How TikTok, COVID-19, ESPN and mad bag skills turned two Tigers into cornhole kings
HE’S WATCHED IT, heck, maybe 10 times now? Maybe 100? Who knows? It’s hard to keep track when people keep posting it on Facebook. If he sees it, then he’s watching it. If it’s on, he’s watching it. He’ll keep watching it as long as ESPN keeps showing it, until it sinks in.
Did they seriously go to Myrtle Beach and do the dang thing? Did he seriously take down Draven Sneed in overtime? Are people actually recognizing him, like, in public?
No joke, the other night at his favorite Mexican place back home in Phenix City, Ala., three people walk over: Aren’t you one of the guys who won the cornhole college championship? Same thing happened at the gym. Four guys go up to him and ask if he’s Travis Moore.
Heck yeah, he’s Travis Moore. And now he’s starting to understand how “Cornhole Blaine” feels.
BLAINE ROSIER SMILES AND SHRUGS. He doesn’t understand it, either. “Well, people started calling me Cornhole Blaine and I was
like, maybe I’ll just ride with that,” Rosier said. He’s had to hang on tight.
Cornhole Blaine brought over his custom Cornhole Blaine boards around 2 p.m. When it’s warm, they’re on the green space. On cold afternoons, they take over the fitness center basketball court at Trav’s place on S. College, crank up the country and go at it until Moore has to go study for hydrologic analysis, or until the lady at the front desk kicks them out.
Which today might be sooner rather than later. Blaine’s roommate, Sam, another Phenix City guy, came over to watch the show but opened the wrong door. So, today the best college cornhole doubles team in the country is throwing to a portable speaker soundtrack of as-loud-as-it-goes Morgan Wallen synced with a security alarm siren no one knows how to turn off. It’s deafening.
Blaine Rosier—Cornhole Blaine—and Travis Moore—the Travis Moore—don’t even notice. They’re in the zone. Rosier’s bag drops straight in. He tosses another. Same thing.
“I’m more of a push-and-slide guy, but Blaine’s airmail is really good,” Moore shouts. “I’m working on mine. They’re getting better. But that’s Blaine’s specialty.”
A year ago, Cornhole Blaine was just a guy, a junior in wildlife enterprises management stuck at home in Phenix City and going to class on the couch. He was bored. He saw a board. One Gen Z thing led to another.
“Well, I was joking with my sister, saying that I’d have more TikTok followers than her,” Rosier said.
He didn’t have a TikTok account. He’d never played cornhole beyond his backyard. But, hey, families were going viral for fighting COVID cabin fever in the wackiest ways possible. Posting videos of himself tossing one-pound bean bags into a hole? Why not?
His first video went up on April 2, 2020. Shirt off, visor on, tossing a few front-yard trick shots. Nothing special, not in his mind. He hashtagged it #QuarantineLife. He posted some more. Three days later, a clothing company reached out—his first sponsor.
Cornhole Blaine was born.
Nowadays, he just posts clips from practice and people watch. But early on, he’d get fancy. Airmails over the Cam Newton statue. Four-baggers into the bed of a moving pickup. Within a few months, it wasn’t just free T-shirts. Cornhole Blaine wasn’t paying for anything. Not his bags. Not his boards.
Going by followers, he has the second-most popular cornhole account on TikTok. The American Cornhole League (ACL) has 14,000 followers. Cornhole Blaine currently has 240,000. Another smile. Another shrug.
“One video was just us throwing on the green space,” Rosier said. “I posted it that night and woke up and it had, like, 2 million views.”
“Heck, the other day we looked, and it was over 18 million,” Moore shouts. “The caption is ‘College Cornhole Is Where It’s At.’”
Heck, is it ever.
Dazzle your opponent at your next cornhole match with these unofficial terms
When two players or teams cannot agree on the score.
HERE WAS A 19TH CENTURY PARLOR GAME similar to the pregame pastime that’s come to dominate tailgates over the past 20 years, and some websites actually try to trace it to Native Americans. But the best Trey Ryder, media director and color analyst for the ACL, can tell, the game he gave up an engineering career to promote first really bubbled to the surface at fairgrounds and family reunions around Cincinnati in the 1950s. 32 CHAIRMEN OF THE BOARDS Even still, the first actual mention of “cornhole” in the Cincinnati Enquirer didn’t come until a 2001 classified ad for a backyard bean bag game. A year later, there was a full feature on a new Queen City craze. Were bags once just socks filled with corn? Does that explain the name? Who can say?
“People are like, ‘why the hell is cornhole on ESPN?’” Ryder, 27, says.
“Then, 20 minutes later, they realize they’re sucked in.”
What Ryder knows for sure is that 2020 was the year of competitive cornhole. Partly because nothing else was on. But also because, man, it’s kind of addicting. And it’s about time. “People are like, ‘why the hell is cornhole on ESPN?’” Ryder, 27, says. “Then, 20 minutes later, they realize they’re sucked in.” The game had been growing for years, inspiring multiple so-called governing bodies that invoke self-proclaimed sanctioning powers with varying degrees of seriousness. But in 2015, a tailgate culture impresario named Stacey Moore, commissioner of the North Carolina-based ACL, turned competitive cornhole—first professional, then college—into a well-oiled, broadcast-ready machine complete with proprietary stat-tracking software, tournament-organizing apps, broadcast rights, pro contracts, and bratwurst-and-baked-bean sponsors. It was getting big.
Then came COVID. Then, again, came cornhole. Instead of canceling its season, the ACL announced a series of regional qualifiers in a bid to turn 2020’s lemons into lemonade that could—pandemic protocols in place—quench ESPN’s desperate thirst for live competition. It worked. ESPN started showing live cornhole. Not on some digital streaming thing. Not on ESPN3, but on the flagship station.
The Ringer.com recently wrote a piece on the game’s ascendance, crediting it not only to COVID, but to Ryder’s uncanny telestrator talent for turning cornhole into high drama. And, dang, it doesn’t get much higher than what those boys from Auburn did live on ESPN over New Year’s in the finals of the third annual ACL National College Cornhole Championship.
RYDER EASILY PLACES it in the Top 10 finishes he’s called. Maybe Top 5. The context, the characters, the comeback? Awesome. Rosier and Moore were down 12-1 in Round 10, but then the TikTok wunderkind (whom some even called a one trick-shot pony to his face) delivered a hard push that completely flipped the game.
The noise Ryder made when both bags dropped in was between “wow” and a groan. He hit it from so far down the board! In Ryder’s mind, it was the throw of the tournament.
Then there was the drama on the other side. King David had his stones. Travis Moore had his bags.
SENIOR YEAR of high school, he beat a pro in a charity tournament. That’s when Moore knew he was good. He found a partner, entered local tournaments and got serious. Civil engineering classes, however, sort of have a way of dominating your calendar. In college, if he got the boards out, it was for kicks, not cash.
But over “Shutdown Summer,” he started throwing again, doing tournaments. Thanks to the free time, the itch was back. When he saw his old buddy’s videos on TikTok, it turned into full-blown hives. He picked up the phone.
THE DAY BEFORE THEIR DOUBLES MATCH, North Carolina State’s Draven Sneed had won the singles national championship; Travis had tied for 5th. Sneed and partner Alex Lippard seemed primed to sweep it for the Wolfpack: singles and doubles. And maybe they would have.
Had Draven Sneed kept his mouth shut.
Moore starts grinning.
“Heck,” Moore shouts, “he yells down to his partner ‘boardit—let me get it.’”
Now, without getting into cornhole strategy and the fine print of the point system, just know that this was trash talk. Everyone there knew it. The crowd “ooohed.” Someone shouted, “I like it.”
It was the final round. Throwing against Lippard, Rosier had brought them back and put them in a position to actually win it in overtime—if it got there. Lippard had one bag left. He could have gone for gold with an airmail. Risky, but doable. The safe bet? Just get it on the board, send it back, and let Sneed claim another crown. Which is what he did. But not before the “Board It” heard ’round the world.
Moore shakes his head. “When he said that, I was just like ‘I can’t let this guy win again, no way.’”
It’s overtime. Moore misses to the right. Sneed misses to the back to Cornhole Blaine for double overtime. At best? War Damn Eagle.
The singles champ starts to sweat. He takes his hat off. He goes for a safe slide to send it back to Lippard.
The bag dips halfway into the hole—and then just hangs there.
Travis Moore—the Travis Moore—nearly bear-hugs Cornhole Blaine to the floor.
Once again, Trey Ryder, the world’s premiere cornhole connoisseur, is nearly speechless.
“What. A. Finish.”
THE MORGAN WALLEN IS STILL BLASTING. The alarm is still going off. Cornhole Blaine sets up his cell phone anyway. Gotta give the people what they want. They’re both about to graduate. Cornhole Blaine plans to keep riding, become an ACL pro and get paid.
Moore is starting to lean that way, too. There’s a job waiting on him at an engineering firm in Columbus, Ga. that he’s definitely excited about. But engineering jobs typically don’t get you recognized at El Vaquero. They typically don’t get your face on TV. Testing the waters of professional cornhole on the weekends? That just might.
“Heck, I turned on ESPN this morning and there it was. They were playing it again.”
“Did you watch it?” I shout.
He nails an airmail, Cornhole Blaine style.