Enter the Grotto: there’s more to thr33som3s than you think

Steph Kunkel
October 19, 2022
“There are no ‘throw away’ pieces in my collection, they are all part of the story.”

Growing up isolated from civilisation, thr33som3s immersed himself in books as a child, opening a gateway to another world. It was a gateway that led him to develop an NFT baseball league on Tezos and a narrative moulded by his Grotto community. He tells Steph Kunkel how all it took was following his imagination.

As a child, thr33som3s animated real baseball mascots to inspire his own imaginary baseball league. The San Francisco Giants as actual giants, the Detroit Tigers as actual tigers, and so forth. Now with an collection comprising with 8 franchises, 16 more teams in the works, and a thriving community that thr33som3s, known as 3s, christened the ‘Grotto’, the painted cards have evolved into a fully-fledged NFT baseball league and a commentary on American society and nostalgia.

Born and raised in an isolated part of the US, about which he shares little, 3s turned to culture and narrative. In many ways, his experience in web3 has been exactly the same. Upon entering the space, thr33som3s spent months learning its cadence, navigating the hierarchy of decentralised culture, and imagining starting his own platform. He wanted to integrate play and community, where collectors could be a part of the progression of a project, helping build and decide its future. In NFTs, thr33som3s saw an opportunity to bring his artistic mission to life leveraging blockchain and the communities that can be built around them.

“What’s more American than baseball?” thr33som3s asked himself. “What captures American nostalgia and the cinematic trope of the American dream more than a boy running to the store to collect baseball cards?” Superficially, his cards look like just that, perhaps with hints of satire, but this is only a façade for the allegorical narration of modern American society running underneath; a nostalgia for the American Dream.

Thr33som3s' baseball league all happens in the Grotto, which hosts a fictional realm with its own governance, style, and way of life. Composed of various levels, players and collectors can unlock access as they navigate through thr33som3s’ world. He has released 8 sets of cards, with each set representing a team, and has plans for 16 more, all provocative or otherwise carefully considered themes and names, like the Elephant Men team, a Subs team that 3s has depicted as submissives, or an NFT team, featuring the likes of Beeple and ThankYouX.

However, thr33som3s NFT baseball cards are more than just clever JPEGs. Every series resembles a new team, the most recent being the eighth, Elephant Men, at series 9 (series 1 was just a preamble). Meanwhile, each series comprises cards boasting different mechanics and levels of utility, split between base cards, chase cards (which are earnt for collecting base cards), and inserts, which bring special colour-coded perks for the ecosystem, like bidding (orange), participating in team events (yellow), or painting (white and black). Thr33som3s collectors don’t play baseball games in the traditional sense, but the goal in each season is for each team to accrue as many of the season’s cards as they can. The number of drop cards slightly changes from season to season, as do the the perks in each series, keeping collectors on their toes.

Thr33zi3s #0090 – the alter ego of NFT artist: 3s.

From events and podcasts to season drops and minigames, collectors are able to explore, play, and participate in this world both inside and outside web3. The 8 baseball teams are now actual franchises, in a basic sense, run by collectors who use a typical sports management model. The beginning of each season begins with a drop and a regular game day, where teams face off in a team event until a winner earns a reward in thr33p3nnies, the league's native token. You can join the roster of active players by paying $250 in thr33p3nnies to receive 10 rookie cards. With these, new players can enter a Wheel of Names spinner and win a selection of cards to get started. When they’re equipped, they can either attempt to sign to a team or play as a free-agent.

Accordingly, it is fitting that thr33som3s has intertwined his own web3 identity with the Tezos collection. Thr33som3s is an autobiographical inspiration, the protagonist of his NFTs, and our guide. “I like to think of th33som3s as the best parts of me,” he smiles. Although thr33som3s is a fictionalised character, the persona is based on thr33som3s true self, as well as being part of the larger narrative of the project.

“What captures American nostalgia and the cinematic trope of the American dream more than a boy running to the store to collect baseball cards?”

— thr33som3s

“I don’t like to waste words,” thr33som3s says, adding, “there are no ‘throw away’ pieces in the collection.” Each player and each team is designed with a character type, arc, and a story that is presented now, though to be explored in the years to come. Thr33som3s’ favourite team is the Elephant Men, inspired by the David Lynch film, The Elephant Man. “Very stark, but very sad,” is how 3s describes them: the team is seen as freaks, outcast by society, but on the field, they are just ballplayers.

In thr33som3s' league, Jim Pendleton is painted as Elephant Man, introduced in a card dated 1953 with a burlap sack covering his face. But as the series progresses all the way up to 1989, we see the team's acceptance over the decades. In 1953, the team had to wear sacks, but by 1989 they are accepted by society and can show their faces.

From current news, to his favourite books, to the music he listens to while painting his pieces, thr33som3s draws inspiration from a variety of places, but it all boils down to American culture and cinematic inspiration writ large. “Anything that’s important to me manages to find its way into the collection,” he explains.

Jim Pendleton, 1953 Elephant Men - Series 9 - #013

It's easy to dismiss thr33som3s' work as simply painting over vintage baseball cards. Technically, that’s not wrong. Thr33som3s' NFTs are digital captures of his original paintings, gouache on vintage baseball cards, predominantly from the '60s and '70s. But to say he only reworks old baseball cards misses the point. Each element of collection is intentionally curated to establish a story, a narrative from the thr33som3s persona, resonating with every team and each player. As an art project with utility and community, the baseball card element is merely a justification for the league format, which in itself is just a structure to hang ideas from, inspiring his other drops. The league and the cards that bring it life are merely the home base for an expansive realm of storytelling.

One of thr33som3s' most creative NFT projects is his thr33zi3s collection. Inspired by the baseball league, thr33zi3s integrates multiple onchain elements to create generative, hand-painted collectibles. Each thr33zi3s is individually hand painted, as 3s physically paints each trait, as dictated by the algorithm, and physically repaints them as traits are burned away for utility.

“I like to think of th33som3s as the best parts of me.”

— thr33som3s

Thr33som3s knows all of his collectors and speaks to his community every day through the Grotto discord, his podcast, and private messaging. Packed full of interactive elements, franchises, virtual and in-person events, and drop mechanics allow collectors various opportunities to integrate themselves into the thr33som3s world. These various channels allow him to drive the ongoing economy, value, and narrative of the collection. “Anyone who buys my pieces should really love it,” he says, stressing the importance of the narrative and the story, whilst noting that “the pieces are designed with future utility in mind, to retain their value (if not grow), and the pieces should either give you either access to something new or will evolve over time.”

Thr33som3s has created an entire community that extends beyond the world of web3, with highly invested collectors who have incorporated the Grotto into their everyday lives. And with just a third of the teams released for the thr33som3s league so far, this culturally astute project is far from over. The beauty of these NFT baseball players is that they live just below the surface of reality, allowing collectors to step into this universe, embrace their characters, and live inside this fantasy.

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Written by
Steph Kunkel
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Steph Kunkel is a US-based writer, choreographer, and brand/marketing specialist. She is an art enthusiast with a passion for all things creative. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, drawing, and dancing.

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