Virtual cross-Canada dart league hits bullseye amid isolating pandemic

Carving out a section of low-hanging basement ceiling was a small price to pay to give Travis Bondy the space he needed to play in the Isolation Dart League.

Players in the Isolation Dart League use different setups to ensure their opponents can virtually see the other player’s board. (Submitted)

It’s a group of 18 friends and family members scattered across Canada who compete in scheduled matches three times a week using only a webcam, darts and a board. Most of them are in Windsor, Ont., but stretch as far away as Kamloops, B.C. and Halifax.

Since many in the league are sports enthusiasts, the lack of play prompted the creation of May Mania. It’s their own darts version of the college basketball phenomenon March Madness, cancelled due to COVID-19.

“Once the isolation hit and the realization was that we probably weren’t going to play rec sports for the next who knows how long, it made sense for this to fill the void,” said Travis from his Windsor home. “I mean it’s pretty competitive too.”

“I legit get nervous before matches,” said cousin Ryne Bondy, who lives in Montreal and throws darts in his kitchen.

Friends and family across Canada play darts virtually in a competitive league that’s also a way to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. 1:19

It has given us all something to smile about in this stressful time.– Ryne Bondy, who plays darts from his kitchen in Montreal

But it’s about much more than fierce competition and nailing a bullseye. The league has turned out to be a way for the players to stay connected during this time of isolation. Once the match ends, video group chats often carry on for hours afterward.

“When this whole thing first started, a month ago, it was tough finding positives in the middle of a pandemic,” said Travis, who’s also the league’s vice president of legal and human resources. 

“I think the social aspect of this and bringing people together … I’ve seen [Ryan] more in the last month than I’ve seen him in the last 10 years.”

Ryne Bondy is the president and commissioner of the Isolation Dart League from his home in Montreal. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Prior to the pandemic, the cousins would only play darts in-person during the holidays or over the summer on a few occasions. Now when they have 20 minutes to kill, they connect on the computer to play a few rounds.

“It has given us all something to smile about in this stressful time,” said Ryne, who serves as the league’s president, commissioner and CEO.

If I was going to take this serious, the ceiling had to go.– Travis Bondy, the league’s VP of legal and human resources

There’s a board of directors to govern play and even a constitution that spells out the honour system.

Spectators watch their friends and family battle it out during a match of darts. (Submitted)

“While frowned upon, you may request your opponent to verify their score by bringing their device closer to the board for a closer angle if you feel they are not being honest,” the document reads.

They play a version of darts called TacTics, where the goal is to hit the numbers 10 to 20 and bullseye three times before your opponent. Player rankings and stats are all a part of the dynamic as well.

Each player’s screen is divided in two sections so they can see their opponent’s board via video, and have access to a spreadsheet that’s updated as the darts hit the board.

“I was sceptical about the technology of it, what it would be like to play darts virtually online, but it’s very similar to the real thing,” said Jeff Bassett, who works for a plumbing wholesale company in Kamloops, B.C.

“I think it’s awesome, especially in times like these where we’re craving some sort of connection as well as some sort of athletic-quasi-competitive void that needs to be filled,” he said.

Players in the Isolation Dart League use laptop computers as a way to connect with friends and family while playing darts. (Submitted)

Since Travis’ throw consists of a lighter lob, that’s why he removed a chunk of his basement ceiling.

“I was having trouble hitting a double 20, that’s the top number, without the ceiling coming into play. So I knew right away it had to be scrapped,” said Travis. 

“If I was going to take this serious, the ceiling had to go,” he said, whose fiancee “was surprisingly on board with it.”

It’s almost like it’s one big joke but everyone’s taking the joke super serious.– Travis Bondy

The winner gets bragging rights and a trophy, whoever nails the most bullseyes snags a bottle of tequila and the person who tops the May Mania bracket gets a six pack of beer.

The Isolation Dart League even has its own Instagram page where player profiles and highlight videos are posted.

Friends and family watch the virtual Isolation Dart League on a big-screen TV during the May Mania playoffs. (Submitted)

“Battle of the Uncles” and quirky regional bracket names such as “DARTmouth Nova Scotia,” “IstanBULL” and “Double In Irelnand” add a bit of levity to the league.

“It’s almost like it’s one big joke but everyone’s taking the joke super serious,” said Travis.

Playoffs are underway, and the big finale is Thursday.

The Isolation Dart League created May Mania, since the college basketball March Madness was cancelled due to COVID-19. (Submitted)

Even after these “weird times,” Ryne hopes this virtual dart league will continue in the winter when it’s more difficult to play recreational sports. He said it’s also a way for family and friends to stay connected in ways they would have likely not experienced if it weren’t for the COVID-19 pandemic.

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