Nothing quite sums up the culture of the Imperial Combine like the most popular sport of the age: maulball.
First seen in List of the Dead, maulball is a full contact sport in which players attempt to acquire and maintain control of a ball in order to acquire points.
The sport is insanely popular across the entire reach of Imperial space. This is partly due to the highly competitive league structure, and partly due to the extreme violence which can occur during matches. Social commentators throughout the Imperial Combine have long speculated that the boisterous, aggressive nature of maulball allows the citizens of the empire to 'blow off steam', vicariously and without personal risk.
A maulball match can include between three and seven players, depending on the league and division. In local divisions, teams usually comprise players from a single city or district. In the divisions of the major and pro leagues, teams usually comprise players who represent their planet or star system.
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All players in a match are opponents, and each player represents their whole team in that specific match. It is up to each team's coach to decide which member of the team will play in any given match; a decision which has its own politics, its own tactics, and affects later matches in the same league tournament.
Players start a match by waiting for the ball to be put into play. The ball is fired straight up into the arena by an air cannon situated in a central hopper. Players begin the match in their start positions, arranged around this hopper in a large ring.
Once the ball is fired into play, the main objective of the players is to gain control of it — catching it before it hits the ground will gain a points bonus and multiply any subsequent points earned while in custody of the ball.
"Custody" is not simply a matter of holding the ball — the player must be able to keep their thumb inserted into an indentation in the ball's surface. This will cause the ball to glow in the team's colour, showing clearly to players and spectators alike that custody is in effect. A risk that players must manage is that during violent tussles for control of the ball, there is a real danger that their thumb may be broken if they do not relinquish custody at the right moment.
Points can be scored by returning the ball to the hopper — whereupon it is fired back into play, and the game resumes — or keeping custody of the ball while inside a scoring zone. If this all sounds easy, bear in mind that three factors frustrate the players' efforts: players must stand their ground while they have custody of the ball, the ball can only be carried across the arena floor inside the central goal zone, and in terms of offence and defence pretty much anything goes.
There are numerous tactics and strategies which can be employed by experienced and savvy players in order to maintain control of the ball for as long as possible, gain perfect deliveries, and rack up points in scoring zones.
Different leagues have different rules, and a tournament may include further rule variations to make things interesting for the invested parties. The following rules are common to all maulball matches.