At 1.45pm on a rainy Sunday afternoon, there are about 10 people on Cages’ soccer field practicing their shot. They load up their black recurve bows with white and orange foam-tipped arrows, turn to the side with arms straight, pull back, and release. Arrows scatter. A couple hit their intended target halfway across the astroturf.
In fifteen minutes, the games begin.
What are the Hungover Games?
Essentially dodgeball, but with bows and arrows instead of rubber balls. The game itself isn’t new to Shanghai, ASAS has been offering ‘Archery Battle’ as a recreational sport for some time. But about 7 weeks ago, Tim Pope, lover of efficiency and host of ‘Money Talks’ on ICS, began organizing players who wanted consistent games in a central location. He got his own equipment, rented a space at Cages, and 'The Hungover Games' were born.
Since the games began in early July, their WeChat group has grown from about 75 members to 272 and counting. There's a weekly game on Tuesday nights and two on Sunday. Sign-ups are posted a week in advance and fill up within minutes.
Who Are These People?
The group is primarily foreigners from all over (Australia and Italy to name a few). Players are mostly the young professional type in their twenties and early thirties, however Tim reports there are a few regulars in their mid to late forties. There are 28 players at my Sunday game. 6 are women. 5 of them are playing for the first time. There are always new people, but there's definitely a core of players who turn up consistently.
Overall it's an inclusive environment with a healthy amount of mixing and mingling, newbies need not be intimidated (but fair warning, the field does smell like man-sweat).
Talkin’ Bout Practice
“Don’t be afraid to let the arrow get real close to your face.” Tim demonstrates how to hold the bow, hitting the desired target on his first try. He insists that almost never happens.
Meanwhile, a guy in a blue athletic shirt and gym shorts recounts a Hungover Game anecdote to one of the new girls like he's recounting a battle. From the start, it’s not just Tim that helps out, a few regulars seek out new players to offer advice, correct form, and share war stories. With their aid and about 10 minutes of practice, it doesn’t seem so hard to hit the targets anymore. There're Katniss Everdeens left and right. But this isn’t the game, we're talkin' 'bout practice, man.
(That’s a Hunger Games reference right next to an Allen Iverson reference.)
The Rules Are Simple
At 2:05pm Tim motions for everyone to lower their bows. A semi-circle forms around him and he raises his voice to a level 5: “Okay, I'm gonna go over the basics for those of you who are new.” Was that a Starship Troopers reference?
If you, or your bow, get hit with an arrow—you’re out. If you catch an arrow, the person who shot it is out, and a person from your team is back in. There’s a safe zone in the middle of the field, but this is more a space for collecting arrows, you can’t hang out here. Competing teams start on opposite sides of the field, and when the ref says go the game begins and you must grab a bow with two arrows from the safe zone. The game is won when either all opposing players are out or all five targets on the opposite side have been knocked down.
Shall We Begin?
Before breaking off to play, Tim splits the group into 4 teams of 7 and calls for a quick practice round. There's a nervous-excited energy in the air that reminds me of middle school gym class. Tim and a few others set up the field placing all the bows and arrows in the safe zone. These bows are specifically designed for the sport; they have a 20 pound draw which according to Tim means, “If you get hit it’s going to sting, but you won’t get anything more than a bruise.”
Still, the stakes seem high.
With a "Go!" it's off to the races. 14 people sprint at each other with everything they've got, grab their bows, then quickly backpeddle. The game starts off a little slow with a lot of crouching, but quickly gains momentum. There's running, dodging, shooting, and diving. "Come on!" and "Good shot!" and "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" comes from mostly supportive spectators. And this is just the practice round. The game's over after one team loses its last player. It all took about 7 intense minutes.
Happy Hungover Games
It's two hours of these short gritty games, which are entertaining even from the sidelines. In between, players drink beer, small talk, and watch from behind the glass.
The games themselves aren't quite as intimidating as they look. Some players are basically futuristic-medieval warriors; but each team is mixed fairly, so no team really dominates. At one point an anonymous player (definitely wasn't me) held their bow upside down for half a game and was only teased mildly. So skill levels do vary and you shouldn't worry about running into a skill-wall.
"This pretty much double my workload," Tim admits after the games are over. "But I've met a bunch of good people and it's one of the only team sports that's really fun even if you lose."
Volunteer as Tribute
The game costs 90rmb for two hours of play and a beer. The cost covers the court rental, maintaining equipment, and insurance through Cages (because, you know, you’re getting shot at with arrows). Games are Tuesday night from 8-10pm and Sunday from 2-4pm and 5.30-7.30pm. Sign ups are posted in the Hungover Games group chat, which you'll be invited to after you follow the official wechat: hungovergamescn.