At the Heart of the Abyss
Kenashi is an Asari sport, nearly as old as their civilization. To humans, it seems like a cross between Rugby, Soccer, and Lacrosse. A heavy sand-filled ball is used, typically the exterior of the ball is a tough but flexible plastic, though traditionalists insist on using a sewn-leather ball. The ball is a little smaller than a soccer ball, and quite heavy. The ball’s surface is dimpled making it easier to pick up with one hand.
A Kenashi team consists of nine players, arranged in three rows of three at the start of each play. At each end of the field there’s a thick net much like a soccer goal, but with the hoop being circular. There’s no dedicated goalkeeper, though most teams have a player on the back-three that tries to stay near the goal.
Play is rough, body-checking and pushing are not only allowed but encouraged. Tackling is not allowed except against a player holding the ball. This discourages running with the ball quite effectively. Biotics may be used, but they can only be used for three things. Creating barriers, enhancing one’s own athletic ability (higher jumping, etc), and directly targeting the ball.
Targeting another player with a biotic attack is grounds for instant removal from the game. Penalties are handled mostly by ‘penalty box’ or ejection from the game, which is a serious threat since a team can have a maximum of 12 players, giving them only three subs. ‘Subs’ are often the team’s better players, there to be rotated in when the first injuries occur so they can be fresh while the opponents are tired and banged up.
The ball is tough enough to stand up to a typical biotic throw, but it’s small and nearly always in motion so top players must be extremely skilled at targeting biotic attacks. Any biotics can be used on the ball, including lift and pull, but those are so slow that those kinds of attacks are only used to set up a teammate’s attack, and even then an interception often occurs. Area effect powers like Tremor and Singularity are not allowed in regulation play but are sometimes seen in local leagues.
The objective is to get the ball into the opposing team’s goal, as many times as possible. Each goal counts as one point. The exact rules on what kinds of physical contact are illegal, and even if a player may stand still and hold the ball vary from place to place. In typical Asari fashion, each league and community has it’s own spin on the rules. There is an interplanetary league for the sport, but even then rules must be negotiated at least a little before each match. Having a wise coach (often a retired Kenashi player who’s in her Matriarch stage) that can negotiate favorable rules is considered part of the strategy.
Refereeing is done somewhat by committee, each team’s coach serves as a referee, and the eldest interested Asari from the local community (also usually a retired player) is asked to serve as the head ref. So as not to slow down the pace of play, the head referee’s calls are always final, but a head ref who doesn’t listen to the two coaches is generally not asked to judge a game again. On the other hand, few Asari who want to be a head referee are completely unbiased, adding an element of a literal home-team advantage to the game. For this reason, the Professional Interplanetary Kenashi league always holds games in places that are neutral to both teams.
The game proceeds in three ‘Phases’, giving the ball initially to the home team, then to the visitors. The third phase begins with a tossup, which can be pretty epic as all eighteen Asari on the field often focus a Pull effect on the ball at the same time. Between each Phase there’s a break, where the three refs discuss the previous Phase’s calls and iron out disagreements.
Kenashi players are almost always maidens, though the few highly dedicated players who settle down with a team as Matrons are greatly respected and feared. Very few Matriarchs play the sport, it’s considered in bad taste to remain a player instead of a coach in that phase of one’s life, though exceptions have been made for truly spectacular players.
A typical Kenashi game has a winning score of between 4 and 12 points. A good Kenashi game often has a lower score than a bad one, as the better players can more easily target the ball for a Throw attack, making it very easy to knock it out of line of the goal. A common offensive strategy is to have the team’s front-line literally knock down the opposing team’s back line, and have the midfielders try to score.
As with any popular sport, good Kenashi players are celebrities, both among the Asari and other aliens. The fast pace, physical contact, and biotic powers make it a lot of fun to watch, so aliens often make up a large portion of the audience. Turians in particular enjoy the sport, there’s an entire vid channel dedicated to Kenashi games on Palaven.
The winning Kenashi team gets some kind of ceremonial and valuable gift from the hosting city. This tradition that dates back to a time when Kenashi was developed essentially as ritual combat, to solve disputes that did not warrant deadly force.