Who Is The Backyard League Gaming Baseball For?

  • The Backyard League baseball is a fun way to stay engaged with the sport when off the field
  • The gaming baseball is a great way to develop core baseball skills
  • The Backyard League ball has online features for leaderboards and finding new challenges
The Backyard League Gaming Baseball is a cool device, but it could use a bit of a tune up with its app support

According to a recent study by The Aspen Institute, a majority of children quit organized sports by age 11. The reason many of those kids are quitting is because they say playing just isn't as fun. Playfinity saw this trend as an opportunity to help keep kids connected to sports in a fun way and have set their sights on baseball with the Backyard League Gaming Baseball. This device not only helps develop core baseball skills, it also has a companion app to turn a game of catch into something a little more engaging.

Looks Like A Ball, Feels Kind Of Like A Ball

There are two main components to the Backyard League Gaming Baseball, the ball itself and the app. We'll focus on the ball first, which does a great job of looking like an ordinary baseball. There are, of course, a few key differences between the Backyard League ball and a standard baseball, the most obvious being the Backyard League baseball is filled with electronics.

The Backyard League ball looks like a real baseball, but feels just a bit off

While the Backyard League baseball is the same size and weight as a standard baseball, it does feel a bit different. The texture on the Backyard League baseball is just a bit off, ignoring the obvious differences like the pressable button and large plate that can be removed to access the battery. The "stitches" on the outside of the Backyard League baseball also feel a bit more pronounced than the ones on a standard baseball, which may come in handy for newer pitchers to get a little more grip on their throws.

One hilarious difference between the Backyard League baseball and a standard baseball is only noticeable when the ball has been thrown with enough force. If thrown hard enough, the Backyard League baseball's screw hole will create a whistling sound similar to a NERF football. I'm not sure if this was an intended feature or not, but it's certainly something that wouldn't be found on a regular baseball.

A look at the plate covering the battery compartment

As far as actual throwing and catching is concerned, the Backyard League baseball is virtually indistinguishable from a standard baseball. The size and weight are really what matters most here, and the Backyard League ball has managed to replicate both perfectly. Even better, the Backyard League ball has been weighted appropriately in relation to its internal electronics, so one side isn't heavier than the other.

The action button is used mainly to start the countdown timer for games

The one area where the Backyard League baseball cannot compare is batting practice. The Backyard League ball was not designed to be hit with a bat, meaning it can really only be used to play catch. It's a bit of a bummer that the Backyard League ball is limited, but makes sense given the level of protection that would be required to keep all the electronics safe.

Backyard League App Highs

The Backyard League app, overall, is easy to use and pretty fun to play around with. It is only available in beta right now on iOS, but will be released to the public on September 17. Getting the app up and running took seconds and pairing the ball to the app only required pressing the big button on the ball once.

The main Backyard League menu

I also like how the Backyard League app goes straight into a game first, before even getting to the main menu. This really helps sell the idea that this thing is made for fun. After the first game ends, the rest of the app opens up. This includes five different games, the ability to make and complete challenges, leaderboards and more.

The games are all fairly basic, but highlight different areas of baseball. Fast Throw is a 60 second race to see how many throws back and forth can be completed, but instead of a simple counter, the app generates a score based around the speed of the throws, number of throws, number of drops and more.

Longer and Longer is a game where players must take steps backward after every throw. This one isn't time-based, as players keep going until dropping the ball or making a throw that was shorter than the previous one three times. Higher and Higher is the only single-player game on the list, and is the same idea as Longer and Longer, but throwing into the air instead of to a partner.

A look at the rules for Fast Throw

The most interesting game is Pop Fly, where one player throws the ball high into the air for the second player to catch. This second player then throws the ball back at a regular height. The score is calculated based on the height difference between the two throws. Unfortunately, the fifth game, Bullseye, wasn't working at the time of the review. As the name suggests, Bullseye focuses on accurate throws.

Players can also create, share and complete challenges. These include making a certain number of throws a day, throwing for heights and distances, and more. Creating a challenge is easy enough, and it's cool to see all of the different challenges that others have created as well.

The challenge creation screen on the Backyard League app

Concerned parents can rest easy with the Backyard League app, as despite all the online features there aren't really any ways to communicate with other users. People who create challenges can leave little pre-selected messages, but that's it. Other users can only see usernames, making the Backyard League app secure.

Backyard League App Lows

The Backyard League app has a number of wrinkles to iron out. Again, it should be noted that the app is still in beta and hasn't been officially released yet, so many of these issues could be gone by the time the app is widely available. Additionally, the app can always be updated in the future with new features or improvements.

That said, the biggest issue I have is that there has been no mention of an Android version at all for Backyard League. I understand with development that it is much easier to make an app that runs on iOS first before making an Android version, but still, even confirmation that one is in the works would be nice to see.

Get ready to watch the instruction video again and again

Of the five games included in the app at launch, the fifth game, Bullseye, didn't work at all. When selected, nothing happened. I'll chalk this one up to beta hiccups. However, when starting any of the games, an intro instructional video played. This was great the first time, but really got old every time after that. There needs to be some kind of skip button, or even better, a way to turn those off entirely.

While I appreciate the focus on games, it also seems like the app is missing some basic features. For example, there isn't a basic "speed gun" feature. This seems like a big miss, as almost immediately after starting to use the Backyard League ball, my friends and I were wondering who could throw the fastest. I highly doubt we're the only ones who had this thought. Putting in a few video tutorials for lessons on throwing specific pitches or other baseball skills would be pretty cool as well.

A look at the leaderboards on the Backyard League app

The app has a range of audio support, from sound effects when the Backyard League ball has been thrown to music that plays during games. One feature that has been touted is a "commentary" track that offers support to let players know how they are doing during a game. This is awesome when players are performing well, as the app cheers you on and encourages you to keep going. However, if players aren't playing well in a round the near constant calls to play better get annoying quickly and add unnecessary pressure.

This one is maybe a little petty, but the Backyard League ball and app register a bobbled catch as a drop. When games rely on not dropping catches, having what is technically a catch (and often one that is more involved than a by-the-books catch) be registered as a drop can be a little deflating. I'm sure there are a whole host of technical reasons why differentiating between a bobbled catch and a drop is very challenging, but maybe something can be worked out.

Final Thoughts

In a world dominated by screen time, it's awesome to see a product that takes that screen and puts it to use with outdoor physical activity. The Backyard League Gaming Baseball is such a neat idea and something I can see kids really enjoying as they fight for a space on the leaderboards or try to create near-impossible challenges.

I do wish the app experience was a little smoother and think there are a few missing features, but I do recognize that it is still in development and more updates should be on the way. Even with the hiccups, the Backyard League app and baseball still worked together well and turned an afternoon of catch into something a little more fun.

The Backyard League Gaming Baseball is available right now on the official Backyard League website.