The oldest relay race in the world just took place in ‘Minecraft’ on UPenn’s painstakingly recreated virtual campus — here’s what it was like

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn
  • Students at the University of Pennsylvania recreated their campus on “Minecraft” after COVID-19 ended their semester early.
  • On Friday, the annual Penn Relays, the oldest track event in the US, was held in “Minecraft.”
  • The event was sponsored by the US Marines, and participants competed in four different courses.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Penn Relays are the largest and oldest track and field event in the US, taking place every year since 1895. This year was quite different from past relays: it took place inside the video game “Minecraft.”

A group of UPenn students set up a “Minecraft” server and coordinated recreating the campus together over the last two weeks of March. Since then, they have made plans to host spring traditions in the server, and one of the moderators told Business Insider that hosting the Penn Relays in some form was a major goal for the creators of the campus, who call themselves Penncraft.

The block-building game “Minecraft,” which Microsoft bought in 2014 for $US2.5 billion, has been one of the most popular games worldwide over the last 10 years. As of September, it had a staggering 112 million active players every month, a number that has reportedly grown to 145 million.

Here’s what the event was like.


April 24 was what would have been the second of three days for the Penn Relays of 2020. Instead esports organisation Gen.G and the US Marine Corps sponsored the event in “Minecraft.”

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

The organisations really made it feel like a real sporting event, with a pre-show and breaks for commentators to discuss strategy and teams who would be competing.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

Penn Athletics Director Grace Calhoun even dropped by to talk the races.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

While races took place in “Minecraft,” spectators could watch and discuss in Twitch, where it was livestreamed from 12-5 p.m.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

Instead of typical track and field relay events, runners competed in races that would only be possible in “Minecraft.”

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

The first race was the most like real-life track, with a hurdles course.

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“Minecraft” Penn relays.

Next, competitors raced through an ice course.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

Teams rowed tiny boats through the icy water.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

Ice seemed to make controlling the boat extra difficult.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

The lava course was tricky for most teams.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

Runners had to jump from block to block, avoiding landing in lava.

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“Minecraft” Penn relays.

Penn student Andrew Guo, one of the moderators of the server and the one who first came up with the idea for the project, was a commentator for the first relay.

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“Minecraft” Penn relays.

The final course was the Marine course.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

Participants climbed blocks and jumped between them.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

Each course had different challenges, with different teams pulling ahead at different times.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

After each set of relays, times were totaled and winners were declared.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

Members of the Penn community were allowed to apply to participate through a Google form, whether as an athlete who would have run in the real event, or just as a fan.

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“Minecraft” Penn relays.

Like any event moving to the virtual world for the first time, there were some hiccups and issues.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

For some races, if one runner disconnected, or if the starting countdown was off, they would redo the race.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

Before the race, the countdown was displayed to everyone watching. Though there some issues with starts, there are also false starts at real track events.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

Between events, the commentators took Twitch viewers on a tour of the campus.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

They showed off-campus and talked to some of the Penncraft creators about the work that went into the project.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

The map also included a recreation of the Marines Corps Museum, located in Virginia.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn

The museum even had “Minecraft” Marine guards outside.

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‘Minecraft’ Penn relays. Minecraft/UPenn