in portal ball, and players are expected to treat their opponents respectfully and politely at all times, to congratulate each other for winning, and not to tease or taunt each other for losing. Though a degree of trash talk is expected and acceptable, players can be given penalties for behaving disrespectfully towards their teammates or opponents. The tradition of the losing team formally congratulating the winning team in their dressing room after each game is long-embedded in portal ball culture.
In recent years, the popularity of portal ball outside the Schools has started to increase as well. It has become a popular spectator sport, with often hundreds and sometimes thousands of people showing up to watch the Schools’ teams play. As well, because technically the only magic users required are the openers and sentinels, games from outside the Schools have started to pop up in places where there are a handful of magically inclined people to support anyone who wants to be a runner. Many communities have set up dedicated portal ball fields to stop local children from playing the game in their streets and public squares, as it can be extremely disruptive to shop for groceries when there are multiple balls flying around through portals all around you. There are currently talks to set up a portal ball association for graduates of the Schools, with national teams of adults, not all of whom would necessarily be magical. The logistics of this are currently being worked out by the relevant diplomatic and educational bureaucracies.
Portal ball is mostly popular in the eleven northern nations, but is also played across the Bet-Haren Alliance and even in imperial Yavhore, where the game is picking up popularity. Some officials are even talking about bringing it back to continental Aergyre as well, where a number of sports are played but people are always excited to see more, especially with the recent decline of blood sports in the Empire. As yet, portal ball hasn’t really penetrated into Menechit, though most feel that increasing trade and the beginnings of serious political overtures to the west will probably cause this and other cultural exchanges to be inevitable. Most observers predict that portal ball will continue to spread and grow in popularity, and while those observers are admittedly fans of the sport, and so a grain of salt might be applied to their predictions—they’ve held true so far.
From “The Definitive Atlas of the World, Vol. 2: Peoples and Cultures,” by Pascal Tiberius Naoton Quimbell Haeverine anNatalie, published in White Cape in DN 1997.
6 thoughts on “Friday Lore Post: Portal Ball”
A magical sport played mostly or entirely in the nude, with pre-game inspections, extensive touching during the game itself, and post-game congratulations in the winners’ dressing room?
This sport was made for Isaac.
It really was! He’s going to be so upset when he finds out he could have gone to the magic school that had this sport.
And then will immediately start organizing a portal ball team for the academy, of course.
Would a non-magic-user be permitted to play as opener if they had an Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device? (Or some other means of creating a portal without casting spells.)
Yes, in fact! “Is able to open portals” is the only criteria for being an opener, so if someone had a device or artifact that let them do that without magic powers, they would be able to play that position.
Technically sentinel is the only position that genuinely has to be played by a magic user, though it wouldn’t be too hard to modify some rules so that the position could be played by a non-magical person as well.
Calling it now: the climactic “final battle” of HBtUaS will be an intensely homoerotic Portal Ball match.
Your prediction has been registered with the committee.
But also, “intensely homoerotic portal ball match” is a bit redundant, honestly. The homoeroticism is built right into the game! 😀