So somebody just alerted me to this tweet by Axios sports editor Kendall Baker:
Sure, that’s a baseball stadium — Baker later corrected himself to note that the Rakuten Monkeys play in the Chinese Professional Baseball League, which is in Taiwan — but still, WTF is going on here? A pro sports team is playing behind closed doors, and somehow thinks that a collection of creepy mask-wearing robots and faceless mannequins is going to make this seem less unnerving?
Baker helpfully didn’t include a link to any actual reporting on the Monkey-robots (robot-Monkeys?), but Google soon turned up this USA Today article, which cited this article from “the CPBL official website,” which turns out to be an English-language Taiwanese baseball fan site run by a guy named “Rob.” Rob at least quoted a Monkeys official on the alleged robot plan:
On April 7, the Rakuten Monkeys announced they are going to set up robot mannequins in the stands dressed up as fans.
According to the Monkeys’ general manager, they will put 500 “new fans” at the stadium. Among those 500 “fans”, a few of them will be robots.
“Since we are not allowed to have any fans in attendance, we might as well have some fun with it,” said the Monkeys’ general manager Justin Liu. “We went with 500 robot mannequins to comply with the current CDC guideline.”
That sounds like a joke, possibly? Given that the Taiwanese CDC hasn’t actually provided any guidelines for how many robots can safely attend baseball games?
Rob’s post also helpfully included a source for that bonkers photograph, which is “Rakuten Monkeys Facebook.” And sure enough, here’s the Facebook post in question, along with lots of comments from fans along the lines of “so scary” and “a little chilling,” plus a whole lot of laugh-emoji responses that cast at least some doubts on whether this is serious.
As for that photo, it’s almost certainly a CGI/Photoshop job, given that the scale of the “robot” fans is wildly inconsistent and some of them (the guy with the drum in the center foreground, for instance), seem to be occupying space in ways that defy the laws of physics. (Though a couple of the accompanying images, with just a few mask-wearing team employees plus a handful of sign-holding mannequins, appear to be for real.) So I’m going to tentatively categorize this as “joke that got out of hand and somehow ended up in USA Today” — which is a good thing, because robot Monkeys are a terrible idea given that as we all should know, they will fight eternally.