Eric Prum's friends and family think he's crazy. The thrill-seeking 25-year-old is one of the co-founders of Ultimate Tazer Ball, a sport so far outside the traditional scope of athletics that he goes out of his way to mention its very existence is not a publicity stunt or a practical joke. To be fair, a game where athletes have free reign to use 300,000-volt stun guns on each other is going to illicit some equally stunned reactions.
Prum gets it. And watching how his sport has gone from virtually unknown to viral talking point this week, he can't help but smile.
"It's a calculated risk," he said of the bold move to incorporate stun guns into an athletic contest. "[The other founders] talked about it a lot and I thought to myself, 'back when I was in college, if I saw something on TV like this, would I turn away?'
"The answer is no, I'd definitely watch and probably get my roommate to check it out, too."
The game evolved from a combination of extreme sports, a process that did not happen overnight. Leif Kellenberger, Erik Wunsch and Prum have been experimenting with the league in its current form for about a year. All paintball enthusiasts, the trio took the idea from joke to reality. Recently, promotional videos showing a practice demo became widely circulated on the Internet, sparking both interest and outrage.
Skeptics categorized the footage as some kind of hoax. But the co-founder could not be more adament that this is, in fact, real — and the product of a lot of hard work.
"We played around with a million types of gameplay," Prum says. "We wanted to find a full-contact, competitive ball sport that was safe, but also unexpected. What we've created is a game that the guys love to play and they can be competitive at that is really entertaining to watch on a bunch of different levels."
The rules are somewhat simple. Four players on each team try to net a goal using an oversized soccer ball while racing around a hockey rink-sized technical area. Gameplay resembles a blending of football, rugby and soccer. Based on the videos, the ball is usually advanced by either picking it up and carrying it or passing it to a teammate. Only one person at a time is allowed to tase the player in possession of the ball. Under the rules, the shock must be administered between the shoulders and waist and must be a split-second in duration.
Or, if you're a visual learner:
The gigantic ball keeps scoring at a premium. It also serves another violence-reducing purpose.
"The reason that it's so big is not because we had some comedic value in mind, it's because you can't offensively tase," Prum explains. "Even the biggest guys in our league — there's two or three of them that are 6'4" — can't possibly grab around it and tase offensively. It really adds another element to the game."
Prum insists that safety is a top priority. The guns used are less powerful than a police-grade Taser and are specially modified so they don't have spikes on the end of their discharge. Players wear goggles and have a full understanding of exactly what they're getting into.
"We don't recommend anyone play Tazer Ball," Prum says. "It's the first thing in the video. It's extremely dangerous. Just because you see something violent on television, doesn't mean you should commit violent acts."
While there's more to the sport than electroshock defense, there's no getting around the fact that it's the main course.
So, what does it feel like to be on the receiving end of one of those bad boys?
"It's a very interesting feeling," Prum said. "It's a huge current stinging you like a giant rubber band, pinching you extremely hard for a short burst."
He should know. By his own estimation, he's been stunned hundreds of times.
"It doesn't stay with you long," he says in a reassuring tone.
Currently, the Ultimate Tazer Ball league has four professional teams. There has yet to be an official game, but Philadelphia, San Diego, Los Angeles and Toronto serve as the charter franchises. Prum describes most of the people attempting to fill the rosters of these squads as ardent thrill-seekers like himself.
The Canadian-based team faces a unique challenge, because the guns used in competition are considered illegal weapons North of the border. Using them during practice, then, is out of the question. Their practices are more cardiovascular-centric — and far less painful.
Prum envisions expansion, but admits he doesn't know what the future holds for his creation. A match is scheduled for early March in Bangkok, Thailand, and the league is efforting a Mexico City event in May.
Judging by the interest generated over the past few days, perhaps Prum is on the cusp of something revolutionary. Remember, people thought MMA was too extreme for mainstream acceptance.
So maybe, just maybe, he's not so crazy at all.