Limos don’t come to v0dgeball. It’s not that kind of event. V0dgeball takes all comers from the VMworld ranks, many of them walking the few blocks from San Francisco’s Moscone Center through the gentrifying Tenderloin district to do battle at Gene Friend Rec Center at the corner of 6th and Folsom.
For six years, EMC’s Chad Sakac and Fred Nix have organized this Sunday-afternoon dodgeball tournament to kick off VMworld. It’s not an officially sanctioned event. There’s no marketing budget, and the only advertising is through social media.
But for several dozen attendees, v0dgeball is now a VMworld tradition, a chance to trash-talk industry colleagues and compete in a more direct way: by clocking each other with foam balls. This year’s tournament, held Aug. 30, drew 16 teams of 10 people apiece and a few dozen spectators, raising more than $17,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project.
“It’s the ideal sport for a group of passionate nerds. It takes no training and no skill — but it takes intensity,” Sakac says.
Adult dodgeball isn’t just a movie joke. It’s a real sport with real rules and referees — in this case, volunteers drawn from the same tech-industry pool as the players. The competition is friendly but real; all the goofiness of the event can’t stop the occasional playground-style argument with the refs.
The event goes quickly. Matches rarely last more than a few minutes, and the whole tournament has to pack up within two hours — not only because the gym is rented, but also because so many players have to clean up for more genteel pre-VMworld events in the evening.
Each 10-player team must collectively donate $1,000 to Wounded Warrior, but that’s the only restriction. Some teams do recruit ringers — baseball pitchers are particularly effective, I’m told — but most teams are drawn from one company or from a collection of longtime colleagues. Regulars include the VMware Users Group and CloudBunnies, a cross-industry, mixed-gender team that wears bunny ears and once sported matching Hello Kitty T-shirts.
The T-shirts are big, and they’ve become more professional and serious since I first saw v0dgeball in 2012. The Hello Kitty shirts looked very DIY. Now you’ve got slick outfits such as Pure Storage’s orange jerseys or the charcoal tank tops of the Denali Hitmen.
Bring Me the Head of Beaker
V0dgeball began six years ago as a grudge match between Sakac of EMC and Christofer Hoff, then of Cisco, who had gotten into some minor disagreement on Twitter. (Hoff would later lead the security team at Juniper and recently moved to BofA.) Sakac decided they should settle things “like men” — by putting on shorts and playing a kid’s game against each other.
Sakac wasn’t a dodgeball player then. “Oh god, no,” he says. Dodgeball just seemed properly goofy. “The men and women you see out there — there’s some with some athletic talent, but there’s some with no athletic talent, like me,” he says.
Sakac and Nix also happen to be showmen, expert at organizing stunts including rap parodies and a video with the Flying Elvises. (While watching those videos, keep in mind Sakac is EMC’s president of global systems engineering.) They’ve used that experience to expand the v0dgeball field — to 12 teams three years ago and 16 this year.
Word-of-mouth works. Columbia Sportswear had a team last year simply because an employee named Suzanne was a VMworld regular and had heard about the tournament from Sakac. She’s since changed employers to Nike and managed to recruit a team there as well — a nice feather-in-the-cap for Sakac and Nix this year. (Nike got eliminated in the first round by Sakac’s EMC, of all teams.)
VMworld 2016 will be in Las Vegas rather than San Francisco, which complicates things. There won’t be a rentable gym in walking distance. Then again, it’s Vegas, baby, and that might only encourage Sakac and Nix to go big. Chatting after this year’s tourney, Sakac daydreamed about a 32-team slate and an all-afternoon event. It could happen.
For more (and better) v0dgeball photos, check out Jack Poller’s album.