Inside the wild world of online pig racing

Inside the wild world of online pig racing

The League of Pigs released its first video in 2020 and has since amassed almost 100,000 subscribers and millions of views, but the creator remains elusive.

“Tonight, we dance, we drink tequila and we celebrate the glory of Pepper Sanchez for she is our CHAMPION!”

Pepper’s victory is unprecedented. Due to her small stature she’s often fallen behind her peers when it comes to hurdles, speed, and sheer power, but after three seasons and intense training, this underdog, well, underpig, has made it to the top. And her fans are exultant.

”I cheered out loud at that last race. This is amazing,” crows a fan, awestruck. It’s a moment considered, by many, to be one of the most memorable of the sport’s history to date. “This was the most intense moment in my life,” another supporter's comments, echoing the sentiments of thousands as this electric race comes to an end—the last of the season, in fact. It’s been a close one, full of ups and downs, twists and turns, fights, intimidation tactics and unexpected challenges, but a winner has at last emerged. Pepper Sanchez, dubbed the ‘queen of sprints’, has won her first championship. Those watching go wild.

This is the League of Pigs, an online pig racing championship where competitors jump through hoops, sometimes literally, to be recognised as the best athletes of their generation. The League released its first video in December 2020. Nine seasons and 113 videos later, the channel has reached 92,600 subscribers and amassed more than 3,238,790 views. Despite this, the league remains elusive—hidden almost. When Googled, results quickly give way to agricultural websites providing livestock advice and historical information about the Bay of Pigs. Much of the world is ignorant of a sport that has drawn global acclaim and a growing base of hardcore fans.

This lack of information is, in part, by design. It’s difficult to establish any context around the League; no human presence is ever seen on screen besides a camera operator’s shadow, and the location of the races is narrowed down only to “the heart of England”. The focus is firmly on the nail-biting races, rather than anything as mundane as how or why they’re taking place.

Attempts to reach the League’s creator and learn more tend to be futile. Avenues of communication quickly reach dead ends, increasingly frantic messages met only with silence. Who is this pig wrangler, and what made them dedicate so much time and energy to this? It’s on Discord that I finally make contact, thanks to a fairly active server run by dedicated fans.

My brief optimism was quickly dashed as the anonymous figure politely declined to comment on how the project came to be or how it operates. They want to keep some mystery around the show, they explained, with questions as vague as “what are your plans for the League’s future?” more probing than they’re ready to answer.

Fans on the server, on the other hand, are more than eager to chat about the League, its racers, and why it’s been such a hit. “Pigs running on their own would get very old over the seasons,” says Discord member Possumylly, a Finnish teen who found the League through another YouTuber’s recommendations. “But once you watch a couple of episodes, you'll start watching just to learn more of the racers.”

The pigs are far less secretive than their owner, with distinct and well-built personalities. We know their names, their stories, their likes and their dislikes, through the commentator’s narrative as he follows them around during downtime between races and via email-supplied biographies of each racer.

In total, five pigs compete in the league. On home turf is Ginger Hamilton, while Hoshi Oinku hails from a small coastal town in Japan. Bear Trotsky, the Russian pig, is a stubborn character who plays by her own rules, performing inconsistently across championships and frequently infuriating the commentator and fans alike with her tendency to stroll over the finish line. “Do you think this is some kind of kiddy race bear???” one supporter asks during a video premiere. “We have to win!!”

From Mexico is the aforementioned Pepper Sanchez, a feisty pig with perhaps the most variable performances across the league. Attention is frequently drawn to her diminutive size and cuteness—although the commentator, of course, remains ostensibly impartial to proceedings. Pepper is a fan favourite, known for being the ‘underpig’ of the competition. “It was really exciting to see such a small racer defeat larger, more aggressive competitors” says Dakota, a 31-year-old sign language interpreter. “I reside on the U.S. Mexico border, so I feel a bit of connection to both Piggy Smalls and Pepper.”

Season One saw a triumphant win for the aforementioned Smalls, the “big American” whose notably larger size allows him to speed past the competition by sheer force. Season Two, and further growth, saw the introduction of a handicap for the largest competitor—alongside a shift in his attitude. He became aggressive towards other pigs, overly confident from his initial win and, we were told, started getting into scraps with the League itself. He’s certainly humbled by Season Three, with Pepper’s win showing that a pig’s skill is not based on size alone.

From an outside perspective it’s difficult to understand how genuinely tense the competition gets. “I’ve seen World Cup finales, UFC & Boxing championship fights, even went to games at the 2012 Olympics. Nothing comes close to how tense these piggies got me,” one viewer comments.. Hyperbolic? Yes, but there’s also some truth in it—the suspense of these races takes hold surprisingly quickly, and before long your heart is pounding as you wait for instant replay to determine a close win.

Narratives and rivalries in the League are just as dramatic as those in human-based sports. As the competition gets tough in the Season Six finals, Pepper and Bear have a spat and Hoshi intervenes. The incident is repeated in slow motion, with the commentator exclaiming “you can forget for a second that you’re in an English paddock! It’s more like two big cats fighting on the African Savannah!” David Attenborough documentaries have nothing on this level of drama.

Among fans, loyalties are strong. “I think the fan culture gets it,” Dakota comments over Discord one evening as we discuss how the League has found such success. “The producer has a combination of self-seriousness, genuine competitiveness, and absolute goofy tongue-in-cheek humour, and the fans immediately understood.” People are more than ready to lean into the absurdity of the channel, engaging with it as they would with any other sport.

“The League has a high percentage of hardcore fans,” Possumylly adds, something epitomised best, perhaps, in the custom-made felted Pepper commissioned by one League enthusiast. When the project was shared on the Discord channel, another member responded with a crochet Pepper they’d made earlier in the year. Whether there’s any resentfulness from the other pigs over her popularity is unknown.

Any form of entertainment to do with animals inevitably raises questions about wellbeing and care. In the League, we are reassured that the pigs are well cared for through the commentator’s explanations of their behaviour and responses to viewer queries. We’re told that their avid love of nettles is harmless to them (“they have thick hides, and they don’t feel things the way humans do!”), and it’s clear that they have considerable opportunity to roam through gardens, fields and woodland. There are also several moments when the commentator makes time to gently educate the viewer on the Kunekune pigs, the breed’s heritage, their habits and what it takes to look after them.

Among the jokes and celebrations, the spectacle and intrigue, there’s real heart behind the League. “It’s really unique from most other social media content because it’s so wholesome,” says the Discord server’s admin, who asks to remain anonymous.

While it may be notably British in style and have a relatively small fanbase, the League’s impact reaches far and wide. A year ago, ‘Water Race Madness’ received a comment: “Thank you so much! You are giving joy to people all over the world. I`m from Ukraine. The League helps me and my family not to give in to despair.”

It’s clear that the League’s creator, whoever they may be, has created a community around the sport, and when something brings people genuine joy perhaps it’s better not to question all the hows and whys. Watching five pigs hurtle down tracks, dodge sprinklers and jump over hedges as if they’re in the Grand National won’t cure all the ills of the world, but it it does provide a welcome distraction and suggest that maybe, just maybe, things aren’t all bad.

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