Inside Pitch Magazine, November/December 2022

The Hot Corner: Blending Virtual Baseball with Actual Baseball

By Adam Revelette

Screenshot of Playfinity Backyard Gaming app on phone Playfinity set out on a mission five years ago to use technology in a positive way to inspire kids to be more active and spend more time outdoors, quickly realizing that team sports like baseball represented the most important arenas, where children learn basic skills and spend time outdoors. The company quickly realized that can prove to be a lifelong affair. 

Today, all team sports are under pressure facing increasing dropout rates because quite simply, it’s not that fun. COVID, technology and other factors have kept more kids indoors without the opportunity to learn the basic skills required to excel athletically. After all, the endorphins are just a click away from an iPad or a cell phone. By combining gaming technology with physical activity, Playfinity creates fun, engaging games inspired by the sports that kids and parents love, and is passionate about continuing to get kids back outside and bring families and communities together. 

Playfinity’s first product, which was the size of a softball, quickly brought baseball parents and coaches out of the woodwork, imploring that the product was quite similar to actual in-game competition, and that it could be used for fun and during team and individual practices. They used the softball for “gamified” warm-up exercises, but the kids wanted to continue with the games for a full hour until their parents were picking them up.

“We saw that we were on to something,” said Jarle Boe, CEO and co-founder of Playfinity. Boe helps to head up a team that has decades of experience building solutions for global companies like LEGO and Texas Instruments, managing demanding clients such as the postal system and the Norwegian national bank. Their shared mission and nearly a half-decade of elbow grease resulted in the product launch in the Scandinavian market. Now Playfinity is bringing its show on the road. 

“We started working with coaches to turn baseball exercises into engaging games, and we launched the Gaming Baseball in 2021. It turned into an immediate hit with both parents and coaches. We are particularly pleased to get feedback that it suits kids of all ages. We designed the product to fit 6-14 year olds, but we are getting feedback from teenagers who love playing with friends because of the competitive games. Parents are using Backyard League to teach basic throw and catch skills to children as young as six-years old, who love it because of the sound effects.”

The Gaming Baseball has the size, weight, and feel of a real baseball, and includes a sensor embedded inside the ball that communicates via Bluetooth with the Backyard League app on iOS or Android phones or tablets. The “games” are baseball training exercises in disguise—a pop fly game that tracks how high the ball goes, whether it was caught, transfer time from glove into the hand, and consecutive catches. Parents and coaches who have become frustrated with their youth team’s “flyball communication” can use the ball to train the necessary skills in an engaging, entertaining and highly productive manner that includes competition to create pressure and the good ole “reset” button to minimize the consequences. Another favorite is the "Freeze Ball" game, where the players are trained for throwing and catching consistently. 

Regardless of the game you choose, all of the exercises are created to support the development of players between the ages of 6-14. The players get rewarded by increasing the distance and throwing the ball harder, thus making the games challenging for more experienced players.
“For most skill exercises, we typically see kids improve 30-35 percent on the measurable data after repeating the games 10 times,” said Boe. “Playfinity’s goal is to create a more active future of play for kids.” 

How it Works

The app comes with a simple home screen where you’ll access the Game List to see all of your options. Challenge other players’ top scores, check out your rewards and achievements, and see where you fall in the rankings. The home screen is where you can also update your profile, manage your Gaming Baseball, and more.

The Game List on the Backyard League app home screen will take you right to action, and is accompanied by a “How it Works” button for a detailed video overview of each contest. Playing each game one time unlocks League Mode, where you can compete against people around the world! In every game, try to beat your best score or an opponent’s score. Each game provides live commentary that lets you know how you’re doing, and friends can watch your performance and cheer you on as you battle for the lead. 

Signs of Improvement

Playfinity’s app allows users to view their progress by comparing their scores from earlier that day, last week, last month, last year or even previous seasons. Players can view stats for any game and play against your best score to get a new personal best. Playing against your own score is a great way to have fun, challenge yourself, and get better. You can also toggle from personal scores to the rank list leaderboards, where you can pick an opponent and see if you can beat that score. Your public profile can be seen by all other players and any player can follow you.

The Rundown

Playfinity does not require nor does it collect personal data on its players. It does not require a subscription and there are no attached/extra costs or in-app purchases. And while players can connect with anyone else who uses the product, there is no open communication between the players within the app. 

The product’s games include fast throw, ground ball, pop fly, long ball, bullseye, and classic mode, and its players are rated on catching ability, transfer and throwing speed and throw height. The ball is ASTM, FCC, and CE certified as well as child safety certified. It’s a durable product that comes with a 12-month warranty option, just in case. 

The Backyard League app is available for free at the Apple App Store or Google Play. Open it up and follow simple instructions to connect the ball. The Gaming Baseball uses Bluetooth to connect to the phone, so simply launch the app, push the button to connect and play ball!

“It’s a movement centered around outdoor gaming and bringing play back to sports,” Boe concludes. “Remember how fun it was to be outside playing ball on a warm summer night? At the core of all sports is play. We want kids to feel that joy of playing while they improve their baseball skills.”

For more information, visit the website, follow them on Instagram and Facebook or contact [email protected].

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