Hasbro has found another intriguing way to take back possession of its Nerf brand — today, it’s launching what it calls Nerf’s “first-ever official sport,” a game called Nerfball. And it comes with its own high-tech foam to keep track of the score.
On September 22nd, Hasbro recruited 12 popular college athletes to play the first exhibition match in Florida, outfitting each of them with a “suit” that contains smart foam pads.
Originally designed by Utah’s XO-Nano to measure football helmet impacts, the pads now appear to be part of lightweight jerseys that detect dart hits while promising to filter out every other kind of motion. Nerf general manager Adam Kleinman tells The Verge that running, falling, breathing, and even accidentally bumping the suit with a blaster are all ignored — while a successful dart hit makes your suit light up red, sending you back to respawn, and wirelessly scoring a point for the opposing team.
And while Hasbro’s not sure the final consumer product might have quite the same features because of price point — “we’re still finalizing what this will look like at home” — Kleinman tells The Verge he genuinely expects to bring hit detection gear to consumers in late 2024 or perhaps early 2025.
Here are some old videos from XO-Nano showing its foam impact detection in action:
It’s a little weird that Nerf isn’t visibly showing the tech in action in its videos today, but I guarantee you: every Nerf club in the world is now wondering whether this gear can reliably keep score and take their games to the next level, Nerfball or not.
That said, the official Nerfball sounds like it could actually be a blast, with players armed with blasters trying to get a ball through a hoop by nearly any means necessary. It’s been in development since 2019, and the result sounds like a wild mix of football, basketball, soccer, and the Harry Potter sport of Quidditch — both because of its sideways hoop goal and how its players use projectiles to defend their scorer.
I’ll share the whole rulebook at the bottom of this story, but the basics are these:
- Two teams, 5v5 by default, with two additional players ready to substitute
- One blaster per player, 60 darts per player at a time, eye protection required
- Six points for putting a ball through the hoop
- One point for tagging out a player with a dart
- Ball starts in the center, players start at respawn, both reset after every ball score
- Players respawn behind their goals — but have to walk around a large barrier to reenter play
- The field is filled with small barriers, but you can’t camp behind them with the ball — it has to move every 25 seconds
- No scrounging spent darts off the field
- The most points wins after four four-minute quarters
That’s largely it! You can kick the ball, throw it, carry it, pass it, you name it — the inflatable Nerfball is designed for all of that, with big grooves so you can easily hold and fling it one-handed. “We wanted a ball that was built for having a blaster in your hand,” says Kleinman.
Originally, it wasn’t clear that Nerf’s official sport would include a ball at all. The company playtested all sorts of games, including Capture the Flag and other popular blastersport modes. Hasbro decided that traditional Nerf, airsoft, and paintball had one thing in common: “It’s really hard to follow the action.” Kleinman argues that the ball “gives you a focal point,” one that forces players to adapt their strategy on the fly and makes it exciting for viewers to watch.
Nerfball also has no restriction on how hard blasters can hit or how fast they shoot — while Hasbro’s exhibition match exclusively used the new 150fps Nerf Pro Stryfe X, every official Nerf product can work, and Kleinman hints that Nerf also has more competition-grade blasters on the way. I’d be excited to see how game dynamics change with some of the accurate long-range or ridiculous rate-of-fire blasters the Nerf community has developed, as it could make different players into different threats on the field.
But incredibly, Kleinman would not promise Hasbro will refrain from using the hit detection technology to exclude blasters and darts that aren’t Nerf-branded. I gave him layup after layup question in hopes of heading off any DRM dart fears, but he simply would not rule it out.
“All you need to tell me is that Nerf will not intentionally make its vests not work with the competition,” I eventually said. His reply: “We will intentionally make it work with our entire ecosystem and we recommend that everyone use Nerf blasters with their Nerf vests.”
I figure it would be tough for a vest to differentiate between a one-gram Nerf dart shot out of a Nerf blaster and a one-gram Worker dart shot out of a Dart Zone blaster at the same velocity — but based on what I’ve seen on XO-Nano’s YouTube page, Hasbro could easily set its gear to not accept hits from stronger blasters. The good news is you won’t have to buy any special “smart darts.” Normal Nerf darts will work.
If you live in the right place, you may not have to buy any gear at all. Hasbro plans to bring the whole Nerfball experience to its franchised Nerf action parks, starting with the Nerf Action Xperience in New Jersey next year. (The company currently has three locations, including ones in Singapore, Brazil, and the UK, with New Jersey and Tennessee on the way.)
The one thing that Hasbro hasn’t convinced me of yet, not even a little bit, is that it’s actually building a true sport out of this game.
While it recruited quite a roster of notable college athletes for a single exhibition match — Isaiah Elohim, Jada Williams, Jessica Gardner, Kiyan Anthony, Sofia Chepenik, Trace Young, Dontavious Hill, Hannah White, Lyric Swann, Maya Brady, Meechie Johnson, and Mitchell Pehlke, with Donald Driver and the Nerf community’s Luke “Out of Darts” Goodman as team captains — there’s no commitment beyond that yet. No sponsored teams, no leagues, no scheduled matches, no TV show to discuss yet.
“We’re not currently in the process of shopping it [around to TV networks]; we wanted to launch this and really have it connect with our audience first,” says Kleinman.
Even then, he says that Hasbro wants to own any content to start and distribute it far and wide. “We didn’t build this so it could be on national television, but as a great entertainment sport that would be suitable for viewing on any screen,” he says.
Hasbro will make an edited version of the exhibition match available to watch at nerfball.hasbro.com (we’re asking if you can watch the whole thing) and is collecting email signups for “additional details on how fans can play at home” at hasbropulse.com/nerfball.